April 16, 2014

Scott Rudin fires back after stupid “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” embargo bust – AWARDS ALLEY


By Sean O’Connell
hollywoodnews.com: In the realm of contemporary film criticism, publishing first — or “First!” for those who subscribe to gonzo, “Toldja!” journalism — has its advantages. Getting ahead of the eventual surge of reviews from rival outlets often generates serious traffic, and can help grab headlines for a positive or negative review.

But at what cost?

We’re finding out this morning as Scott Rudin, Oscar-winning producer of David Fincher’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” continues to react to The New Yorker’s decision to break an agreed-upon embargo surrounding the upcoming thriller by publishing David Denby’s review … nine days ahead of the studio’s stated embargo.

Denby, a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, only was able to see Fincher’s film because Sony bent to the will of the organization’s selfish, early deadline. And the NYFCC members only were able to see “Tattoo” if they agreed to honor the embargo. Denby didn’t. He broke his word. And now he deserves whatever punishment comes as a result.

Banishment from future Rudin screenings could be an option, as emails obtained by The Playlist seem to suggest. In response to Denby’s empty explanations as to why the magazine felt the need to break the embargo, Rudin tells the longtime critic, “Your seeing the movie was conditional on your honoring the embargo, which you agreed to do. The needs of the magazine cannot trump your word. The fact that the review is good is immaterial, as I suspect you know. You’ve very badly damaged the movie by doing this, and I could not in good conscience invite you to see another movie of mine again.”

And do you know what? He’s absolutely right.

As a film critic, I’m largely opposed to publishing embargoes … particularly when they prevent me from releasing a review that already has been posted by the trades or select Web sites that are conveniently overlooked by the studios. It often seems like there are multiple embargoes assigned to each individual film, with different outlets receiving permission to publish early. There needs to be some consistency to the embargo policy, because in reality, there are times when embargoes are enforced and times when they are ignored.

But embargoes are made crystal clear by studio reps — I can tell you that the embargo notice in my “Dragon Tattoo” screening invite is in bold, all caps, AND underlined — and choosing to ignore them is a risk outlets must be willing to take, consequences and all.

Andre Caraco, Executive Vice President, Motion Picture Publicity for Sony Pictures Entertainment, wrote in a letter, “All who attended screenings of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo agreed in writing to withhold reviews until closer to the date of the film’s worldwide release date. [Denby’s] embargo violation is completely unacceptable. By allowing critics to see films early, at different times, embargo dates level the playing field and enable reviews to run within the films’ primary release window, when audiences are most interested. As a matter of principle, the New Yorker’s breach violates a trust and undermines a system designed to help journalists do their job and serve their readers. We have been speaking directly with The New Yorker about this matter and expect to take measures to ensure this kind of violation does not occur again.”

Those measures, unfortunately, could mean preventing critics from seeing films early. Talk about a slippery slope.

Perhaps that’s why most critics are agreeing with Rudin in this fiasco.

“I don’t care how many people follow David Denby into the abyss of expediency and post their Girl With The Dragon Tattoo reviews today or tomorrow or whatever. I will not because I pledged in writing that I would not, and that’s that,” Jeff Wells declares.

“This has, of course, set off a brouhaha over embargoes on reviews and whether journalists should play ball. All I’ll say is, if you agree to it, you honor it,” Joe Flint writes in the L.A. Times.

In fact, only crazy people believe Denby was correct in breaking his word and violating the embargo he agreed to honor. Toldja.

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About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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