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Back Story of DVD Fracas: We Love Our Bags of Swag

October 12, 2003|Lynda Obst | Lynda Obst, a producer at Paramount Pictures, is the author of "Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches."

Dear Mr. Valenti:

Your wisdom in guiding our industry has been, up to now, unparalleled. My respect for you is such that, even in the face of this insane new policy of eliminating our Oscar DVDs, I feel certain that you are merely misguided, not malevolent. The piracy issue must be driving you to distraction for you to have even considered such a punitive and thoroughly incomprehensible position. You are a sage man who knows his constituency, and so you must know that this policy cannot stand.

This so-called anti-piracy policy benefits no one -- with the exception of a few studio heads who, let's face it, are irrelevant. Not only do they have home screening rooms where they see the movies before they come out, there are only six of them or something and their votes don't count for much. This injustice is extreme considering their disproportionate influence during Oscar season anyway. Academy members have one primary joy apart from voting: lording our DVDs over everyone we know. We spend a lot of time on our DVDs, deciding whom to lend them to, figuring out who has which DVD first, and constantly asking our assistants why other people may or may not have "Cold Mountain" before we do.

The DVD bonanza is the first ritual of Oscar season. As was noted by Miramax's Harvey Weinstein (who will extract some enormous advantage from our loss of DVD privileges somehow anyway), the new policy will kill the indies. These smaller, nonstudio films don't play in theaters in St. Barts or Kauai -- where, as you know, most academy members spend the Christmas holidays around their Hanukkah trees.

On a more personal note, without academy DVDs, my son will lose popularity among his friends and I will lose popularity with my East Coast family (who are not, I can guarantee you, the source of our piracy problem). That you think that jamming our joy will solve our serious crisis is as tragic as the music industry's alienating its own base by suing a few college students.

Talk about the little Dutch boy putting his finger in the dike to hold back the flood! We'd better find more sophisticated solutions to our technological crisis than biting the hand that picks the winners.

You want to know who's stealing those screeners? Check the mailrooms at the studios. They recently ripped off some flowers sent to me. Just don't take our freebies away.

By the way, I heard about this ridiculous notion of an academy lending library. No one will go there. And when have you ever heard of a producer returning anything ever lent him? It is as absurd a notion as an actor returning wardrobe after the movie is over. Ha!

Which brings me to a larger point about freebies: I am always galled by the fact that actors get free designer wardrobe for the Academy Awards. Major designers set up shop here weeks ahead, vying to give away their wares. Actors are the only people who can afford the clothes being promoted in the first place.

And then there are those spas set up at hotels the week before the awards -- as if it takes movie stars a week to prepare to look gorgeous.

At least they have to return their diamonds.

Now, it's true that when we go to parties we get goody bags, but it's not quite commensurate. We get lipsticks in colors we'd never wear, but treasure anyway. We get hair spray and hair conditioner and terrible, terrible dark-yellow eye shadow. I don't use hair spray, yet I am happy to see it in my goody bag. I have scored tacky crystal bracelets and toe rings and caffeinated euromints, which help keep me up all night, which I have no trouble doing all on my own. I have received flip-flops in size 8, when I am size 5, and have happily taken them home. I have seen people sprint back from an interminable valet parking line if they've forgotten their goody bags, and these are rich people in fancy cars who could buy and sell the company that makes the hair spray.

What is it about free stuff? Perhaps rich people suffer from fear of privation, or have too much room in their large houses. Perhaps they need to win popularity with their teenagers by bringing them oversized Movieline T-shirts that would fit only Gov. Arnold! Or they think they can make their housekeepers happy with makeup by Dior. Maybe tote bags are the new free lunch.

I developed another theory when I worked for Disney, which is that grown-ups don't get enough toys. One night on a company retreat, I found a large stuffed Goofy doll on my bed. It filled me with inordinate delight. I removed clothes in order to fit it in my suitcase. My son practically had to pry it out of my hands when I got home. It was then I realized that Jeffrey Katzenberg, who then chaired Disney, had figured out how easily grown-ups could be bought for toys. This was early in the goody-bag era. It is late now in the trend, and a party cannot go on without a treat bag. People simply will not have it.

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