In the end, it was a declaration by movie honcho Harvey Weinstein that put an end to the Oscar screener madness.
The Miramax co-chief was the only studio chief to submit an affidavit to U.S. District Judge Michael B. Mukasey in favor of lifting Jack Valenti's ban against sending review tapes and DVDs of potential Oscar movies to awards groups and critics.
Friday, Mukasey sided with the independent producers, granting a temporary restraining order against the ban, which was being enforced by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Ironically, testimony for keeping the ban in place came from an ex-Miramax vice president, Mark Gill, now head of Warner Independent Pictures, a division of Warner Bros. that will start producing "arty" films next year. You can draw your own conclusions, but Warner Bros. was the studio that pressured Valenti into creating the ban.
Valenti said he created the ban because of piracy issues, but Hollywood insiders know that Warner was worried that their film, "Mystic River," a sure fire Oscar nominee, might get snubbed if smaller movies from studios like Miramax, Universal Focus, Sony Pictures Classics, Lions Gate and Newmarket were seen at home by Oscar voters on tape.
In the end, the worry was unfounded since "Mystic River" is destined to be one of the five Oscar finalists along with "Master and Commander," "Cold Mountain," "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" and either "Seabiscuit" or "In America."
In his affidavit, Weinstein wrote that "without screeners, most independent films will not be seen by nearly the same number of critical viewers during the awards season as will be major release movies." For Miramax, that would mean films like "The Station Agent," "The Barbarian Invasions," and "Dirty Pretty Things." But for the other studios, the implications are more dire. Among the indie films with something at stake: "In America," "Thirteen," "Lost in Translation," and "21 Grams."
Weinstein concluded: "I offer this declaration on behalf of the Miramaxes of the future, the Sony Classics of the future, the Focus Films of the future, etc, who need all the avenues of promotion that we were able to take advantage of in order to serve and stimulate the audiences of tomorrow."
The judge's order is temporary, but it offers a death blow to the career of Valenti, I would think. In his job as head of the Motion Picture Association of America since 1966, the 82 year old former aide to President Johnson will likely have to step aside soon after creating such a debacle.