D'Works first to court DGA with screeners


As jockeying for advantage during awards season escalates, DreamWorks has upped the ante by becoming the first company to send screeners to the 13,400 members of the DGA. DreamWorks' decision to take the expensive step of sending screeners of "Dreamgirls" to the entire membership of the DGA in hopes of snaring a best director nomination for Bill Condon has caught rival studios off guard.

Not only had no other studio ever sent screeners to the DGA, but also it was widely assumed within the industry that the guild prohibited sending screeners to its members, preferring that they view films at DGA-sponsored screenings.

"Everyone knows you can't send to the DGA," Universal Pictures Oscar consultant Tony Angelotti said. "It's never even discussed. But you always want a DGA nomination. If you could, you would." Other studio Oscar consultants seconded that perception. One, who declined to be named, said she has consistently been told over the years that the DGA did not facilitate sending out screeners.

"That's always been the misconception," a DGA spokesman said. "People have known about the policy for a while, and nobody acted on it until now. The policy has never changed. People are free to send screeners out, but if they do, then we send a note to all the other studios notifying them of the request."

In fact, that is how DGA policy was characterized in a report last Wednesday about screeners in the Los Angeles Times.

However the policy was perceived, another factor inhibiting sending screeners to the DGA is the expense involved in courting its 13,400 members to nab a nomination. Because of the cost of creating DVDs — about $7 apiece for a single-sided disc — no studio had stepped up to the plate before. (By contrast, a studio trying to win a SAG film nomination only needs to send screeners to the 2,000 members of the SAG nominating committee.)

On Friday, DreamWorks entered new awards season territory when its parent company, Paramount Pictures, received permission from the DGA to send DVD screeners of "Dreamgirls." While Condon failed to earn a directing nom when the Golden Globe nominations were announced Thursday, a DGA nom could prove valuable in itself and also assist in the movie's quest for Oscar gold. DGA nominations will be announced Jan. 9, between the mailing of Oscar nominating ballots, which will be sent out Tuesday, and the date they must be returned, Jan. 13.

Paramount had begun the process of requesting DGA permission around Thanksgiving. "DGA members are the hardest to reach, they don't all live in New York and L.A.," DreamWorks publicist Chip Sullivan said of the reason for seeking to send DGA members screeners.

"We thought it wasn't allowed, or somebody would have done it by now," Paramount publicity chief Nancy Kirkpatrick said. "Last week, they finally decided, and we heard we could."

Insiders also speculated that DGA members themselves, as they watch other guilds collect screeners, might have decided they wanted in on the action. "The other question is how much the membership weighed in on this," said DreamWorks marketing executive Terry Press, who is supervising the "Dreamgirls" Oscar campaign. "Why were they the only guild not getting screeners?"

The DGA then proceeded to inform the other studios and their specialty subsidiaries that a competitor planned to send screeners to give all the companies equal access to its membership. But how and when the news was transmitted was a subject of considerable debate this week. According to a Miramax spokesman, that company got a fax notification Friday night and likely will use excess screeners of "The Queen" for a DGA mailing. A final determination has not been made.

Others complained that they did not receive the word in a timely manner. Judy Schwam, an Oscar consultant for Warner Bros. Pictures, said she had asked the DGA early in the season whether the studio would be allowed to send screeners this year. She said was told, "No one has asked." She then asked for notification if anyone else did. She did not receive word until she received a fax on her desk Tuesday. And two reps for another studio, who declined to be named, said they still hadn't received any official notice from the DGA but heard about the "Dreamgirls" move from colleagues.

Timing is everything at this point because the DGA nominating ballots were mailed Dec. 4 and are due Jan. 8. The production of watermarked DVDs takes time; according to studio sources, a lab can deliver only about 1,200 a day. Paramount's labs started churning out double-sided DVDs immediately; Kirkpatrick expects to ship them to the DGA by the week's end for dissemination to its members.

As word of the Paramount/DreamWorks maneuver spread, other studio reps expressed shock and surprise.

At Paramount's specialty division Paramount Vantage, which is chasing a directors guild nomination for "Babel's" Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, senior vp Megan Colligan said she didn't receive the DGA's letter until Tuesday.

"It's a huge amount of money for us to send 'Babel': $300,000," she said. "Until now the DGA had never wavered. They wanted their members to see films on the screen. It's confusing to have to make such a decision so quickly. We've made our plans. It's hard to reallocate resources at this point to put screeners in their hands (just before) their ballots close. It's a huge risk. We're pretty sure we're not going to do it. But you feel an obligation to your director and film to give them the best shot possible, the same that other directors are getting. It's been a very difficult day."

According to studio executives, Warners, Universal and Fox Searchlight will not manufacture DVD screeners for the DGA. "It's an impossible task," Angelotti said. "To produce, collate and stamp screeners in a timely fashion when ballots are due Jan. 8 is an impossible task, unless you had a head start. Paramount and Miramax were given a head start."

"The people who got their orders to the labs first now have a substantial time advantage," said Fox Searchlight marketing president Nancy Utley, who learned of the latest development in the Oscar wars Tuesday. "If we had known sooner, I would have loved to send them," she said. "The timing doesn't work for us. Because of a logjam at Deluxe, where we print, we wouldn't be able to have them until Jan. 8." That's the day the DGA ballots are due.