In a recent article in the trade paper The Hollywood Reporter, writer Todd Longwell tried to make a case for the major Hollywood studios working with websites of all kinds, from big sites like CHUD and Ain't It Cool News to niche sites like Movie Mom and Reel Geezers.
It's interesting to note that nearly everyone who left a comment on the article thinks Longwell is full of hot air. And as one of the people who left a comment, I agree. Movie studios do next to nothing to work with so-called niche sites, at least not among the people I talk to. And I speak from personal experience.
I have worked my buns off for the past four years trying to get the major studios to include our sites, Popcorn N Roses and Indie Film Spotlight, on their publicity lists. I have run into so many road blocks and brick walls that if the crashes were literal, I would have broken every bone in my body more than one hundred times.
The truth of the matter is that the major studios seem to consider sites like these as beneath them. They don't want to market to them, and in many cases even consider them the enemy.
I have tried several times to get on studio press release lists, and am usually buffeted back by a variety of rules, which vary from needing two letters of recommendation from other industry insiders to having at least a million hits a month on the site. Or they want web metrics going back several years, and demand to see growth every month, which is entirely unrealistic. Trying to get press passes for screenings, interviews with casts and crew members of movies, and even review screeners is virtually impossible in most cases. Or they demand that your site be MPAA-accredited before they can add you… and for the record, MPAA offers no such accrediting. Trust me, I've checked.
Longwell's article talks about movie blog writers being invited to visit movie sets, getting exclusive access to stars, and getting 'raw' screeners from filmmakers looking for a public opinion on their work in progress. It just doesn't happen for 99% of the bloggers out there — just the 1% that the studio has decided is worth courting.
Let me point out three very specific examples, if I may.
In August 2008, I tried to approach Warner Brothers Studios with a well thought out plan that would have had Popcorn N Roses offer an exclusive contest which would revolve around the DVD release of Speed Racer. The idea would be to offer several Speed Racer prize packages, with the grand prize winner receiving a Blu-ray player and a library of 10 Warner Brothers movies, including the Blu-ray version of Speed Racer. I sent contact letters outlining my proposal for cross promotions and entry methods to at least four people in the Warner Brothers publicity department. Not only did they apparently not want to have my backing – I had named Speed Racer one of the best movies of the year – but they apparently didn't even consider my proposal. I didn't receive a single answer to my e-mails about the proposal, nor did I receive any kind of callback on the several phone calls I made.
A month later, I made a similar proposal to IFC Films, this time revolving around the DVD release of Paranoid Park, another movie I had named one of the best of the year. This time, I got a belated answer from someone who said they'd been on vacation, but to let them know if I was still interested in a giveaway and possibly in an interview or two. I immediately contacted them again and let them know that I was indeed still interested. Two more weeks went by, and then I got a terse e-mail from someone who simply said "We're not interested in your proposal at this time". Okay – at least I got a reply – but why were they apparently open to the idea at first and then shot us down at the last minute? I have no idea. And it was damned rude of them the way they went about it.
Yesterday, I was going through Twitter and saw a post from SlashFilm about the beginning of the viral campaign for Tron: Legacy. Out of the blue he had received a FedEx from the studio with an unbranded flash drive and two quarter-sized coins stamped "Flynn's Arcade" on them. And in checking around, found out that three or four other websites – all of them HUGE sites – had received the same packages. And all I could think was "Where's ours? Don't we qualify?" Apparently not.
I told these stories on a recent edition of our podcast, Subject:CINEMA, in our InDepth Spotlight on the subject. It's not the first time we've talked about this issue, either – I've been bringing it up for three years off and on.
We're not a large site — yet. But we've grown over 200 times of what we were when we launched in 2005. And it would be a dream if I could afford to make Popcorn N Roses and its family of sites a full time, self-sustaining gig. One of the keys to that dream is cooperation from the studios. We've been lucky enough to have filmmakers hook up with us for indie pictures, and we're forever grateful – their cooperation has made Indie Film Spotlight a joy to run. But if we can't be taken seriously by the studios, how are we supposed to compete?
The larger sites have an unfair advantage — no studio would dare to piss off Harry Knowles or the writers of sites like UGO, Coming Soon, or Cinematical. So why is it okay to piss off Popcorn N Roses? We have close to 50,000 readers a month, and Subject:CINEMA has almost the same number of listeners every month, an average of 13,000 listens per show. Why don't we matter to the studios?
But then again, we also apparently don't matter locally either. When I approached the Boston Society of Film Critics a year ago asking about becoming a member, I was politely blown off with the rule that in order to be a member you have to be paid for your reviews. Well, other cities apparently don't have that same rule, as I know bloggers in Chicago and Houston that are members of their local critics groups. But I accept that, because they were polite in dealing with me, and were very informative about how their rules worked. Try getting a straight story about rules from one of the studios – go on, try. It's damn near impossible.
So, all you movie studios out there – we're here, ready and willing to work with you on things. We have been here for almost five years. And I'm about to get more aggressive on getting you to work with us on things. It's time for you to stop treating the smaller websites like the enemy and work with us. It's time to put everyone on an equal basis. Because in the long run, if you don't, the studios will regret it. We bloggers don't like to be stepped on, and we'll remember it when you come to us for a marketing campaign, and we can turn around and say, "Gee, weren't you the studio that didn't think we were big enough to help out with such and such? Why should I help you now?"
In the end, the kind of treatment sites like Popcorn N Roses gets most of the time can only end up hurting the major studios. It's time to mend fences and get everyone involved. Make all movie sites count. Give us the tools, and we can make it happen. Deny us the tools, and you only deprive yourselves of a potentially larger audience.
It's in your court, studios. We do all we can do — now, you need to meet us halfway.