DGA rescinds long-standing 'no screeners' policy

Posted by · 10:55 am · May 7th, 2012

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) has announced today that it will be reversing a long-standing policy outlawing the issuance of “for your consideration” screeners to its membership. The change will go into effect this awards season.

Said DGA president Taylor Hackford via press release, “There’s nothing better than watching a movie on the big screen, exactly as the director intended. But it’s not always possible for our members to get to the theater to see every film in awards contention.”

The guild’s former policy was in place because it believed films sent out on DVD “could have an advantage over films that are not able to be sent out due to limited marketing budgets or other financial constraints of studios and distributors.” Noble, but out-dated. And given the down-the-middle voting habits of the membership as of late, it doesn’t seem to have done much for the little guys anyway.

It’s a move that’s well overdue, it goes without saying. What will it mean to the awards season? Well, first and foremost it means budgets go up. It’s one thing to send out a bunch of screeners to the 90-odd-member HFPA or a couple thousand to the SAG nominating committee, but the DGA is 15,000 members strong. Add in watermarking of DVDs for anti-piracy concerns and you start to tack on a few extra hundred thousand dollars per contender, assuming there will even be enough time to generate that many DVDs for films wrapping up post-production late in the game for the December voting deadline. There might not be.

And by the way, a new bag of money isn’t just going to show up. That added budget will have to be siphoned from other places.

It also means access to voting blocks within the DGA that can sometimes represent younger demographics — television personnel, ADs, UPMs, etc. — and often don’t have access to screeners via peripheral membership in bodies like the Academy.

No, studios don’t HAVE to send the screeners now, just because they can. But as one awards strategist I spoke to said, “I would never not send screeners to the DGA.” It’s too much of a cornerstone of the precursor circuit, too important a designation (in the eyes of studios gunning for major awards consideration at the Oscars) to ignore. And indeed, some actually aren’t too thrilled about this added obligation.

The DGA might have underestimated the view of its awards season importance a few years ago when it decided, halfway through the season, to suddenly rescind its ban on screeners and apparently didn’t expect anyone to bat an eye. The guild gave Paramount Pictures permission to send screeners of “Dreamgirls” to the guild during the 2006 season and the reasoning given at the time was basically, “Hey, they asked. No one ever asked before.” The guild asserted then that its policy actually did allow for screeners to be sent following notification of competing campaigns.

Naturally, the DGA’s phones blew up, everyone screamed bloody murder and the guild went with a strict no screeners policy, citing the need for a “level playing field.” Bill Condon got his DGA nomination for “Dreamgirls,” but as it turned out, both he and the film were snubbed by the Academy.

It goes to show you never can tell. But everyone’s grabbing for a more secure foothold in this game and this move will allow campaigns more direct access to a significant group with their product…whether they wanted the extra footwork or not.

For year-round entertainment news and awards season commentary follow @kristapley on Twitter.

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