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In the Netflix film, May December (2023), Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) is visiting Gracie (Julianne Moore) and her family in order to do research for the upcoming film.

Half way through the movie, at around the 1:08 mark, you can see Natalie getting ready to leave her hotel to visit Gracie again. In this brief scene, she's watching a clip on her TV that appears to be a re-enactment of the "pet store scene". It's a similar scene that she is seen filming at the end of the movie, but with different actors and how they incorporate "the snake".

A few subtle details of what's on the TV:

  • There's a subtitle on the television that says, "Do not duplicate".
  • It appears to be in standard definition (cropped onto the widescreen TV).

What was this clip supposed to be, and why is it significant?

I have two guesses:

  • It's a hint that Gracie's story has been made or had attempted to be made into a TV movie before. (Possibly before HD was common.)
  • Or some pre-production version of the film that was necessary before actual production began.

What was this clip meant to be?

screenshot of the scene described above

2 Answers 2

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It's hint that Gracie's story has been made or had attempted to be into a TV movie before.

Your first guess is correct.

The script tells us that this is...

On Elizabeth’s TV screen, a pixelated DVD copy of “The Gracie Atherton Story” plays: a movie of the week in a time when they were especially bad.

So, yes, the story has been dramatised before.

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  • I wonder if "do not duplicate" is less about copyright and more a subtle warning about repeating.
    – selbie
    Dec 22, 2023 at 11:48
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    No, I don't think so (although that might be a meta hint). It something that would appear on a copy obtained from the creators before release.
    – Paulie_D
    Dec 22, 2023 at 11:50
  • I think it's quite possibly it's meant to be both. An indication it's a studio copy and a subtle meta thing. Thanks for looking this up in the script.
    – selbie
    Dec 22, 2023 at 20:50
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Although the answer has been accepted, and is correct about it being made before, the subtitle was pretty common on what was/is called a screener.

So, as an additional to the answer, yes, it was made before, and probably because it was about the characters life (and they had some involvement), the studio probably sent them a complementary copy before it was officially released, and this is what she is watching.

TL;DR:

What she is watching appears to be a copy that is released to, for example, critics, awards voters, and other film industry professionals, including producers and distributors.

Apparently originating in 1985 (according to wiki), 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.

Part of the problem with early screeners was that they could be copied and leaked before their actual official release, so as part of an anti-piracy measure, text was subtitled somewhere on screen, usually for the entirety of the movie.

Excerpt from Annie-Awards, screener requirements:

  • If desired, a duplication or distribution warning may be added at the head of the screener and cyclical watermark supers may also be applied. If a watermark is used, verbiage is limited to the name of the viewer and/or name of the studio or distribution company, and may also include “Property of...” “Do not Duplicate...” or similar language.
  • Screener art, if applicable, may incorporate a basic “for your consideration” listing of the artist(s) who worked on the film. It may include a brief, unembellished synopsis of the film and the film's singular title (logo) treatment.

screener examples:

enter image description here

https://annieawards.org/rules-and-categories/screener-requirements

https://www.jacobsagerweinstein.com/2005/01/bafta_screeners_1/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screener_(promotional)

(I used to have access to screeners back in the vhs days: the text might bounce and then disappear to pop back later, or it might track along the top, etc)

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