My wife is an actress and member of SAG, so every year around this time she gets a handful of SAG screening discs. For those of you who know, this is not quite as exciting as it sounds. You see, these discs are watermarked—to prevent piratical distribution—with sentences of text that appear over the picture every fifth scene or so reminding you it’s a screener. So the excitement of “free movies!” is moderated by the downfall of getting kicked out of one’s suspension of disbelief every so often by an irritating subtitle.
The only reason I bring it up is that this year, for the first time that I’ve seen, my wife has received a postcard offering a free iTunes rental of the movies that studio has for Oscar consideration. This is brilliant, primarily because the “free” DVDs sent out in the past weren’t anything we’d want to bother keeping. If it was a movie we’d want in our library, the last thing we need is to see those annoying subtitles during every viewing, I’d just buy a clean copy once the Blu-ray version came out.
By using iTunes rental distribution, the studio can keep their bits secure, my wife can watch the movies she might care to vote on, and I don’t have to feel guilty tossing unwanted DVDs into a landfill. I consider this to be very forward thinking, and I must applaud the studios who are trying this out. The only disadvantage is that, for typical home viewing, one has to get an Apple TV (or possibly have a Mac Mini or other iTunes-outputting CPU hooked up to one’s TV). At $99 this isn’t a massive imposition, but it’s still a drag if you’re an underemployed actor struggling to make ends meet while fulfilling your dreams. However, there’s always the option of renting on your iTunes equipped computer.
It’s also been brought to my attention that Withoutabox.com has been allowing uploaded, online screeners (used by select festivals) for some time. I used Withoutabox.com in 2006 when I was submitting my feature Four Weeks, Four Hours to festivals around the world, and at the time I was crowing about being able to send a DVD instead of a VHS tape. However, the thought of how many hundreds of thousands of DVD submissions from indie filmmakers found their way into the trash makes me quail. The waste saved by online video submission ought to be tremendous.
Of course, one can only hope that the festival reviewers who are evaluating these submissions aren’t tempted to catch up on their review queue using their iPhone on the bus…