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Studio publicists vs. Internet critics

From: Jonathan W. Hickman, Atlanta, GA

Over the last 10 years writing about movies on the Internet and maintaining the site, I've had to put up with a lot from PR firms and distributors. First, I had to convince them that my site was a real business (in the professional sense of the word, we don't really do this for the money, you know). And second, I had to gain something of their trust. Unfortunately, that "trust" as I loosely refer to it has eroded lately.

This has been one of the worst summers to be an Internet film critic. Forget that we also do weekly radio broadcasts in metro Atlanta, if any of our content is to appear on the Internet, we are excluded from the larger films of the summer. That means that I was invited to the night screening of "Potter" (the same day as the day screening), but not insured that I would get a seat (like I have time to arrive hours early). And this week, I was not even invited to see "The Simpsons Movie." It shows utter contempt for what I have done for the last 10 years.

And talk about hypocrisy, we are inundated with emails from studios and PR firms daily with promotional bits for the big films that ultimately we won't even get to see by deadline. It is unbelievable to me how this plays out. For months and months prior to release date, we carried "Transformers" news, and yet, here in Atlanta, I wasn't even permitted to see the film before release day.

Despite being quoted on major movie posters and boxes, I'm on the outside looking in. There is a misconception that because the bulk of my work appears on the Internet, I will for some ridiculous reason damage the product. My commitment to following the rules of professional courtesy cannot be questioned, but it is none-the-less.

As I prepare to travel to Toronto again this year to try to take in the best of the awards season, I wonder whether I should even waste the time. Many of my fellow critics are finding it harder and harder to make a living as free-lancers and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has trimmed their movie staff significantly (even the beloved critic Eleanor Ringel-Gillespie finds herself in retirement). As a side note, I grew up reading Mrs. Ringel-Gillespie, you, and Leonard Maltin. The work of the three of you caused me to become a critic. I seriously doubt anyone will consider it a smart career move in the future. Frankly, I think that it is time I went back to practicing law full time.

Could you provide me with some advice?

Ebert replies: If you observe deadlines, there is no reason for them to ban you. They're terrified by sites like AICN, which break embargoes with bad news. My advice: If you love movie reviewing, stick to it. My realistic observation: Studios have the right to decide who sees their films.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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