Indies and Specialty Chiefs Mobilize Against Screener Ban by Valenti and MPAA
by Eugene Hernandez
The ban on awards season screeners remained a hot topic for some here in New York on Wednesday as the heads of the studio specialty divisions met to discuss the issue and a large group from the independent film community weighed in to denounce the move by Jack Valenti and the Motion Picture Association of America.
The chiefs of the Indiewood companies, who were brought together by United Artists president Bingham Ray, met during an unprecedented meeting on Wednesday afternoon in New York but were tight-lipped about their discussion for now.
Reps from all of the Indiewood companies, except newcomer Warner Independent Pictures, participated in the closed-door conversation. Among those in attendance were Ray, Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein and deputy Rick Sands, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard, Focus Features co-presidents David Linde and James Schamus, Exec. VP Marian Koltai-Levine from Fine Line, and David Dinerstein & Ruth Vitale from Paramount Classics who joined by telephone from Los Angeles. A rep from Fox Searchlight was reached after the meeting. While the chiefs would not discuss the meeting on the record, one company head told indieWIRE that the group would issue a statement today or tomorrow.
Also in a New York, a number of people in the independent film community came together to support a statement issued by Michelle Byrd, head of IFP/New York, on behalf of the indie film community. The group issued its statement "to condemn the MPAA's ban on 'for your consideration' VHS and DVD copies of feature films," calling the decision by Valenti and the MPAA an "ill advised and hasty course of action." Among those who signed on in support of the IFP/New York statement were many of the organization's board members, including Steven Beer of Greenberg Traurig, Ed Carroll of IFC, Ira Deutchman of Emerging Pictures, producer Nelson George, and Carole Radziwill.
Others from the New York film community who have signed on as supporters of the IFP/New York statement included Killer Films producers Christine Vachon and Pam Koffler, as well as Ted Hope, Anthony Bregman and Anne Carey of This Is That, GreeneStreet's John Penotti and partner Fisher Stevens, along with Ed Pressman and John Schmidt of ContentFilm, Jonathan Sehring of IFC Films, directors John Waters and Robert Altman, Rachel Cohen from Artisan, producers Lee Daniels, Sarah Green, Ross Katz and Susan Stover, screenwriter Bill Condon, writer/director Peter Hedges, and actors Selma Blair, Steve Buscemi, Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, and Tracey Ullman.
"This last minute policy change will seriously diminish the diversity and quality of independent films immediately, and the mainstream film industry in the long run," read the IFP/New York statement, "Oscar consideration is a primary motivating factor behind the funding of riskier films, those of more serious content, films with ambitious narrative aspirations. Lacking Oscar potential these films will not be made."
The statement went on to add that Academy members and insiders are the least likely to pirate copies of films, and said that in-theater taping is the primary mode of illegal distribution of films. While the organization said that "the independent film community shares the concerns of the MPAA and its seven conglomerate signatory members when it comes to the serious financial consequences of piracy," the group added that it calls upon the MPAA to consider two courses of action:
- Require all screeners (both DVD and VHS) to be watermarked and individually numbered so they can be traced and the perpetrators prosecuted.
- Crack down on the real sources of piracy: whether they be labs and duplication houses where films are processed; theaters where the overwhelming majority of illegal taping for duplication occurs and/or private individuals who chose to disregard intellectual copyright laws.