IFP, Film Critics and Others Meet With Valenti To Advocate Repeal of Screener Ban
by Eugene Hernandez
Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) head Jack Valenti met with representatives from a number of organizations in Los Angeles on Thursday to discuss the screener ban. Groups such as the Independent Feature Project (IFP), the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) met with Valenti to advocate that the MPAA and the heads of the Hollywood studios lift the ban on screeners that remains in effect for film critics groups and other year-end awards groups.
"It was very encouraging," IFP/New York head Michelle Byrd told indieWIRE on Thursday, regarding the meeting with Valenti. "We definitely expressed the concerns that we have been hearing from producers, actors and directors, [and we] talked through how the specialized business works and talked about awards in general."
Joining Byrd and IFP/Los Angeles head Dawn Hudson during the meeting at the Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles were writer Bill Condon ("Gods and Monsters"), producer Ron Yerxa ("Cold Mountain," "Election"), and other notables who asked to remain anonymous. Byrd added that Valenti seemed to find the background illuminating and interesting. While calling it "a very good dialogue," though, she cautioned, "He didn't make any promises." Valenti did tell the group that he would get back to them by Wednesday of next week.
Byrd, Hudson and the others present advocated for the lifting of the ban on the basis of group members maintaining personal responsibility for their tapes. Valenti has expressed ongoing concerns that screener tapes lead to movie piracy. The group also advocated for a more open process for discussing such issues going forward, Byrd told indieWIRE.
"We spoke about how important it is to level the playing field so that all work can be considered and recognized during awards season -- and screeners have been the great equalizer," Byrd and Hudson said in a statement. "Mr. Valenti heard first-person accounts of how critical these screeners are to the marketing campaigns of independent work. He promised to present IFP's position to the heads of the studios, and respond by Wednesday."
Film critics that regularly honor specialty and independent films reacted to the ban by canceling this year's awards, but critics have not been unified in their actions to protest the screener ban. In a meeting on Wednesday, members of the Los Angeles critics group presented a proposal for allowing screeners for other critics and guilds as well, according to Variety. The L.A. critics acted quickly to cancel awards after Valenti and the MPAA agreed to ban screeners while Chicago critics took the same move this week. The New York critics group, while divided on the issue, has not canceled its awards. Some have questioned whether critics' decisions to cancel awards this year, though, would in fact hurt smaller films even more.
"Many films that are critical 'darlings' never register on [the] Academy radar at all," THINKFilm head of distribution Mark Urman told indieWIRE, "Endorsement by a film critics group may be their only shot at year-end accolades...the most worthy films could be hardest hit." Continuing, he added, "That said, the MPAA-studio ban, even in it's kinder, gentler version, was and is ill-considered and rather pointless -- any stance taken in opposition to it is worthwhile, especially since it has been proven that opposition can be effective." Concluding Urman said, "The awards can be re-instated next year. In fact, one hopes that many things -- including an intelligent industry-wide approach to piracy -- will be possible next year!"
"The recent action of the LA & Chicago film [critics] to cancel their ceremonies is an unfortunate but necessary move," producer Ted Hope ("21 Grams," "American Splendor") told indieWIRE, "It will have a tremendous impact on specialized film but has the potential of alerting Valenti to the disastrous effects of his partial ban on screeners."
Concluding his thoughts, Hope told indieWIRE, "Valenti has demonstrated his cluelessness to the intricacies of the indie film biz and the real world requirements that necessitate screeners. It is ludicrousness that each [distributor] cannot be left to their own to decide whom to trust with screeners."