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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

CHUD.com’s Devin Faraci, Fox’s Tiffany Chen, and the ongoing war between (some) online film critics and the studios

A commenter on my review of Knocked Up recently voiced the opinion that film critics are pampered by studios, showered with gifts and opportunities to hang out with movie stars, that that this is why dumb movies get great reviews. Now, I have no doubt that some of the kind of thing is going on — though more with junket journalists than critics, I suspect; see here for an excellent cutdown of movie junkets — but that entirely fails to explain the preponderance of glowing reviews for this particular dumb movie.

But this isn’t about me dissing Knocked Up some more (though I’m sure I will never tire of that). This is about pointing out that in fact, the relationship between critics and studios is far more often quite contentious. The example of the moment? Critic Devin Faraci of CHUD.com posted the other day a screed against a 20th Century Fox publicist here in New York, Tiffany Chen. I’m not going to quote from it, because it really is quite unprofessional and resorts to personal attacks on and childish name-calling of Chen, but the gist of it is: Faraci showed up at the promo screening of Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer that many NYC critics were relegated to last Thursday night only to find that he was not on the list of press to be admitted; Chen was ready to admit him anyway, but when he couldn’t get a pass for a seat in the roped-off section reserved for critics and bitched about it, Chen treated him with disdain and dismissed him. So Faraci stormed out without seeing the film.

Chen responds at Cinematical with her side of the story, which is, unsurprisingly, rather different: Faraci never RSVPed for the screening, which is why he wasn’t on the list, and he greatly exaggerates and mischaracterizes her conversation with him, which was far more cordial and professional than he leads us to believe.

I don’t know Faraci, so I have no basis for making any judgment on whether this is how he usually behaves (though it seems he’s no stranger to stirring up the online film community), or on whether he might be exaggerating. I am acquainted with Chen, though, and have never seen or heard her be less than professional and friendly with anyone, myself included. But I was at that screening, and it was an absolute circus: it’s easy to see how it would have challenged anyone’s patience and professionalism. And yet I discovered when I arrived just minutes before the movie was to start (long after Faraci says he arrived at the theater) that I, too, was not on the press list — though I had certainly RSVPed. I was let in with no fuss or drama anyway, and I was given a pass for the roped-off section.

I appreciate Faraci’s frustration, though: onliners are often, as he notes, treated as the redheaded stepchildren of the critical world; I’m not sure it’s quite so dramatic as MovieHole notes — “quite a few studios loathe the Internet” — but there is often a certain animosity directed toward those of us whose reviews appear primarily online. (It is true that since some of my reviews started appearing in a handful of alternative weekly newspapers around the country last year, getting access to some screenings at some studios has been a little easier.) Part of it is a fear of the power of the Net, of its ability to spread negative word on a film — see the news earlier this week over an early Net review of Silver Surfer. But part of it is, too, the fact that far too many onliners who want to be treated as professionals don’t act like professionals.

I’ve faced the same situation Faraci did at the Silver Surfer screening more than once; so do most critics, unless they’re Jeffrey Lyons or Joel Siegel or someone with that kind of stature. Advance screenings are the studios’ parties, and we’re lucky to be invited. I’ve sometimes felt like getting information out of some publicists about screenings is like pulling teeth, which mystifies me: isn’t it a publicist’s job to, you know, publicize? Some studios flat refuse to allow me to sit, at crazed multiplex all-media and promo screenings, in the roped-off section reserved for critics, which means I have to show up extra early to wait on line with everyone else who’s just there for a free movie, not to work, even though I may have been running from screening to screening all day and really don’t have the time to wait on line for two hours, even though I, too, am working press.

But dem’s da breaks. Some critics get treated better than others by the studios. Faraci posts his email exchange with Chen prior to the screening in question, for instance, and he was asked if he would be bringing a guest with him to the screening… a week after I had to disinvite my guest because Chen told me — after having okayed my bringing a guest — that ooops, there wouldn’t be enough seats. I was disappointed, but hey: dem’s da breaks; I graciously let Chen know that I would, of course, not bring a guest with me to the screening. Faraci’s CHUD.com apparently has a much bigger readership than FlickFilosopher.com has, so of course he would probably get better treatment than I would. (Though it seems the same thing happened to Ed Douglas of ComingSoon.net and his guest situation, and ComingSoon.net leaves CHUD.com in the dust, trafficwise, so who knows what the heck was going on.)

I doubt, somehow, that flying off the handle and throwing stuff at their employees is the way to convince the studios that onliners should be treated more nicely. Acting like a professional even in the face of confusing, contradictory information and a crazy atmosphere might help, though. It’s not about sucking up — clearly, I have no trouble writing outrageously negative reviews — but about treating people the way you’d like to be treated. “Professional” isn’t just about whether or not you’re paid for your work but your attitude.

Oh, and that guest situation. There was an empty seat right next to me at the Silver Surfer screening. I could have brought a guest with me. That was frustrating and disappointing. But I just don’t think this is worth throwing anything at Tiffany Chen over.

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