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]