Exclusive: 'Buried' screenwriter apparently skirts Oscar rules, sends campaign letter directly to Academy members

buriedHas Buried screenwriter Chris Sparling just broken Academy campaigning rules? In one of the more brazen Oscar campaign tactics I’ve ever seen, Sparling has sent a letter to members of the Academy’s writers branch personally extolling the virtues of his script and asking them to vote for it for Best Original Screenplay. Under the heading FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION “BURIED” BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY, Sparling writes:

Dear Screenwriter,

Here’s your writing prompt.

You are to write a feature-length screenplay with only one on-screen character. This character is to remain in only one location for the entire duration of the film, and that one location must be a 2′ x 7′ wooden box. You cannot use flashbacks, cut-aways, or any other narrative device that would take the action outside that box.


The film based on your screenplay must be met by incredibly high critical praise. Roger Ebert must give it 3 1/2 out of 4 stars and give it two thumbs up; Variety must remark that the film is “…an ingenious exercise in sustained tension that would have made Alfred Hitchcock proud;” Jeffrey Lyons must describe the film you wrote as “Mesmerizing;” and you must be awarded Best Original Screenplay of 2010 by the National Board of Review.

Sound impossible? It’s not. In fact, all this exactly describes the film BURIED.

He then writes a synopsis of the movie, before continuing: 

Every second of the film described above takes place inside the aforementioned 2′ x 7′ wooden box. Again, not a single cutaway or flashback occurs; we are complete [sic] immersed in this world from Fade In to Fade Out. This year has seen many great films hit theaters, many of which were based on original material; however, no film this year — or ever — has done so much with so little.

If you have not yet seen BURIED, I respectfully ask that you at least read the screenplay before casting your Academy Award vote for Best Original Screenplay. And while BURIED might not end up being your first choice (or even second or third), please consider it for fourth or fifth. This project represents the hard work of so many people — people who were willing to take a chance on my so called “impossible” script, and I speak for all of them when I say we would be honored to land on your ballot for Best Original Screenplay.

Thank you so very much.

Best regards,
Chris Sparling
Screenwriter of BURIED

The return address on the letter belongs to public relations firm mPRm, which has been working on the film. Can this possibly be in accordance with the Academy’s campaigning rules? According to AMPAS regulations, “Brief cover letters may accompany screeners and scripts.” But the rules also state that “Mailings that extol the merits of a film, an achievement or an individual are not permitted. Mailings containing quotes from reviews about a film or achievement are not permitted, nor should they refer to other honors or awards, past or present, that have been received by either the film or those involved in the production or distribution of the film.” (Neither mPRm nor AMPAS could be reached for comment.)

Last spring, The Hurt Locker producer Nicolas Chartier was banned from attending the 2010 Oscar ceremony after sending an email to voters asking them to vote for his film. Since Sparling seems like a long shot for a nomination at this point, perhaps he doesn’t care about losing tickets he doesn’t currently possess anyway.

UPDATE: MPRM president Marc Pogachevsky is apologizing for the letter, saying that Sparling didn’t know it was against the rules and explaining that in the pre-holiday rush, the letter was not properly vetted by Sparling’s reps.

Follow me on Twitter (@davekarger) for more Oscar news and updates.

Comments (25 total) Add your comment
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  • Joseph

    Good luck to him! Hope that the risk will pay off for him.

  • marc

    Ryan Renolds in a box for 2 hours ……. I’d watch it lol could be up for some form of adult film award too no? ” Ryan Renolds In Your Box” or “Box full of Ryan Renolds” either way im diggin it ;)

  • Tye-Grr

    What an idiotic thing to do.

    • davey

      I thik it’s a great thing to do – nobody probably even saw the movie, so now he atleast will get members of the Academy to pay attention and realize his original screnplay IS one of the best of this year. There’s nothing wrong with trying.

  • FNL

    It kills me that this film won’t get the rewards it deserves. It was one of the hardest films to sit through, but it was an incredible film. I also believe Ryan Reynolds deserves an Oscar nom for his brave performance.

    • ricardo

      The worst film I ever seen! …a script full of manipulative rubbish! In my opinion it doesn’t deserve anything…

  • jason

    Well it was a great screenplay. Take notice Oscar voters and if you haven’t seen this movie check it out. It is craazy.

    • psc

      I agree. Intense, riveting, engaging

  • Yo Joe

    One final criteria Sparling forgot: the movie must be good. He didn’t meet that one, not by a longshot. And using any Lyons to back up your point is like trying to bail water out of a submarine.

    • Donovan

      Couldn’t disagree with you more. I thought it was a great film and a great screenplay.

  • Franco

    That’s a load of crap!!! If you’ve seen the film, he totally had shots from outside the box and verbally went out of the box with the phone calls…his problem was that his story jumped the shark with the cutting off of the finger BS and the “twist” ending…those aren’t gimmicks?!?!? Whatever dude…go watch 127 Hours – at least that movie actually reflects reality.

    • Because it’s based on a real event. This is fiction.

  • Corris

    This article makes me anxious to see the film. Also, I kinda hope he doesn’t get nominated. He’s speaking like he’s entitled to an award… like he’s Kanye West or something. Save that BS for the Grammy’s… THIS is the Oscar’s, man.

  • Judy

    Hurl. I’ll agree that it must not have been an easy screenplay to write, but BURIED was pretentious, Hitchcock-wannabe crap.

  • pook

    At least he didnt trash other films, or his main competitor the way that classless idiot Nicholas
    Chartier. It didnt seem to hurt The Hurt Locker though.

  • James

    It was an ambitious thing to do, but honestly, was there any other way to get the academy’s attention about this film? It’s incredible achievement! And I do believe it deserves recognition. If there were some way for it to get the Original Screenplay nom, that would be great. But I do believe he “broke” the rules. Sad. Such a great film. And I think Ryan Reynolds should’ve gotten more recognition than he did. Although, I do believe no one compares to James Franco this year. He kind of took over the one-man-show title.

  • Ron Truman

    Pathetic. begging for an oscar nom. your script and film is a gimmick. nothing more. oscars are a popularity contest. your little film wasn’t popular. move on. go beg for ryan reynolds. that will get your movie attention. not a screenplay. very self-centered move.

    • Donovan

      How is it any more pathetic than the way studios spend thousands and thousands of dollars to run ads for their films? But I suppose if you had a chance to be nominated for an Oscar, you’d do nothing to help your chances, right?

  • Rich

    I am giving this guy points for effort… But I doubt it will pay off, sadly.

  • Ron

    Somewhat moot, considering the Oscar telecast itself is already buried by its nonsensical choice of James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts.

  • Mike Fig

    It’s actually quite stupid. He’s a writer who got his screenplay to get made with a well-known actor. How does someone do that and not be aware of the rules in Hollywood. Writers: learn from this idiot’s mistake. Don’t do what he did. If your work is that good, you let it speak for itself or you let the PUBLICIST speak for you. My prediction: he will have to settle for writing small, low-budget movies. In other words, no major studio will hire him.

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