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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.

  • jpsotis

    I find it rather strange that Wells tells Weintraub to "be a man" and break his word. If Steve was shown something off-the-record, wouldn't it be the more honorable thing to keep to that agreement? Wells is simply showing his lack of civility and tact.

  • Anonymous

    Wells acts like a crazy, cranky old man. Just go on Dave Poland's blog, who also can be a bit mean-spirited, and there's some hilarious comments by Wells there. If Monahan told him not to review it, he shouldn't review it. Think of it like an embargo. If a studio lets you see a film early and asks you not to post a review, you shouldn't. You're the one who got the favor, not them. Do as they ask.

    And Collider is a good site when it comes to exclusives. The interviews are usually standard stuff (how'd you get involved, casting, etc.), but Steve definitely pushes hard for the exclusives.

  • Agree with you Dave and jpsotis. To give some color on the interviews and appearances on the /filmcast: I have to believe that your listeners would MUCH rather you have the frank and candid input/participation of people like Rian Johnson or Vincenzo Nitali then for you to break an early review for a movie.

    Also – is it just me? But there is a difference between breaking a news story vs giving an early review. How does "I saw this movie, and here is what I thought of it" qualify as news? I am not downplaying film criticism or journalism…I just think that a review of a film is not "news" in any kind of form that somehow demands immediate release to the public.

  • @Donald,

    I think what Wells was saying was that a positive review (or even a negative one) would have been itself newsworthy.

  • Dave: And yea, I disagree with that – it boggles my mind how an opinion (a film review) – while yes, an informed and experienced one – but nevertheless, a wholly subjective, subject to abject rejection and disagreement…OPINION – is somehow newsworthy, and demands immediate release to the public.

    "Newsworthy" to me somehow suggest that the person with the news has an obligation to the public at large, beyond whatever obligations that person has to himself or his friends and family, to release that news regardless of the consequences (as if its a Kantian imperative). At the end of the day, having an opinion about a work of art (review of a film) is not "newsworthy" to the point of betraying trust.