Thursday, January 20, 2011

The 24 Hour News Cycle of Movie-News part I: Reporting the Rumor as Fact.

For the second time in just under a week, film studios basically revealed that they had duped the entire Internet for a period of several months. The first blow came last Friday, when Fox announced that Ridley Scott's Alien prequel was being dumped and reconfigured into an original project entitled Prometheus. It was revealed that Scott and writer Damon Lindelof had been constructing this original story for at least the last couple months. That means that movie news sites spend the last two months breathlessly speculating about the project that did not exist. But the biggest con was still to come... Did you hear that rumor about Tom Hardy playing Dr. Hugo Strange in the next Batman picture?

Tom Hardy was officially added to the cast of The Dark Knight Rises back in October. Speculation, in the guise of 'alleged sources', immediately centered around Hardy playing Dr. Hugo Strange, a demented psychiatrist who was Batman's first super-villain way back in 1939 and showed up from time to time during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. Nevermind that Chris Nolan had yet to comment on what characters he was adding to the third Batman picture. Nevermind that we had no real reason to believe these sources, this rumor became discussed in relation to The Dark Knight Rises as if it was fact. Would the film be based on the 1990 Legends of the Dark Knight story-arc entitled "Prey"? Again, no real reason this would be the case, except that it was one of the last notable Hugo Strange story-lines and its narrative (Dr. Hugo Strange is brought in by the police to profile the fugitive Batman and becomes obsessed with his subject) somewhat fit with the cliffhanger ending of The Dark Knight.

I will confess a token amount of guilt in this area. While what little I wrote about it was of the "Oh, I hope they don't use this silly story for the movie..." variety, I still spent time and words on this completely unfounded piece of speculation. As of yesterday, everything anyone wrote about Dr. Hugo Strange's role in the third Batman film, and the theoretical adaptation of said Legends of the Dark Knight story, has been rendered null and void. Tom Hardy will instead be playing Bane and Anne Hathaway will be playing Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Now there is no reason to assume that Nolan and company didn't know exactly which characters they were using at least since Hardy was cast in October. So that means that Warner Bros, Chris Nolan, and a handful of other people in the pipeline spent the last four months watching the Internet at large endlessly speculating and commenting on a blatant falsehood. Or worse yet, the entire world wide web got tricked into believing that a storyline for an upcoming video game, Batman: Arkham City, was in fact the story for The Dark Knight Rises.

We can laugh this off as just another case of those silly Internet fanboys getting it wrong. But this issue doesn't just reside in the realm of Aint It Cool News or CHUD, which at least serve a specific audience. The realm of movie bloggers has exploded over the last several years. More importantly, the way news is reported has dramatically changed. Once upon a time, a bit of casting news or preproduction information wasn't even mentioned as rumor unless it was either somewhat close to being factual or complete hogwash. So, when you read something on a movie news site, it was either/or. But, in the wake of the explosive popularity and success of Deadline Hollywood, and the attempts by mainstream entertainment outlets (think Hero Complex or The Vulture) to emulate Nikki Finke's gossip success, it's no longer enough to announce actual news.

No, now we have to announce rumors and the debunking of rumors and the re-reporting of those rumors all over again. We have to report the painfully obvious as if it were breaking and/or shocking news (Warner wants a young male Caucasian stud for the next Superman film... really!). We have to track each step of the casting or director-hiring process (the studio wish-list, the audition process, the callbacks, the contract, and then finally the actual hiring) with the same breathless reporting that once only greeted the signing on the dotted line. And, more importantly, we treat each piece of rumor-mongering or arbitrary speculation as if it were hard news.

And for the second time in a week, the Internet was dead wrong about the core elements of the story. Chris Nolan never confirmed that he was using Dr. Hugo Strange, just as he never actually discussed using The Riddler back in 2008. And Ridley Scott had long-since jettisoned his Alien prequel in favor of a whole new project. Countless sites, from homegrown blogs like this one to the likes of Fandango, speculated based on false information, information that they had no real reason to believe in the first place. Actual studios releasing actual press releases: 2, Internet gossip circles: 0.

In this new non-stop cycle of alleged movie news all the time, everyone has to run with the same half-hearted rumors in order to get those all-important hits. And, even if the given rumor turns out to be true weeks or months down the line, we all end up just writing the same damn story several times by the time its official. How many times did your favorite site write about a new James Bond film being prepped for November 2012 (I'm proud to say I only wrote about it once)? Point being, by the time any piece of film news actually becomes news, it has been reported, speculated, and commented on half a dozen times, making the actual breaking news feel passé. The most thrilling part of the last two big news breaks is that the Internet got it wrong. And the best part is that we film fans got to hear major news only after it actually became news. Reporting on stories only after they become factual: what a novel concept!

Scott Mendelson

1 comment:

Glenn Dunks said...

As you're obviously aware, I feel the exact same way. But, see, I'm not *that* annoyed when actual movie websites report all this sort of stuff. It's kinda their job. But it's when blogger like you and I that do it and I just think "why?"

A blog is inherently a personal space where one can write about their personal thoughts on an issue, but so many just do a blockquote from Deadline Hollywood and say, to some effect, "wow! news! batman/superman/etc! wow!" - if I want casting news I will read Deadline Hollywood or Cinematical, ya know? I won't read a blog.

And, then, of course, as you say, they (the news sites AND the blogs) then have to report on every single teensy bit of rumour, too. "so-and-so has been rumoured to have auditioned for a small role in [insert blockbuster]". Oh good?

It's all very frustrating when, just this morning, I open my Twitter feed to see it filled with people "reporting" (as in copying from the website that got the source and, because so many websites do it these days there's no way to even correctly identify where the story originated!) on the James Bond casting.

Then there are people like Eli Roth who have used this new breed of internet to remain at all relevant by periodically announcing he's making a new movie (or, hell, that he is considering writing a new screenplay but he hasn't quite decided yet!) that will eventually never get past the treatment stage. And, lo and behold, it gets reported on a million different websites and only about five of them have anything unique to add to the story.

Not saying I'm the greatest writer of all time, but I like to think I have a quality-over-quantity rule for myself. If I don't have something to actually say on a subject, I won't write about it (for my blog that is - if someone was going to actually pay me to write stuff I don't care about then it'd be a different story). And I am well aware that there are other websites out there doing a far better job of reporting what z-grade '80s star has been cast as a cameo in the new robert rodriquez and that my readers don't need me adding another indiscriminate voice to the mix unless I have something personal and worthwhile to add.


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