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Directors Join Fight for 'Screener' Tapes, DVDs

October 04, 2003|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Prominent directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Norman Jewison and Robert Altman and other Hollywood power brokers are mounting a letter-writing campaign against the Motion Picture Assn. of America's decision to stop distributing copies of current releases for awards consideration.

The MPAA announced the measure this week as a way to combat film piracy, but the move has met with backlash throughout the industry, particularly those who believe that the policy will keep smaller, low-budget films from getting the consideration they deserve.

The directors, along with producer Ismail Merchant, top talent agents and distributors of independent films, are the latest to join the fight. Leaders of the art-house divisions of the major film studios already are mobilizing. And Friday, executives from leading specialized film distribution companies held a conference call to discuss a plan of action.

The executives plan to draft a letter over the weekend to MPAA President Jack Valenti suggesting alternatives.The meeting -- with some participating via teleconference -- included MPAA member subsidiaries such as Focus Features, United Artists, Miramax Films, Fine Line Features, Paramount Classics and Sony Pictures Classics. In addition, non-MPAA members that are not bound by the MPAA's decision also participated as a show of unity in the indie community, including Lions Gate Films, Newmarket Films, IFC Films and ThinkFilm. Fox Searchlight Pictures did not participate.

"This is just people who are gathering and being very proactive and positive to talk about solutions for a very difficult situation," said the group's spokeswoman, Donna Daniels. "They are looking for some short-term solutions and also looking at long-term solutions."

The MPAA "ban" will work on the honor system -- there is in fact no way for the MPAA to enforce it. Valenti said that he knew many in the industry would be opposed to it but that it would stand. Valenti said many copies of last year's Oscar "screeners" were pirated in Asia and Europe."We are not stepping back or changing," Valenti said. "These are people who are great friends of mine, and it is on their behalf I am doing this."

In addition to Friday's meeting, a letter is circulating urging people to send their thoughts to Valenti and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Frank Pierson.

"This issue is far from over, despite Jack Valenti's attempt to squash it without discussion," states the letter sent out by "American Splendor" producer Ted Hope. "The specialized distributors have joined forces as they never have done before.... Do your part and we can stop this from happening."

John Lesher, a partner at talent agency Endeavor who represents directors such as "Magnolia's" Paul Thomas Anderson, added, "This makes no sense to me. It feels like big studios' way of squeezing out the little guy."

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