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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

I am not a California fruit loop. No one read my aura and told me what to do. But it is funny how life tells you things, if you are willing to listen.

I bought my Mustang just before we launched Movie City News. After an accident in late 2017, I kept it and cared for it and wanted it to last forever… but I finally had to say “goodbye” to that little beauty. It was time.

The company I started online with in May 1997, TNT (and roughcut.com), has been sold. The company I worked for over a couple years just before that, EW, was sold off years ago.

DP/30 hit 100,000 subscribers recently.

Donald Trump’s ascendance has reconfigured my daily life experience of the entire world and my own life.

In 1997, the sequel to Jurassic Park landed. This year, the sequel to Jurassic World lands.

The Star Wars re-releases happened just before The Hot Button launched… and we are still talking about frickin’ Star Wars.

No studio head from when I started remains in place at the same studio. Only Stacey Snider actually reflects the top slot from back when. (Donna Langley was, I believe, a couple steps below at the time… behind Scott “Netflix” Stuber and Mary Parent on the food chain at the time.) Rothman took over for Mechanic, then they added Jim G. Alan Horn was at Castle Rock and is on his second studio life since then. Toby Emmerich was “the music guy” around New Line, but would work his way up.

I can’t even list the marketing and publicist regimes I have watched come and go and come again over these years. It’s a family tree that would cause a heart attack in the most hearty genealogist. (Michael Moses taking the big seat at Universal this week… another landmark with decades of history for me.)

There are many more signals coming my way. Like the proverbial broken arm, I see them every day now that I am of a mind to see them.

I never wanted to be a journalist, telling the stories of those who do things. Certainly not a critic, a job I have learned to respect deeply for a very small number of people who take it seriously (not just take themselves seriously).

I became a film critic because Roger Ebert wouldn’t book me on his show while Gene was out unless I called myself a critic. I always considered my ability to break down a film a skill that was useful for other purposes… as part of something else. But when I put on the robe, I quickly found that an illogical amount of power could be had in a role that I have never seen as being as influential as some others do.

I was always judgemental of writers who broke “the rules” of being a journalist or a critic, though it hadn’t really occurred to me that it was being done as an act of impotence, not of power. I could feel and identify that power quite early. Others could not. And when they did, they usually changed their tunes, but remained in denial of the damage they had done when they thought they were unimportant.

Power is one of the great insanities of Hollywood. Scoreboard is scoreboard… and everything else is just madness. The most powerful are the most insecure and the ability of a mouse to bring down an elephant is shocking. And I am not talking about heroes like Rose McGowan and Asia Argento and Jessica Chastain and the many others fighting the good fight against sexism or the many fighting against ingrained corporate racism. I’m talking about ego and agony.

I have long believed that Hollywood is a canary in the coal mine of various industries and even the political world. I know it sounds insane, but Nikki Finke and her influence for a short period was similar to Trump taking out the Republican candidates in the primaries. Fortunately, she was empowered by one guy with a fat checkbook and she finally couldn’t help but to burn that bridge as she has burned every bridge in her life for decades. But the only power she ever really had was to threaten to expose people in a way they did not want and to color their lives with abusive language. And Trump has abusive tweets and nicknames.

I have long said that she never got anyone a job, helped a movie (aside from The Women, which then went on to flop badly), or got anyone fired. One very smart, savvy person at one studio made an impassioned argument about how Nikki cost one exec his job… but that was because he was still drinking the Kool-Aid of the person who had used Nikki as his spear to take this other person out.

America will soon (even if it’s 6 years somehow) be in a post-Trump America. And the post-Nikki Hollywood entertainment media landscape does not fill me with hope for out nation’s happy future. No one has ever been able to match Nikki… because no one is as shameless as Nikki. But man, do they try!

More than the amount of junk food that dominates entertainment journalism in 2018 (and there has been plenty over my 20+ years in this game, some created by me), it is the degree of fear and kicked-in control mechanisms that have really made my work untenable.

When I started online (EW carried its own kind of power), my relationship with the studios was a partnership. We weren’t equal. And I never gave up my right to be brutally tough. But I was not out to kill anyone. I was out to seek truth, as best I could. And in response, I was offered a lot of truth. There were moments of extreme bullshit. But usually, I could see why the exec offering that was doing it out of fear and self-defense and even if they were in my way, I was personally sympathetic.

My life was always 20% or so off the record. And that number grew, eventually passing the 50% mark. It wasn’t about protecting friends that I had made (real ones or movie ones), but about playing fair. Like anything else in life, we all know where the line is almost all of the time. Sometimes, it gets blurry. But dinner chat informed my insight and never landed in print. After a while, I came to fully understand that even in private conversations, it was often necessary to maintain the privacy of others, even on what might seem to be trivial matters. As I noted early, the skin gets rather thin in this industry. And people do love to gossip.

I can trace the end of a few relationships to moments in which I wrote the truth, but was treated as though I broke a confidence.

Then, as now, it was easier to dethrone someone than to get them into that seat.

But I can also measure up the women and the men who understood what I was up to… who prized truth… and who were willing to take the slings and arrows of my sometimes outrageous written fortunes, knowing that I was just as likely to embrace them in a warm hug the next day.

When did it start to turn into something else?

2006.

That was the summer when box office went from being a sleepy village of people with a real interest and the intent to be truthful to being a commodity, as commodified by Finke and Drudge.

But then… 2009. Penske buys Finke. The mirror of this was Sheldon Adelson Gets Behind Trump.

Like the last presidential election, the serious implications of this event were enhanced great by timing. Newspapers were shitting themselves. And they were right to do so. And online media wasn’t much more comfortable. Nikki Finke, whatever you thought of her work, was getting paid. And depending on who you asked, she was getting paid a lot or a small personal fortune. And, whatever her work, she was instantly iconic because of that money. Some of the best minds covering media got sucked into believing the lies she built around herself.

When I started online, people were afraid of Ain’t It Cool News. For a moment, people were afraid of the madness of Jeffrey Wells. But Finke was different because everyone suddenly wanted to be like her. They wanted her profile. They wanted her money. They really didn’t pay attention to her abuses or her slowly selling out to every single studio in town. This is not even a judgement of Nikki. This is the nature of doing business the way she did business. And Penske supercharged it.

In the 9 years hence, Penske has spread his pixie cash over a big chunk of entertainment media, especially on the industry side. Variety, IndieWire, Wenner Media, Fairchild. Journalism was teetering on the edge of the cliff for a long time. I don’t think he meant to push it over the edge. But over the edge it went.

And with it, trust between the two sides of the journalistic effort.

The problem is not that studios can’t trust most outlets to do what they want. The problem is that studios can now happily live without anyone who does not do what they want. And they do.

Moreover, the money in journalism isn’t in journalism. It is in proximity to talent (on both sides of the camera) and the ability to manage and exploit it.

Like universities changing their focus to encourage students who can get student loans to cover their entire tuition (see the excellent doc, White Tower), media has adjusted its ambitions to encourage relationships with advertisers who, more as sponsors than as ad buyers, can pay the bills.

And journalism has disappeared, replaced in most cases with people of limited insight (some very experienced… and still blind) opining about everything. Even the most simple of math exercises, box office, is dominated by opinion and expectations over any serious analysis of the numbers.

To be fair, I was the first asshole in the internet era asshole pit. When I launched The Hot Button in 1997 and more in depth in 1998, there was nothing online like it. Blogs did not exist. I knew a fair amount about a lot of things and I knew how to research what I didn’t know.

But I could also be a prick. I was susceptible to little man’s disease, worrying more about upping my profile than the consequences at times. I wrote some stupid stuff. I wrote some really smart stuff. Still, as noted before, I built strong relationships that lasted a long time, many still going strong.

I never wanted to compete with AICN. I never wanted to compete with Wells. I didn’t want to compete with Nikki back in her day. I don’t want to compete with what the trades have become. I have sought out relationships that would allow me to do the work I want to do within other organizations, but time after time, they have been felled by a bad fit or someone whose feelings I hurt long ago or the basic fact that almost no one really knows what they want in this topsy-turvy media world. (I will give Jay Penske big ups on that count… he knows what he wants and is undeterred by realities good or bad.)

What do I want?

I want to keep loving movies. I want to support movies I love. I want to support great filmmakers. And I want to use the experience and knowledge and simple brain power every day that I can in my life.

I want to work hand-in-fist with the executives who I have known and respected for years and for those I do not yet know, finally free to help me get down to the absolute truths of situations glorious and grotesque in order to help them be even better at what they do.

The world is not just made up of movies and filmmakers that I love. I am excited by the idea of solving the puzzle of movies and people that are part of the commerce of movies too. I want to help companies whose work I don’t like figure out how to get people like me to love their work. I want to get down into the blueprints and process documents and find an answer that someone else might not. I want to argue both sides.

Of course, there is a list of things I will not do. I am not interested in being a part of anything that I consider to be intentionally damaging. I would not participate, for example, in hiding sexism or racism or indifference to those things. But I would be happy to help build roads to correcting those issues that are not as scary as that transition can sometimes be for the old fashioned. I will always be a voice for transparency. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe that everyone deserves a legitimate degree of privacy.

I have come to know, in my heart, that in order to improve things in this moment in time, I need to go into every situation without being a threat (accurately or not) to expose the truths to which I am allowed special access. I need to be able to make the argument to do the right thing – when that is the issue – without the freedom to win points with an audience when my best efforts are rebuffed. That is the nature of this beast.

To do this, I need to end my public-facing life and take it all private. I need to work for the other team, if they will have me.

It’s a new life.

I’m 53 years old. And it’s time for the next act.

I will keep doing DP/30 for as long as I can, as I don’t see it as a conflict with anyone. If a client wants one, they can probably get one. I love doing them. And I think they bring value to the audience.

I don’t know what the immediate future will bring for Movie City News. Laura Rooney and I gave birth to this thing almost 16 years ago. Ray Pride has been my editorial partner for years. It is still a viable business and website, but the right circumstance to move it forward has not shown itself.

But I need to start signing NDAs and doing the work I hope will take me to a very late retirement. I am raring to go.

This means that I cannot ask you, as readers, to trust that you are getting my full-throated opinion and that I am not showing bias for a client or friend. And I have always been 100% clear that I could never sleep at night mixing and matching my reality for people who trust me to be honest. But it is hard, so hard, to say “goodbye.”

It’s been an honor. I thank you for your attention and from many of you, your participation.

I don’t think this will be the last Hot Blog entry… but I needed to say it out loud.

And away we go….

53 Responses to “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”

  1. palmtree says:

    I visit this site probably more than any other single one save for the “utilities” (Google, Facebook, etc.). I hope it continues for a long time. The sense of community here, while mostly anonymous, is really something.

  2. Pete B says:

    Dave, maybe it’s an age thing, kinda like the 7 Year Itch. I’m also 53 and chafing at the bit. Maybe we’ll both start new careers at the same time. I’ve followed you since the TNT days, and it’ll be weird if you’re gone, but good luck in whatever you do.

  3. Christian says:

    Good work. I’ve enjoyed MCN for years and will keep visiting until there’s nothing new to see.

  4. Donald Westriver says:

    I’ve been reading you for decades and I’ve loved your no-b.s. approach. I appreciate the honesty in your work and the love you have for movies.

    Thank you and great luck in all your endeavors.

  5. LBB says:

    Thanks, Dave. Best of luck with this new chapter. I come here a lot so I’ll miss it if/when it changes. But it’s better for you to push forward. Thanks for the work.

  6. Craig says:

    I wish you the absolute best, David. I have been reading your work and following your various projects from (almost) the beginning. I’m weirdly emotional reading your post, as I feel as if a part of me is going away, but I genuinely hope that you’re as excited for this next adventure as you were when you started THB, MCN, and DP/30.

    Thank you for everything you’ve done here, and I do hope we get to experience however this next chapter manifests itself somehow.

  7. lockedcut says:

    Fantastic, best luck in your new venture!

  8. Pj says:

    Wow! Been reading your stuff since who knows how long. Always had a smattering of great content a click away. Best of luck in your future!

  9. Jspartisan says:

    Whenever you want me to run this blog…(▀̿Ĺ̯▀̿ ̿)

    Silliness aside, we here at the Hot Blog, announce the retirement of David Poland… Film Critic. We wish him well on his future endeavors, and look forward to whatever he does next.

  10. Greg says:

    Go Kick Ass Dave. And thanks for everything….

  11. Patrick says:

    What the fuck is he talking about?

  12. Bob Burns says:

    Excellent, well written column. Thank you.

    I’ve read almost every column for 18 of your 20+ years of writing, which is to say you have almost always been interesting, and the heart, conscience, is right there, so thank you, thank you.

    You should continue to write, IMO. You, and the other bloggers, have had massive conflicts of interest, probably more than you know, just like the rest of us. But maybe the demands for loyalty have grown along with all the new fear.

    all the best.

  13. arisp says:

    Well this sucks… (but congrats). MCN is my first and most constant read of the day.

  14. hcat says:

    Damn it. This is like having your neighborhood bar close.

    But thanks for everything, you were a great read and you created a nice space here. Sure we would get snippy at each other at times but mostly it was a good environment and that comes from the top down.

    You will be missed.

  15. Sergio says:

    Not sure if you’re saying “Goodbye” as much as you seem to be saying “I’m selling out and can’t hang anymore” haha. Just kidding!
    Loved your blog and MCN for over ten years now. Has given me such an edge in starting out in the biz, sounding like I know wtf the trends and waves are on a macro level as well as championing great work and excellent taste. (Vividly remember your take on Never Let Me Go and why it was the best movie that year, which I completely agree on).
    Cheers Dave, until the next screening!

  16. MarkVH says:

    Been reading you for years, Dave, and have enjoyed every minute of it. All the best on your next endeavor, whatever that may be.

  17. Bulldog says:

    One of the few places I come to every day. Will miss it but looking forward to see where you pop up Dave. The bunch of posters here certainly made this site lively. I had the displeasure of getting into a heated argument with Don Murphy back in the day. Lol.

    Best of luck with whatever your next chapter is.

  18. Sideshow Bill says:

    Dave…I’m bummed but happy for you. You’re taking control of your future. I admire that. I had job and relationship changes thrust upon me last month and it sucked bad. I’m 47. A little younger. But I’ve decided to start taking control and being more self-aware and take more risks. I have a new job but it’s just a stop-gap. I’m staying single for a while until I get my shit in order. things will work out.

    I hope they do for you too. It’s been a pleasure reading you since around 2002. I hope this forum stays open. It’s the only one I really post in. It gets heated and nasty sometimes but it’s full of intelligent, thoughtful, serious film lovers. I learn things here I wouldn’t anywhere else. Plus, the trolls are rare and innocuous.

    Good luck to you. Good luck to us all. I hope this is open at least through the Summer so we can fight about THE MEG lol.

  19. Richard Horgan says:

    In between Poland vs. Iran and Columbia at the 2018 World Cup, we have Poland vs. the Calendar. It all makes perfect sense to me, and now – w/the glut of online content reaching an almost ridiculous point of oversaturation – is as logical a time as any to follow those signs.

    Good luck with the new set of juggling balls.

  20. Dr Wally Rises says:

    I’m reminded of that scene in Michael Collins when Liam Neeson as Collins, knowing that he’s almost certainly travelled to meet his own death, is asked if he has a final message for Alan Rickman’s De Valera. “You tell him that he was my Chief always. You tell him that I would have followed him into the gates of Hell if he’d asked me to. And maybe I did”.

    Best of luck always Dave in your new chapter and for taking back the controls of your own destiny. We’ll always have the good times. We’ll always have the LexG meltdowns and his occasional moments of brilliant lucidity. We’ll always have the Summer of 2013 and the carnage of that glorious Man of Steel thread. And of course, we’ll still have you loudly proclaiming that DVD was dead when the format still had a 75% market share.

    Will miss you round here….. you be careful out among them English.

  21. PatHBB says:

    Good luck on your next endeavor. I’ll miss the comments section as it was a good place to see what the dumb people thought about the box office.

  22. Don Lewis says:

    Best of luck, David!

  23. hugh hart says:

    Best of luck Dave!

  24. colosson says:

    Thanks for the great work over the years David and good luck for the future!

  25. Josh Dickey says:

    It’s been fun mixing it up with you, David.

  26. movieman says:

    I’m confused.
    Or maybe I didn’t read this thread closely enough.
    Is MCN officially kaput?

    If so, damn. It was one of my daily internet haunts.

  27. LYT says:

    Best of luck!

  28. Daniel says:

    Best of luck David – been a fan since the early days!

    Question – whatever happened to the lunch with David videos you used to post way back when? the ones at Ammo. I’ve looked on youtube, but can’t find them.
    Mind shooting me links if you have them. I enjoyed those.
    thanks!

  29. Glamourboy says:

    I’m confused too….you are staying? You are leaving? You are going undercover for the CIA?

  30. Jspartisan says:

    He’s going back into movie marketing, so he’s no longer going to be a critic. I believe he did that before? Whatever it is. The days of Dave sharing with us how he feels about a movie, are probably over.

  31. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from DP. He’s a smart guy with original ideas, and I know he’ll continue to do fine things. I wish him the best in whatever he chooses to tackle next.

  32. Dave, I’m still proccesing this. I started reading you in The Hot Button and I check Movie City News everyday for the last 16 years. It’s a relationship and loyalty just like the one I had with newspapers growing up. I was a fan living in Venezuela. And I’ve been one living in Spain for the last six months. I wish all the best. Thanks.

  33. palmtree says:

    Glad I wasn’t the only one confused about DP’s trajectory. Best of luck to you, sir, and thanks for the Hot Blog.

  34. Mostly Lurking says:

    Popping out of lurker mode to wish you the best. Really enjoyed your work for as long as I can remember (has to be at least fifteen years) even if I’ve only posted a handful of times. I hope someone still puts up the box office figures (even without any commentary) so that discussion amongst the posters continues as you’ve got some real good regular participants here.

  35. dberg says:

    David, It’s sad to see you go. I’ll miss your analysis of the Hollywood business. Even if I disagreed with your view sometimes (but not often) it was good to read your views on the industry. I will miss your insight and best of luck to you in the future.

  36. Bill Mechanic says:

    I’ve read the blog and visited the site daily (pretty much) since it came on line and has always been a fantastic place to pick up news and sometimes insight. David has done a great job, has been a (largely) unbiased commentator and helped promote movies and people that (largely)deserved such treatment.

    All the best and hope that MCN maintains its integrity moving forward.

  37. Triple Option says:

    I found the place to be very informative and entertaining. Thanks for your diligence. Best of everything ahead!

  38. Karl says:

    Best luck, Dave. I’ve been following THB, MCN, and your work for almost 10 years now, and in a very tiny way, periodically sharing brief exchanges on Twitter. Always appreciated your perspective. Wish you much fulfillment on the next act. I look forward to seeing your impact in action. Last one at MCN, please turn off the light.

  39. Stella's Boy says:

    What a serious bummer. I guess it just seemed like this place would always be here. I don’t remember exactly when I started reading David. It was during the rough cut years, so near the beginning. While I visit other sites to read about movies, I have rarely posted comments anywhere else. This has always been my favorite place to talk movies. I hope it doesn’t completely go away. Good luck DP, and thanks.

  40. Not David Bordwell says:

    Popping back into the comments for old times’ sake to thank The Hot Blog for my non-existence. Mrs. NDB introduced me to blogs back in 1997, so I’ve been reading Dave since the beginning of this internet endeavor. Truly the end of an era. Best of luck to Ray Pride, the best link aggregator in the biz!

  41. Monco says:

    I remember finding out about David’s work from Roger Ebert linking to one of your box office articles. This was early 2000s and I have been coming every day since. I do not still visit any other site from those days. It is a testament to your valued perspective and the community you have fostered here. I remember the days when LexG, jeffmcm and Nicol D were dominate voices in the comment sections. There have been eras not only to your writing but to comment section as well.

    I still remember certain great threads with epic debates about AI, or when the original Transformers came out and the thread morphed into a debate about The Lost World, or the daily blog updates when Avatar was going on its incredible box office run. I think my favorite thread was in the summer of 2007 around the time Rataouille was released, a BYOB thread started about best movies of the decade up to that point. The opinions were so eclectic and varied. It got me to rewatch and reevaluate so many movies.

    This has been a long way of saying thanks for the site and writing David. Best of luck on all your future endeavors.

  42. TimH says:

    Sad to read this news. Hope MCN can survive – it had a unique voice in this business.

  43. Joshua K. says:

    David: Good luck to you with your new plans.

    To the commenters: For those of us who read this blog for the weekend box office reports, where should we go instead?

  44. palmtree says:

    “LexG, jeffmcm and Nicol D”

    Wow, that takes me back…I think I started reading this blog like 13 or 14 years ago. Just amazing the amount of communal memory we share here.

  45. Noah Forrest says:

    remember me?

  46. leahnz says:

    oh man, good luck DP, break a leg.
    i’m not that surprised, but in this darkening hour there’s a lot a change in the wind and i kinda wish this wasn’t one of the things along the way…(though i’m confused about the fate of MCN and by extension the Hot Blog, will it be ‘sold’? – not sure how these things work – or is it completely kaput? i sure hope MCN continues on in some form with the current level of integrity and interest with Ray Pride’s top notch aggregation, i know i personally rely on the MCN home page for a lot of my general movie news and i imagine lots of others are the same. and the blog is like an old shoe, new shoes are so uncomfortable)

  47. Heather says:

    Dave..always enjoy reading the hot blog. Let’s face it..at least as far as that part of it is concerned, we read it for your opinion, thoughts, and analysis. Don’t see any reason why that should change no matter what your new venture is/

  48. cadavra says:

    Wow, it’s still sinking in. You’ll be incredibly missed. So long and thanks for all the clams.

  49. Lynch Van Sant says:

    Been reading you since before The Hot Blog came to be. Thanks for sharing your insight and love of movies. I’m turning 52 in a couple of weeks and I’ll be taking a turn into making my own movie analysis site hopefully. Turning over a new leaf in life is hard, but it’s worth it if it’s something you love to do. Best of luck!

  50. I’m late to this party, but thanks, David, for a great run. I’ve enjoyed your insights and commentary since the Roughcut days. Be well.

  51. Pete R says:

    Gollee — Shazam! I’m finding this out just now! I’ve parked my eyeballs at MCN just about more than anywhere, plus Roughcut before. Blessings and good fortune to you, Mr. Poland.

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“Ten years ago at Telluride, I said on a panel that theatrical distribution was dying. It seemed obvious to me. I was surprised how many in the audience violently objected: ‘People will always want to go to the movies!’ That’s true, but it’s also true that theatrical cinema as we once knew it has died. Theatrical cinema is now Event Cinema, just as theatrical plays and musical performances are Events. No one just goes to a movie. It’s a planned occasion. Four types of Event Cinema remain.
1. Spectacle (IMAX-style blockbusters)
2. Family (cartoon like features)
3. Horror (teen-driven), and
4. Film Club (formerly arthouse but now anything serious).

There are isolated pockets like black cinema, romcom, girl’s-night-out, seniors, teen gross-outs, but it’s primarily those four. Everything else is TV. Now I have to go back to episode five of ‘Looming Tower.'”
~ Paul Schrader

“Because of my relative candor on Twitter regarding why I quit my day job, my DMs have overflowed with similar stories from colleagues around the globe. These peeks behind the curtains of film festivals, venues, distributors and funding bodies weren’t pretty. Certain dismal patterns recurred (and resonated): Boards who don’t engage with or even understand their organization’s artistic mission and are insensitive to the diverse neighborhood in which their organization’s venue is located; incompetent founders and/or presidents who create only obstacles, never solutions; unduly empowered, Trumpian bean counters who chip away at the taste and experiences that make organizations’ cultural offerings special; expensive PR teams that don’t bring to the table a bare-minimum familiarity with the rich subcultural art form they’re half-heartedly peddling as “product”; nonprofit arts organizations for whom art now ranks as a distant-second goal behind profit.”
~ Eric Allen Hatch