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This week's column calling for a boycott of streaming screeners brought at least one positive response, but before getting to that, I must thank my buddy John Dacapias for reminding me of the most heinous request of them all.

There is a new 3D surf documentary opening at the Gaslamp later this month and the distributor sent off a screening link for review purpose. Unfortunately, my laptop didn't come equipped with a pair of factory issued polarized specs taped to its bottom.

Think about the madness contained in what you just read. A crew goes to the trouble of filming a documentary in 3D — and on a subject as visually electrifying as surfing, no less — only to turn around and ask critics to assess their finished work flat and on a 15-inch screen?!

Be still, me beating head.


I posted a link to my rant on Facebook and leave it to front-liner Dylan Marchetti, founder and president of Variance Films, to provide a fresh, and even darker reason for holding streaming screeners in contempt. From a distributor's point-of-view, it's not the studios fear that dupe copies will land on the streets of TJ that cause disdain, but lazy critics (my words) who only pirate 15 or 20 minutes of a features' running time.

Here is what Mr. Marchetti had to say:

"I respect what you're saying. Oddly, my concerns with digital screeners have nothing to do with piracy- my concern is that a critic or theater booker, who's as busy as I am, is going to watch the film on their laptop while email alerts and shiny web pages full of kittens take up 2/3rds of the screen. Most people are too professional to allow that, but make no mistake, I have a list of reviews and responses to films where whoever was watching it clearly only bothered with the first half-hour and last 15 minutes.

"Local PR screenings put small indie films like most of mine (I'm not talking Sony Classics indie, I'm talking Variance indie) in a bind with little, often zero, budget for advertising in many markets. Reviews are hugely important. Screening room screenings are obviously best, but they're often out of budget range, and when they're not, last-minute cancellations mean we end paying hundreds of dollars to show the film to one or two people. Which we'd still do, in a world with six-figure release budgets, but often can't.

"We want to put the best foot forward, so we've experimented with different ways of going about it. We've tried sending blu-rays, but they're expensive and since we refuse to watermark our screeners, producers and filmmakers tend to freak out at the piracy implications. For DVD screeners, we are inevitably given a watermarked, shitty copy without 5.1 by the production team, so we aim to reauthor most of the time- which isn't always possible.

"For streaming screeners- we always make them unwatermarked, we make them HD, and we make sure that while they are secure (Vimeo is not), they can be beamed in full HD glory via HDMI or via Apple TV, and provide instructions on how to do it.

"That's why special love goes to the theaters that, seeing our film is going to play there later, likely exclusively, say "would you like a free morning press screening?"- it solves the problem and is good for everyone."

The websites are password protected. There must be a way to gauge how much time a critic spends on them. If you want to compile a list of 'critics' that view on the Reader's Digest condensed cinema plan, I'll gladly print their names and pictures.

As for morning press screenings, they seem to be going the way of Nick Cannon's acting career. Years ago I was practically guaranteed 10:30am and 7:00pm screenings four days a week. Now I'm lucky if there are three. And I'm right by your side when it comes to theatres offering free screening to smaller distributors.

As a former theatre manager, I know that there's always work to be done prior to opening. As long as someone is there, what's the big deal about running a film in an empty house for a handful of critics? With no reels to change or platters to rewind, all it takes is one person pressing a few buttons. You don't even need a projectionist. When Lisa or Martha screen a film at the Digital Gym, they hit play and leave the booth. Show me the buttons that turn off the house lights and start the projector and I'll gladly kick off the show.

Here is what I can't get my head around, Dylan. There is someone in San Diego, employed by a major theatre chain, who continually draws a line between what they refer to as one of "their" films and a picture booked by an outside distributor. Shouldn't all of the movies that play under a theatres' banner be considered "their" films? This way, everyone stands to profit.

One can only hope that Johnnie To's Drug Wars and Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty -- two of Variance Films latest offerings -- will land theatrical playdates in San Diego. Can it be that not one of To's films, not even Election, has ever received a commercial release in San Diego? (Calling Pac-Arts Brian Hu!)

You have removed a thorn from my paw, Mr. Marchetti, and in doing so guarantee that all Variance Films that play SD will get coverage in The Reader...so long as I don't have to watch them on a computer.

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