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Caffeinated Clint vs. Embargo Breakers

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Embargo backwards is O Grab Me.

And if I’d told you “Howard the Duck” was ‘the cinematic equivalent of a rubdown from Doug Bradley in-makeup’ two weeks before it’s 1986 release date I’d expect to be. Grabbed, that is.

Just like David Denby and his ‘first! first! first!’ review of “Dragon Tattoo”.

So Nikki Finke is hurling spit balls in the direction of Sony’s Scott Rudin.. why? Oh I see, because Rudin is upset someone broke a promise. Well, no wonder the gossip maven is puffier than Stephen Furst after a 1991 hot dog vendors convention! She’s in her right to be…. and I’m going to wave a stop sign in the front of my sarcastic self right there because you and I both know there’s no reason for Nikki Fenke to be vomiting abuse at Rudin and Sony.

For those new to the fist-fight, what’s happened is David Denby of The New Yorker broke the embargo placed on reviewers attending an early screening of “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. Producer Scott Rudin and Sony, justifiably, are upset that he – and more so, his superiors at the paper who would’ve been privy to the embargo too – would blatantly disregard the embargo’s terms that said reviewer hold the review until closer to the film’s release date.

Sure, it was a positive review, but that’s not the point (though Nikki seems to think it is), the point is : Denby agreed to the terms of the contract; he agreed to hold his review in line with the studio’s wishes. He didn’t. Knowing full well he’d be breaking the embargo, he went and published the review anyway.

Nikki Fenke writes that “So What If David Denby Broke Sony/Scott Rudin’s ‘Dragon Tattoo’ Embargo? Fuck It!” before explaining – rather unsuccessfully – her reasoning behind donning a ‘screw the studio’ sandwich-board.

”Embargoes are dumbass, and even more so when they involve matters of no consequence like showbiz”, says Finke. “And still more so when the movie review at issue was positive like David Denby’s critique of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo in The New Yorker. In my opinion, no film reviewer should ever agree to embargoes because doing what the studios want is a slippery slope. It’s just a short hop to becoming part of Hollywood’s publicity machine.”

What a croc. Finke is simply defending Denby because she likes the man’s writing (she says so herself; claiming he’s her favourite reviewer) and is trying to maintain the facade that she’s some kind of rebel rouser when it comes to playing by the rules (which, of course, is BS. How else do you think she gets the scoops she does?).

To all those defending the actions of Denby, save your breath! You’ll need it to blow up your date tonight.

I tell ya, these self-made people respect nothing but their creator.

I don’t care if the man’s “Dragon Tattoo” review was positive, and I don’t care what Rudin or Sony may have done to anyone in the past, the issue here is : a broken promise.

What gives Denby the right to break the embargo, when everybody else has to abide by it? The studio would look like fools if they didn’t kick a stink up about this, no!? They’d been seen as playing favourites. Or looking after the big wigs. They have to get steamed over this.

If reviewers start breaking embargoes studios will feel less inclined to preview their films early and/or trust the media. They’ll also treat journalists like sneaky, suspicious scoundrels whose word means shit (“of course I’ll hold my review… hee hee hee”). Relationships between studio and journalist are strained enough at times; last thing we need is for a giant wall to be placed between the film critic and the film distributor. And if folks like Denby continue to blatantly go against the request of the distrib, that’s what’ll happen. You won’t be able to get through the wall, over the wall or under the wall.

You would not believe how many embargoes I’ve had to agree to this year alone – some films I screened as much as many months in advance, like “The Cup”, “Friends with Kids”, “Red Dog”, “Jane Eyre” and “Abduction” and others, like “Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol”, “Any Questions for Ben?” and “The Muppets” were only a few weeks out, but you know what? I don’t care. I have never and will never complain about agreeing to and signing an embargo. Why should I? As I see it, the studios are helping us. It’s a barter. Were exchanged the privilege of being able to see a film to meet our print deadlines (some of mine are about 6 weeks in advance, so I do need to see some films early to make an issue), and they’re promised we won’t spoil it for anyone before a chosen date. Sounds like a fair enough deal to me.

“That’s how we look at it too Clint”, one Melbourne film publicist told me earlier today. “You’re one of the good ones, but there’s a few that will disregard anything and everything on those embargo forms, as if we’re just giving them out to make us look more professional. And it does hurt others, because [the parent company] then becomes wary of our territory and won’t let us show anything too early. If all of them had as much respect and understanding as you we would be in a good place, but as you’ve read, there’s some that just don’t care to be fair – they think they’re above that.”

In Denby’s offense, the journalist did explain his actions – not that it’s an excuse – rather well, saying he simply wanted to cover the film in the magazine when it would get the most attention. He should never have agreed to the embargo in the first place if there was a chance he would change his mind later on.

But Rudin’s response was the appropriate kick in the, er, short lead it should’ve been.

“I appreciate all of this, David, but you simply have to be good for your word,” he wrote in his email back. “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.”

Rudin adds another point, “You will now cause ALL of the other reviews to run a month before the release of the movie, and that is a deeply destructive thing”.

Exactly.

But Ms Finke thinks embargoes mean dirt. And is almost supporting giving the studio the middle finger. The gossip monger is throwing her leashed laptop around hoping it smacks someone – that’s “in the right” – where it hurts.

As much as I love the site, Finke doesn’t seem to know the difference between right and wrong. Aside from the fact she’s supporting the breaking of embargoes, she also doesn’t believe in giving credit where credits due. You’ll notice hardly any of the site’s news stories come with a source; not because they got the scoop, but because they simply don’t think they should have to.

“So what if his review was positive? That’s not the point. As you say, the point is he ran his review a week early after agreeing not to “, a publicist told me in an email conversation earlier this morning. “I’m sure his editors knew. I’m sure everyone at the paper knew. They were thinking of themselves – how many more copies they might sell if they had the first review etc. It’s rather ironic that the print industry are the ones breaking the embargoes, not the internet. No wonder you get lots of love these days mate! You ‘get it'”.

Look, I want to share with you my review of “Mission : Impossible Ghost Protocol” but I’m not, not until the embargo lifts. As keen as I am to speak about the film, and have you read my comments, I’m respecting the studio’s wishes in holding off. As most will. Sometimes it’s about relationships not rebelling, ya know?

Now I don’t care if I get it or not, what I care about is doing what’s right. So what I’m saying is, follow those embargoes please. Don’t do as Nikki says. Rebels of the entertainment journalism field only end up sitting next to a heavy-breathing fat kid, ditching school to drown himself in a vat of popcorn, picking his nose (and maybe yours, depending on the session time) through the latest Adam Sandler film – one they’ve paid $20 to see.

Oh, and what’s happened to Denby as a result of his early “Dragon” run? Rudin has banned him from future Sony screenings.

Let that not be all of us. So let’s start playing fair, Okay?

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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