Actors Join Oscar Screener Opposition

Several prominent actors, including Sean Penn (search), Holly Hunter (search), Frances McDormand (search) and Willem Dafoe (search), have joined the opposition to a recent ban on sending special DVDs and videos to Academy Award voters.

The Writers Guild of America also has added its voice to the argument.

Their protest follows a letter sent last week from 142 directors to Jack Valenti (search), president of the Motion Picture Association of America, urging the MPAA to immediately repeal its anti-piracy plan.

The actors, writers and directors contend that asking Oscar voters (searchto see films only in theaters will put smaller, independent features at a disadvantage, and will do nothing to stop piracy.

"This is an acknowledgment that actors are often the triggers for financing and distribution decisions on independent movies so it's really important their voices are heard," Michelle Byrd, executive director of the Independent Feature Project/New York, told the trade paper Variety for Tuesday's editions. The IFP is helping organize opposition to the ban.

An actors' protest, to be published in the coming days, will include the names of Hilary Swank, Don Cheadle, Sissy Spacek, Ellen Burstyn, Nick Nolte, and Steve Buscemi, among others.

Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert also disagrees with the ban on screeners. "It creates a hugely inequitable and hugely unleveled playing field," she said.

The MPAA reiterated Monday that it welcomed debate on the policy, but that the ban would remain.

Victoria Riskin, president of the Writers Guild of America West, said screener DVDs and videos are crucial to helping small, well-written films find an audience.

"Oscar winners such as Bill Condon ('Gods and Monsters'), Julian Fellowes ('Gosford Park') and John Irving (search('The Cider House Rules') were first brought to the attention of Academy voters via just these means," Riskin said Monday. "To place a gag order on 'screeners' is to tilt the playing field from small films to large."

Last week, directors including Robert Altman, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Robert Redford sent a protest letter to Valenti, which was published in Variety.