Oscar Screeners Begin Trickling Out, But Later Than Ever Before

Doc feature 'Ask Dr. Ruth' was the first film of 2019 to be mailed to the entire Academy, followed closely by animated feature 'The Secret Life of Pets 2.'
Courtesy Photos
From left: 'Ask Dr. Ruth,' 'The Secret Life of Pets 2,' 'Her Smell'

There is one question on every Academy member's mind these days: Where are my Oscar screeners?

In past years, the first DVDs of Oscar hopefuls that were specifically sent to Academy members — as opposed to other guilds and organizations that include some Academy members — arrived by late August or early September. This year, however, despite a shorter Oscar season than any recent year's, screeners have been largely MIA.

Members of the Academy's documentary branch generally receive screeners before members of its other 16 branches, and indeed some doc branch members have already been sent doc features Ask Dr. Ruth (Hulu), Maiden (Sony Classics), Where's My Roy Cohn? (Sony Classics), David Crosby: Remember My Name (Sony Classics), Aquarela (Sony Classics) and This Changes Everything (Good Deed).

The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed that Ask Dr. Ruth was actually sent to the entire Academy — approximately 8,000 people — making it the first film of the season to get that wide of a mailing. And members of numerous branches on Thursday told THR they received the animated feature The Secret Life of Pets 2 (Universal), making it the season's first non-doc to go to all members.

On Friday, Alex Ross Perry's indie Her Smell (Gunpowder & Sky), which stars Elisabeth Moss as a fictional rock star whose self-destructive behavior causes her band to break up, is also going out to the entire membership, which could make it the first live-action narrative film to arrive this year.

(According to Academy member Ken Rudolph, who keeps detailed records, the first non-doc screener of 2018, The Rider, arrived Sept. 15; of 2017, Logan came Sept. 14; of 2016, Miles Ahead and Maggie's Plan showed up Aug. 28; of 2015, I'll See You in My Dreams landed in mailboxes Aug. 26.)

This year, for the first time, distributors will be able to provide all Academy members with not only hard copies of their films, but also the ability to stream them via the Academy's website — for a middleman fee, of course, which is $12,500 per title. However, no films have been uploaded to the service just yet.

Regardless of the methodology, it is smart of distributors of lower-profile films to get ahead of the avalanche of screeners that will hit Oscar voters at some point very soon — certainly by Thanksgiving — because, once it does, members inevitably gravitate toward titles that are higher profile and/or not yet in theaters, relegating titles like Ask Dr. Ruth, The Secret Life of Pets 2 and Her Smell to the bottom of the pile.

This strategy has previously been employed for lower-profile pics such as Frozen River (2008), Animal Kingdom (2010) and A Better Life (2011), each of which wound up with nominations for acting Oscars.