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Chicago film critics reach screening accord with Fox

The pact on adhering to review embargoes could have an effect industrywide.

July 28, 2007|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

Twentieth Century Fox and the Chicago Film Critics Assn. have reached an agreement on movie screenings, the group's president Dann Gire said, two weeks after the CFCA called on its members to hold an "action of protest" against the studio for favoring some critics over others.

Fox agreed to be more inclusive with its screenings after the CFCA came to the studio with a proposal to augment its code of ethics, requiring its members to honor studio-mandated embargoes on reviews. Fox publicity executives confirmed an agreement had been reached.

Other studios have closely monitored the Fox-CFCA talks as the outcome could help set a new industrywide protocol.

For years, it's been an unwritten rule that studios screened films early for media with the understanding that reporters would not publish reviews until the film's release. But increasingly, critics are posting reviews well in advance of a film's release. Online critics have traditionally posted early reviews. But now mainstream media are breaking embargoes too, in an apparent attempt to scoop movie bloggers.

Studios, meanwhile, aren't sure how to handle the situation without alienating longtime allies online and in traditional media. Fox and others have coped by being more selective about press invites and holding later screenings.

In a July 9 letter e-mailed to studio co-chairs Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, the board of the 60-member Chicago group targeted Fox over what it called "a year of stonewalling and non-responsiveness" to its complaints about the timing of screenings. The critics' main complaint was that Fox showed favoritism to "A-list" reporters while granting others -- many of whom are online critics -- limited access, sometimes making it impossible for them to post a review before a film's release.

The letter called for the action of protest, declaring Fox "unfair and discriminatory

in its invitations to press screenings of its movies."

"Our call to action -- a temporary freeze on interviews and non-review materials -- was designed to open up lines of communication with the studio," Gire said in a memo Wednesday to CFCA members. "The critics wanted a fairer, more inclusive policy to see press screenings earlier, without some critics forced to see a movie the night before its public opening."

He added, "In essence, Fox and the CFCA have exchanged one professional courtesy for another professional courtesy. It is my hope that from now on, critics' groups and Hollywood studios can find common ground for an industrywide agreement on professional conduct that will benefit studios and critics."

Critics from Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin, Texas, and San Francisco among other cities had voiced support for the protest, and some promised solidarity, saying they too had similar issues.

After CFCA's agreement was announced, Todd Jorgenson, president of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Assn., called it "a step in the right direction."

"Hopefully, Fox is sincere in its efforts to allow all critics equal access to press screenings," Jorgenson wrote in an e-mail to The Times, "and I hope the Chicago agreement will carry over to other markets."

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