OSCAR: Voters Receive Final 2010 Screener

Here’s the story of an Oscar campaign aiming not to be first, but dead last: Academy members have begun receiving what is believed – and intentionally planned – to be the final screener of the season, Peter Weir’s independently produced and distributed adventure epic The Way Back. For those with short memories, the first screeners mailed this awards season were Sony Pictures Classics’ Mother And Child and Animal Kingdom on September 28th. The Way Back is one of four indie dramas making up the final quartet of 2010 contender releases in limited runs beginning today. The others, all in theatres more easily accessed on the Academy voter-centric Westside of Los Angeles are Roadside Attractions’ Biutiful, Sony Pictures Classics’ Another Year and The Weinstein Company’s Blue Valentine. But awards strategists for The Way Back‘s distributor, Newmarket, decided to hold back mailing the DVD screener to Oscar voters until Monday of this holiday week, the same day nominating ballots were also being mailed by the Academy. The thinking was that, rather than getting lost in the pile of hopeful discs, it would be fresh in mind just as members start thinking seriously about filling out their ballot. As one of the film’s strategists told me today, “We think voters will take notice of it coming at the tail end of the screener process and be curious to watch it, particularly since it is a film by Peter Weir who has been nominated several times for Oscars”.

The film depicts the harrowing journey set in the 1940 of a group of prisoners who escape a Soviet gulag to travel across five hostile countries in search of freedom. Though the pic has had screenings aimed at Guild and Academy members, most recently on December 28th at the DGA theatre in LA, it has been low profile this season since launching its stealth campaign at the Telluride Film Festival over Labor Day weekend. From there, it skipped Toronto and other fall fests where contenders usually graze. But Newmarket will be doing a round of advertising in Industry publications and on websites next week.

But for Oscar voters who would prefer to see the film in a commercial theatre this week, they will have to trek to Covina, on the outskirts of LA County, for the one-week Academy qualifying run. It’s a place better known for smog than to launch the first movie in 7 years from the director of Witness, The Truman Show, Dead Poet’s Society, and Master and Commander among others, gaining 6 Oscar nominations in the process.

The choice of the AMC Covina 30 plex for the exclusive run is also intentional: the distrib didn’t want to blow its marketing wad on a December 29th qualifying release date but to save its money for the true rollout scheduled for January 21st when The Way Back will open on several hundred screens, including those probably a bit closer for Acad members than Covina. That would explain the money-saving microscopic newspaper ad heralding the pic’s first theatrical single screen run today. The thinking is also that Academy voters are realistically more likely to watch the film on DVD than in a theatre, so any commercial run is in the second tier of the movie’s Oscar strategy.

This is a sad truth about today’s Oscar process even as the Academy, often futilely, encourages their members to see movies the way they were meant to be seen – on the big screen. (How ironic then that one Los Angeles-area newspaper review of the film saw a line that stated, “The Way Back demands to be seen on the largest possible screen”.) Still, even producer Joni Levin was surprised about the choice of locale. “When we heard, we said, ‘Where’s West Covina?’ But really we just wanted to qualify and didn’t want to spend a lot of our marketing dollars on just this aspect. We hope people will come to our industry screenings, attend the official Academy showing, or see the screener before voting.”

  1. the screeners were odd this year; in the past almost everything was sent out, but not this time. No EAT PRAY LOVE, no LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS, quite a few others missing. All the ‘big’ titles were sent, of course (TRUE GRIT, BLACK SWAN) but methinks the studios are cutting back, maybe getting ready for downloads next time around.

  2. When a group of dedicated artists gather and make a wonderful film that particular film must be watched on the big screen and must be rewarded in my opinion. Or at least go in the list of best picture category when comes to Oscars. “The Way Back” looks promising and Mr. Weir is one of the finest directors we have today. So, I am sure this is a feast.

  3. This is one GREAT film. Terrific performances by a superbly assembled cast. Masterful direction and an all around stunningly epic canvas. This is a film that has has an unbelievable struggle getting to the public but yet is the kind of film that used to be respected and anticipated. How sad that the industry has come to embrace Yogi Bearl and the Fokkers, yet ignores a filmmaker of Peter Weir’s stature and track record. I’m only hoping that this film gets tha recognition it deserves. Run and see it when you can.

    1. While I do like the Focker movies, I LOVED THIS FILM.

      I saw it yesterday on the big screen in Covina. One of 4 people at the 7:10pm screening.

      The scenery was incredible, absolutely stunning. I loved the characters and their journey even though I already knew the basic storyline.

      Ed Harris is simply a phenomenal actor.

      I urge everyone to see it in Covina. It’s a cozy theater.

  4. How about composer Christopher Youing who put up his own money for a qualifying screening of the Afgan movie Black Tulip.

  5. I have watched The Way Back and its awesome movie. I would surely like it to be nominated for Oscars. But Mother and Child is equally enthralling. I am sure this year it would be close competition.

  6. That’s a sad state of affairs. Sort of highlights the silliness of awards. A movie needs to be jumping up and down, in the waning moments of the year, saying “look at me, look at me. Kind of destroys the “best of the last 12 months” theory. Forget 12 months, the voters can’t even remember films from a couple of months ago. “

  7. I plan to see this film tomorrow in Covina which appears to be the only place to see it now. I am very excited because I’ve been patiently waiting for this film to be released because it’s such a cool story.

  8. Cannot wrap my head around the epic fail that is the “marketing campaign” (ha!) for this film. Peter Weir has moved into Terrence Malick territory – that rare genius who rarely makes films. 30-second beer spots have received (much) better promotion (see Bowl, Super).

    While the attention span of most critics and award voters is stretched to breaking at two months – is it really so nano-sized that it’s dropped to one week?

    By & large, this movie has missed the radars of critics, awards voters and the public. Sometimes great buzz can win out over dismal box office – but when you have nada on the last lap of the horse race?

    Besides that, Mr. Weir, how did you enjoy the film(making)?

  9. I’m a WGA Member in Chicago. Was it just me, or did Fox Searchlight not send screeners for 127 Hours or Black Swan? I was really looing forward to those since FS had sent us movies the past two years.

      1. But did they both go out for WGA Members, if so, which ones because none of the people I work with in Chicago got them.

  10. No Burlesque, Tron Legacy, Chronicles of Narnia, and The Tourist. Eat, Pray, Love also should have been sent out. Some of these movies may have had poor marketing causing not so much of a turn out at the theaters. The rumors going around about Eat, Pray Love was that it was a “chick film”. There was not a man in the audience when I went to see it on the big screen. Because of the poor turnout for the last Chronicles of Narnia, this new installment didn’t receive enough buzz. I thought it was so much better and enjoyable to watch. As too was Burlesque, a musical with good acting and great costumes; it too has a lot of potential for nominations. Tron Legacy has great sound, great special effects worth a nod for a screener. Admittedly we haven’t seen The Tourist yet because I & my husband [the academy member] hasn’t had the chance yet to see it. Today we received Salt, which we had fortunately seen on the big screen. The nomination ballots are due next week. There’s a lot of cramming to be done in order to watch the screeners, and not enough time to go out to see those movies on the big screen that haven’t been sent as screeners. It’s quite a shame that some very good movies may be passed over this year.

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