Thursday, October 2, 2003

Oscars ban 'screening' tapes

Smaller studios irked; say rule will cut chances for awards

By David Germain
The Associated Press

Hollywood implemented an anti-piracy plan Tuesday banning special DVDs and videotapes for Oscar voters, angering champions of smaller movies that have taken home an increasing share of the film industry's highest honors.

Academy Awards voters will have to catch most of their movies in theaters after the major studios and their trade group, the Motion Picture Association of America, agreed to stop sending "screener" copies to the 5,600 Oscar voters.

Mindful of the piracy that has sucked profits from the music industry, studios feared that screener copies could be used by bootleggers to mass-produce pirated DVDs and tapes.

"We know these screeners are a small part of piracy, but I aim to close every kind of hole in the dike I can find," said Jack Valenti, head of the MPAA.

Critics - mainly executives for studio-owned boutique distributors of smaller, independent-minded pictures such as recent Oscar winners The Pianist and Pollock - say the plan will cripple awards prospects for their movies. Screener copies help level the playing field between high-profile studio flicks and smaller movies that lack big budgets for theatrical screenings aimed at Oscar voters and promotional ads in Hollywood trade papers, opponents say.

The agreement includes MPAA's seven studio members - Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Paramount and MGM - plus their affiliates, such as New Line, Miramax, Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics. DreamWorks, though not an MPAA member, also agreed to the screener ban.

The plan would benefit truly independent distributors such as Lions Gate (producer of Monster's Ball), Newmarket (Memento) or IFC Films (Casa de los Babys), which have no corporate links to MPAA studios and are not bound by the ban.

The screener ban affects other movie awards, including the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild honors and critics' prizes. Thousands of voters for those film honors and many entertainment reporters commonly have received awards DVDs and videotapes from studios.

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