HAMMOND: The Oscar Race Is On To Get Academy Voters' Private Info

EXCLUSIVE: Paramount’s announcement on Tuesday that it was teaming with Deluxe Entertainment Services Group to become the first major studio to stream its awards consideration films online made news and tech-challenged voters nervous. (So far, it is a pilot program for the Visual Effects Society; a Paramount source told me they were selected because they are deemed the most likely to be able to figure out how to do it.) But this isn’t the only awards-season noise the newly aggressive Deluxe has been making this month. Another of  their moves even raised eyebrows among several rank-and-file Academy voters.

Last week, some concerned Academy members contacted me regarding an emailed letter they had received from Deluxe Media Management asking for confirmation of their contact information and directing them to a detailed survey of the members’ personal details in their database. A bolded note near the bottom warned: “PLEASE NOTE: We must receive verification of your contact information before screeners or other materials can be sent.” This letter was preceded by an introductory email a week earlier telling members that Deluxe was the “preferred industry partner for distribution of awards consideration materials” and would be sending a subsequent email instructing them how to update their contact information and that their privacy would be respected and info remain confidential. The second letter began by saying:

Dear AMPAS Member,

Since 2003, Deluxe Media Management has been producing, manufacturing and fulfilling watermarked and regular DVD screeners for our studio clients. On behalf  of our studio clients, Deluxe also distributes screening calendars and various awards materials to AMPAS members worldwide. Please take a moment to confirm your contact information is current in our database. This will ensure timely dielivery of your awards consideration materials.

Nowhere is this letter do they identify who those studio clients are, and some AMPAS members I have talked to were concerned about being solicited directly by an outside vendor requesting personal information. But due to the wording of the letter, they were worried they wouldn’t get screeners if they didn’t comply. Because the Academy does not participate in making its list available for the purpose of awards mailings, each studio and distributor has over the years created their own list or hired awards consultants who have one. It’s big business for people who have a good list because in terms of Oscar campaigns, they are considered like gold and hotly sought-after. Studios and distribs annually attempt to update it through different means including trade ads requesting member address changes and information about new members. I know one top consultant who combs the obits each day, crossing deceased members off their list. The Academy lists are a very sensitive area since these email and snail-mail addresses and phone numbers belong to some very high-profile people and are as rigorously protected by each studio as if it were CIA information. Traditionally these lists are provided by each studio and distrib to their fulfillment house with the expectation that they will mail materials only to those the studio indicates (in some cases, members opt out of mailings and inform the studio). They are often asked to sign nondisclosure agreements.

“I am very concerned about security with my list and demand that an NDA be signed by the fulfilllment house I use and they are only to use my list,” said one major studio awards consultant and longtime Academy member I contacted — who was not a client of Deluxe but had received the email and wondered about the motivation. “It seems to me like they are trying to create their own master list combining names from all of their clients’  Academy lists and maybe eventually using it to attract new clients who want access to Oscar voters.” Another studio employee said they knew of at least one instance in which their list was used for purposes other than their own mailings, but “what can you really do about it?” Yet another consultant said they don’t want to take away from what Deluxe does (“it’s a  good company”) and that maybe by combining names from the different client lists they can reach more voters.

Another longtime awards consultant/Academy member was more blunt: “I have talked to members on both coasts who are concerned about this because nowhere in their letter do they actually list who their clients are and are asking members to blindly comply with their personal information or risk not getting screeners. What if they don’t send it back? Does that mean Deluxe is going to cut these people that were on our lists?” The consultant points out that  Deluxe obviously had to get Academy email addresses from their clients’ lists in order to even send the letter. “How do I know who they are gonna sell my information to?”

Along those lines, a newer Academy member who brought the email to Deadline’s attention worried that Deluxe or others with this info might sell it to an outside party like Porsche or some other commercial enterprise that would love a way to have direct contact with the industry’s most elite players. Is this just paranoia or over-reaction on the part of certain members? All I talked to agreed they had never before received a mailing like this from a vendor, and indeed I have learned this was the first time Deluxe has attempted to collate sensitive Academy voter information into one central list. And it’s not just an email or home address they are tyring to obtain. Once inside the password-restricted area, members are asked for several things including preferences for DVD and screenplay format; if they wish to access screeners from the Internet; as well as mobile and home/work phone numbers and guild affiliations.

When first contacted, Deluxe Entertainment Services Group CEO and president Cyril Drabinsky, an Academy member himself,  said he thought this was business as usual and that the company does it regularly every year, though he referred me to one of his employees who oversees it for more specific information. “It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” Drabinsky said. “I think we just do this to streamline operations for more efficiency and to make sure the members receive everything.” A Deluxe marketing VP told me “it’s not that big a deal” when she got back to me after looking into the matter. She confirmed that this was the first year Deluxe decided to contact Academy voters directly.

“For the last several years, Deluxe has been producing and fulfilling  the watermarked screeners during Academy Awards season for our studio and independent distribution clients,” a Deluxe spokesman said. “In years past, each client updated their own AMPAS list. We were asked this year by some of our clients to update the list on their behalf. The email to Academy members was to simply begin the process of verifying contact information for our master list. As with all initiatives on behalf of our  clients, this master list will remain confidential and not shared with any third party.”

Although they weren’t disclosed to Deadline or in the letter to Academy members, Deluxe clients include Fox, Sony, Universal, Paramount, The Weinstein Company, WGA, PGA and various independents, I am told. Reps from those clients we talked to did not know of any request made to Deluxe to update their lists, though it is certainly possible as there are many different people working on these campaigns and not everyone knows what everyone else is doing.

A consultant for one of those Deluxe clients told me Academy voter lists are actually mushrooming around town (Full disclosure: Deadline has a list for its award-season mailings). “I heard the L.A. Times was even using their editorial people to write letters soliciting information from Academy members,” said the consultant, also an Academy member, adding that with each new PR firm that crops up another attempt to get a list happens like clockwork. “(Awards consultant) Cynthia Swartz’s new firm Strategy PR just sent a letter to members soliciting information. Last year when I took on a small foreign film’s campaign, I realized I had to get my own list since I couldn’t use the studios. I  thought it might be difficult but I called three fulfillment houses and they each had some kind of list to offer me. I went with the one that had both email and home addresses. It was simple.” Deluxe’s big competitor is Technicolor, and there are other fulfillment houses like Hazmat and West Coast Mailers who get in on the action.

Emmy consultants don’t seem to have the same problem as Oscar consultants do in getting their materials to the right voters. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences cooperates by supplying their member addresses to one fulfillment house, 3R Printing, which coordinates all mailings for every network and studio with a contender. The one thing every Oscar consultant agreed on was that it would be nice if the Motion Picture Academy followed that example and made their list available for one central mailing house. It would quickly end the gold rush for voter lists, but it’s not going to happen according to Academy president Tom Sherak.

“Our Academy is not in the screener business,” he said. “We believe movies should be seen on the big screen but we do understand the desire of our members to also be able to get them on DVD, so many years ago the Academy made a decision not to stand in the way of that.” Sherak notes that the initial decision was in regards to smaller films so that everyone could be on an even playing field. It then expanded, and now members receive up to 50 or 60 discs a season and the Acad’s new rules even permit downloading and streaming as an alternate option for distributors. “We don’t endorse the use of screeners because we want to emphasize our belief in seeing films in theaters,” Sherak says. “The TV Academy is about TV, the small screen. I get what they do but they are different than us.”

  1. The use of VES to test this program is not because VES members are more technically skilled. The real reason is that VES has for several years had voting for VES awards all done on line, because all the complex nominee materials are posted for viewing and voting. VES members are used to viewing films on computers as this is the format in which VES members work daily.

    That being said, this whole idea of ‘streaming’ films defeats the purpose of films which are designed to be seen in theaters, or at least, on large home screen entertainment systems. AMPAS is completely missing the point as it caves in to the ‘cost’ demands from the studios to provide screeners. Prior to this, the reason for getting away from screeners was the potential theft and illegal distribution of these films, but that has been under control, and no longer poses the threat it once was.

    If companies cannot afford to send screeners directly to various Academy and other production organization members…then, these companies should not compete for Oscars.

    The streaming idea is not good for many reasons, and most of these reasons have little to do with collecting data on members. This is just attacking the messenger (Deluxe)…when the focus should be on the message (AMPAS). Streaming films is not…yet…a viable alternative to in theater or at home full screen entertainment viewing for qualified voters for any awards organization process.

  2. “If companies cannot afford to send screeners directly to various Academy and other production organization members…then, these companies should not compete for Oscars.”

    Really?

    You honestly feel that way?

    That a small, independent which might just be the best film of the year should not be in contention if its makers cannot afford a multi-million dollar awards campaign?

    Please assure us that you are not an AMPAS voter. Otherwise, that explains a lot of crappy noms and wins in the past 10 years.

    1. Okay, the playing field should be equal…but, when money comes into play…it never is. There is no way to ‘control’ the campaign funding.

      Independent films can run screenings, and are not compelled to distribute screeners. The point of the post is that films should not be ‘streamed’ at this moment in time, but should be seen in theaters (first), and if not, most voting members have fairly sophisticated entertainment home systems to accommodate screeners in a far more theatrical format than a computer or other electronic device. However, many systems are not yet fully integrated with computers to run films. Once this is in place and voters can more easily download and watch on their big screens, then it should be reconsidered as an option solely at the discretion of the voter.

      Do you think watching films on an iPhone or iPad or whatever is even close to the experience required to judge a film and its various artistic elements…I do not.

      FYI – Not an AMPAS member, but am a member of at two other voting organizations, and one is second only to AMPAS.

      1. Watching on an iPhone or iPad is not the same experience as seeing the film in the theater, but neither is watching a DVD. If you really want to maintain the “artistic integrity” of the overall experience, then studios should stop shipping out screeners as well. I’ve always viewed them as a convenience if I couldn’t make it to a screening because I was traveling, working or just too tired to drive over there (lame excuse, but some days it sure is the truth). I kind of like this idea of being able to access anywhere. If I really want to see it the way it was intended, I will go to the theater. If it doesn’t work out for me, then I’ll have either my DVD player or my iPad connected to the tv wherever I am.

  3. I am curious why these AMPAS members would contact Pete Hammond (who I adore by the way) rather than the Academy itself regarding this practice. As far as I could tell from the follow up letter from Deluxe, I had a choice as to what info I provided. all I did was request dvds – I ignored the rest – and if they ‘punish’ me by withholding screeners, well, then I guess those films won’t be considered by me if I miss the chance to see it in a theatrical venue. it’s not rocket science and as far as I can see, paranoia in people who have nothing better to waste their minds on.

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