“Did you really like it?”
That’s what my brother asked me when I told him that the first DVD to carry my quote was now in stores. My own brother.
I understand where he’s coming from. Not only am I an opportunistic prick, but the world is filled with unbelievable, unsupportable quotes from disingenuous hacks like Earl Dittman, Peter Travers and Shawn Edwards. And I have to admit that it’s tempting; there are certain films where I know that a well-crafted quote will get my name on the commercial or a newspaper ad or the DVD box or even – and this is my next Holy Grail in whoredom – the poster. I probably could have had my name attached to 28 Weeks Later, and many of our readers wouldn’t even have cried foul, since the movie wasn’t as widely hated as it should have been. But I really didn’t like the film, and while I could have just not reviewed the thing and let my name get attached to the advertising, what’s the point? There’s a rush to seeing your name there – I still have the Talladega Nights newspaper ad with my banner quote, although my DVR recording of the commercial for The Hills Have Eyes that is made up of only my quotes has disappeared – but beyond that rush all you get is distrust. I’ve spent too many years building some semblance of trust with my readers – while people may not always agree with my opinion, they know that I am legitimate about it – so why would I want to throw that away?
There’s also a personal level. The DVD that has my quote is Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, and it came in the mail yesterday. I was happy to see my name there on the cover (twice!), but I was worried: was the movie as good as I thought? I had seen the film once, at a small film festival here in New York, and I hadn’t been expecting much, so I was very surprised when the lights came on and I found that I LOVED the movie. Now I was worried that my reaction was a one-time thing, and that every time I saw this DVD case I would feel a sickness grow in my stomach, knowing that I was forever associated with the film. The good news is that I loved the movie as much on DVD as I did at the festival, and I’m really proud to have my name attached to this film, even in this most incidental, parasitic way.
The world of quotes is weird. After you see a movie, some intern publicist will often ask you for a reaction – did you like it or not, and why or why not – and a quote. One time I was asked for my reaction to 16 Blocks, which I really didn’t like, and when I simply said, ‘It’s negative,’ the guy pressed me for more, and for a quote. Finally I said, ‘The most racist blockbuster this year!’ which ended that conversation.
The quote process usually begins before a review is written. My quote that appeared in the newspaper ad for The Fountain came from my review, but you’ll remember that I reviewed that movie months before anyone else even saw it. Usually, though, you’re asked for a quote before you have a chance to sit down and really work out your thoughts; I’m not wildly fond of this, and sometimes when I give quotes I try to make them something I can actually work into the body of a review.
The whole thing is, frankly, ethically troubling, and it only gets worse after you actually submit a quote. First of all, you’re attaching your name to an advertising campaign and, unless I’m doing it wrong, you’re attaching it for free. Beyond the ego gratification of seeing your name up there and the geek gratification of being associated with a movie you (hopefully) genuinely like, there’s the fact that all of a sudden your outlet is in front of a lot of new eyes. Having CHUD.com in largish letters on a full page, full color Talladega Nights ad can’t have hurt our unique visits that month. But once you’re over that hump (a hump I can only get over when I really, truly like a movie and want to do whatever I can to help it be seen. I don’t see blurbing a good film as all that different from finding multiple reasons to write about it and keep it in my reader’s consciousness), the real trouble starts. The publicist will get back to you asking to make a change in the quote. Happens almost always (although it didn’t happen with The Fountain). In the case of Talladega Nights they wanted to add an exclamation point to my blurb. I told them I liked the movie enough to grant them three, but they just used the one. Still, it’s a little weird having the publicist get in touch with you trying to craft your quote. I’ve turned people down in the past when I felt the changes they wanted to make misrepresented what I meant or made me look even dumber than my own writing does.
I have also been approached with pre-written quotes, which I find to be offensive in the extreme, but many of my colleagues sure don’t. Some of the more prolific quote whores will agree to have their name slapped on any copy the marketing team comes up with. That, to me, is so bankrupt that I can’t imagine what the point of doing it is. They treat Earl Dittman better than me because he’ll blurb the shit out of the worst movies, but that just means they’ll fly him to small hotel rooms around the country to sit in a roundtable with celebrities. In the end, Dittman’s still a big fat whore who has no respect from anyone, including the people who barely pay attention to this shit but have come to realize that his name on an ad spells doom for a movie. Dittman’s actually a joke within the publicist community, which almost makes me feel bad for him, but then I recall that I overheard him saying that Casino Royale was terrible and I remember that he’s breathing oxygen someone else could use.
Of course what’s frustrating is that when you’re writing for CHUD.com there are certain movies that you’ll never get quoted on, and the movies you can easily get quoted on are no good. Recently I was asked for quotes for Interview, an excellent new film directed by and starring Steve Buscemi. It’s a fantastic little film, a remake of a Theo Van Gogh Dogme movie, but a CHUD.com quote will never be associated with it for the simple fact that the target audience – the art house types – are not seen as being interested in what CHUD has to say. Now, that could change (God knows Aint It Cool News gets quoted on real, legitimate and adult movies without any genre elements), but I’m not holding my breath. I know that what we’re writing here is among the best on the web, but that doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everybody who sees the site name.
I’m proud to have been quoted on everything that’s had me so far*, and I’m happy to have been able to lend any help to these films. It’s what I’m really trying to do here – give good movies a little bit of a boost when possible. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll end up with one of those stand-up displays in a theater where my whole review is reprinted. In the meantime I’ll just keep lending my name to films that can use it, and keep on feeling that little ego bump whenever I see the ad.
*Especially Polar Express, which took one sentence fragment out of my nasty, mean and ugly review to tout the film’s IMAX 3D aspect (which is incredible. The film itself is evil shit, though).