Directors cut: No screeners


Once again marching to its own beat, the DGA said Thursday that it will ban studios from mailing for-consideration screeners to its members for the 60th DGA Awards.

In December, the guild initially said it would allow studios to mail film and TV screeners to its 13,400 members for its 59th awards show. But the late timing of that first-ever sanctioning of DGA Awards screeners -- based on studio requests to mail DVDs of "Babel" and "Dreamgirls" -- prompted an outcry from Hollywood's marketing corps.

"It was like changing the rules in the middle of a knife fight," a marketing wag recalled. "People thought it just wasn't fair."

After a quick rethink, the DGA revoked its ruling a day later. The guild said it wouldn't allow screenings in the buildup to the 59th awards gala but might do so for the 60th.

Or not, as it turns out. In announcing balloting dates for the next awards program -- set to culminate in a Jan. 26 DGA Awards gala -- the guild said it has decided against allowing screeners this year.

"The DGA recognizes that this decision is different from what was stated last year," the guild said. "However, closer examination of the issue revealed concern among members that films sent out on DVD might have an unfair advantage over films that were not able to be sent out due to limited marketing budgets or other financial considerations."

A quick check of the town's marketing mavens showed little strong feeling one way or another on the issue. But there was general agreement that the early ruling by the DGA will keep a level playing field for the guild's awards program.

Elsewhere on the awards front, it appears that other groups will maintain long-standing policies allowing awards screeners. The MPAA tried and largely failed in an effort to have screeners banned or severely limited a few years ago, when growing movie piracy caused some studio execs to wonder if the screeners weren't exacerbating the problem.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't provide member mailing information, but it does set special standards for no-frills packaging of screeners. And well-trafficked membership lists are easily come by in studio marketing departments, which send out scores of movies for voter consideration during Oscar season.

"We still do what we can to encourage our members in a theater," AMPAS spokeswoman Leslie Unger said. "That's something that we still feel is important. We also feel that the screeners are a convenience, and that's fine, but we aren't going to facilitate that distribution."

For the SAG Awards, screeners are distributed by the boxload to 2,100 randomly selected guild members who annually serve on its film-nominating committee and an identical number on the TV-noms committee. The guild won't reveal the identities of committee members, so SAG Awards staff helps collect and redistribute the screeners.

During the past couple of years, studios promoted a few SAG-nominated films even more widely. Two years ago, about 100,000 DVDs of "Crash" were distributed to SAG members, and last year a like number of members were sent discs of "Little Miss Sunshine," "Venus" and "The Departed."

For the WGA Awards, almost 12,000 voting members get screeners, with distribution handled through the guild's third-party mailing house.

DGA officials said the guild has stayed out of the screeners fray for so long less because of any active policy against screeners than the simple fact no one asked for permission to do such mailings until last year.

"We've never not allowed screeners," DGA spokesman Morgan Rumpf said. "It was never clear, but that's been rectified, and now it's clear."

And that's just fine with Tony Angelotti, a veteran studio consultant to studio award campaigns.

"It wasn't broke, so it really didn't require fixing," Angelotti said of the DGA decision. "So all is good in Whoville."