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Palling Around with Directors

Last night, Steve Weintraub at Collider posted an extensive interview with William Monahan, the director of London Boulevard. Monahan is probably best known for writing films like Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies, and most famously, The Departed. London Boulevard will be Monahan’s directorial debut. The film’s production was troubled by rumors that Monahan was a control freak, and that many setbacks might have turned his otherwise great script into a mediocre mess.

I’ve hung out with Steve on numerous occasions and in addition to finding him to be a really cool guy, the one thing I take away from our interactions is that this is a man who is extremely good at his job. Collider always has an ungodly number of interviews and often breaks news by digging out those minute details that other outlets are unwilling or unable to drill down for.

So why did notorious film blogger Jeff Wells take a bat to his integrity in a recent column?

The weird part is that Weintraub has seen the crime drama but declines to post a sidebar review despite the fact that it’s opening in London eight days from now, on Friday, 11.26…Weintraub explained [via e-mail] that he was shown London Boulevard as a friend/admirer of Monahan and not as a critic, and that he’s simply respecting Monahan’s request not to review it. “You’re hedging,” I replied. “This movie is presumed to be troubled on some level and is about to be reviewed by all of London, and you’re holding back on the specifics of your admiration because Monahan is a pally? I’d understand if the opening date was a couple of months off, but EIGHT DAYS?”

…Monahan and Weintraub know that the word on this thing is dicey, and that the general feeling is that it’s a bleeding groaning bear with a bullet in its side. If Weintraub really likes it as much as he says he should be a man and tell the world how good it is — clearly and specifically and passionately. 

I have two reactions to this:

1) First of all, it’s hard to explain how difficult it is to own/manage a major film site these days. In addition to the fact that the ad market constantly threatens our solvency, there are issues of press access, credibility, and respect that we are forced to contend with on a weekly basis.

In my opinion, sites like /Film and Collider are in an awkward in-between phase; we are large enough to command some attention from the movie studios (i.e. large enough that Sony will invite someone from each of our sites to see an advanced screening of The Social Network), but have nowhere near as much clout as someone from Entertainment Weekly, Associated Press, or even critics from major local newspapers (although our readership undoubtedly is comparable to those in the latter category). For example, many of us are still forced to respect press embargoes on movies we’ve seen in advance. But if someone like Entertainment Weekly disregards their embargo and publishes a review early, well, I have a feeling they’ll still get an invite the next time around.

As a result, we struggle to strike a balance between capitalizing on the few advantages we get, while still maintaining our journalistic integrity. And to be crass about it, if I was given the opportunity to see the film as a friend of a director and handed a big fat exclusive in the form of a lengthy interview, the last thing I would do is turn around and completely disobey that director’s wishes by publishing a review of the film. Does that make me a terrible “film journalist?” Possibly, but it also ensures that I can deliver high-quality, unique content to our millions of readers for the foreseeable future. And in a job where exclusives are difficult to come by, and where readers care more about what they see on the page than what’s going on behind the scenes, that’d be a trade-off I’d be willing to make.

[Update: Examples of the type of content I’m referring to, regardless of the means through which they arose: My relatively lengthy interviews with people like Danny Boyle, Chris Morris, James Cameron, and /Filmcast appearances by people like Richard Kelly, Michael Dougherty, Rian Johnson and Vincenzo Natali, to name but a few. I believe these instances offer fascinating insights into the filmmaking process, and that some of our readers/listeners might not have been exposed to them were it not for our site/podcast.]

[Note: In case it’s not clear, I would not apply this logic to say, war reporters in Iraq or political reporters in Washington. But we write about who’s writing what script, and who’s directing what movie, and how much X actor is getting paid for appearing in the Y series of films. There’s a qualitative difference in our jobs.]

2) Not everyone can be a complete, unapologetic dick to people and still be invited to things and be perceived as an essential, relevant voice in the film world.