Internet writers have more access than ever to scoops and inside information, but seemingly less perspective than ever as well. There’s information hitting the web as ‘news’ that’s not only non-news but also being grotesquely misreported.

Non-news is one thing; usually this comes from a desire to have content on your site, so you’ll report Nic Cage’s interest in being a supervillain in Spider-Man 4 as if it actually means something. This, and stories about Twilight, is MTV News’ entire model when it comes to movie news reporting. Almost every day I see the site reporting a vaguely retarded item as ‘news.’ Yesterday it was the fact that the producers of the adaptation of Rex Mundi want a director ‘not unlike’ Zack Snyder. No shit? They want a director with chops who has gone 2/3 at the box office? It’s news when they want a director not unlike Errol Morris to make their comic book movie.

But that stuff is the detritus that comes in a world of scoop based reporting. The stuff that I think is really damaging to you, the reader looking for information, is the lists and taking lunches stories. These stories are tricky because usually they are totally true. But they also usually mean nothing.

About lists: every movie in pre-production has lists. At the earliest stage, when just a pitch has been made, someone starts putting a list together. There are lists of actors who are the right age and price, directors who have proven themselves with this genre, writers who are good. I guarantee that the same names are on every single list for every single superhero movie in pre-production right now. And I guarantee you that the lists for Exploding Galacticons IX has some names on it that would make you shit your pants with excitement.

But these lists have almost zero meaning. In the 90s every single action movie had Tom Cruise on the ‘list’ as a possible star, no matter what. It’s just what you do. List making is a big part of the business, and someone being on the list doesn’t mean they’ve been approached. It doesn’t even mean the producers really want them – it just means they’re the right age, have the right quote, have the right look, etc. These lists are almost automatically generated at this point. In other words, if there’s an action movie with a white male lead in his 20s and 30s, Sam Worthington and Chris Pine are both on the list for it, even if no one outside the production office has ever heard of this movie, and even if there’s no budget or greenlight. The producers just keep lists. And good producers keep lists of talent they want as well as talent they can get.

Now lunches/meetings. These are insidious. It seems like an actor getting lunch with a director, or a writer taking a meeting with a studio, would be a concrete example of these people being in touch and negotiating. Except that it almost never is. There’s one thing people in Hollywood do more than make movies and yell at assistants: take meetings.

This town is all about meetings being taken. People take meetings just to meet other cool people. The director of Actionguy III may be taking a lunch with the screenwriter of Emotional Day at Auschwitz, but it doesn’t mean that scripter will be writing Actionguy IV. It means Actionguy III director wanted to get lunch with the writer. Maybe he likes his work – even in Hollywood people act like fans of one another. I know directors who have taken meetings on major superhero movies simply to get a look at the script to satisfy their own geeky urges –  or maybe he has an idea for another movie he’d like to do with that writer. Or maybe they met at a party and just wanted to get lunch. There are a million reasons why they’d be at lunch, most of which boil down to the fact that networking is how you survive in Hollywood; it gets interesting when lawyers are involved, not just agents. Agents are social managers sometimes – their job is to get Actionguy III director at lunch with Auschwitz guy so that Actionguy III can start moving towards the Oscar phase of his career.

I’m worried that the next step in this nonsense will be ‘The director of Spacehat Wearing Robot Ninja has been sent the script for Actionguy IV!’ It seems inevitable that this sort of reporting will begin to arise, and it will be the least meaningful reporting of all time. People get sent scripts all the time, and any director worth his salt (or really his agent) probably has a pile of scripts or pitches tucked away in his office somewhere. Many of them unread. Everybody gets every script they want in Hollywood, and many, many more they don’t want.

One final note: the idea that someone is ‘attached’ to a movie really has meaning. You actually sign a letter of intent when you become ‘attached.’ I’m currently ‘attached’ to an indie horror film. Attachment is a way to get funders/studio types interested in your movie. If you have a script and a star actually attached you’re in a much better position than having just a script. The money people like seeing that work has been done, and that your work is in the direction of something profitable. That said, I think that many stories these days use attached when they should be using ‘on a list’ or ‘in talks’ (although someone who is attached is probably still technically in talks. An attached actor/writer/director may very well become unattached at any moment).

On top of that the nature of Hollywood is such that a story that is
100% true today is completely untrue tomorrow. It’s dealmaking, which
is a fluid process, which is why it’s rarely worth the time to report
on deals in progress. Such reporting can also hurt a deal in the making
– if a star is negotiating for a franchise and the word leaks that he’s
in talks and the response is positive, his position just got stronger.
Way stronger. That’s why producers and studio execs will bald faced lie
to reporters when asked about deals in progress.

I had promised myself I wouldn’t write more ‘inside baseball’ stories complaining about the movie news blogosphere, but it seems important to me that people who are consuming this information get some context. And it’s important to understand that many of the kinds of stories I’m decrying get run with the best of intentions.

If you’re a Hollywood type and think I got any of this wrong, feel free to drop me an email. I’m just trying to help everybody understand a little bit better how all this works.