Sony bows policy on Web film critics

Sony now to use film-by-film basis

For freewheeling ‘Net critics, the times they are a-changin’.

Sony Pictures Entertainment will now determine on a film-by-film basis what long-lead screenings Internet reviewers will have access to, spokesman Dennis Higgins said.

He added that no formal policy has been established to ban ‘Net critics from long-lead screenings, which are usually the domain of magazine critics who have to deal with publications that close weeks in advance, but that admission will now be determined by what kind of chatter the studio wants to create about the film.

“We’ll do it differently for a movie like ‘Girlfight’ than we will for one like ‘Airplane 17,’ ” Higgins said.

It’s a philosophy echoed by another studio exec who said that in general, “We use the Internet to get a buzz going.”

Why else, in the era of split-second deadlines for Web sites, would long-lead screenings even be an issue for ‘Net critics?

Sony’s clarification comes in the wake of a brouhaha involving Jeffrey Wells, a showbiz pundit for Reel.com. Wells wrote a column last week about the fracas that ensued after he allegedly broke an embargo by reviewing “The Patriot” — a film to which he gave a decidedly cool reception.

“Gush and they love you,” Wells wrote in his column. “Fail to gush and they don’t.”

In response to a story (Variety, June 19) calling him an “embargo breaker,” Wells says he was never informed that there was an embargo on the movie.

In any event, getting tossed by Sony is not likely to ease the bad blood between Web critics or unite them against a common foe.

FilmThreat.com senior editor Ron Wells is crafting an ever-expanding online treatise against Harry Knowles, the controversial Webmaster and personality behind Aint-It-Cool-News.com.

Knowles has been on the receiving end of flame campaigns many times, from originally incurring studios’ wrath over his posting the rantings of filmgoers who had busted in on preview screenings to publishing erroneous Oscar winners on the Internet before the show.

Originally billed as a two-parter, Ron Wells’ examination of Knowles has now expanded into a trilogy, with the first two supplements coming in at well over 3,000 words each. Repeated attempts to reach Wells for comment were unsuccessful.

In part one, Wells accuses Knowles of not giving appropriate credit to news broken by other sites and takes a swing at Knowles’ writing, which he describes, quite simply, as “really bad.” Part two expands to include excerpts of an interview Wells did with Knowles — and also takes several personal jabs at Knowles, declaring that “because you live with your dad at age 28 does not absolve you from acting as an adult.” Wells promises that part three will deal with “an end to the madness.”

Some might attribute all this conflict to sour grapes — after all, it’s Knowles who gets to sit across the aisle from Roger Ebert and get his mug on TV.

“A lot of other sites that aren’t as big as Harry feel screwed,” said Dave Poland, editor in chief of RoughCut.com, who has declared on the Web site that he’s sick of the movement to analyze Knowles. “Harry’s power is only as much power as is given to him by the studio and the press.”

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