Film Archive for June, 2009

This Space for Sale?

There’s been an interesting debate going on (some might say raging) around Facebook and Twitter today around film blog Slashfilm running a piece on Sam Mendes with a preamble noting that the post was “sponsored by” Focus Films. This post stirred a hell of a shitstorm up on Twitter and Facebook today, prompting Slashfilm to put up this post clarifying what exactly happened, and what their editorial policy generally is. A brief excerpt of the explanation:

Here are the basic facts: Focus Features purchased an advertising campaign on our site for “Away We Go.” This campaign encompassed elements of our site that are clearly separated from editorial content as advertising. We were not paid to write an editorial about “Away We Go,” but we agreed to support the advertiser by crafting an editorial relating to the director or stars of the film, provided we could exercise complete editorial control of the piece.

Did Slashfilm’s editors think they were walking a fine line ethically speaking? I’m going to give them the benefit of a doubt and venture that they were aware this could be a dicey issue, did what they thought was appropriate in ensuring they handled it properly, got a fair amount of negative feedback on that decision, and have reassessed. Nonetheless, the whole situation has raised some fascinating and serious ethical issues about the symbiotic nature of our business relationships with publicists and studios that bear consideration and discussion.
Should there always be an absolute church/state separation between film journalists and film sites, the studios whose films we write about, and the publicists who flit back and forth between both worlds? Is there a difference between “paid content” that’s clearly differentiated as being sponsored by a studio, as the Sam Mendes piece on Slashfilm was, versus an opinion piece like a review? Is there a difference between this and accepting ads from studios to run your site as a profitable business venture that allows you to pay your writers, versus writing content specifically paid for by a studio, whether or not your site’s policy is to maintain editorial control over such pieces?
And if we’re really being sticklers about the journalistic integrity issue, how do we differentiate, objectively, between accepting paid ads, writing paid content, and seeing the films we review at free screenings, having DVDs sent to us (free) for our review, and getting a stack of awards season screeners at the end of the year? What about set visits and junkets? Is our individual conviction that we will act with ethics and caution and write our honest opinion regardless of who’s footing the bill enough, or is the mere suggestion that we might be compromised enough to damage out integrity?
These are going to continue to be issues we face moving forward, as sites struggle to figure out how to keep operating and pay their writers to write the content they need to survive. You can’t pay a staff without some source of income, and the most likely source of income right now, at least until someone comes up with a better business model, is ad sales. Should movie sites be looking to sources other than the studios whose films we write about for their ad income? Coffee ads, perhaps, or condoms or tampons or frozen foods? I don’t think so — after all, haven’t print publications relied upon those same advertising dollars for years, without the suggestion that to do so indicated questionable ethics?
I’m not going to pretend to have the answers here. Hell, I barely have the questions, and I’m sure there are layers and layers of ethics around all this that we could unearth through more discussion. But I do think it’s a crucial issue for film journalists and film sites to be considering and debating and even heatedly arguing about, as we all try to figure out how to survive in this field.
I’d love to hear from other folks where they think the ethical lines in the sand lie. Bring it on.

**Hat tip to Devin Faraci, Drew McWeeny, Mark Bell, Todd Gilchrist, and others I’m no doubt overlooking for the many fascinating Tweets and Facebook updates that inspired this post.

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Christmas in July

I caught a preview of Disney’s A Christmas Carol, directed by Robert Zemeckis, on Monday, and it looks pretty amazing. The capture animation is getting better and better, and there is detail work in what we saw that’s pretty spectacular. Dickens’ source material is dark, and it looks like Disney’s not toning down that aspect of the story at all. Scrooge is menacing, the ghosts are scary, the palette is gloomy. Jim Carrey’s Scrooge and the ghosts, Gary Oldman’s playing a trifecta as Marley, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, and the whole thing just looks great, with even the 3-D effects seeming actually relevant rather than superfluous. My kids are going to be all over this one.
Disney is already marketing the hell out of this film, with a free (yes, free!) Christmas Carol Train Tour going on right now, perhaps coming to your town. The train tour gives you a sneak peek at the film, a behind-the-scenes look at how it was made, artifacts from the Charles Dickens museum, the opportunity to morph your own face, AND snow and carolers in July. Bah humbug, you say? Nah. If the finished film looks as good as the sneaks, it’s going to be a fun time.

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“The thought is interrupted by an odd interlude. We are speaking in the side room of Casita, a swish and fairly busy Italian bistro in Aoyama – a district of Tokyo usually so replete with celebrities that they spark minimal fuss. Kojima’s fame, however, exceeds normal limits and adoring staff have worked out who their guest is. He stops mid-sentence and points up towards the speakers, delighted. The soft jazz that had been playing discreetly across the restaurant’s dark, hardwood interior has suddenly been replaced with the theme music from some of Kojima’s hit games. Harry Gregson-Williams’ music is sublime in its context but ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots’ is not, Kojima acknowledges, terribly restauranty. He pauses, adjusting a pair of large, blue-framed glasses of his own design, and returns to the way in which games have not only influenced films, but have also changed the way in which people watch them. “There are stories being told [in cinema] that my generation may find surprising but which the gamer generation doesn’t find weird at all,” he says.
~ Hideo Kojima

“They’re still talking about the ‘cathedral of cinema,’ the ‘communal experience,’ blah blah. The experiences I’ve had recently in the theatre have not been good. There’s commercials, noise, cellphones. I was watching Colette at the Varsity, and halfway through red flashes came up at the bottom of the frame. A woman came out and said, ‘We’re going to have to reboot, so take fifteen minutes and come back.’ Then they rebooted it from the beginning, and she had to ask the audience to tell her how far to go. You tell me, is that a great experience? I generally don’t watch movies in a cinema at all. Netflix is the future. It’s the present. But the whole paradigm of a series, binge-watching, it’s quite different. My first reaction is that it’s more novelistic, because if you have an eight-hour season, you can get into complex, intricate things. You can let it breathe and the audience expectations are such that they will let you, where before they wouldn’t have the patience. I think only the surface has been touched with experimenting with that.”
~ David Cronenberg