Despite Opposition From Writers and Directors, MPAA Says Screener Ban Stands
by Eugene Hernandez
Jack Valenti and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) seemed to shut the door on those who saw his meeting Wednesday with specialty division heads as an optimistic development. In a statement issued by a public affairs officer, the MPAA said that the policy prohibiting the distribution of VHS and DVD screeners in awards-season campaigning stands.
"Jack Valenti has had conversations with individuals and several groups on the subject of the new screener policy," said MPAA public affairs VP Rich Taylor in a statement. "He welcomes the exchange of thoughts and ideas on the critical issue of combating piracy. That said, the screener policy remains as it was originally announced."
MPAA chief Jack Valenti met with the heads of three specialty film companies on Wednesday to discuss the recent screener ban and the letter sent by the group of specialty division heads. The three Indiewood execs represented the larger group of specialty company heads that was formed in response to the move by Valenti and the Hollywood studio chief. On Wednesday, indieWIRE received a copy of the letter to Valenti and published it its entirety.
Wednesday's meeting with Valenti led to widespread press coverage and some speculation that the ban could be overturned, so the MPAA statement upholding the ban could be a reaction to that media coverage. That said, the Independent Working Group, an anonymous collective comprised of the heads of many of the studio specialty divisions, declined to comment on the MPAA statement.
Opposition to the ban continues to grow as groups such as the Independent Working Group consider options for opposing the ban. Late last week a roster of directors spoke out against the decision and on Monday the Writers Guild of America, West issued a statement regarding the situation.
On Friday, in an ad placed in Variety, a list of nearly 150 directors protested the screener ban. In the open letter (published today in indieWIRE at the end of this article), the group cited the importance of critical acclaim and Academy consideration in helping smaller films reach a wider audience. in calling for a repeal of the screener ban, the group's letter said, "The MPAA decision to ban screeners irreparably damages the chances of such films: films that already have a difficult enough time finding financing and distribution."
"'Screeners' have become an important part of the way small, well-written films find their audience," said Victoria Riskin, President of Writers Guild of America, west, in a statement issued on Monday. The organization cited such films as Academy Award winners such as Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters"), Julian Fellowes ("Gosford Park") and John Irving ("The Cider House Rules") which gained the awareness of Academy voters via screeners. "To place a gag order on 'screeners' is to tilt the playing field from small films to large. As writers deeply concerned with preservation and nurturing of the independent voice, we urge the MPAA to reconsider and do the fair and right thing for all artists," continued Riskin in her statement.
A group of actors are said to be signing a letter of protest as well, with an announcement of their opposition expected later this week.
[The following is the complete text of an open letter published in a Variety advertisement on Friday, October 10, 2003.]
To Jack Valenti and The Motion Picture Association of America:
Many great films, and in particular films that take risks, rely on critical acclaim and, when the film is fortunate enough, Academy consideration to reach a broad audience. The MPAA decision to ban screeners irreparably damages the chances of such films: films that already have a difficult enough time finding financing and distribution. As creative artists, we stand up for these films and oppose the MPAA's creation of an unwarranted obstacle to their reaching the audience they deserve - and of course require, in order to exist.
If riskier films cannot be made, the public is ultimately left with fewer choices and the entire film community is left with fewer filmmakers whose work enriches the medium and the art.
We condemn piracy, but are unconvinced that material links exist between screeners and the illegal industry of pirating our work - and the work of our colleagues. Nor are we convinced, to the degree that a link between screeners and piracy can be made, that alternatives to combat piracy have been sufficiently or legitimately explored.
It has been said that we in the film industry are honor-bound to go along with this ban. We believe that as filmmakers, we are honor-bound to oppose it.
We ask that the MPAA repeal its decision immediately.
Michael Almereyda, Pedro Almodovar, Robert Altman, Allison Anders, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, Gregg Araki, Darren Aronofsky, Miguel Arteta, Shari Springer Berman, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Boorman, Tony Bui, Edward Burns, Steve Buscemi, Jez Butterworth, Patricia Cardoso, Michael Caton-Jones, Peter Cattaneo, Lisa Cholodenko, Mark Christopher, Joel Coen, Bill Condon, Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola, David Cronenberg, Vondie Curtis-Hall, John Dahl, Frank Darabont, Andrew Davis, Mark Decena, Guillermo Del Toro, Jonathan Demme, Atom Egoyan, Nora Ephron, Jim Fall, Todd Field, Mike Figgis, James Foley, Jodie Foster, Stephen Frears, Stephen Fry, Brian Gilbert, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Glazer, Michel Gondry, Todd Graff, David Gordon Green, Ulu Grossbard, Stephen Gyllenhaal, Philip Haas, Lasse Hallstrom, Catherine Hardwick, Mary Harron, Peter Hedges, Monte Hellman, Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, Michael Hoffman, Matthew Ryan Hoge, Peter Howitt, John Irvin, James Ivory, Mick Jackson, Jim Jarmusch, Tamara Jenkins, Norman Jewison, Spike Jonze, Moises Kaufman, Philip Kaufman, Wayne Kramer, Neil LaBute, Richard LaGravenese, Ang Lee, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mike Leigh, Barry Levinson, Doug Liman, Richard Linklater, Sidney Lumet, David Lynch, Jonathan Lynn, Kevin Macdonald, Alison Maclean, David Mamet, Michael Mayer, Tom McCarthy, Ross McElwee, Scott McGehee, Peter Medak, Ismail Merchant, Errol Morris, Christopher Munch, Mira Nair, Mike Newell, Thaddeus O'Sullivan, Raoul Peck, Kimberly Peirce, Mark Pellington, Arthur Penn, Jesse Peretz, Mark and Michael Polish, Sydney Pollack, Sally Potter, Alex Proyas, Robert Pulcini, Sam Raimi, Robert Redford, Tim Robbins, Robert Rodriguez, Mark Romanek Alan Rudolph, Jay Russell, Walter Salles, Nancy Savoca, Fred Schepisi, Julian Schnabel, Paul Schrader, Barbet Schroeder, Martin Scorsese, Steven Shainberg, Jim Sheridan, David Siegel, Kevin Smith, Iain Softley, Peter Sollett, Jill Sprecher, Fisher Stevens, Julia Taymor, Jeremy Thomas, John Turturro, Tom Tykwer, Thomas Vinterberg, John Waters, Frank Whaley, Forest Whitaker, Tod Williams, Michael Winterbottom, Boaz Yakin, Neil Young, Terry Zwigoff