Indie film’s Mark Lipsky has petitioned the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to change one of the qualifying rules — specifically, Rule Twelve, Paragraph III, Section A, #9, which prohibits Internet transmission of a documentary feature vying for an Oscar for 60 days following its New York and Los Angeles runs. This rule ignores if not worsens the ongoing crisis in the independent film distribution business. While Lipsky clear has self-interest in mind (his Gigantic Releasing is the first company ever to open an indie day-and-date in theaters and online, with others in the pipeline), indie film’s ability to release on the Internet is critical to reach national audiences today and in the future. AMPAS needs to retool for reality.

Lipsky sent a letter to Sid Ganis last week, and has since followed up, but has received had no reply:

July 6, 2009

Mr. Sid Ganis
Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Dear Mr. Ganis,

As you know, your brethren in the independent film branch of our industry have been facing increasing challenges over the past several years. Without going into my own personal theories about how we got here, the bottom line is that we’re experiencing an extreme contraction on the exhibition front today – most particularly for truly independent films from emerging filmmakers. While it’s still feasible to secure screens for such films, it’s no longer possible to hold them longer than a week or perhaps two. Even with excellent reviews, these films come and go so quickly that most filmgoers have little or no chance to catch up to them. The concept of a film ‘finding’ it audience, of building word-of-mouth over time, is nearly extinct in the traditional theatrical environment.

One devastating result of this for independent producers and filmmakers has been the shuttering of a significant number of independent distributors and specialty studio divisions. As you might expect, those that remain are far less adventurous in their acquisitions and far more conservative in the breadth and scope of their release strategies.

Over the past eighteen months, Gigantic has developed and continues to improve upon a means for both orphaned films and those with traditional distribution to reach and grow their audiences. By taking advantage of the latest digital technology, and with great appreciation for and a decades-long understanding of the inner workings of the film business, we’ve devised a unique approach to independent film distribution for the new century.

Unfortunately, AMPAS has yet to fully embrace the digital age and one particularly antiquated and troubling rule is the reason that I’m writing to you today.

Rule Twelve, Paragraph III, Section A, #9 states “No type of television or Internet transmission of a contending documentary feature may occur anywhere in the world until 60 days after the completion of the New York and Los Angeles seven-day qualifying runs.” Not surprisingly, the foundation of our approach for addressing the problems described above rests in the very ‘internet transmission’ specified above. If this provision of Rule Twelve is allowed to stand – a provision that applies exclusively to documentaries by the way – at least one of the best received films of 2009 will be disqualified from Oscar consideration, and desperately needed innovation in our industry will be dealt a serious blow.

You can imagine our distress.

Gigantic Digital Cinema was very carefully developed by film professionals for film professionals and is presently the only digital delivery system designed specifically to supplement rather than replace or compete with traditional theatrical distribution. Films exhibited via Gigantic Digital Cinema are vetted no less aggressively than those exhibited in bricks and mortar cinemas, and we’ve taken great pains to ensure that they are presented at the very highest quality and commercial-free. In markets where theatrical engagements exist or are planned, exhibition via Gigantic Digital Cinema is withheld until after the conclusion of those engagements. Gigantic Digital Cinema makes it possible for any first-run film – with or without traditional distribution – to have a dramatically increased chance to reach its audience. In addition, we provide the kind of local market, professional PR and marketing services that art house cinemas have traditionally provided for decades. In other words, there is virtually nothing to distinguish Gigantic Digital Cinema from a bricks and mortar cinema aside from the manner in which the film reaches the screen.

Morgan Dews’s award-winning and highly acclaimed documentary, “Must Read After My Death,” was the first film to take advantage of the power and promise of Gigantic Digital Cinema. The film completed qualifying New York and LA theatrical runs this past February and enjoyed a first-run national release, day and date, via Gigantic Digital Cinema. Scores of media outlets across the country both large and small covered the release and issued mostly rave reviews of “Must Read…” in spite of the fact that the film did not open in bricks and mortar cinemas in 98% of those markets.

It is with these facts in mind that I request that the Academy amend Rule Twelve, effective for the 82nd Academy Awards, to allow “Must Read…” to qualify and as an acknowledgement of fast-evolving industry innovations that must be encouraged and nurtured rather than constrained. I realize that such a rule change in mid stream would be unusual, but we were not made aware of the ‘internet transmission’ provision until last week while preparing the submission paperwork for “Must Read…” However, as it was only late last month that you announced five additional slots in the Best Picture category, it’s clearly not too late to amend Rule Twelve.

Please let me know if I can provide any additional information or answer any questions that would assist in the Academy making a prompt, hopefully positive, determination in this matter.

Most sincerely,
Mark Lipsky