LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Several top actors and past Academy Award winners are joining the battle against a controversial ban on Oscar movie "screeners" by voicing their opposition in a newspaper advertisement, a film industry source has said.
Signers of the ad, which will appear in the Wednesday edition of industry papers Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, include Oscar winners Adrien Brody and Susan Sarandon as well as "Matrix" star Keanu Reeves, said the source who is connected to IFP/Los Angeles, a group helping spearhead the drive against the ban.
The ad will ask the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents Hollywood's major studios, to reverse their decision to issue screeners to Academy members who vote on the awards.
The ban on "screeners" -- videotapes and DVDs of movies vying for awards -- has raised a major outcry by filmmakers, directors and now actors who say it will limit the number of people who will see contending films and discriminate against smaller independent studios.
The MPAA instituted the ban out of concern the videos and DVDs will be illegally copied and sold on black markets or distributed for free over the Internet, which happened last year.
The MPAA and member studios currently are waging a major campaign against movie piracy, especially on the Web.
But filmmakers worry that the ban will give studio movies an unfair advantage over low-budget and independent films when they all begin competing for a slew of awards given out in coming months, culminating in the U.S. film industry's top honours, the Oscars, to be awarded in February.
The actors' ad follows a similar "open letter" by famed directors such as Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman that ran in newspapers last week and called the ban an "unwarranted obstacle" in Hollywood's annual awards race.
MANY VOICES, MANY ISSUES
Other groups such as film critics and award shows organisers have voiced concern, too.
Last week, Kathy Connell, producer of the Screen Actors Guild Awards said, "we are concerned that if screeners are not made available, our members will not be able to view all eligible performances." The Screen Actors Guild represents 118,000 actors.
The Writers Guild of America West, which represents screenwriters, issued a statement on Monday saying "to place a gag order on 'screeners' is to tilt the playing field from small films to large."
A spokesman for the MPAA stuck to their statement issued last week, saying it welcomed new thoughts and ideas on the issue but that for now, the screener ban remains intact.
Within the industry, the issue is hotly contested because awards and nominations get more people into theatres and have a direct impact on sales of videos, DVD and television fees.
Major studios have the marketing muscle and money to get the attention they need, whereas independent filmmakers depend on publicity from awards. Actors and directors argue they might not make low-budget films without the hype awards season brings.
But the issue has perplexed Hollywood insiders, too, because many fear piracy and a future filled with the sort of declining sales that have played havoc with the music industry.
"We have to look for a solution that will suit all interests," said another source who asked to remain anonymous. "Piracy is a huge problem, and everybody is interested in protecting intellectual property."
This is being sold as a move to stop piracy, but the article is nicely balanced and actually suggests that the big movie companies are deliberately trying to get even more advantage over smaller independent movie companies and producers.
It seems piracy and filesharing is becoming more of a scapegoat for these evil people to justify ridiculous curtailments of freedom and fair competition.