MCN Columnists
Ray Pride

By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

David Carr Talks Times And “Going Toward Things”

David Carr, empaneled

THE AFTERNOON AFTER THE SUNDANCE 2011 PREMIERE OF Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times—where post-screening Tweeters were well-impressed that New York Times reporter David Carr was greeted at the Q&A afterwards with a “rock-star standing ovation”—director Andrew Rossi and Carr talked about media at a casual Bing Bar panel moderated by Anne Thompson of indieWIRE’s Thompson on Hollywood. (Halfway through, Thompson announced the film had been bought for summer release through Magnolia and Participant.)

“We all have more tools than any newsroom when I first walked into one. That guy in the front row,” Carr says, “he’s posting, he’s shooting video, he’s probably recording, he’s tweeting, he’s doing God knows what.” But if you’re producing content, he says, “You don’t have time to consume any of it. The more you write, the stupider you get.” Still, his advice for young writers who want to advance is a simple trio of questions: “What can you make? What can you build? Again and again?”, using those tools.

Anticipating the spring launch of the Times paywall, he jokes that the paper is saying, “‘Hey, how about giving us some sugar, since we see you coming around?’ We’re going to try and preserve our visibility on the web but create another source of revenue.”

Thompson asks about aggregators that don’t offer link-backs or that go beyond fair use, after she wonders if Michael Wolff‘s Newser is “the enemy.” Carr says, “We don’t have much to worry about because Newser seems to be tanking.” (Appreciative, if nervous laughter all around.) “The killer app on the web is, and always has been news,” he continues. “You can’t just put some topspin on what someone else said and expect to make a living. We have 1,100 people in the newsroom. It’s very expensive, but it can be very lucrative as well.”

Carr and Wolff had a conversation at Sundance 2010. “Michael said, I’m not a business reporter, and I said, ‘Yeah, it’s manifest in what you wrote.'” As for electronic-vs.-print as a way to produce income, Carr says, “We’re going to get a look with Rupert Murdoch‘s iPad newspaper, The Daily. But for legacy businesses like us, we put white paper on the street and we bring green paper back in. That’s our job.” He cites Politico.com putting a paper on the streets of D.C. and the seemingly unlikely merger that is the NewsBeast. Still, Carr thinks the different way the iPad is perceived will seduce news consumers away from the idea that information on the internet should be free.

There’s a question from the audience about WikiLeaks and the Times. “Yesterday, apparently, WikiLeaks said on Twitter that the New York Times is in the service of the government.” A pause. “Let’s say the relationship is evolving.” WikiLeaks, he thinks, needs its old media partners not just to disseminate, but also to contextualize its revelations. “It gets so much more bounce when it’s edited and backgrounded.”

Of the documentary itself, “There’s stuff in there we don’t like,” Carr says, bluntly, drawing laughs with his timing, saying that a lot of the figures on the screen are “these hambone white guys, we’re unhappy to have their every move looked at.” Rossi notes that there were fourteen reporters on the media desk when he began shooting; two were women, and both declined to participate.”

Carr estimates he has 290,000 Twitter followers, but if he weren’t a Timesman, he’d likely have only 290. “I have this nice, personal brand, but the fact that it’s stapled to this huge megaphone is what makes it important.”

He was in New Jersey on 9/11 and told his wife he was in the wrong state, he should be in New York. “Dude, everybody’s leaving the city. You’re not going to get in, you shouldn’t come in. The one thing that is sort of true even of people like me, and I don’t do the most mission-critical job at the New York Times, by a long shot. But the impulse is to go toward things, that’s what we do. We go toward things.”

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“Let me try and be as direct as I possibly can with you on this. There was no relationship to repair. I didn’t intend for Harvey to buy and release The Immigrant – I thought it was a terrible idea. And I didn’t think he would want the film, and I didn’t think he would like the film. He bought the film without me knowing! He bought it from the equity people who raised the money for me in the States. And I told them it was a terrible idea, but I had no say over the matter. So they sold it to him without my say-so, and with me thinking it was a terrible idea. I was completely correct, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It was not my preference, it was not my choice, I did not want that to happen, I have no relationship with Harvey. So, it’s not like I repaired some relationship, then he screwed me again, and I’m an idiot for trusting him twice! Like I say, you try to distance yourself as much as possible from the immediate response to a movie. With The Immigrant I had final cut. So he knew he couldn’t make me change it. But he applied all the pressure he could, including shelving the film.”
James Gray

“I’m an unusual producer because I control the destiny of a lot of the films I’ve done. Most of them are in perfect states of restoration and preservation and distribution, and I aim to keep them in distribution. HanWay Films, which is my sales company, has a 500-film catalogue, which is looked after and tended like a garden. I’m still looking after my films in the catalogue and trying to get other people to look after their films, which we represent intellectually, to try to keep them alive. A film has to be run through a projector to be alive, unfortunately, and those electric shadows are few and far between now. It’s very hard to go and see films in a movie house. I was always involved with the sales and marketing of my films, right up from The Shout onwards. I’ve had good periods, but I also had a best period because the film business was in its best period then. You couldn’t make The Last Emperor today. You couldn’t make The Sheltering Sky today. You couldn’t make those films anymore as independent films. There are neither the resources nor the vision within the studios to go to them and say, “I want to make a film about China with no stars in it.”Then, twenty years ago, I thought, “OK, I’m going to sell my own films but I don’t want to make it my own sales company.” I wanted it to be for me but I wanted to make it open for every other producer, so they don’t feel that they make a film but I get the focus. So, it’s a company that is my business and I’m involved with running it in a certain way, but I’m not seen as a competitor with other people that use it. It’s used by lots of different producers apart from me. When I want to use it, however, it’s there for me and I suppose I’m planning to continue making all my films to be sold by HanWay. I don’t have to, but I do because it’s in my building and the marketing’s here, and I can do it like that. Often, it sounds like I’m being easy about things, but it’s much more difficult than it sounds. It’s just that I’ve been at it for a long time and there’s lots of fat and security around my business. I know how to make films, but it’s not easy—it’s become a very exacting life.”
~ Producer Jeremy Thomas