Lots of Oscarologists believe that a key factor in the upset of "Crash" over "Brokeback Mountain" as the Oscars' best picture of 2005 was the daredevil decision by Lionsgate to be the first studio ever to ship DVDs to all 100,000-plus members of the Screen Actors Guild voting for their awards.
The theory goes that to win best picture at the Oscars, you must win over the industry's actors because they are the largest branch within the academy. Maybe so, but that's an awful lot of waste — 98,700 DVDs shipped to non-academy members just to get the attention of the 1,300 SAG members who do belong the academy, but also get the regular DVD shipped to the full 5,800 AMPAS members separately. Sure, OK, that may not make a lot of sense, but there's another added benefit. Everybody knows that actors are blabbermouths. Win them over, some Oscar consultants think, and they'll help to build great industry buzz.
At the 2005 SAG Awards, "Crash" won the ensemble category, which some gurus (not me) think is a prophet foretelling of a big Oscar victory to come. In that case it was true, but I don't buy the theory in general.
Nonetheless, the shrewd DVD maneuver was copied the next year by "The Departed," "Venus," "The Queen" and "Little Miss Sunshine. Only "The Queen" and "Little Miss Sunshine" won SAG Awards - best actress to "The Queen" Helen Mirren and best cast ensemble to "Little Miss Sunshine". The ensemble prize, by the way, did not boost the latter to the top Oscar victory, of course. Best picture went to "The Departed," but that may have benefitted from its wide DVD blitz to members of the actors' guild.
Last year four movies blitzed SAG with DVDs: "Hairspray," "No Country for Old Men," "Into the Wild" and "3:10 to Yuma." Only "No Country" won SAG Awards (cast ensemble, supporting actor Javier Bardem). And "No Country" won best picture at the Oscars later, of course.
This year the only DVD sent to the full membership was "The Dark Knight," which isn't nominated for best picture at the Oscars. Miramax sent a promotional brochure for "Doubt" to all SAG members, but it didn't contain a disc.
Only non-water-marked discs may be sent to members, by the way. The guild doesn't want to be held responsible for piracy. Virtually all discs that go to Oscar voters are water-marked, so shipping only non-water-marked DVDs may be a prohibitive issue this year at SAG considering most of the top movies in contention are late-2008 releases just rolling out wide to theaters now.
But sending water-marked ones may be cost-prohibitive anyway when dealing with a group comprised of more than 100,000 members. Non-water-marked DVDs only cost about $5 to manufacture and ship to each voter, but watermarked ones cost about $10 each to make, then there's the cost of shipping, which must be done via UPS or FedEx. Regular postal service won't do. Thus it costs about $20 per disc. That means a SAG DVD campaign would cost more than $2 million, which is about half to a third of the budget of a whole Oscar campaign, in some cases. Not cost effective.