A screener (SCR) is an advance screening of a film or television series sent to critics, awards voters, video stores (for their manager and employees), and other film industry professionals, including producers and distributors. Director John Boorman is credited with creating the first Oscar screeners to promote his film The Emerald Forest in 1985.
Screeners help critics and awards voters see smaller movies that do not have the marketing advantage or distribution of major studio releases. Positive mentions can result in awards consideration. A screener often has no post-processing. Nowadays physical DVD copies still appear to be issued, but screeners are also distributed digitally to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and the media/publicity sites of individual television networks for television shows. When screeners leak online, they are often tagged "DVDSCR", and often have an on-screen graphic watermarked with the receiver's name or email address. Another anti-piracy measure includes the encryption of DVD disks so that they will only play in machines given exclusively to voters.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Oscar screeners originated with the efforts of director John Boorman to promote his film The Emerald Forest, a 1985 Powers Boothe vehicle about an American child kidnapped by a tribe in the Amazon Rainforest. The film had been lauded by critics, but due to the business troubles of its distributor, Embassy Pictures, received no advertising campaign. Boorman paid for VHS copies of the film to be made available to Academy members for no charge at certain Los Angeles video rental stores. Despite the novelty of his campaign, however, Emerald Forest received no Oscar nominations.
In 2003, the MPAA announced that they would be ceasing distribution of screeners to Academy members, citing fears of copyright infringement. A group of independent film makers sued and won a decision against the MPAA. The MPAA later reinstated the screeners with the implementation of a new policy requiring recipients to sign a binding contract that they would not share the screeners with others.
In January 2004, Academy member Carmine Caridi was announced as a person of interest in an ongoing FBI investigation into video piracy. He was subsequently expelled from the Academy, after he was found to have sent as many as 60 screeners a year for at least three years to a contact called Russell Sprague in Illinois. Caridi was later ordered to pay Warner Bros. for copyright infringement of two of their films, Mystic River and The Last Samurai, a total of $300,000 ($150,000 per title).
In March 2016, TorrentFreak reported that original screener DVDs appear in dozens of eBay listings. According to eBay seller NoHo Trader, the sale of Emmy screener DVDs is lawful, although studios occasionally still take down Emmy DVD auctions and other lawful promotional materials. The Television Academy indicates the limited license governing the use of these screeners prohibits further distribution.