Hollywood vs. The Blogosphere: A Mutual Misunderstanding

In the past few weeks I’ve researched the evolution of numerous elements of the film industry; this week I want to examine the fascinating correlation between the blogosphere and Hollywood. Every second of everyday someone is blogging about the film industry. From box office analysis to film reviews, the business and lifestyle of Hollywood continues to dominate the interests of amateur writers across the globe. What affect has this medium that allows for instant worldwide dispersion of commentary had on the film industry?

Steven Zeitchik of the Hollywood Reporter explains in his article, Non-Screening are the new screening, that films that go unseen prior to their worldwide debut may have an advantage over films that are reviewed before they open. In the article Zeitchik refers to the conscious marketing strategy of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” By not offering early screenings of the film to semi-professionals and non-professional writers, these authors are forced to blog about how much they wish they could see the movie. While this strategy does not lead to an increase in optimism for the film, it does preemptively stop the spread of undesirable publicity and coverage. Patrick Goldstein of the LA Times also chose to write about the "viral nature" of the blogging medium. Goldstein however chose to comment on the negative effects it has had on Hollywood reporting. In his article, Blogger attacked by (gasp) other bloggers!, Goldstein takes aim at the shameless and unsubstantiated articles that so called credible bloggers put out on a daily basis. In an age dominated by the desire for instant gratification bloggers have been only too happy to appease. Using a real life example, Goldstein shows how even professional writers have traded in their integrity for the opportunity to be the first to break a story. The major downside to the blogging medium is how it promotes a lack of virtue and accountability from writers. Gossip is entertaining and it attracts readers and subscribers. The act of passing on gossip, rumors and unprofessional reviews as reliable intelligence has become an epidemic spreading across the Internet and the blogosphere.

“Non-Screenings are the new screenings”

Mr. Zeitchik thank you for your insightful perspective on perhaps a new trend in Hollywood. It has become the norm to see reviews and advertising for big budget films months before they open and this certainly has not been the situation for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. The blogging medium has influenced many features of our culture and as you and others have pointed out the film industry has also been forced to react. I think Hollywood is now aware of the influential power of the blogging world and until they can find a way to control the medium, it is probably better to not indulge bloggers and offer early screenings for films. A negative review can spread across the Internet extremely fast and be seen by millions of viewers. Hollywood formerly operated with the understanding that any publicity is good publicity. I do not think that is the case any more. Consumers now tend to unquestionably believe negative reviews. The principal drawback to blogs is the lack of accountability and authority from the writers. Personally I find it hard to separate reviews from credible and professional critics and regular unprofessional consumers who paid the same twelve dollars to see the movie as everyone else. However this is not a completely negative phenomenon. For years a majority of consumers felt those being paid to critique films did not represent their tastes and now people can read reviews from real people who they can relate to. What I think will be most interesting about this new covert marketing scheme is if it is a damage control tactic or if the movie is actually good. Your opinion on this new marketing trend and its causes creates an excellent forum for discussion. I appreciate your continued effort that you put forth in your blog and eagerly await future posts on the evolution of Hollywood. I have a few general questions about this topic that I would love to hear your opinion on. Do you think the blogosphere has been overall damaging to the success of some films? Do you believe we will start to see the stealthy marketing scheme used by “Button” on other big films? Are we seeing the end of early screenings for critics?

Blogger attacked by (gasp) other bloggers!

Mr. Goldstein, thank you for your fitting blog post. There is a rash of unsubstantiated reports, rumors and gossip that are being passed off by bloggers as credible information. Unlike the film critics of the past these new bloggers feel no sense of accountability for their work. It is easier to gain readers and blog subscribers when you have the most interesting stories even if they lack evidence and could be completely hearsay. It is also very challenging for the casual blog reader to weed out the few quality blogs from the literally millions of unprofessional blogs that comprise the blogosphere. There are websites like Technorati that attempt to develop a ranking system for blogs however I personally find it a little too complicated. Do you believe that the average blog reader understands that most blog posts contain unconfirmed information? I’m surprised and extremely concerned to hear in your article that credible writers from sources like Variety are not doing the necessary research for their posts. Do you believe this may just be an individual case or have you encountered many gossip driven blogs written by professionals? I read another post this week by Steven Zeitchik of the Hollywood Reporter titled “Non-Screenings are the new screenings”. In the article Mr. Zeitchik discuses how major studios may be starting to follow a more discrete marketing plan in response to the truly bizarre coverage that plagues the blogosphere and the Internet. Do you think this is a growing trend? Thank you again for the intriguing and yet disturbing post.


Politics and Film: The Separation of Hollywood and State

This week, in an attempt to keep my blog current and up-to-date I searched the net and newswire for the most current rumors, rising trends and information regarding Hollywood and the film industry. I was shocked and surprised to find that most entertainment bloggers and writers were continuing to dedicate their columns and headlines to the changes going on in Washington instead of the changes taking place in Hollywood. This presidential election was the most publicized and entertaining race in history and the combination of media coverage with Hollywood involvement is why. Straight ahead journalism is lost, people now want to be entertained while they hear about the issues and the news. Hollywood is all too happy to oblige. I do not remember the past few elections exactly and whether Hollywood went as crazy after each but I am positive that our new rock star president will have a definite effect on the industry. In this post I will discuss the historical and current relationship of the ruling presidential party and the film industry.

It appears that many authors spent this week finding correlations between politics, specifically the presidential administrations, and everything else. Why not with the film industry and the box office? Through intensive research Steven Zeitchik of the Hollywood Reporter found some interesting and more surprisingly consequential connections. This relationship should have studio executives and all employees of the film industry smiling and more optimistic about the economy then most other industries. Over the past seven elections a democratic president has consistently resulted in a box-office upswing. “As an average, box-office spiked 6.8% after a Dem was elected but crept up only 3.2% after a Republican took office”. A direct cause and effect relationship is very difficult to prove; however, one theory is that under a Republican administration consumers tend to be more concerned about their finances and chose not to spend on non-vital expenses like entertainment. This is opposed to a Democrat administration that historically promotes creative expression and fosters a more movie friendly climate. I will admit that this is a loose tie however the numbers do show a visible relationship between the success of the film industry and the party in control of the nation.

Box-office receipts are not the only element of the film industry affected by the presidential campaign and the new presidential elect. Filmgoers can also expect an adjustment in the production slate of studios. For example, in case the nation and the media did not get enough of Barack Obama over the last couple months they can relax. Just days after the election HBO advanced Amy Rice and Alicia Sams a low seven figures deal for the rights to their documentary about the Senator’s presidential campaign. There was a substantial risk for investors of this documentary as no one could guarantee who would win the presidential election two years ago. After Obama’s win however, the investment is going to have big payoffs. Cameras have been following the campaign since 2006 after Edward Norton agreed to co-finance the film and secured Obama’s cooperation. The documentary team had been given close access to Obama, his family, friends, staff and volunteers and should offer an insightful view of the president elect and his journey to the White House. Sam Pollard, who has cut several other critically acclaimed HBO films and documentaries, will edit the film. Edward Norton has been quoted saying "We believe this film will capture a tipping point in American history… when a new generation of leadership emerged and old prejudices were finally vaulted over." This was a monumental race and is a story that wont saturate quickly. Consumers can expect many more documentaries, film shorts and features based on the president elect and the 2008 election.

Just as politics have infiltrated the film industry, I believe that Hollywood may be creeping into the White House. Nobody in the film industry expects the same star-studded White House parties that creative community remembers from the Clinton years; however, major studio heads are generally happy and optimistic about what the new president will be able to do for their industry. In one article I read I discovered an interesting tie between the top spot of the president’s new staff and the entertainment industry. Obama’s appointment of Chicago native Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff has caused some insiders to wonder if the White House will bear similarity to Endeavor talent agency run by Rahm’s brother Ari. Ari Emanuel is the immortalized Hollywood agent portrayed as Ari on the popular HBO show Entourage. Those who know the Emmanuel brothers agree that they share many similarities. Both are intelligent and fiercely motivated and both have been known to also be hasty and curt. One Endeavor client said, “The White House under Rahm will be like no other White House. It’ll be pure showbiz, but not about showbiz at all.” Perhaps this is exactly what our country needs, a White House that gets things done and looks good doing it.


The Fear of Hollywood: The Status of the Horror Genre

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided to base my post on the condition of horror films in Hollywood. I searched the blogosphere for reputable bloggers who were equally interested in the topic. I sought to add my own comments and questions to the ongoing debate on the state of the horror genre. I personally remember peaking through blankets watching the horror films of my childhood and since then I feel as though no recent movie has lived up to my memories. The new craze is for special effects driven “torture” films, which I believe to be juvenile compared good writing and well-crafted characters. A superior horror film is not scary simply because the audience cringes or looks away instead the film creates a widespread mood of pure terror and anxiety. A truly frightening movie leaves the audience member looking around after each shocking scene for reassurance that what you are looking at is not real. I don't believe today’s films, like Saw and Hostel, ever make the viewer think that what is happening on screen might ever happen to them or to anyone for that matter. The horror genre is one of only a few film types where the audience reacts on pure reflex instead of having to think their way through a movie. My childhood addiction and attraction to horror together with the spirit of Halloween drove me to offer my personal thoughts on two highly regarded blogs. The first post I commented on, The Horrific State of the Horror Film is written by Noah Forrest, a regular writer for the blog Movie City News. Noah not only excellently analyzes the modern horror film but he also provides insight into why the general quality of the genre has greatly diminished over time. Steven Zeitchik a media and entertainment journalist for The Hollywood Reporter wrote the second post I commented on, HSM 3, Saw V, and the definition of torture. Steven’s article comments in detail on the transformation of the horror category into one almost completely dependent on torture scenes and human disfiguration. In addition to submitting my thoughts and comments directly on the authors’ individual posts, I have also attached these comments below.

“The Horrific State of the Horror Film”
First off, thank you for your thoughtful and succinct post. You appear very knowledgeable with the on goings of the film industry. I am equally unimpressed with the quality of horror films being made today and I feel as though most of your arguments take the words right out of my mouth. While you do not cite other sources you provide ample examples that support your claims. Perhaps some readers may have been turned off by the lack of quotes and citations I however found the structure very inducive to having a conversation. After reading several other articles regarding this topic, I felt that you sympathized the most with horror fans. I agree with your final remark that in all cases in Hollywood, it is all about the money. Despite directors and producers asserting to be fellow supporters and fans of horror films you very accurately show it to be simply greed. Given the evident motive of easy profits, do you think there is anything average viewers can do to stop the lambasting of our favorite horror franchises and characters? The American horror film viewing public is not even aware of the negative effects that go with purchasing a ticket for "Saw VI". The only suggestion I have would to perhaps add some box-office receipts and DVD purchases to show how each viewer shapes the horror film production slate. Overall you wrote a very strong post about a topic that numerous others and myself are very passionate about. Thank you again, and I look forward to your 3rd annual horror film update, which I hope for the both of us, will be more positive or at least optimistic.

“HSM 3, Saw V, and the definition of torture”
Thank you for your comprehensive blog on the success of horror franchises. While your remarks on the topic are more data intensive than analytical, I do believe that you have noticed a downward trend in the quality of today’s horror films. I am shocked to see that there is still life in the “Saw” franchise despite the annual release schedule and zeitgeist. The horror films today lack the very essence that defined the genre. These “torture” films offer the audience nothing more than a cringe or shudder at the grossness of the situation rather than the possibility that it may be real. After watching “Saw”, I did not find myself lying awake in bed wondering what I would do if someone trapped me in a room with a slicing contraption around my neck, because that would never happen. Films like “Saw” and “Hostel” are not like “Jaws” where I was afraid to go in a swimming pool for months let alone the ocean. I am extremely disturbed to hear that “Saw” is now Lionsgate’s holy grail, are the industries and major studies merely taking advantage of a dedicated and loyal audience base? I understand that Hollywood is a business and consistency is very rare however are the numerous remakes and franchise additions building a creatively stifling genre? I am also interested to see how critics’ approval rating has had no affect on the box office receipts these horror movies receive. It appears that creativity and quality do not go hand in hand with profitability especially in horror films? As evidence from the article’s indifferent tone, I am curious if you believe this is an incurable dilemma or if you reserve some hope that there may be a revitalization of the genre coming. You use appropriate data in your blog, which greatly adds to its credibility. Aside from my suggestions, I truly appreciate your blog as it has certainly aided me in my search for the reason Hollywood continues to put out lackluster horror films.
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