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Studio makes major Oscar push for ‘Crash’

130,000 DVDs sent out, compared to just 8,000 for ‘King Kong’


By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Independent film studio Lionsgate, buoyed by surging acclaim for its racial drama ”Crash,” said Thursday it has sent more than 130,000 DVD copies to Hollywood insiders as part of an unprecedented Oscar campaign for the movie.

The huge scope of the “Crash” DVD mailing, including copies to all members of film industry guilds for actors, writers and producers, dwarfs the size of what most studios regard as a major Oscar “screener” blitz -- typically running 12,000 to 20,000 copies.

Lionsgate Releasing President Tom Ortenberg said the DVD campaign was especially important for a film like “Crash,” a May release that is no longer in theaters and might otherwise be overlooked in the flood of newly released Oscar contenders.

Concerns about cost and copyright theft have traditionally made studios reluctant to circulate DVDs as widely as Lionsgate has for “Crash.”

But because the film already is out on DVD, additional mass duplication and distribution of the film can be accomplished cheaply and without fear of piracy, Ortenberg said.

He said cost of producing the “Crash” screeners and mailing ran just a couple hundred-thousand dollars, compared with the millions that some studios have lavished on major Oscar promotions.

“It’s a very effective and cost-efficient way to bring ’Crash’ to the people who need to see it,” Ortenberg told Reuters. “The most important part of the awards process is the movie itself.”

An ensemble film that explores ethnic and racial tensions in America, “Crash” marks the directorial feature debut of Paul Haggis, the screenwriter behind last year’s big Oscar winner, boxing film “Million Dollar Baby.”

“Crash” grossed about $53 million at the North American box office, making it a commercial success for an independent, relatively small-budget movie.

After being largely snubbed in December’s Golden Globe nominations -- a critical point in the Oscars race -- “Crash” has bounced back in a flurry of critics awards and film industry honors since last week.

The film earned Critics Choice Awards on Monday night for its screenplay, co-written by Haggis, and for its ensemble cast. Last week, Haggis picked up a prestigious Directors Guild of America nomination for his work on the film, as well as a Writers Guild of America nomination for the screenplay.

The film also had three nominations from the Screen Actors Guild and a nod for best picture from the Producers Guild of America.

“Last week’s sweep of the guild nominations by ’Crash’ was absolutely the catalyst for this extensive mailing,” said Ortenberg, whose studio gained notice in 2004 with its release of Michael Moore’s political documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

The surge in recognition for “Crash” also has led some pundits to count the film as a major rival of critical darling ”Brokeback Mountain” in the battle for a best picture Oscar.

Before the Golden Globe nominations, publicly traded Lionsgate sent out about 30,000 DVD screeners, already a hefty number. Since last week, the studio mailed more than 100,000 additional copies.

Altogether, the screener campaign included 100,000 copies to SAG members, about 10,000 to the Writers Guild and 3,000 to the Producers Guild. Those three groups account for a large share of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which hands out the Oscars in March. Academy Award nominations will be announced Jan. 31.

By comparison, Daily Variety reported that the studio behind the recent remake of “King Kong” sent out just 8,000 screeners.