David Fincher's Dragon Tattoogate Embargo Solution: No Early Screenings for Critics

Film bloggers and pundits and awards season watchers have pecked this David Denby-Scott Rudin exchange to death with no clear consensus or solution, but one player in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo kerfuffle has a solution. "If it were up to me, I wouldn't show movies to anybody before they were released," director David Fincher told the Miami Herald. "...If I had my way, the New York Film Critics Circle would not have seen this movie and then we would not be in this situation." More wishful thinking from Fincher after the jump!

According to Fincher, he was against the early special New York Film Critics Circle screening from the start. (Not that it helped much anyway.) And though he admits to wrestling with Rudin over the very subject of early screenings, he agrees with Rudin's argument that embargo-breaking reviews can potentially do harm to the business of a film.

"I think Scott [Rudin]'s response was totally correct. It's a hard thing for people outside our business to understand. It is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. But as silly as this may all look from the outside -- privileged people bickering -- I think it's important. Film critics are part of the business of getting movies made. You swim in the same water we swim in. And there is a business to letting people know your movie is coming out. It is not a charity business. It is a business-business.

This is not about controlling the media. If people realized how much thought goes into deciding at what point can we allow our movie to be seen, they would understand. There are so many other things constantly screaming for people's attention. I started shooting this movie 25 days after I turned in The Social Network. We have been working really hard to make this release date. And when you're trying to orchestrate a build-up of anticipation, it is extremely frustrating to have someone agree to something and then upturn the apple cart and change the rules -- for everybody.

Yes, it's a business, and there are financial stakes at hand for a film and its makers surrounding the timing of release, the window of a marketing campaign, and the delicate dance studios do with critics in risking negative reviews from early screenings. But Fincher's wrong; the Denby-Rudin incident is about controlling the media, or at least holding critics to a predetermined set of agreed-upon (but not mutually created) parameters that dictate when certain films may be written about.

It's control in exchange for access -- a tricky and often precarious see-saw of interests to balance. And that relationship gets even trickier in awards season, now that Sony's early gamble (the NYFCC special screening) did not pan out as planned, leaving Dragon Tattoo with no early honors with which to kick-off its concerted Oscar campaign.

Then again, Fincher's ideal scenario for releasing a film is clearly not feasible either, barring some new world order in the film industry. Would it be nice to not have films utterly (or even just partially) spoiled by trailers and clips and marketing materials? Sure! But would the general public buy tickets just purely out of love for the cinema without a promotional machine to entice them this way or that -- or without the film critics that can indeed guide moviegoers in the choices they make? No. (Is this a matter of "privileged people bickering?" Kinda.) Filmmakers certainly couldn't have it both ways, in any case, and still be in "business-business."

So the industry needs film critics. It needs trusted channels through which audiences may be reached. There are going to be embargoes, and whether critics decide to adhere to them is their choice; whether the studios choose to enforce violations is up to them. (Oh, the countless times unsanctioned early reviews have been ignored on films of lesser importance!)

For more, including Fincher's description of the "most valuable film critics" (i.e. not the professional ones), head to Rene Rodriguez's Miami Herald report.

Fincher on David Denby, film critics and embargoes [Miami Herald]


  • SunnydaZe says:

    Denby is the real world version of that irritating breed of commenter who posts "FIRST!".

  • The WInchester says:

    But without critics seeing Fincher's movies early, who will overpraise them as important and relevant way before the public gets to be underwhelmed by the finished product?

  • The Pope says:

    Okay this may sound insane but for quite a while I have been considering the idea that critics should not review a film until AT LEAST couple of weeks AFTER it has come out. That way they can let it bed down and that way they don't have to be "FIRST!"
    Especially in this hot age of internet, where pre-publicity determines so much about a movies opening weekend position, critics are not needed (as much as they used). Critics now are only needed for discussion, not assessment. So, let them assess and because we all have blogs, that's how the criticism/discussion/assessment will take place.

  • Kat says:

    Jen - Your assessment that Rudin and Fincher's stand on Denby's breaking his word is "about controlling the media, or at least holding critics to a predetermined set of agreed-upon ... parameters that dictate when certain films may be written about," is, in my opinion, wrong. They have a product they're marketing. They financed the project, the commodity. Did any of the New York Film Critics put money into the making of that film? Rudin has every right to finesse the marketing of his film in a manner he deems will garner the most monetary gain. Critics are a way to get the word out about the film, and critics make money doing something they love - watch movies. So giving early access for critics to see a film is a concession that allows critics to write about a film before its released. Both parties give and take. But both should be expected at act like adults and honor their word. Denby signed an agreement to wait, and he broke his word. In what world isn't that wrong? He can excuse and excuse all he wants, but he broke his word plain and simple. If critics want to renegotiate the manner in which they preview films in the future, they should. But the producers have the right to market their commodity in a manner they think will garner them the most gain.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Hi Kat,
    I'm sure I take the side of critics and press because of my job and own experience, though I do understand it's conversely a producer's job to market a film as best they can. But the issue of embargoes is one of control; it's the filmmaker/studio controlling the message that goes out, since they cannot control the message itself (the content of the review).
    You're right, however; this may be more an issue of how critics negotiate the terms under which they are able to pre-screen films and what is then expected of them in return. And I don't defend Denby's choice to go back on any word he promised Sony to not run his review before the date they selected. But whenever a studio dictates the terms under which a journalist may do their job it gets tricky -- and this is something we deal with constantly.
    Studios need pre-release buzz to build demand and interest for their product, and it's usually a mutually beneficial arrangement since critics benefit from seeing a film early, whether they post their review right away in order to be first or spend more time to craft their reviews by opening day. In the case of Dragon Tattoo, Sony/Rudin screened early, and only to a select group of journalists, in hopes that they would receive an awards season boost from it. That gamble did not pay off. They want to contain all buzz now until their pre-release window, but in screening early they ran the risk that critics may also break embargo. Whether they punish that break or not is up to Sony; many studios never do this, even when embargoes are broken, because they need or want the publicity on their next release. So it's all a scrum of divergent interests that align most of the time but cannot always, and embargo violations only *matter* when a studio wants them to.

  • od says:

    Rudin's an idiot - of course somebody will snitch. It's HOLLYWOOD.
    He should have done this the day BEFORE the premiere, assuming he had off the record praise from at least a couple people first. Who cares, they're getting so much right - this movie should be SICK.

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