Researching the 2004 Oscar Screeners

The Academy announced today that a second screener video was leaked to the Internet, after yesterday’s announcement of the “Something’s Gotta Give” appearance. I commented yesterday about how screener leaks are far more common than the Academy realizes (or acknowledges), but I decided to do some research to back it up.

I compiled a list of every likely Oscar nominee, using these popular 2004 Oscar predictions as a guide. Then, I tried to find downloadable screener copies of every film on the list.

The results might surprise the Academy. Out of 22 films, screeners for all but one were widely released on the Internet. Of those, 10 were leaked over a month ago, and five were leaked over two months ago.

Below you can find a list of the 22 films, with the date they were leaked and links to the NFO files added by the release group for each:

21 Grams (December 11, 2003)

A Mighty Wind (August 5, 2003)

American Splendor (November 3, 2003)

Big Fish (December 24, 2003)

Cold Mountain (January 3, 2004)

Finding Nemo (August 7, 2003)

Girl with a Pearl Earring (November 28, 2003)

House of Sand and Fog (December 16, 2003)

In America (December 15, 2003)

Kill Bill Volume 1 (November 24, 2003)

The Last Samurai (December 24, 2003)

Lost in Translation (December 11, 2003)

Love Actually (January 6, 2004)

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (only available as camcorder videos)

Master and Commander (December 23, 2003)

Mona Lisa Smile (December 20, 2003)

Monster (December 24, 2003)

Mystic River (December 24, 2003)

Pirates of the Caribbean (September 15, 2003)

Seabiscuit (October 6, 2003)

Something’s Gotta Give (December 25, 2003)

Thirteen (December 2, 2003)

The big question: how did the Return of the King screener avoid getting leaked? New Line carefully released screeners to voting members, but specific details about their methods are scarce. Anyone have any information about it?


    Nice work, Andy. Unsurprising individually, but a bit shocking when you put them all together.

    I’m not up on the lingo, though: what’s an NFO file? Can you (or the Academy) tell from that file which screener was copied?

    An NFO file is a text file, usually ending in the extension .nfo, that is created by the group that encoded and released the video. Usually, they include information about the release, a logo, greetings to other members/groups, and a call for new members. Click on any of the links above for examples, or browse around at VCDQuality or NForce.

    The NFO standard originated in the warez scene, but was adapted by the music, book, and movie scenes as well.

    It’s worth making a distinction that not all of these are leaks from academy members. They’re probably mostly from internal studio copies that employees get access to. Perhaps everything after December could be an academy screener, but it’s hard to tell (actually some of those nfo files do mention the academy, heh).

    That said, I’m surprised by the recent articles talking about it as if it is anything new, I remember finding a copy of some major blockbuster a year or two ago that was covered in so many indentifying tags (property of 20th century fox on the side, running time on the bottom, unique numbers on the lower corner, plus scrolling “do not copy or sell this” messages every so often) I couldn’t believe it ever got out.

    A number of these cite their source as “VHS screener”. I would have thought that all the screeners were DVD.

    Also, as a clarification of lingo, is there a term for bootlegs that are recordings of a camcorder pointed at a projector screen?

    Hey Jeff,

    “cam”: a movie recorded from a hand held camcorder, may have people in front of it, noises around. available, but not wide distributed (online at least), due to horrible quality.

    “telesync”: a movie recorded by a professional (occasionally non-professional) camera with stabilization and a direct line to the audio in the movie. usually available when screeners aren’t.

    “telecine”: a movie that is converted from a film reel to a digital format by pirates, then distributed. very rare and usually unnecessary (screeners or released dvds are much easier to obtain than film and a converter)

    I was going to make mention that the term “screener” could be used very loosely, and that shouldn’t be inferred to mean academy screener, but I think that point has been made. Also, I don’t really trust NFO files to be encyclopedia-accurate when listing their source.

    The whole ‘scene’ seems to be leaving me in the dust however, as I attempted (shamelessly) to download a screener of Big Fish…for posterity only of course…and wound up with 2 ISOs full of nothing but mysterious ‘.vcd’ files. This could be some ploy by the industry to thwart downloaders, or more likely, it’s some magically dvd format I have no idea of.

    The ‘.vcd’ files are probably MPEG1 formatted files that are captured at 320×240 resolution. You can fit 80 minutes on an 80 ninute CD. The quality isn’t that great when compared to SVGA, but it is roughly equivalent to a lower grade TV signal. As for LOTR, some “gentlemen” in the office were watching it the day before it showed up at the theatre. Every single one of them has subsequently gone to the movie at the theatre.

    I’m surprised that you missed LOTR ROTK – It was released ages ago, and not just a cam version,

    if anyone wants to check out the quality – get yourself emule and then see this link


    Have Fun – I have only posted a sample, so you can see that its not a cam, it is infact a telesync, (where the audio is linked to the cinema not done by mic but by audio leads – direct feed if you will)

    Academy Nominee – It is still a Cam image however, even though it’s audio is from a direct source in the theater. Telesyncs are nothing special.

    big fish bob-

    .vcd’s can be burned with nero to CD and played in a DVD player. quality is roughly equal to VHS, if the source was DVD.

    LOTR ROTK was posted right after it came out in the theatres on one of our university’s web servers, after some German and danish hackers uploaded their ftp program on our server.

    if movie prices costed less, ppl would watch more movies in theaters than save money on bootleg movies. You cant beat the theater experience so for those who feel bad that online screeners exist, DONT!! you may think the movie industry is youre losing money but youre not losing much; regardless of what u hear. The true movie watchers would always watch in theater even if they saw a screener just for that picture and great sound. i would watch the ”theater type” movies (LOTR,BB2,MATRIX,etc) ONLY in theater but im not surprised if ppl were to download a movie like ‘along came polly’ or something and watch at home. Movie prices are ridiculous now. Why dont we make an article about that? I remember when it used to be 5 dollars. Now even as a student you hardly get a discount. What crap is that? Even for students? Same thing with how music cds is getting ripped. Who would pay 18 buck for a album when a dvd movie costs 12 bucks? sometimes less….Even when mp3s and burners weren’t around(or should i say not popluar) the cd prices were still roughly 15-18 bucks that time. Rick are getting richer , poor are getting poorer. This is what happens when weekend entertainment costs you an arm and a leg after working hard during the week.

    I read something awhile ago about the academy putting a watermark of the REviewer’s name (or some code that is linked to their name in a database) right across the middle of the picture, to stop them form pirating it.

    I remember Roger Ebert mentioning that this was a challenge for the industry and president Jack Valenti (I may have that wrong) was being very reactionary in his response. He made an edict that impacted critics like Ebert and other Academy members.


    I think it all depends on the films’ directors. If they want the public to know about it in advance, they’ll do that. Otherwise, everything will stay behind the closed doors.

    I read something awhile ago about the academy putting a watermark of the REviewer’s name (or some code that is linked to their name in a database) right across the middle of the picture, to stop them form pirating it.

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