Not bloody likely

by Paul William Tenny

Just caught an interesting story on Patrick Goldstein's blog whilst digging through some old news that is somewhat related to the story I wrote about the Wolverine piracy fiasco from early April. Actually my post was about Roger Friedman getting fired by Fox for reviewing the leaked screener, but I had some thoughts on how Fox was reacting to the situation in there as well. More or less I said they were overreacting like a retarded teenager, but I never really thought much of the specific claim by Fox that 10 minutes of the finished film were missing from the screener, and that people who should go see the movie in the theaters because of it.

I didn't care because missing footage from an incomplete screener is the very definition of a screener, it's common knowledge and not in the least bit significant.

Unless, that is, it's a lie.
Someone, somewhere, noticed that the length of the Wolverine screener is identical to the length of the finished film.

Without going deeper than that just now, I would comment that Fox's intentions were honest enough, it was their execution that was flawed. If anyone in the Fox brain trust actually had a brain, they would have known that there was nothing they could say that would have stopped pirates from doing their thing, and that anyone who isn't a pirate -- the vast majority of people -- aren't even going to be aware of the leaked screener, much less are they going to be open to a studio trying to convince them to ignore said screener and go to the theater so that said studio can make a bigger profit off their backs.

But once Fox called in the FBI to investigate a relatively minor leak, the kind that happens all the time and generally has no real effect on a film's commercial prospects, it was immediately obvious that getting some common sense out of these guys was going to be harder than squeezing water out of a rock.

At worst, Fox's lying about the missing footage revealed the stupidity of their executives who think anyone who might possibly be persuaded by an argument like that is actually going to care. Pirates won't care because they'll just pirate the finished copy later. People who want to go see it were going to go see it anyway. People who don't care about the film don't care about the film, and that's that.

I don't really care about this either way, as I said, but since Patrick cares about it more than I did, enough to dig a little deeper and find out who lied and what their excuse was, I actually found it interesting that after finding the "truth", Patrick just accepted it as fact without addressing the implausibility of the excuse. (I'm not criticizing Patrick so much as I'm exploring something that he did not.)

From the post (April 28th):

But this afternoon the studio was more forthcoming. Fox's senior vice president of corporate communications, Chris Petrikin, who was out of the country on vacation -- in Mexico, of all places -- when bloggers started bashing Rothman last week, explains that he was probably the person who told Rothman that 10 minutes were missing from the pirated version of the film. He stressed that the studio was under enormous pressure after the piracy as it attempted to sift through a host of often wildly speculative Internet reports about the theft.

"In fact, I think I told Tom that there might be 10 minutes missing from the stolen version, based -- obviously -- on misinformation I was given or misinterpreted. The real issue is the scale of this crime and that the film was not finished when it was stolen."

In order to accept this explanation, you've also got to accept that Petrikin just admitted to making something up which he quickly fed to the studio Co-Chairman because everyone was scrambling and didn't actually have anything substantive to say at all. Things were so busy and insane, you see, that Petrikin fed garbage to his boss and then went in vacation.

Either Chris Petrikin is the most honest man in Hollywood, a guy so upstanding that he just put his job on the line, or he's falling on his sword for someone higher up the food chain.

So which is it?

(And you know I'm not even going to address the absurdity of the claim by Petrikin that one of the places Fox was looking for information on the leak was the Internet. You don't call in the FBI and then spend your days sifting Google News looking for the source of a leak that in all likelyhood came from three floors down. If Fox lied about the missing footage because they read it on the Internet -- which is essentially what Patrick just said -- then Fox has far more serious problems than I care to hear about.)

I don't know and I don't care as I've said repeatedly, but let's think this one through for a moment. Business executives no matter what industry they are in tend to be shockingly stupid for people in their position of power. Lying to the press in a petty attempt to get people to watch a movie that was sitting under a cloud at the time is exactly the kind of knee-jerk desperation I'd expect from a person in Tom Rothman's position. Now, you need to understand something here, I'm not saying that Rothman is a liar, or stupid, or prone to knee-jerk reactions -- I don't know the man and had never heard of him before today -- but in this particular case I think you could make a great many generalizations about a person in Rothman's position and be right far more often than not.

Likewise, I'm not calling Chris Petrikin a liar either (although both of them are to at least to some degree truth-impaired since Rothman said something that was provably not true, and Petrikin took credit for feeding that information to Rothman.)

I'm a strong believer in Occam's Razor, and when applied to this specific situation, the simplest explanation is that Rothman made up the story about the missing 10 minutes of footage (on the fly) in a desperate gambit to convince people to go see his studio's movie (which was in trouble), and Chris Petrikin, being the a VP of corporate communications was just covering his boss's ass when talking to Patrick -- which is Petrikin's job.

Both men were just doing their job in other words, the real problem is that they didn't do their jobs very well. Rothman should have checked any information he was given for accuracy before speaking (since a co-chairman caught lying [intentionally or not] is going to have a net negative effect on the entire publicly traded company) and saving that, he shouldn't have made up the lie in the first place if that's what really happened. Petrikin shouldn't have fed his boss bogus information that wasn't properly vetted (that was the part where he wasn't doing his job very well) and saving that, he's actually doing his job today if he's lying to cover up for Rothman.

I know, it's really the kind of petty gossip and speculation that Deadline Hollywood specializes in, and I'm not sure I feel good about dragging it out (although given the tiny size of my audience it's not like anyone is even going to notice this). What irks me isn't what Rothman and Petrikin did, it's that gut feeling that something isn't right about the story that Petrikin fed to Patrick, and Patrick apparently didn't care to find out why it doesn't add up.

It's all fairly mundane if you ask me, a top exec lied because he needed to be a sympathy whore more than he needed to be anything else, and he got caught right away. And it's actually kind of funny because it's precisely this kind of lying that the press lets people get away with all the time, but it's exactly the kind of thing that bloggers latch onto and never let go. Patrick said as much in his story: "Bloggers were especially hard on the studio. Aint It Cool News scoffed at the studio's '10 minutes of the film are missing' claim". And Patrick's story was in a blog, and I'm writing about his story on a blog.

The world isn't the same place it was ten years ago when you could make an extremely good living at being a professional bullshitter. I'm not really sure why companies even have PR people anymore. There isn't any blogger I know that believes anything PR people say and most bloggers won't even write about the press releases they send out. There's obviously a need to have a staff that can answer press inquiries but other than that -- something an intern can do -- they just don't work anymore, and this is at least one of the many reasons why.
in Feature, Film


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