A friend of mine is a member of the Motion Picture Academy, which means he has the most awesome movie collection you can imagine. He's one of the lucky ones who receive screeners from studios and independent production companies of movies gunning for Oscar nominations.My friend is very proud of his collection. And meticulous. He arranges them by genres and dates, and will relentlessly pursue anyone who doesn't return a loaner. (I've been ducking him since borrowing Monster's Ball last year.) Despite his considerable salary, my friend absolutely loves getting movies for free. So does everyone else in the Academy. And that, my fellow pubs, is at the heart of the PR disaster the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has been embroiled in since announcing a ban on these "screeners." The MPAA had good reason. Piracy has become a huge problem in the digital age, and DVD and VHS formats are a key source of illegal dubs. A photog pal of mine working in Iraq - Iraq, for God's sake - just bought a DVD copy of a film still showing in theaters in the US. Nonetheless, the outcry from the some 5,600 Academy members made it clear that there is something more vital here than copyright protection. Free films. Oh, sure, they couched it in other language. "No time to see all the films in theaters." "Unfair to indie films." "Impractical." All true, to a degree. But these arguments mask the real issue. Which is, again, free films. Lots of them. More than 50,000 screeners were sent out as part of Oscar promotional campaigns last year alone. I've mentioned before in this column the shocking behavior I've seen exhibited at premieres by attendees jockeying over gift bags. People wealthy enough to buy (with the money in their pocket) the companies that make the products placed inside these bags will practically come to blows over them. Seriously, I once saw the wife of a billionaire elbow a young man who was reaching for the last gift bag at a charity event! Took it from him like a dog stealing a chop from the butcher. All I could do was offer him a sympathetic tap on the shoulder. Anyway, with negative PR falling down on them like Joe Millionaire's ratings, the MPAA relented, and Academy members will get their screeners. So I'll finally return the one I borrowed from my friend, and hopefully get my hands on Master and Commander. Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer
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