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Actors, writers speak out against Oscar DVD ban

Actors, writers speak out against Oscar DVD ban. Sean Penn, Frances McDormand, and the Writers Guild say the anti-piracy move will hurt indie films

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Sean Penn
Sean Penn: Evan Agostini/Getty Images/NewsCom

Another day, another set of protests lodged against the Motion Picture Association of America’s recent ban on Oscar-season screener videos for awards voters. Last week ended with an open letter signed by 142 top directors from Hollywood and around the globe, complaining that the anti-piracy measure would only serve to hurt the awards chances (and box office grosses) of independent films. On Monday, several top Hollywood actors joined the chorus, as did the Writers Guild of America West, the first of the industry unions to protest the MPAA ban.

Actors who’ve joined an ad hoc group that’s expected to release a statement in the coming days include several who had been depending on screeners to expose their 2003 films to voters. They include Sean Penn and Naomi Watts (”21 Grams”), Holly Hunter (”Thirteen”), and Frances McDormand (”Laurel Canyon”). Also expected to sign are Rosanna Arquette, Selma Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Steve Buscemi, Don Cheadle, Willem Dafoe, Olymbia Dukakis, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nick Nolte, ChloĆ« Sevigny, Sissy Spacek, Hilary Swank, Tracey Ullman, and Robin Wright Penn.

The Writers Guild statement noted that several recent Oscar winning screenwriters, including Bill Condon (”Gods and Monsters”), Julian Fellowes (”Gosford Park”) and John Irving (”The Cider House Rules”), came to the Academy’s attention via screeners sent to voters. “To place a gag order on ‘screeners’ is to tilt the playing field from small films to large,” the statement said

Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert told Variety she expected her union’s board of directors to prepare a statement on the ban by this weekend. Speaking for herself, she said she found it insulting that the MPAA was essentially accusing the Hollywood insiders who receive screeners of sabotaging the industry by leaking the DVDs to pirates. ”That the voting community of Hollywood is the community they’re accusing of doing this is mind-boggling,” she said. ”It’s ridiculous.”

Despite these protests against the ban, as well as earlier complaints by independent film studio executives and producers, the MPAA has refused to back down on the ban so far. That may change later this week, when MPAA chief Jack Valenti takes a conference call from the people who pay his salary, the chiefs of the major studios. They’re the ones whose widely booked blockbusters are the most likely to be pirated and the least likely to require screeners to attract voters’ attention. Still, the New York Times reports, representatives from Warner Bros., Universal, Twentieth Century Fox, and other major studios will talk with Valenti this week about the possibility of revising (though probably not revoking) the ban.