MPAA and Studio Chiefs Prepare to Discuss Screener Ban As Protests Intensify
by Eugene Hernandez
Two weeks after announcing a ban on awards screeners, protests against the move by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Hollywood studio chiefs have reached a high point. On Thursday, studio chiefs are expected to meet with MPAA head Jack Valenti to review their decision. Unknown is whether the ban will be upheld or modified in some manner in the face of considerable criticism from throughout the film community.
The Independent Feature Project (IFP) continued to stir protests against the screener ban Wednesday, placing ads against the decision in the two Hollywood trade papers, Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
"The undersigned join the IFP, Writers Guild of America, BAFTA/LA, BAFTA/EC, over 150 filmmakers; and virtually every member of the creative community urging the MPAA and the studios it represents to stop the ban on 'for your consideration' screeners, explore alternative solutions to curtailing piracy, and restore integrity to our business and the Academy Awards." More than 350 names, including people from all sectors of the business (actors, producers, writers, directors, and others), are listed in five columns below the statement. Continuing, the ad says, "In addition, we ask that everyone who is affected by this ban on screeners to join us in petitioning the MPAA and its seven member companies plus Dreamworks and New Line, to call a moratorium on the ban on screeners." The ad also includes the support of AIVF, Asian Cinevision, Film Arts Foundation, and F/VA.
IFP/New York head Michelle Byrd and IFP/Los Angeles head Dawn Hudson issued a joint letter on Wednesday which anchors a special "Ban the Ban" section of the IFP website (http://www.ifp.org). The pair are encouraging members to contact peers and colleagues, inviting them to add their name to the growing list of protest letter signators, and advocating that people contact the studios directly to voice their opposition to the ban.
Before Thursday's meeting between Valenti and the heads of the Hollywood studios that have agreed to the ban, indieWIRE interviewed by email a handful of people from the independent and specialty film community about the ban.
"The Ban has become a public relations fiasco," producer Ted Hope told indieWIRE on Wednesday. Hope cited discussions among Academy members about a boycott of Oscar voting and noted that "high-profile" lawyers are exploring the potential of a class action anti-trust suit. He also said that the mainstream media have "recognized the equation of how The Ban will hurt the quality and diversity of the films available to the public."
Mark Urman, THINKFilm's head of distribution, noted that "as an industry professional who has reason to take piracy and its ramifications very seriously, I feel that measures can and should be taken to minimize the risk of unauthorized duplication while still allowing screening cassettes to reach the hands of Academy members far and wide. "I deplore any measure, however well-intentioned," he continued, "that impedes the chances of limited release and specialized films to receive their fair share of Academy recognition, both this year and on an ongoing basis. Fight the good fight!"
"We lure talent to our movies at least in part because of the possibilty of Academy attention," Christine Vachon told indieWIRE on Wednesday. "The ban will effectively annihilate that possibility."
"As an Academy member, I simply do not see how I can continue to vote responsibly without the opportunity to see the enormous number of year-end releases at my convenience," Urman asserted.
"The backlash against the Ban will cause a public antagonism against the film industry akin to the one that the music industry brought on itself and is the root of much of the illegal downloading going on today," concluded Ted Hope. "Valenti and the studio heads will be held accountable for the destruction of our livelihood and culture, if they don't soon take action and modify The Ban substantially."
"Isn't it ironic that this entire 'Ban the Ban' campaign has proven one thing?" asked IFP/New York executive director Michelle Byrd, "You can't deny the power of 'word of mouth.'" Continuing, she told indieWIRE, "That's what has united the indie-indies, the specialty divisions of the studios, the agents, managers, publicists, and the entire creative community -- word of mouth, just like the word of mouth that levels the playing field for Academy campaigns."