My soul has been saved - for now

[19 August 2007]

By Barry Koltnow [The Orange County Register (MCT)]

Selling your soul to the devil is not as easy as it looks.

Believe me, I tried to sell my soul a few weeks ago, and failed miserably.

I had always assumed that if I ever did decide to jump to the dark side, it would be a snap. Doing the wrong thing seemed so much simpler than doing the right thing.

But I was mistaken.

For years, I refused to give in to the temptation. Whenever a movie studio asked me if I’d like to contribute a quote for one of those movie ads, I politely declined.

Putting aside the obvious ethical questions raised by an entertainment journalist who willingly participates in a studio marketing campaign, I had a pretty good reason to turn down the offers.

My newspaper has a policy that forbids me from offering quotes that have not appeared in the newspaper. Once a story is in print, the studio is free to extract a quote, as long as it doesn’t distort those quotes. For instance, if I were to call a particular film “the worst movie of the summer,” the studio couldn’t delete the word “worst” and claim that I called it “the movie of the summer.”

The interesting thing is that the studios don’t have to cheat. There are more than enough journalists eager to get their names in an ad. And they are willing to say whatever the studio wants them to say in order to achieve their goal.

I have seen studio publicists corral unscrupulous journalists after a screening and literally wait for them to scrawl a favorable quote on the spot.

Journalists from more respected publications would never stoop to scribble a quote on a piece of paper. They prefer to give their quotes over the phone a few days later.

What I always wondered about these quote sluts is whether they allow their hastily supplied quotes to influence the full movie reviews that they write closer to the opening of the movie. With the exception of the trade industry newspapers, media outlets are required to hold their official reviews until opening day.

That means that most of these well-respected entertainment journalists are probably inventing quotes for the ads long before they’ve sat down to write their reviews.

Of course, things changed with the web and the subsequent popularity of blogs.

Everything is more immediate on the Web and some sites have been posting movie reviews early, which has led to great consternation among studio executives. The debate is still raging, and I’m not sure how it will be resolved.

But I’m not really interested in what happens industry-wide. I’m more interested in how it affects me, because it’s all about me.

I am not the newspaper’s movie critic, but I occasionally review movies on my new Hollywood blog (ocregister.com/barry). And I’ve been posting those reviews earlier than our own critic’s reviews, which are held because of the studio-imposed embargo.

My reviews are shorter and probably not as articulate as our critic’s offerings, so I didn’t think anyone noticed, let alone cared.

Then I saw the teen comedy “Superbad,” and my world threatened to change forever.

I posted a quick rave of the film, and got an immediate call from a studio rep. She wanted to know if I’d allow my quote “the funniest movie of the summer” to be used in the marketing campaign.

My instinct was to say no, but then I reasoned that the quote already existed. It wasn’t in the newspaper, but my blog is part of the newspaper’s Web site. This was a loophole so big that even my fat behind could fit through it.

This was a golden opportunity to promote my blog and become a quote slut, but to do so within the confines of my strict journalistic principles. I could sell out without being a sell-out.

I gave my permission and waited for the ads to appear.

They finally appeared and my quote was nowhere to be seen. My quote slut days were over before they began.

Apparently, there is an art to selling your soul to the devil.

The professional quote sluts knew that everybody would think “Superbad” was the funniest movie of the summer, and one of them beat me to the punch by calling it “the funniest movie of the year.”

I was so naive.

A second critic called the movie “hip, hot and hilarious” and said it “packs in more gut-busting laughs than you’ll be able to count.”

I was humbled.

Yet another critic called it the “surprise blockbuster hit of the summer!” I wondered how it could be a blockbuster hit before it opened but I was clearly nit-picking.

The bottom line is that I failed as a quote slut, but at least my soul was saved.

That is, until I find the “Funniest Movie of the Century!”

Barry Koltnow
The Orange County Register (MCT)

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/my-soul-has-been-saved-for-now/