Film journalist David Poland writes TheHotButton.com. Rare among journalists, he doesn't seem to have a jealous or spiteful bone in his body. He strives to be evenhanded and fair and when he gives his opinion, he labels it as such.
Poland began writing on film for the Chicago Tribune in 1993.
Poland served as director of the 2002 Miami Film Festival before leaving in February, 2002, two years short of his original deal.
Looking like a Fijian wrestler, David, from a largely Sephardic Jewish background, has skin that severely darkens with exposure to the sun. Raised in a conservative/orthodox Miami Beach Jewish day school five days a week, he attended a Reform Sunday School because his sister didn't think it was fair that only she had to go.
From a Miami Film Festival press release: MIAMI, Fla. (Aug. 7, 2001) - A Miami native who has been both a respected journalist covering the film and television industries over the past eight years as well as a writer for them has been named head of the FIU Miami Film Festival.
David C. Poland, author of the widely read, Internet-based entertainment industry column, "The Hot Button," begins work immediately as Festival Director, said officials with Florida International University, parent of the 18-year-old annual event.
In addition to writing his column, Poland, 36, has served in recent years in roles ranging from editor-in-chief of Turner Network Television's roughcut.com website to consultant on the Bermuda International Film Festival to guest critic on "Roger Ebert & The Movies." His coverage of the entertainment industry has appeared in such publications as Entertainment Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, the Philadelphia Inquirer and many others.
Poland grew up in Miami, spending a year in the University of Miami's fledgling film program after graduating from Ransom-Everglades High School in 1981, one year early. From there, he moved to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, where he earned a bachelor's degree with a double major in Film and Politics. He worked in off-Broadway theatrical production and for the Lou Harris polling company before joining Saturday Night Live's film unit as production coordinator in 1985.
From 1987-'91, Poland worked in New York as a television producer, as an advertising executive and as a corporate sponsorship representative on the 1990-'91 Fleetwood Mac World Tour. He wrote for both television and film between '91 and '92 before becoming a journalist covering entertainment in 1993. Since then, he has appeared in The New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, Film Comment, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, among other publications.
Poland joined the staff of Entertainment Weekly in 1995 for a two-year stint. He moved to the world of the Internet in 1997, launching daily (The Hot Button) and weekly (The Whole Picture) columns, serving as a host for entertainment industry live discussions on the Yahoo! web site and joining TNT's Roughcut.com. With Poland as editor-in-chief, the latter was subsequently named "Best Movie Website" by Yahoo! Internet Life.
In 1999, he branched out to radio and television, adding co-host duties on KABC Radio's "The Movie Show" and guest slots on "Roger Ebert & The Movies" to his expanding workload. He has since become an often-sourced industry expert in such publications as Variety, Media Week, The Los Angeles Times, Inside.com and others.
From the Miami Herald, 2/18/02, Norma Niurka writes: Miami Film Festival Director David Poland's resignation, only six months after he assumed the post, leads us to reconsider the framework around what was, for almost two decades, a first-class cultural event.
Poland resigned at the end of a festival whose blunders raise questions about FIU's effectiveness in its management, particularly after university officials in charge of the event last May provoked the resignation of Natalio Chediak, the festival's creator and co-founder, after 18 years of impeccable work. Both directors have ascribed their resignations to ''differences'' with FIU.
In Chediak's case, it was because the people appointed by FIU to lead the festival decided to show more films and use more venues in different areas -- ideas that Chediak opposed. Poland, who followed those instructions to the letter, has become the scapegoat of this story.
The new leaders are striking out blindly as they try to produce an event for which they're not prepared. To bring Poland from California, they staged a nationwide search. So what will they do now to find the third director in less than a year? If they hope to create a Chediak clone, they might reach the 22nd Century with a moth-eaten festival on their backs. \
David Poland writes to the Miami Herald 3/15/02: Baggage. Do you want to know what "went wrong" at the Miami Film Festival this year? There's your answer. Baggage.
There are a lot of accomplishments to be proud of after my six months in Miami. This year's festival brought community organizations and other local film festivals into the fold, created a high-profile platform for local filmmakers, brought in films from sixteen different countries in eight languages, delivered unexpected movie going experiences for almost 10,000 people in six free screenings and proved that Miamians are not just willing to support documentary film but can become wildly enthusiastic about this undervalued form.
But the citizens of Miami were not the only targets of this year's efforts. With the support of sponsors like United Airlines and The National Hotel, the Miami Film Festival started to become the kind of festival that filmmakers and press from around the world would want to attend.
Independent submissions more than doubled and made up almost a quarter of the festival slate. Actors or directors accompanied more than half of our films this year. The media had easy, open access to all of the talent for the first time ever. And there were lots of great stories to cover, from the on-the-beach screenings, to the controversial Raw Deal, to the return-to-Cuba duo (Cuba Mia/Adio Kerida) to the fresh-from-Sundance award-winning Manito, to Doris Wishman and Satan Was A Lady, to black-and-white glory of La Tropical and on and on.
As promised, the selection of movies pushed people's buttons. Each attendee seemed to feel that a few films were "the great ones" and that many of the others were junk. Yet the voting for the FedEx Express Audience Award, a vote that Nat Chediak always said was his report card, was overwhelmingly positive. Only six films of the fifty-plus got less than 3 on a 5 point scale. Seventeen films received better than a 4.3. This and many other positive facts went unreported by The Miami Herald, while mathematical impossibilities, like the supposed 48,000 tickets sold in 2001, continue to be repeated as fact. Why? Let's just say, "Baggage."
Yes, there were real problems. The Gusman experience was terrible, with the exception of a few very well-attended shows and some great Q&As. That said, IndieWire still suggested that this year's festival offered hope that "Sundance East might just be around the corner." What freed IndieWire and virtually every other journalist in attendance free to look beyond the logistical problems that plagued the first weekend of the festival and to see the foundation that was being built for the future while this paper went on the attack? They weren't loaded down with baggage.
Miami can be a world-class cultural community. Miami can certainly support a world-class film festival. But either Miamians have to off-load some of this baggage themselves or individuals and organizations that seek to move into a brighter future have to have the fortitude to carry that weight as they move forward. I couldn't be prouder of the thousands of Miamians who showed up at this year's festival and happily took the ride, for better and for worse. If there is a future for film in Miami, they are at its core. On the flip side, I couldn't be more unhappy about those who chose to rage against change and others still who have reacted to that rage instead of maintaining focus on the only important goal - building a film festival that can bring the world to Miami and prove that Miami deserves a place at the table for more than its ability to attract topless models.
J. Rentilly writes on Audiencemag.com: "Very few entertainment journalists love film like David Poland loves film. Editor-in-Chief for several years at TNT’s Rough Cut website until it was unceremoniously deleted during the TWAOL merger last January, Poland’s passion for film and filmmaking is sometimes staggering. (As a former writer for Rough Cut myself, I should know.) In his daily column at Rough Cut, The Hot Button, Poland steered largely clear of the junket funk and soundbite junk of most online entertainment outlets; the column was essential reading for film lovers and industry watchers, by turns thoughtful, provocative, erudite, and gossipy. In the wake of Rough Cut’s demise, the 37-year old Poland—whose career in entertainment includes New York theater and television production, celebrity advertising, writing credits on a few feature films, and bylines at outlets like Entertainment Weekly—turned inward to remember exactly why he had loved movies to begin with."
Poland replies to Rentilly: "Rough Cut was not alone in its disappearance. I feel that we are in a terrible time for criticism overall, as critics tend to mirror their times and we are now in a time when advertising rules the film business. As a result, critics have gotten less and less room to write—both editorially and in column inches. The Internet boom created a lot of writers, but in the mass numbers it is hard for anyone to distinguish whether any writer out there has any real sense of film. Passion has replaced insight on the Web."
Vincent writes on rec.arts.movies-current: "What are some entertaining online movie-biz columnists to read? I only have David Poland and Jeffrey Wells bookmarked. And Poland is increasingly UNentertaining to read as his focus has shifted to the Miami Film Fest and he starts waxing philosophical about his damn place in the business (c'mon, David, how 'bout some FILM talk!)."
I found this article online in June, 2000: Over the weekend, a nasty rift erupted in the online movie news fraternity between two of its founding fathers, Coming Attractions head Patrick Sauriol and Ain't-It-Cool-News creator Harry Knowles. When AICN altered one of Sauriol's e-mails, he accused Knowles' site of downplaying Coming Attractions' role in breaking a story about Jimmy Smits appearing in the next two Star Wars films (a rumor which remains unconfirmed at press time). In a letter sent to other Internet movie news outlets, Sauriol lambastes AICN for sloppy reporting that has been "unfairly painting a picture of that reflects poorly on the Internet film journalistic community.
Apparently Sauriol isn't alone. His comments have unleashed an avalanche of anti-AICN sentiment from other movie sites. "Ain't-It-Cool has breached every form of ethical conduct possible over recent years," said Rough Cut's David Poland. Film Threat fumes, "Harry has developed a reputation for breaking stories that nearly always turn out to be false or at least questionable."
The uproar has led to calls for public debate in order to set up a code of conduct for online journalism similar to that for print journalism, the conventions of which many sites including AICN currently ignore. In an attempt to head off controversy, Knowles obtained an early copy of Sauriol's letter and posted it on his Web site with an apology. "[The] introduction was inappropriate," conceded the portly pundit, though he defended his use of the information and still claims to have obtained it independently. "There is no proprietary ownership to that [Smits] scoop since the source sent it to multiple people all at the same time," he said.
Once considered the Internet's top movie-news figure, Knowles has seen his credibility take a beating over the last few months. Murmurings of inappropriate studio influence surrounded the sneak preview of Gladiator he staged with DreamWorks, and his widely publicized early posting of this year's Oscar nominees which turned out to be completely false was a major humiliation. Whether or not this latest furor leads to a serious debate over online journalism ethics or is simply a case of inter-site squabbling remains to be seen.
WASHINGTON POST 9/17/00: While many directors and producers still deplore Knowles's practice of reviewing unfinished movies, his most bitter foes these days are members of the mainstream entertainment press. Journalists such as David Poland, a columnist for the online magazine Roughcut.com, are outraged that Knowles depicts them as corrupt philistines while he often accepts first-class plane tickets, luxury hotel rooms and sedan rides from producers whose films he praises.
Struggling With God
David Poland writes on his Hot Button: "The only other commercial filmmakers working in the realm of God as openly as Shyamalan are Scorsese and Schrader. Obviously, The Last Temptation of Christ is on that list. But Bringing Out The Dead is an overt reimagining of Jesus in modern day and Kundun shows that Scorsese’s passion for religion is not limited to Christianity, but to the principles he sees at the heart of his religious belief.
"Schrader is playing in spirituality almost every time out. Blue Collar, Hardcore, Cat People, Mishima, Light Sleeper and Touch are about, respectively, auto workers, pornography, science fiction, a Japanese poet, a drug dealer and a con. And all six are also about God and Schrader’s struggle with that relationship."
Luke says: Schrader and Scorsese play in the realm of God as much as the devil plays in the realm of God. As the saying goes, even the Devil can quote Scripture. Their work is profoundly against everything that organized religion holds sacred. Nobody active in any organized religion would be allowed by his religious community to make such films as Hardcore or Last Temptation. Last Temptation is a blasphemous movie, and I am not even a Christian.
Schrader and Scorsese play with their emotions about religion but neither of them take religion's moral demands seriously. If they did, they could not make the films they make, and they would find it nigh impossible to work in Hollywood, a profoundly pagan environment rooted in firm opposition to the Judeo-Christian ethic of self control and love of God, Scripture and a higher moral law.
Khundum is about organized religion disembodied from moral demands, the only type of "religion" that is popular in Hollywood. Easy spirituality without discipline and self sacrifice. It is cheap grace.
David Poland writes: I would say that Last Temptation is very respectful of Jesus... Scorsese's love of Christ comes through his willingness to answer the questions that come with being a man. Hardcore is also about facing the devil... No doubt that Schrader particularly is enraged by God and organized religion, but he seems to me to be in a long-lasting search for grace.
Luke replies: David, With all respect.... I know nothing about your private life. It's none of my business. But I can guarantee that you are not a Christian, meaning that you are not actively involved church-going every Sunday believing that Jesus is God. You are surely secular, because virtually everyone I've met in Hollywood is, as are most journalists. I've interviewed 100 producers so far and only one, Douglas Urbanski, goes to church every week.
Of course you can be a wonderful human being and secular... I'm not questioning your decency. But because you are not playing the music of organized religion every day like I do and most of my friends do (we're Orthodox Jews), you are tone deaf to serious organized religion and how Schrader and Scorsese crap on it, along with the rest of Hollywood.
Watching Jesus as a voyeur watching a prostitute at work is blasphemous to anyone sensitive to the claims of Christianity.
Schrader is about desecration, pornography, drugs, self destruction, playing with guns, and dwelling on the dark side. Anyone in organized religion knows you are not allowed to play with these themes, or even "explore" these themes in the words of secular artists. These parts of life are forbidden to the religious, and you are certainly not allowed to depict them in the detail of Schrader and Scorsese.
And my proof is that you can go ask any priest, minister or rabbi (unless they are of the radical left) about this, show them LAST TEMPTATION or HARDCORE, and watch them flee the room, shut their eyes and otherwise be appalled.
Lunch With David Poland
While waiting to have lunch at The Newsroom on Robertson Blvd with Hollywood journalist David Poland on 8/15/02, I spotted Hollywood A-list producer Mark Johnson eating with two striking women. The redhead, I learn later from David, is actress Rose McGowan.
After a lengthy lunch, David and I walked around Beverly Hills, before stopping for herbal lemon tea drinks at Starbucks. Walking to our cars (David got a parking ticket) we saw novelist Raymond Bradbury eating dinner at The Ivy.
Luke: "Tell me about you and Harry Knowles."
David: "I first met Harry when the web first started. I was on AOL. There was no world wide web access on AOL for a long time. Then all of a sudden everything opened up.
"The first time I wrote about him was for Entertainment Weekly."
David's article appeared in the 9/26/97 edition: "Their work is secret, risky, and without reward. Their mission: to sneak into the test screenings studios use to fine-tune unreleased movies. These amateur spies are film buffs and industry insiders--from studio execs to stagehands--who post their candid reviews on Ain't It Cool News (www.aint-it-cool-news.com) [AICN], the Austin, Tex.-based gadfly website run by one Harry Knowles, a scoop-hunting gossip and, according to Hollywood publicity types, one-man film-wrecking crew.
"Knowles has been cited for negative buzz on Batman & Robin and Speed 2 and for glowing reviews of Titanic. The studios would love to cool Harry. So far, they've had no luck. When Sony hit him with a cease and desist order for publishing Starship Troopers pictures prematurely, he ran the lawyer's letter. Fox tried to fool him with four good "reviews" of Alien Resurrection--a movie his spies happened to love. He ran one--plus a story on the episode. As for duds, he sees his whistle-blowing as a public service. "Studios like to blame people for negative things," he says. "And when the film does well, they like to say, 'Look what we did!'""
David: "It was before Chris Pula, a marketing executive at Warner Brothers when Batman & Robin happened. It was him saying publicly to the New York Times that Harry had hurt Batman & Robin with early test screening reviews. That legitimized the idea that AICN and any website could have an affect on opening weekend [grosses]. I thought that was absurd. Batman & Robin opened at around $44 million. Harry's audience is preaching to the converted [they're film geeks]. What anybody on his site said about Batman & Robin was irrelevant. Almost everyone who read his site was going to see Batman & Robin opening weekend. They're into those movies.
"My issues with Harry had more to do with how the studios reacted to him than how I personally reacted to him.
"Morally, I've always felt that early test screening reviews and script reviews hurt filmmakers. Harry's position is that his test screening reviews help filmmakers and hurt the National Research Group [NRG, which conducts most test screening previews]. I hate the NRG too."
David: "The process of test screening has become one in which studios pay a lot of money for somebody else to blame if the movie doesn't work. NRG is sloppy. I worked for them when I first came to Los Angeles. They always invite to the focus groups people who liked the movie, not people who didn't like the movie. They've been known to twist numbers. There's always the sense that the reason the NRG is there is to back up executives who want someone to blame when the film goes wrong.
"The worst thing that happens is when NRG hands out cards at a test screening for people to write what they don't like about a movie. Executives who are more prone to suggestions than they should be then often try to force a filmmaker to do things he doesn't want to do. The flip side is that filmmakers are often too indulgent with themselves and want things in that should be cut. I don't think you should decide how to cut your film based on what a room of people you've recruited in malls have put on cards.
"Test screenings can help filmmakers feel the wave of the movie as it goes along. A comic director knows when the jokes are working. Even a dramatic director can tell when a room gets antsy and people start shifting around in their seats. Francis Coppola complained when he didn't have a chance to test screen Godfather 3, because he didn't have a chance to sit with an audience and feel the movie. Then cut it some more and feel the movie. It would've taken another six months to do that but Paramount wanted to rush to a Christmas release.
"AICN is read by a lot of journalists who are looking for stories, for hooks, and for direction on how they should feel about some movie that is six months away."
Luke: "When did AICN decline?"
David: "Gladiator was the turning point. When Dreamworks decided to give AICN a screening a month before the movie opened, before the long-lead press had even seen the picture... Dreamworks is generally an honest group of people. They were open. They said, 'We wanted 30 positive reviews on the internet. We gave it to AICN knowing we'd get 30 positive reviews and guess what we got? Thirty positive reviews.
"I protested because no studio has ever done that for any other outlet. And it was the last time it happened."
Luke: "It seems there are no longer as many advanced screenings?"
David: "The studios have changed their attitude to the internet. The studios don't respect the power of the internet as much. Harry Knowles has become part of the system. His whole hook was that he was this against the system guy.
"A few months after that Gladiator screening, a studio executive said, 'Harry couldn't be more in our pockets if we made him small and put him in our pockets.' The studios now feel that they control AICN. There are moments when they don't. Those are moments he revels in. He had a huge moment when he went against Roller Ball, even though the director flew him in to see it, trying to get some influence at AICN by having Harry see it. That's the first and only time when Harry's been given an advanced screening and he didn't like the movie. The idea that he's straight as a critic and a person is gone. Filmmakers go out of their way to seduce him. He's friends with Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. New Line did a year deal with him to run advertising all over his space.
"There's also a lack of scoops now on AICN. This week AICN and Corono's Coming Attractions were fighting about who knew the truth about the casting of Batman vs Superman. Then it turned out there was no Batman vs Superman movie. AICN didn't get that. They supposedly had these spies in Lorenzo's [di Bonaventura, Warner Brothers studio chief] office. The story still has not been told on what really happened on that picture.
"Having a Superman and Batman franchise is critical to Warner Brothers. They've gone years without having either one while everyone else is doing nothing but super-heroes. Warners blew up their year one project with director Darren Aranofsky. Batman vs Superman is the biggest story of the month so far and nobody's had the story about what really happened."
Luke: "Are studios now more careful about doing test screenings?"
David: "They rarely do them anymore. Harry would argue that he's had the effect he wanted - less business for NRG. There was a comedy earlier this year where the director said if he had had more time and more test screenings, he would've made a better movie. They just couldn't do it because it is too risky. You might get some negative buzz and all of a sudden the New York Times might publish a test screening review.
"I've been told in the past two weeks by two publicists about two different movies where the first positive reviews came out on AICN and they were both put there by the studio. I'm sure some of them don't get by Harry but I'm sure that some of them do. Whenever Harry and I have had this conversation, he says he has layers of defense, he always gets confirmation, etc... but in the meantime he relies on people who are not supposed to be giving him information, giving him information.
"People who work for magazines and newspaper and can't write what they want to write, will send Harry stuff. People have figured out how to use it, how to abuse it and how to limit it. Harry's not interested in a wide variety of stuff. In the world he likes - scifi, comics, etc, they've battened down the hatches or sucked him in.
"You have sites like www.moviepoopshoot.com who've hired some of the people who used to write to Harry for free.
"I had a disagreement one of Harry's people, the lovely Moriarty [Drew McWeeny]. He's a good guy but so caught up in things he loses perspective. He's the smartest guy who's a regular on that site. He does not take criticism well. Neither does Harry. Nor does Robogeek, the other regular. If you write something negative about them, one of the three will go off.
"I've stopped writing about them mostly because there's no reason to write about them. I try to write about things that are relevant and AICN is less relevant. There's just not much there.
"Journalists write about AICN because it's safe. Harry's not going to take anybody's job. Harry's still the fat redheaded kid in Texas. He doesn't aspire to work for the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or Premiere magazine. He's an iconic caricature of a human being. On his site, he has an animation of himself.
"I wrote the first Spiderman review. AICN linked to my review. The New York Times then wrote about the first Spiderman review appearedon AICN, but they did not mention me. They know who I am. Credit is due where credit is due. I see it all the time when the major media, like the LA and NY Times, and the WSJ, riff off other writers, like Jeffrey Wells, without giving credit.
"With AICN, you always give Harry credit. It's like a test screening. You don't have to take responsibility for it. If it's on AICN, it's no longer you opinion, it is on some site. What drives me nuts about entertainment writers is they'll disguise their opinion in the selected quotes they'll use. They will hide behind other people's opinions."
David Poland writes 6/9/99 on www.thehotbutton.com: "The "burn it all down" mindset of a lot of jaded, angry journalists loves gossip most of all. Right or wrong, we are so tired of being fed a daily dose of freshly whipped up excrement by "the system" that gossip is a true joy. I am no different in this regard. But very few of us have ever worked for outlets that would allow us to make that gossip into news. And for good reason. (In some cases, not for good reason, but rather to kiss studio butt, but I digress.) There is a threshold for what a legitimate outlet calls news. But when an AICN beats us at our own game, that is, getting the news first from sources that used to call us first, the bar gets lowered. Make no mistake. Entertainment Weekly's News & Notes section is now in direct competition with Harry Knowles, quite specifically for tips from insiders who get to make this choice: They can call EW and start the ball rolling on a story that may or may not make it into the magazine and that will have a reporter assigned to check it out OR they can send it to Harry, who will put it up with whatever bias he receives it and that spin will then be read by hundreds of journalists who will pick it up and run with it, pre-spun."
Luke: "How much influence does Matt Drudge have on the industry?"
David: "Matt Drudge is read but he doesn't write much about the film and television industry. He links to the box office results.
"When I wrote EW stories about Matt, he wouldn't talk to us.
"I found Drudge more offensive than Harry. Like Harry Knowles, he hasn't broken anything in a long time. It's mostly links to other people's stuff.
"I had someone at a studio write to me today to say that the only people he read every day on the internet were me and Matt Drudge.
"I'm much more interested in Jim Romenesko [Medianews.org]. Jim's always said he doesn't like entertainment. His site is mainly about "more important things" like stock prices. I go to him five times a day because you never know what he's going to put up.
"I don't consider me a mass read. I'm an industry read. Reading my column is a commitment. Two thousand words is a lot to read on the web. My site is not a free-for-all for 12-year olds. It's a dialogue about issues. On a bad day, I'll get 50 emails from my column. On a good day, 400.
"I got some weird mail the week Drudge linked to me and Rush Limbaugh spoke about my column. Amazingly, I don't get hate mail. Jeff Wells gets hate mail. He'll send me his hate mail. It's funny.
"When Jeff Wells first wrote me, he wrote me nasty emails under an assumed name. He and Rod Lurie found me the same day. Rod wrote me a nice note. And Jeff would send me these vicious emails. Eventually I figured out it was Jeff. He accidentally wrote me under his real email address. For two years after that, whenever I got vicious mail, I'd suspect it was Jeff."
In the 9/5/97 Entertainment Weekly, David Poland write about Matt Drudge under the headline: "FACT-FREE SPEECH NET NEWSIE MATT DRUDGE PILED HIS DIRTY DISH TOO HIGH THIS TIME. NOW HE MAY BE TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS."
Poland writes: "On Aug. 11, he posted a flash claiming that White House aide Sidney Blumenthal had a history of spousal abuse. One problem, says Blumenthal: Drudge was wrong. On Aug. 12, he issued a retraction. By the weekend, Blumenthal had put out a flash of his own--a multimillion-dollar libel suit.
"Suddenly, Drudge turned into Garbo, no-commenting the world (including EW). However, Blumenthal's attorney, William McDaniel, was talking: "These people don't seem to think they have to respond to anything," he raged. "They hear something, they go home, they put it on their computer, they press a button, and it goes around the world."
"Will this signal the end of the Net press' Wild West era? No, says Drudge online counterpart Harry Knowles, whose Ain't It Cool News site dishes film-industry dirty laundry. "They have to realize it's not going to go away," he says. "If something like my site goes away, there are a half-dozen others waiting in the wings." Maybe so, but lawyers are plentiful too."
Luke: "Why didn't you read Tom King's biography of David Geffen?"
David: "I avoided Tom King's book. I had no interest in finding out David Geffen was gay. I know David Geffen's gay. I know about David Geffen from before he was David Geffen. I have family members and friends who've known him for 30 years. I don't care about his sexuality. I don't care about who he's f---ed. I don't care about who he's f---ed in business. If I thought it was a book I might gain some insight into the business from, I would read it."
Luke: "What do you think about Tom King's column in the Wall Street Journal?"
David: "I think it's an embarrassment to the Wall Street Journal. I'm a huge fan of the WSJ's coverage of the industry. I think John Lipman and Bruce Orwell are the best [reporters on Hollywood]. Tom King is in the Weekend Journal, which is meant to be light and easy. Tom King's touted as an expert. He writes as though he's an expert. He gets it wrong most of the time. He has factual errors in his pieces. He gets by because it is the Weekend Journal and nobody takes entertainment that seriously. I take entertainment seriously. It bothers me that one of the newspapers I respect for their movie coverage, who are usually ahead of the curve, and when they are behind the curve it is because they are being more thorough than anybody else, this is what they're representing themselves with...
"He's like Nikki Finke, only more innocous than Nikki. He's not out to get anybody like Nikki. He often reads like he got a phone call from somebody that week who said, 'Hey man, this is what's happening.' Then he fills out that story without really knowing the other parts of it. I don't expect that from the WSJ. If he were writing for Movieline [magazine], then, who cares? It's not representing itself as serious journalism. But this is the Wall Street F---ing Journal.
"It bothers me when the New York Times write puff. There's so little of a standard left in entertainment journalism that it enrages me when the few places left do that stuff. It bothered me when Bernie Weinraub ran the American Beauty story a month before anyone else had seen the picture, in August of 1999, saying everybody in Hollywood was abuzz, which was not true, and quoting an anonymous review on Imdb.com. He had no idea who wrote it. It was likely from the studio.
"I understand why studios do that. They're doing it in self defense. He ran it though as if it were news. When did the New York Times start running quotes from people they don't know? It made me sick to my stomach.
"It turned out he was right about the movie but it's not an excuse. Your responsibility comes before you print, not after."
Luke: "How come you were at the Miami Film Festival for only one year?"
David: "We'd agreed to three years. I did not force them to do a full contract because I trusted them. Ha ha. They committed to me to do a certain budget but it was cut by 25% within a few months. I was not allowed to hire staff until late December [2001, the festival started the following March]. My employers essentially were rich older women who enjoyed the idea of a film festival but didn't understand what it was.
"This reporter at the Miami Herald, Rene Rodriguez, who was a friend who lives in New York and writes for the Herald, was positive until the day of the festival. He'd called up Florida International University, which owns the festival, to tell them they should hire me, when I was in the running for the job... Rene came to Miami and lost his mind, writing three of the nastiest articles imaginable.
"This woman who was in charge of our piggy bank [Pauline Winick, a VP of marketing for the university, mother of Los Angeles film producer Gary Winick] would not return our phone calls or show up in the office. Rene was Mr. Outside and she was Mrs. Inside. Between them, I didn't have a chance.
"There was something very Cuban and big-dick measuring with the thing that happened with Rene. Rene's gay but it doesn't matter. It was a Cuban macho thing. The guy I was replacing was a 55-year old Cuban guy who'd been there for years.
"From the second day Rene was at the festival, people were warning me that he was coming after me. I had an off-the-record conversation with him in the middle of the festival. It was light and jovial. He understood the problems we were having and why. But it didn't matter. He ran the most vicious piece I could imagine. It could not have been worse.
"When I wrote in to the Herald to complain, they eliminated all my complaints about the Herald, and just published my positive stuff. They would not the criticism.
"Every other media outlet aside from the Herald was positive. Indywire called it the Sundance of the East.
"They hired someone from Sundance [Nicole Guillemet] to take the festival back to where it was. It will be a nice sleepy 25-film festival, with lots of French and Spanish films...
"I'm sure Gary Winick is a nice guy but his mother, Pauline, lost her mind. She hired me. Why, after a month I was hired, she decided to kill me, I don't know. I think it was because I brought someone else in to replace her. She then resented that she wouldn't have the authority she once had. She had some medical problems. She freaked out. And she wasn't exactly a stable person to begin with. I thought I could handle it and I was wrong. It just got out of control."
Luke: "What's your position on outing someone sexuality?"
David: "Rose McGowan did a live chat with me on Yahoo at the Sundance Film Festival. I kept her cup, which had a lipstick stain on it. She's one of the smartest, sexiest women in this business. She used to date Marilyn Manson.
"My position on outing in this business is, who gives a sh--? I don't need to know who's f---ing who. It's become an obsession in this business. It's part of how they sell some actors based on their sex lives. I don't care about it. It's always titillating. There's always that table chat about. Sometimes it gets interesting.
"There's an emerging action star who may be gay. If he's ever outed, it's a serious career issue. The tabloids and other magazines know what is going on but they don't run it because it's bad for business.
"Most of what passes for journalism in this business is placed by publicists. There are little moments every once in a while, there will be a cover story on The Star or The Globe about a major star being gay. Then it suddenly will disappear next week and never spoken of again because they get smacked hard. They suddenly have 20 pages a week that they can't fill because of this agency and that agency won't give them information. It's not good business to out.
"Everybody knew Rosie O'Donnell was gay the entire time. Nobody wrote anything about it until she was ready to come out. When a star fades, sometimes they'll be gone after. But when somebody is hot, never. You can sell more covers with so-and-so is [falsely] sleeping with whomever than so-and-so is gay. We haven't had a test case with a serious outing. Everybody [in the industry] knows that celebrity X and celebrity Y are gay. Some are more iffy."
Luke: "I thought the tabloids were hostile to the industry?"
David: "That's an illusion. Ten percent of tabloid journalism is opposition journalism. Ninety percent is friendly. It's the same with Harry Knowles. It's not in the tabloids interest to ruin the careers of anybody they make money from by putting them on the cover. It is not in Vanity Fair's interest to out anybody who will sell a lot of magazines for them. When a career fades, they will sometimes go after somebody because they can. That's what you're seeing with Mike Ovitz and Michael Eisner. Two years ago, they wouldn't have dared. Everybody's getting in on the feeding frenzy over Eisner, which I find disgusting. Even if it is deserved.
"What bothers me about Eisner's case is that there's nothing that's a problem now that wasn't a problem five years ago. It's the same exact problem except the stock market sucks. I've been writing for years about Eisner not having a second in command.
"The same reason why Bob Pittman wasn't pillored on his way out of AOL. The stories were genial. A year from now, when somebody writes the real story about what happened to AOL/Time Warner, he will get his ass handed to him because he was part of the sales group that sold a lie. AOL was a lie.
"Today I figured out that Yahoo may survive because they did not make a merger deal. Their stock is not worth anything anymore but because they did not bring another company down, they've survived to rebuild whereas AOL is tainted and busted up and it's ugly over there because they brought another company down. Time Warner hate AOL people because they cost Time Warner people so much money."
Luke: "How would you do a profile of a star you believed to be gay? Yet his publicists are always trotting him out with some female actress as his girlfriend?"
David: "When Kevin Spacey came out as aggressively heterosexual, it offended me. He's had an established [homosexual] life in this town before he became a star. As a movie star, it's in his interest to appear to be straight. If he just wants to be a character actor, he can be as gay as he wants. Nobody cares. If you want to be the male lead, you need to be straight, at least in perception. Now he's run his course as a male lead so maybe he will become gay and a character actor again.
"When he said to Playboy magazine that he was straight, that's like saying there's something wrong with being gay. When Rosie O'Donnell kept insisting she was straight, and she had that whole Tom Cruise thing on her show, I found it offensive. To me, it was important that she come out. I wish she had done it two years earlier because it would've had a real effect. Now she's just come out and become the evil bitch at the same time. She's dissipated the value of her coming out.
"The only time it really bothers me, when I think it is immoral, is when they're actually damaging the progress of their people. I don't think I'd feel the same way about someone pretending not to be Jewish. I know one woman who is not Jewish who pretended to be Jewish because she thought it would help her career as a manager.
"When Anne Heche went gay for a few minutes, it killed her career. The studio did not believe in her anymore as a heterosexual in the movies. They reshot sequences in Six Days, Seven Nights, so it wasn't as romantic. It had nothing to do with them hating gays. It had to do with their perception of what the perception would be.
"Anne Heche wasn't a big enough a star to test the water for it to matter. Like Sharon Stone showing her vagina. Her labia weren't important in the business to make a difference. Demi Moore, on the other hand, had her career dissolve because of her being so overt with her sexuality (Striptease, Blame it on Rio, Disclosure). She became about her sexuality. It's not attractive for a woman to be a sexual predator. That was it.
"The biggest stars don't show their breasts. Julia Roberts has never shown her breasts because it would be bad for her career. Sandra Bullock will never show her chest. The moment you disrobe, it changes everything.
"Once you've lost the illusion of that person being a sexual being, you've broken the mystery. It's like falling out of love. Movie stars have a romance with the public. It's infatuation and love and mystery. The reason you don't see Tom Cruise when he's not in a movie is that they know you will get sick of him if you see him too much. You get overexposed easily."
Luke: "Why did you leave Entertainment Weekly?"
David: "My father passed away in July of 1997. I started my daily internet column in August on RoughCut.com. I lost interest in Entertainment Weekly. I was working on story that weren't important to me. I realized that I was climbing a ladder that I didn't necessarily want to get to the top of.
"It's an editor-driven magazine with one voice. The more successful it became, it became more soft. When EW started, even as a Time-Warner publication, it struggled to get access. I didn't read EW when I worked for it. I don't read it now. It's information I've already heard. It's a magazine for consumers.
"It's a victim of its success. It was darker and smarter and funnier when it was young and struggling and trying to find a voice. The way to get attention when you're young is to say f--- you to everybody a lot. Then they say 'F--- you' back. And you say, well, I've got 100,000 readers. Oh ok, we'll do something with you anyway. Just don't do that again. And you do it again. And you say, we've got 1.2 million readers now. Now they say thank you when you say f--- you to them. A 'f--- you' in your magazine is nicer than 'I love you' in another magazine.
"Then the people who work for you start knowing everybody and you become part of the family. And you lose your edge. Same thing with Harry Knowles. It's one of the greatest challenges in my world to keep that in perspective. It's seductive.
"I wrote something about director Phil Kaufman and it helped me at the studio. He invited me to see him in San Francisco and to have dinner. I love Phil Kaufman's work. It was an attractive opportunity but I couldn't do it. It wasn't right. I may hate his next movie. I may compromise myself. It's lonely. I think you have to keep a distance from other journalists. The eternal gamesmanship of being in the entertainment journalism business is the worst thing about it.
"When you come out of a movie theater with a bunch of critics, and there are six of you in a circle, and you're all discussing a movie, that's not news. They shouldn't be changing your opinion of the movie. If you don't have the strength to have that conversation and walk away with your opinions still in tact, you shouldn't have that conversation. We start to quote each other. It's not right.
"Reuters wrote that XXX did great box office at $45 million. It was disappointing box office. Sony was expecting $65 million."
Poland wrote about EW in 1999: "Entertainment Weekly may have been the best and the worst thing to ever happen to those of us who are in this part of the game. The best because they created an outlet to tell the stories of how this whole business works. The worst because the glibness of writing has been given an unfairly generous patina of respectability that leaves us, as writers and magazine editors around the country, trying to match the tone without having the resources to match the quality of journalism. Not that EW doesn't fall on their face on a fairly regular basis. (Don't get me started there. It feels like exposing a magician's tricks.) But the point is, glib is entertaining and good to read in the bathroom, but it's about as enriching as a McDonald's hamburger."
Luke: "Has anyone tried to bribe you with hookers or drugs?"
David: "No. I've never had oral sex from a publicist."
Former gossip columnist A.J. Benza, in his autobiography, wrote about how it easy it was to score with publicist assistants in return for not writing a particular story.
Luke: "Have you ever had sex with a famous actress?"
Luke: "Did it cloud your journalistic objectivity?"
David: "I never wrote anything about her so it worked out well. But it sure would. I think there are more people writing about the film business who are angry and want to get back at people then who want to do favors. People who write puffy want to write puffy and are sincere in their puffiness.
"Publicists are smart. They figure out who the players are and what the players need to get to where they want to go. The thing that publicists like the least is being surprised. Publicists figured out with me quickly that I was not a butter boy. I was not into being bribed.
"I'm not skimpy about being kind. But I do it because I believe it.
"I did junkets occasionally at Roughcut.com. You're not at a junket to kill a movie. Ever. I drew a line between my column and my work as editor of Roughtcut. A couple of times I wrote about the junket itself. They didn't like that. I almost never got in trouble with our owners, Turner, and then AOL Time Warner. Only two times. One when I wrote during the same week as the Time Warner stockholders meeting about New Line being independent of Time Warner. They were concerned that the stockholders would see it and use it against Time Warner. So I delayed the story for a few days.
"One time I sent a woman to cover the SAG awards, which played on TNT. She [Susannah Breslin] wrote an expletive-filled screed against the SAG awards. It was vicious and funny. The opening line was, 'A cow just shit on my plate.' And it got worse.
"I was out of the office the day that ran. I got a phone call. 'Are you out of your f---ing mind?' So I pulled that down because it was a direct attack by a TNT entity against something TNT was airing. We never wrote about TNT."
Luke: "What do you think of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assocation and its Golden Globes awards?"
David laughs. Most everyone in Hollywood laughs about the HFPA and the Golden Globes. An ex-studio publicist once told me about the Golden Globe Awards: "At the studio, we were told about the Hollywood foreign press, take them out to a nice hotel, order the best bottle of champagne, and you'll get whatever you want from them. I always laugh when I watch the Golden Globes [given by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association]. Nobody understands out there in middle America what really goes on in Hollywood."
David: "Some of the people in HFPA are nice people. Some are smart people. They are smart enough to have so much cash from that stupid awards show that they can do whatever they want all year long. It's an outrageously silly situation. It's 89 people, most of who have never lived in this country, most of whom have no real influence over box office anywhere... God bless them one and all, but I am a little offended by it.
"The Academy Awards isn't much different though at least they have 6000 people voting. The best film of the year almost never wins. The Godfather was the last one. Usually it's one of the top 20 films. The whole awards thing concerns me. I'm a member of the BFCA (Broadcast Film Critics Association). We piggyback on the Golden Globe Awards. We're shown on E!.
"There are too many awards shows. The most offensive of all is the National Board of Review, which is a bunch of retired teachers and unknown people who live in New York who've become this important thing. They're shown movies early. Actors and directors fly to New York to present themselves. The Board has nothing to do with the film business. But they're the first awards show out so they're important.
"I find it deeply offensive that LA Film Critics and New York Film Critics means nothing in comparison to this group.
"The problem with moving the Oscars earlier is that people won't have time to see all the movies before they vote."
Luke: "Why are you so hard on Columbia Pictures?"
David: "I'm being honest about Columbia. It's been a shock. John Calley has been there over five years. He's considered one of the great minds in the history of show business. He came along and we had a year and a half of Mark Canton's lineup of big hits, after Mark had failed miserably for a few years. Then we it came along to Calley time, they had almost nothing. At first they had only teen movies, which financially made sense because they could be made so cheaply with young stars and young directors. Even if the movies were terrible, they were cash cows.
"Then they went into this middle period where Columbia president Amy Pascal made women's movies. None of them made money.
"Charlie's Angels was the beginning of the next generation of Sony films. Charlie's Angels was greenlit at $80 million and ended costing $120 million. It was promoted so much that Sony's other two movies at Christmas time suffered. Angels did a $40 million opening weekend and not well foreign and finally made some money in video.
"We've had Sony's summer cycle. The Adam Sandler movie Mr. Deeds cost $80 million. Then they had three picture which cost over $120 million each. Stuart Little 2, which cost $130 million, was a disaster. Men in Black 2 did well, but had an enormous backend [stars and director got a large percentage of the gross]. Spiderman was the big cash cow. Charlie's Angels 2 has been greenlit at over $100 million. I don't know how they will make money.
"Michael Eisner figured out after Pearl Harbor, that it was a mistake. Armageddon grossed about $500 million worldwide and about broke even. The big budget movie business is dangerous. We thought everybody had learned their lesson about making $100 million movies. Few are worth making."
Luke: "It's not as though any of these films are prestigious or great films. Amy Pascal is supposed to have this literary taste."
David: "Sony has been all over the place since they [Calley and Pascal] have been there. Sony has tried many different configurations of what they are. Now they've decided they are a blockbuster studio. I don't know why Calley doesn't have a clearer vision for the studio.
"It used to be that studios had a style. You could tell a Columbia movie, a Warner Brothers movie... But now there's no such thing."
Luke: "Do you think Calley and Pascal will be let go?"
David: "I think Calley has already deciding he's leaving. My guess is that Joe Roth will move in."
Luke: "How many of your peers are secretly longing to switch over to the other side?"
David: "Every one of them. They want to be screenwriters."
Luke: "I've already interviewed two LA Times journalists turned producers - Dale Pollock and David Friendly."
David: "You learn to kiss ass well at the LA Times."
I bet Jeffrey Wells and David Poland and Michael Tolkin think Marty Scorsese's crappy film Last Temptation of Christ was a respectful treatment. Did Poland and Wells think Tolkin's film The Rapture was a respectful and thoughtful treatment of Christianity?
David Poland writes me: I thought Tolkin's film was lame for reasons that had little to do with religious respect. I usually admire his work, but I thought that film was grossly over-rated.
And yes, I believe that Scorsese's Last Temptation was an honorable work from a true believer in Christ. I do not think it is blasphemous to question the human nature of a deity. The light of religion shines through a human prism, no matter how orthodox (in whatever faith) one claims to be. If true faith were meant to be free of human nature, then God, under whatever flag, would probably free true believers from the earth-bound demands of eating, excreting, procreating, etc, etc. But a deep religious belief requires that we serve that belief and our simple human needs at the same time. Examining that dichotomy should not be cause for attack, in my opinion.
I have turned my back on organized religion to a great degree... not because I do not believe in God, but because I believe that organizing religion puts distance between each of us and our relationship with God. I believe that not as some guy who was never in that world, but as someone who attended services in Orthodox temples and davined daily for years of my life. I have studied religion. And I believe in faith.
Unlike Wells, I do not attack people based on the symbols they embrace. At least, not when I am self-conscious enough to do the honorable thing. Orthodoxy may not be a part of my journey right now, but I would never mock or condemn you or anyone else for taking that road. I would hope that I could be given the same respect. Unfortunately, my experience with people who know that they have the answer (that one and only answer) is that any other views are not only wrong, they are evil.
Generally, I have found you thoughtful and open, Luke. But every once in a while, one of those "you people" comments slips out. It reminds me of a friend who would not discuss Israel and the Palestinians with me because I am a Jew and therefore, I couldn't possibly be objective. Well, I can be objective and I can be Jewish. I can be mugged and remain liberal. I can disapprove of abortion and still support a woman's right to choose. And I can like The Last Temptation of Christ and not be anti-religion. And if orthodoxy says that I can't... well, I can think of no greater indictment of orthodoxy.
Ironically, I saw Roman Polanski's The Pianist last night and consider it the best Holocaust drama ever for much the same reason I consider Shoah the best Holocaust documentary ever... both films appreciate the strengths and limits of humanity, no matter what side of the horror people were on. When a nurse is caught in a cross-fire in a German hospital just outside the Warsaw ghetto, the audience has a lot of feelings to consider. She is a nurse, but she is helping the Nazis. She is a human, but she is the enemy. She may be kind, but she is a collaborator. How do we feel when she gets a bullet in the head? Me, I felt good about it, but I sure wasn't happy about it. It was a righteous atrocity... or does such a thing exist?
I was watching football at David Poland's house early Sunday afternoon. The games were lame. David called his producer-friend Alexander Tabrizi. "I've got someone I want you to meet."
Thirty minutes later, Alexander shows up. From Iran, Tabrizi has lived in the United States since 1970, when he was 14 years of age, he says.
David insults Alex about coloring his hair. David says Alex fears getting old. David aggressively slings the barbs Alex's way but the Persian doesn't fight back. He's a gentle soul, a superb schmoozer and a loveable hustler. He's produced about 15 films for negligible box office.
David lowers the volume on the football games and listens to our interview with a smirk on his face.
Luke: "Why does David diss you so much?"
David: "When did I diss him? All I said was, I want you to meet Alexander. You will find out all you need to know about Alexander from Alexander. You should know him because Luke has an interest in producers.
"The amazing Mr. Tabrizi - the man with a different hair color [every time you see him] and all the special accessories of Alex being Alex."
David takes us to lunch at the crowded Urth Caffee on Melrose Blvd. We meet their friend Dr. Steve Burres, a plastic surgeon who appears to have had a frightening number of plastic surgeries on his face.
David to Alex: "What percentage of people you run into want to be in the industry?"
Alex: "Eighty five percent."
Steve and David rib Alex about his unwillingness to pick up checks. Today he pays David Poland $5 for his bowl of soup.
Luke: "To what do you attribute David's fascination with your hair?"
Alex: "David likes grey hair on people."
David: "No, I like colors that are naturally in nature."
David explains to Steve: "The fifth question Luke asked was whether I'd ever received a blowjob from a publicist in exchange for killing a story."
Luke: "David, what do you think are Alex's strengths as a producer?"
David: "He's very tall [about 5'7"] and his hair is fabulous.
"Alex is a relationship builder and a consensus builder and he brings people together. So many people put up with the foibles that Alex has because ultimately he brings people together. You meet interesting people when you spend time with Alex. Like so much of Hollywood, he's a hustler, which can be said of the people who made Carolco. Terminator 3 is a hustle deal. There's no artistic inspiration there. It's all about money. It's a picture they can pre-finance overseas. They've already paid for the movie. It will probably be the most expensive movie ever made but it's already in profit because of overseas sales.
"Alexander has grown steadily over the years from Beach Fever level. It's all based on his relationships."
Alex: "If you don't have a dream, you have nothing in this world. Eventually I'm going to hit big. Winston Churchill said, failure to failure is not a loss. When you lose your passion, that's a loss. I have not lost my passion."
David Poland orders a large slice of cheesecake. Alex and Steve take large spoonfulls.
Alex: "David is not afraid of gaining weight."
Steve: "Alex is a healthy eater and he brushes his teeth after every meal and he does not have a cavity in his mouth."
Alex: "One of the best ways to help yourself healthwise... You have no idea how much your mouth breeds bacteria. If you don't clean, that bacteria causes sickness in your system. You have to spend a minimum of five minutes a day to clean your mouth."
Luke: "Are you afraid of the Gay Mafia?"
Alex: "I am not afraid. They are great people."
Luke: "David, what did you think of Alex's movie Strip Search?"
David: "Strip Search is an interesting picture because it is schizophrenic. It's a crazed sexual art film about the underbelly of Montreal. At the same time, it's a low budget crap fest.
"I saw Beach Fever before I knew Alexander. USA played it all night because it was such a fabulous piece of junk.
"I met Alex through watching a Miami Dolphins game at a bar."
Luke: "Have you ever slipped him a script of yours?"
David: "One time I gave him one of my low-budget horror comedy screenplays but he didn't really get it."
Alex: "It wasn't ready. The script didn't work. David has good concepts but that is not enough."
Alex says he doesn't fear growing old.
David: "I think he fears anyone else perceiving him getting old. He feels he must be young to attract young women. The film industry is not kind to people who are aging."
Alex says he wants to settle down, marry and have kids in the next two years. David and Steve double over with laughter.
David: "One of the best things Alex is suited for is child rearing."
Alex says he does not do drugs and he does not drink. He loves Las Vegas "because they give you a double whammy of oxygen [in the hotels] and I get high from it."
Luke: "Do you visit the brothels in Nevada?"
Alex: "Not at all. I've never paid for sex."
David: "Alex has not paid for anything at all."
Alex: "To say you have been with so many women is insulting to women. It's not a manly thing to say. It's how many women respect you. All the ladies I know, they're all my friends. If you're sexual, it's private.
"These guys [David and Steve], if they see a woman, they never see her again. I see them over and over."
David says that's an inaccurate assessment of his love life.
Alex asks David if he should see Red Dragon.
David: "You'll probably think it's ok."
David thinks it is a piece of crap.
Luke: "How would you describe Alex's taste?"
David: "Incomprehensible at times. Alex likes gentler films."
Alex: "I don't like dark edgy movies. I like simpler stories with a good message, a good soul, a good heart."
I'm with Alex on that. We both like Big Fat Greek Wedding while neither Steve nor David have seen the film.
David says he cried at a number of films at the Toronto Film Festival.
Alex says he's unbothered that his films have received brutal reviews.
Steve wonders if Roger Ebert praises so many black movies because he has a black wife.
Luke: "Do you think if critics gave more thumbs down to black movies there would be another LA Riots?"
Alex, Steve and David say that's ridiculous.
Luke: "Do you feel intimidated when reviewing certain ethnic movies that the group might come to your home and burn it down if they don't like your review?"
David: "That's absurd. I do think that reviewers are sensitive that they might be accused of racism if they go after certain films."
From November 11, 2002, from the Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor TV show:
BILL O'REILLY: In the "Unresolved Problem" Segment tonight, Eminem's new movie took in an enormous $55 million at the box office this weekend, and it got good reviews to boot. As FACTOR viewers know, I couldn't care less whether Eminem is the greatest actor since Laurence Olivier. I think the man has hurt America and children with his coarse, violent message. However, I could be wrong. Joining us now from Los Angeles is David Poland, a movie critic for hotbutton.com, and, here in the studio, Christy Lemire, the entertainment writer for The Associated Press. So you like this movie, Christy?
CHRISTY LEMIRE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ENTERTAINMENT WRITER: Yes. I mean, he is really good in an essentially formulaic movie. This is pretty much a rap version of "The Karate Kid" or "Rocky" or "Flashdance," and he knows that, when he flails at the beginning, he has to come back to the same place at the end and emerge victorious. You see it upcoming from the opening credits, that he's really good in this. He has a ton of charisma. Whether you like his lyrics, whether you like rap music, he has an undeniable presence.
O'REILLY: All right. What about the rewarding of a guy who has demonstrated antisocial and some would say pernicious behavior with a big movie contract, making him a millionaire? Doesn't the corporation behind him, Vivendi, have any responsibility to society in this?
LEMIRE: I think you separate the actor from the role and the actor from the act. I mean, when he is Slim Shady, when he's rapping about killing his ex-wife and sticking her body in the trunk of a car, that' s not really him. That's...
O'REILLY: That's not really him?
LEMIRE: That's a version of him, just like...
O'REILLY: But does a 9-year-old know that? Does a 10-year-old know that, with no parental guidance, with...
LEMIRE: Well, that's the parent's problem then. The parent should be the one keeping an eye out.
O'REILLY: But what if there isn't a parent? What if there isn't a parent keeping an eye on him? Doesn't that fall into Eminem's purview there? See, he's making money off this kind of questionable conduct where, yes, a responsible parent will say, "Stay away," or offer guidance. But the kids at most risk will become under his spell. And doesn't Eminem have any responsibility for that?
LEMIRE: Eminem is a father himself. He's a very protective father of a 6-year-old daughter.
O'REILLY: Yes, but I don't care about that. I care about the other kids.
LEMIRE: She raps in one of his songs even. So...
O'REILLY: So what does that mean?
LEMIRE: Well, it means that he clearly cares about children.
O'REILLY: He does?
LEMIRE: I think so. You know -- but the Slim Shady thing is just one act. It is like Ziggy Stardust was a David Bowie act. It's like that bad Chris Gaines character was a Garth Brooks act.
O'REILLY: With all due respect, Ms. Lemire, I think you're really giving him a pass here. Mr. Poland, do you feel the same way?
DAVID POLAND, THE HOTBUTTON.COM: Well, I mean, the thing is Hollywood is about money, ultimately, and, indeed, Eminem is already a millionaire, and the people behind this picture, ironically enough, are about as liberal as anybody you would ever expect to be in Hollywood. So it's kind of one way, half-dozen the other, as far as I'm going.
O'REILLY: Well, who are those people that you're talking about behind him? Vivendi's a French corporation. Universal Pictures is a subsidiary of them.
POLAND: Well, Vivendi is a French corporation, but Brian Grazer and Imagine Entertainment, Curtis Hanson, who is a terrific director and who actually did a terrific job directing this film, and Universal domestically is really now Barry Diller's company more than it really is Vivendi, but that's -- that's kind of getting to the corporate level. I don't really see a big corporate issue.
O'REILLY: All right. So the creative people behind it are liberal, you're saying, the director and producer?
POLAND: Right. Absolutely.
O'REILLY: Now, when you watch this movie -- and, again, I mean, it might be the greatest movie in the world. That's not the point here. It's that I believe that our society and corporate America is rewarding terrible behavior. Do you see it that way?
POLAND: Well, it's rewarding the behavior that it feels will make money, and, generally speaking, corporations, whether they're entertainment corporations or otherwise, are only really interested in that bottom line. In this case, I know that the people involved are interested in doing something creative. The question for me is -- seeing this picture is what the underlying subtext of the movie is, not just whether they're rewarding Eminem.
O'REILLY: Well, what is the underlying subtext, in your opinion?
POLAND: Well, I have some concerns watching the picture. It's a very, very well-made Hollywood movie, and it gives a lot of the highs and the lows of Hollywood movies. But, ultimately, the women in the movie are not positively betrayed. Ultimately, the only real hero in this picture is white in a whole black world, and he ultimately gains his success by leaving the black world.
O'REILLY: But that's not a liberal position, to denigrate women and blacks. That's not liberal at all.
POLAND: It's ironic, isn't it?
LEMIRE: But he also has...
POLAND: That's why I see the picture different than most critics.
O'REILLY: All right. Go ahead, Christy.
LEMIRE: He doesn't leave the black world. I mean, he -- I don't want to give away the ending, but he doesn't leave the black world. He stays true to where he came from.
O'REILLY: Yes, but is -- do you agree with Mr. Poland that women and blacks are not well treated in the film?
LEMIRE: I think he's giving him way too much credit by calling it racist or misogynist.
O'REILLY: No, I don't think he did that. He just said...
LEMIRE: Yes, he is, I think, actually. He said that women are portrayed negatively and that blacks are.
O'REILLY: No, he's not. No, no, no. You're making the...
POLAND: Every woman in the movie -- every female in the movie who has lines is in some ways a whore. Every one of them has sex for financial gain.
POLAND: Now should we not care about that? Yes, maybe. Maybe it' s just another movie. But, ultimately, we look at the message of the movie. Even though the people who made it are quite liberal and quite smart and people I admire normally, I think there's a subtext to this picture that's actually a little dangerous.
O'REILLY: So that's interesting. Is that true? I haven't seen the movie, and I will not go to see it because I'm not giving this company my 10 bucks. But is that true, that every woman in the movie has sex for money?
LEMIRE: Two women in the movie have sex. One is Brittany Murphy, who is attracted to him but, yes, she also wants to get out of Detroit. She wants to go be a model. The other is Kim Basinger, who plays his mother, who...
POLAND: Who has sex with a man, who...
LEMIRE: ... who has sex with a man...
POLAND: ... is getting rewarded for his -- for a compensation claim eventually, and that's why he wants -- she wants him in her life.
LEMIRE: But I think also she's desperate and she wants attention in any way, and that's financial -- that -- in any kind of...
O'REILLY: All right. Well, I -- again, I don't want to discuss the dopey movie because I couldn't care less about it. So, Mr. Poland, in your opinion, the message -- pernicious message that Eminem has in a lot of his music, that women are hos and they can be beaten if they get out of line -- and I don't care whether he's Slim Shady or he's, you know, Wilt Chamberlain or whoever he wants to be on any given moment. I don't care. I just know that -- And, interestingly enough, 70 percent of the people who saw this movie are under 25. Seventy percent. I feel it will drop off huge next week when "Harry Potter" comes out, but I do know that children have been -- not just by Eminem but other rappers -- have -- you know, this has seeped into their world, and the kids, as kids, will pick up some of this stuff. So you see a carryover into the movie?
POLAND: I have a 13-year-old nephew who, you know, calls women the B word without much thought...
O'REILLY: Absolutely. No question.
POLAND: ... and that's horrifying to me. On the other hand, I don't think that's what this movie is really about. I think that ultimately the movie is a "Rocky" movie, it is "Purple Rain," it is "Saturday Night Fever." That is what the structure is for this picture ultimately and what they are trying to achieve with Eminem, whether it's -- And I think one of the things that's false about it and which people are kind of picking up on is the idea that he's real and this is his real life, when, in fact, even the filmmakers have gone out of their way to say it's really a fictional film.
O'REILLY: All right. I'm going to give Christy the last word. Go ahead.
LEMIRE: It's a sanitized version of Eminem's life. So, if you hate Slim Shady, if you hate, you know, whatever negative thing he has to say, you're not going to see that in this movie because this is the inspirational Eminem.
O'REILLY: Yes, they're making him a hero.
O'REILLY: They're glorifying him and he's the greatest guy.
LEMIRE: Yes. He comes from nothing, and he makes something of himself.
O'REILLY: All right. It's the society we live in.
POLAND: If you hate everybody, that's OK.
O'REILLY: It's the society we live in. You're right, Mr. Poland.
David Poland writes 11/12 on www.thehotbutton.com: By the time the show aired twice, I was “a liberal basher,” “ignorant” and “looked intelligent on air.” (Thanks, mom.) The most ironic thing was that I went on as the guy against 8 Mile and ended up defending the film far more aggressively than my “pro” 8 Mile counterpart. Funny.