Matt Damon Recounts the Great Good Will Hunting Smear Campaign of 1998


From smear-mailing to blackballing to suspiciously timed LAT investigative pieces to that ugly incident in which The Blind Side's campaign headquarters were pelted with dozens of prune hamentashen launched from the window of an unmarked white van, 2010's Oscar season has been by all accounts one of the ugliest in recent history. And yet these kind of tactics are certainly nothing new, as Matt Damon reminded The Carpetbagger at The Green Zone's New York premiere:

"My first experience with that was 'Good Will Hunting,'" Mr. Damon said. "The week of the voting there was a story that came out in Variety that [Silence of the Lambs writer] Ted Tally had written 'Good Will Hunting." [...]

"And Ted Tally, to his credit, he called up Variety and said, 'I want to go on the record and just say I didn't write that movie, I wish I did but if I had written it I'd take credit for it,'" Mr. Damon said. "It kind of put the thing to bed but I remember getting called for a quote and I said I'm not gonna...comment. Are they calling Woody Allen and asking him if he wrote the script? They want to come look at my hard drive? I've been working on this script for, like, years. And then it was explained to me, that no, it's not actually about that. It's about just putting enough doubt in voters' mind that they would go, 'oh, I heard something about that movie, I'm not sure if those guys actually wrote it. What's that - Oh, I liked 'As Good As It Gets.'"

So, Mr. Damon's people explained to him, "it's the 'As Good As It Gets' camp," he said. "And I was like, come on, you must be kidding me. You're telling me it's Jim Brooks," the director of that movie? "'No, Jim Brooks would never do that. It's the camp!' Like, what does that mean? It was so stupid. I was just flabbergasted."

"It's literally to just put doubt in somebody's mind because ultimately, what it comes down to is somebody is gonna take a pen and write a name on a line. That's all it is. And so what does it actually take to change that? You don't have to make people think they don't like 'The Hurt Locker,' you just have to make them think something about 'The Hurt Locker' that would make them write 'Avatar' or 'Up in the Air' or whatever it is.

As we all know, despite the As Good As It Gets camp's best efforts, the statues ultimately went to Damon and Ben Affleck for their Good Will Hunting script. It's a testament to their level-headedness and perspective that they didn't escalate the campaign warfare further, as their win would have forever been tarnished had they chosen to retaliate by sending Brooks the severed head of a Brussels Griffin, with a note reading, "How you like them apples?"

· Anatomy of a Smear Campaign [NYT]