Twentieth Century Fox is on the edge of an Internet publicity crisis.
It's Day 10 of the Chicago Film Critics Assn. boycott on all Fox and Fox Searchlight films, a protest against the studio's practice of limiting online critics' access to screenings.
Now critics all over the country are coming forward to echo their complaints and promise solidarity, revealing a simmering hostility between studios and many online journalists.
Critics in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, Texas, and several cities in Florida answered Chicago's call for support. And, like Chicago critics, some have promised to cancel publicity interviews for the Fox Searchlight film "Sunshine," opening nationwide July 27.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday July 23, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
Film critics' conflict: A story in Friday's Calendar section about a dispute between 20th Century Fox and the Chicago Film Critics Assn. misspelled the last name of Fox co-Chairman Jim Gianopulos as Gianopoulos.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday July 26, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 3 inches; 112 words Type of Material: Correction
Film critics: The headline ("Online Critics Expand Boycott Against Fox") and deck ("Supporters Nationwide Join Chicago Group in Protesting Its Limited Access to Screenings") on a July 20 article in the Calendar section inaccurately suggested that the Chicago Film Critics Assn.'s online critics alone were protesting 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight Films' alleged practice of limiting access to screenings and that supporters nationwide had joined Chicago's protest. Film critics in other cities voiced support for the Chicago group but did not formally join it. The organization's chief, Dann Gire, now says there was no formal boycott but a voluntary "action of protest." The article also misspelled Gire's first name as Dan.
Fox publicity executives were considering a proposal Thursday from the Chicago Film Critics Assn. that outlined its concerns and offered some solutions, said Dan Gire, the group's president. He didn't give specifics but said an agreement between the studio and his 59-member group was imminent.
Fox publicity did not respond to requests for comment.
The studio "is dividing people into print, broadcast and online media, and at this point, we're all online critics," said Gire, film critic at the Chicago Daily Herald. "The moment I generate something for print, before the ink has dried -- boom! -- it's on the Internet. The distinction has evaporated and [Fox is] clinging to this old model of business."
So-called cowboy critics, who ignore studio-issued embargoes on reviews and articles, are forcing changes in long-standing studio-journalist protocol.
For decades, reporters would get early access to film screenings and talent by agreeing to hold reviews and articles until the release date.
But competition among journalists covering Hollywood grows fiercer by the day. With movie minutiae making headlines and with traditional media scanning obscure blogs for juicy story leads, studios are beginning to realize their old methods of control just won't work if they want to satisfy old media allies while appeasing influential online journalists.
This is especially true for Fox. Reporters of every stripe are fed up with the studio for holding fewer and later media screenings, particularly for its more populist fare such as "Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer." All media screenings -- which often take place weeks before a film's release -- of "The Simpsons Movie" were to be held just days before its July 27 release. Some critics complain that the late access impairs the quality of their reviews.
"I've had a lot of problems with Fox in the past and I'm happy to see that a group has gotten the guts to stand up to the man," wrote San Francisco critic Peter Sciretta on Slashfilm.com.
Chicago critics finally tired of Fox's tactics. Gire sent a letter of complaint to Chicago-based Fox publicists in May 2006 that went ignored. He sent a second letter this April and although publicists acknowledged receiving it, they didn't respond to his concerns. Finally, on July 9, Gire sent a letter to Fox co-chairmen Jim Gianopoulos and Tom Rothman.
"After a year of stonewalling and non-responsiveness, it is clear that Fox executives not only have no intention of addressing our repeated requests for fair treatment," wrote Gire. "This is very disappointing and unprofessional behavior from Fox executives, who may be one of the few, if not the only group of publicists in America who believe it's in their best interests to antagonize, alienate and ignore their clients, in this case Chicago's film critics."
Among the responses Gire received was an e-mail signed by Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Assn. leaders Todd Jorgenson, Boo Allen and Frank Swietek.
"We share many of the same issues you mention regarding Fox here in the Dallas market (in fact, we also face similar obstacles regarding access to screenings from other distributors, most notably Paramount)," the July 12 e-mail read. "We support both the intent and the approach, and wish you the best.
"We will try to rally our troops around your idea, especially with a possible tour involving Danny Boyle for 'Sunshine' right around the corner."