With the nominations announced for the BAFTA awards, it is worth re-visiting the issue of DVD and on-line screeners to analyse what if any impact they had on the films that made the shortlist. The usual caveat applies that BAFTA members watch and vote on films, documentaries, foreign language films and shorts based on their artistic merit. However, in the deluge of worthy end-of-year releases it is difficult to catch them all in the cinema, let alone cram in home viewing over the Christmas holiday. So access and convenience of screeners can play a part.
This year was notable in terms of the number of screeners being made available on-line to download or stream came close to matching the number of screeners sent out on DVD, with both just over 50 each – but with DVDs taking a late narrow lead. On-line distribution was the preferred option mainly for Documentaries and Films not in the English Language (and Shorts, though we won’t cover those here), with iTunes and Vimeo battling out for platform preference, but other candidates being distributors’ own websites, DMS, YouTube and DropBox. Several films were made available on both DVD and on-line, though with the exception of one studio (Universal) and another studio’s specialty division title, Hollywood largely shied away from the on-line option for screeners.
Not surprisingly all the films that have received nominations in the heavyweight categories (Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, as well as Outstanding British Film) were sent out on DVD screeners to BAFTA members. Gravity was the earliest one sent (9 December) while 12 Years A Slave was sent latest (20 December). The only three Hollywood titles nominated that were not sent out on screeners were Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim and Star Trek Into Darkness, though all of these received, perhaps not surprisingly, their only nomination was in the VFX category. It should also be noted that nominations for technical categories are voted for only by a smaller sub-set of BAFTA members from a particular chapter.
Interestingly, two of the big Hollywood releases that missed out on any nominations were 20th Century Fox’s The Counsellor and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, whose screeners were not sent out until December 30th. While the former had not gotten much critical acclaim or strong reviews (with the exception of Steven Gaydos), the latter had been considered a potential candidate, even with the mixed reviews it got, but walked away with no nominations. The late sending out of screeners could potentially have hurt its prospects. There was also no nomination for Fox Searchlight’s Enough Said, which was only made available via Fox’s website. Again, this may have ended up hurting a film that was otherwise well reviewed and for which a nomination was expected for the late James Gandolfini. This was also the case for TWC’s Fruitvale Station.
Turning thus to the two categories in which on-line distribution was the preferred mode, ie Best Documentary and Best Film not in the English Language, there are several interesting things to note.
Film not in the English Language (FNIEL)
Of the five films nominated three were sent out on DVD and on-line, two were only sent on DVD and no film that was only made available on-line made the shortlist. Of the three that were made available on-line, all three were distributed via iTunes and in some cases also on the distributor’s own website. No film distributed on Vimeo, DMS, YouTube or Dropbox made the cut. Again, quality more than technology is likely to have been prevailed, with Blue Is The Warmest Colour having won the Palm d’Or, The Act of Killing having been named Film of The Year (any category) by The Guardian, The Great Beauty having won the European Film Awards, Metro Manila having won the British Independent Awards and Wadjda having been widely acclaimed on its release. However, it would be reasonable to suppose that the suspenders-and-belt approach of DVD + iTunes download could have helped giving these films a slight edge.
Here the picture becomes much more mixed and interesting. One of the films nominated was neither sent out as a DVD screener, nor made available on-line and has not been released in cinemas yet. So voting members can only have seen it at one of the festivals where it screened or a preview screening. One of the documentaries was only sent out as a DVD screener. One was only made available via iTunes. One was made available on iTunes and the distributor’s own website. The fifth and final was sent out as a DVD, made available on iTunes and also on the distributor’s own website. Again, no film on Vimeo or any other platform made the shortlist. Sending out a documentary on DVD alone is no guarantee, with several others that opted for this category alone did not make the shortlist. Documentaries are even more difficult to catch in the cinema than FNIEL, so voting members have had to make an extra effort. While The Act of Killing has been universally acclaimed and was expected to be on the short list it is worth noting that that two of the other documentaries were backed by major Hollywood studios (Universal and Sony), which gave them a slight marketing edge. But apart from that the picture is mixed.
In conclusion it is safe to observe that DVD screeners continue to dominate, even as on-line platforms make inroads, especially for FNIEL. For documentaries it seems that there are many roads to a nomination, including just screening in cinemas. The on-line platform that had most nominees was iTunes, sometimes in combination with the distributor’s own website, but going only on your own website or Vimeo et al does not appear to have improved the chances of any of the films.
It only remains for us to express a sincere wish that may the best films win purely on artistic merit, wherever and however they were seen. Our own preference here at Celluloid Junkie will always be the cinema.