Eric D. Snider

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Archive for the 'Controversies' Category

The deal with that Rotten Tomatoes thing

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

So here’s what happened. This is the short version.

I think it’s funny when people post angry comments on one-sentence excerpts from reviews on Rotten Tomatoes without reading the actual reviews. What could be more useless than a response not to a review but to a one-line quote from a review? I also think it’s funny when people get worked up over a movie’s Tomatometer score, becoming increasingly despondent or outraged as each new negative review pulls the score lower. All of this is especially funny when it pertains to a movie that the angry people haven’t even seen yet.

To exploit this, I posted a fake negative review of “The Dark Knight Rises” — and clearly labeled it as fake — on my website, then posted a link to it on Rotten Tomatoes. I wanted to see how many people would post angry comments on Rotten Tomatoes without reading the “review.” It would be obvious, since anyone who was angry clearly hadn’t read the “review.”

Here is what the fake review said:

“The Dark Knight Rises” is easily the most disappointing Batman film so far — and I’m including Schumacher’s “Batman & Robin” in that statement. Nolan has finally lost his touch.

Just kidding! I haven’t seen “The Dark Knight Rises” yet. It’s probably very good! I just wanted to post a negative quote on Rotten Tomatoes and see how many idiots would type angry words at me without actually clicking the link to read the whole review. Given that Rotten Tomatoes commenters are the worst human beings on the planet, I suspect the number will be large.

Also: It doesn’t matter if a movie you love doesn’t get a 100% RT score. It affects you and the movie in no way whatsoever. “You ruined this movie’s RT score!” is the dumbest complaint a person can possibly make.

Also: If you get angry about a review of a movie that you haven’t even seen yet, the terrorists win.

Real review to come!

The first sentence is what I used as the Rotten Tomatoes quote.

The fake review was up for a couple hours. I never intended to keep it up forever, just long enough to get some responses, and then the joke would be over. The Rotten Tomatoes staff, quite understandably, doesn’t like people pranking their system. Like many critics, I had a log-in that allowed me to post links to my reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. (RT staffers add other links manually, and I believe there’s an automated system that periodically checks certain critics’ sites for new reviews.) Since I abused this back-end privilege, Rotten Tomatoes took it away — which is perfectly fair. Your kid gets a speeding ticket, you take away his car keys.

Rotten Tomatoes also decided that my reviews will no longer count toward the Tomatometer. I hope they’ll reconsider, but that’s their decision to make. I can understand where they’re coming from. With the nonsense that was happening with the actual negative reviews, they were in no mood for shenanigans this week.

Here is what Rotten Tomatoes editor Matt Atchity said about it in an article explaining why RT had temporarily suspended commenting on “Dark Knight Rises” reviews:

Which leads me to Eric D. Snider. He thought [correctly] it would be funny to post a negative review link on Rotten Tomatoes that links to his own site. He misrepresented his review link. (In case you didn’t know, some critics post their own reviews, and my staff posts some — it’s about 50/50). By attributing the link to Film.com, he misrepresented that organization. This is not the first time he’s done this. [It is the second.] In our opinion, by knowingly posting a link that isn’t a review (and he hadn’t seen the movie), Snider has abused our trust, and therefore, his reviews will no longer apply to the Tomatometer.

Please understand that I have no argument with Matt. He and I have been in contact via email. We’re still discussing all of this. I understand where he’s coming from, and I think he understands where I was coming from.

My point was to make fun of blind, mindless fandom. It had nothing to do with Rotten Tomatoes itself, which is a useful site that I refer to every day, but with the freaks who post comments there, and who have turned Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, and just about every other movie website into cesspools.

I made no attempt to deceive anyone. My fake review was clearly labeled as such. The only people who were deceived were the ones who just read the one-sentence excerpt from it. They got what they deserved: fooled. I’m responsible for exploiting their foolishness, and for giving them a venue to demonstrate it. But I am not responsible for their foolishness.

And the people who realized it was a joke and were STILL upset because I had tampered with the Tomatometer — well, I don’t even know what to say about those people. A movie’s Tomato score has no bearing on your ability to see and enjoy the movie, especially a huge movie like this. It doesn’t matter. If you are angered by negative reviews and/or by a diminishing Tomato score, you should be made fun of. I stand by that.

The only people who are justified in taking the Tomatometer seriously are the Rotten Tomatoes staff. It’s their business. The Tomatometer might be trivial in the grand scheme of things, but it’s what Rotten Tomatoes does, and so it’s reasonable for them to be upset when someone tampers with it. I am sorry — really — for any extra work I caused the RT staff during a week that was already busy and stressful for them. RT was the venue of the prank, not the target of it. I have no beef with Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m also sorry for indirectly dragging Film.com into it. I do write for them, but of course my fake review was posted on my own site, not theirs. My reasoning was simply that the joke would be funnier if my super-negative quote were attributed to a higher-profile site, regardless of where the link was actually going. “This is even worse than ‘Batman & Robin’ — Eric D. Snider, Film.com” is better than “This is even worse than ‘Batman & Robin’ — Eric D. Snider, EricDSnider.com.”

When you post links to your reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, there’s a little drop-down menu that has all the outlets you write for, and you choose the appropriate one. About 10 percent of the time, I accidentally click the wrong one anyway, and mark a review as EricDSnider.com when it’s actually Movies.com or whatever. I’m not saying this time was an accident — this time was on purpose — just that one shouldn’t read too much into it. I take full responsibility for the prank, and I apologize to my Film.com bosses for besmirching that site in the process.

Did I pull this prank to drive traffic to my site? No. I did it for the reasons already stated: as an experiment to see how unhinged people would get over a negative review. People tend to assume that traffic is the only reason anyone does anything on the Internet, but that wasn’t what I was thinking. The best-case scenario for my joke would have been that I got NO traffic, because EVERYONE would have just read the quote on Rotten Tomatoes and not the whole review. The link was only up for a couple hours. I did get some extra traffic in that time, and have continued to get some this week, but my site isn’t monetized very well. The extra clicks on Google Adsense have earned me maybe two dollars. I will gladly donate it to whichever charity is handling outreach and counseling for people who have been traumatized by negative “Dark Knight Rises” reviews.

Some news reports have asserted that Rotten Tomatoes BANNED a critic for posting a FAKE REVIEW of a MOVIE HE HADN’T EVEN SEEN!!! There’s nothing factually wrong with that sentence, yet it completely misses the point. It makes it sound like I tried to pass off a fake review as legitimate, and then sometime later was found to be lying. That’s not what I did at all. The review was clearly labeled as a fake from the very beginning, and my reasons for posting it were clearly described. I had no intention of deceiving anyone for longer than the two seconds it took to click the link at Rotten Tomatoes and see the punchline.

I don’t mind if you didn’t like the joke. But please at least acknowledge that it was a joke, not an earnest attempt to lie about a movie I hadn’t seen.

I’ve been a movie critic for 13 years. I’ve written close to 3,000 reviews in that time, and the links are all still cataloged at Rotten Tomatoes. (The count there says 3,150. There are duplicates because some reviews were posted at more than one site and RT’s automated system counted them twice.) I’ve done some “trolling” in my day — it’s worth noting that I did basically the same thing with “The Dark Knight” four years ago — but where movies are concerned, the instances of regular old reviewing and dissecting and snarking outnumber the instances of prankery and hijinkery.

Anyway, “The Dark Knight Rises” is pretty good. “Iron Man 3″ is terrible, though, worse than “Daredevil.”

UPDATE: Almost exactly a year later, Rotten Tomatoes rescinded the ban and let me back in, on the condition (of course) that there be no further shenanigans.

Michele Schalin is a plagiarist

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Michele Schalin is a forty-something woman who lives in or near Austin, Texas, where she owns a web-design company, hosts a weekly Internet TV show (this you gotta see), and writes film reviews for her website, The Movie Junkies.

Well, that’s misleading. For one thing, The Movie Junkies seems to be gone now. For another thing, Michele Schalin didn’t write the reviews she posted there — she mostly plagiarized them from real writers, like some kind of craven word-thief.

Nobody knew who Michele Schalin was until Wednesday, when my colleague Mike McGranahan of The Aisle Seat discovered that she’d stolen significant portions of several of his reviews. Mike poked around and discovered that she’d also pilfered from Will Goss, MaryAnn Johanson, Jeffrey Overstreet, and — aw, hells no! — Eric D. Snider. That’s meeee!

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Freaking out about the new FTC rules

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The Twitters were twitting fervently Monday in response to the Federal Trade Commission’s new guidelines requiring online writers to disclose when they have received freebies in exchange for reviewing a product. But much of the uproar and indignation expressed by bloggers was unfounded, demonstrating a misunderstanding not just of the FTC’s new guidelines but of the underlying ethical principles, too.

Here is the relevant portion of the FTC’s press release on these new guidelines, which take effect Dec. 1:

The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that “material connections” (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers — connections that consumers would not expect — must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other “word-of-mouth” marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

That’s from the press release about the guidelines. You can read the actual guidelines in PDF format here. On page 75, at section 255.5, “Disclosure of material connections,” is this:

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Jeff Wells Festival draws to a close

Sunday, February 8th, 2009

Two final updates on JeffWellsOxfordGate 2009 (see previous items here and here) and then I believe the matter is closed.

At the Oxford Film Festival’s awards ceremony Saturday night, one of the prepared comedy bits involved a category for Best Performance by a Local Actor in a Film Not Appearing in the Festival. These included two clips from actual films involving actual local actors, and then a third one: “Jeffrey Wells in ‘The Media Panel.’” This was accompanied by a graphic of an empty chair with a sign on it reading “Reserved for Jeffrey Wells.” It got a huge laugh.

I mention this in particular because Wells’ language in his last couple blogs and comments suggests it’s only his colleagues (“the cool kidz”) who think he did something wrong by ditching the panel, and that no one else minded. Believe me, that’s not the case. If nothing else, this joke is evidence that to the festival organizers, blowing off the panel was a big deal.

Wells posted what is presumably his final blog entry on the whole affair, and it is a masterpiece of deflection and justification. As it turns out, every single element of the ugly incident was someone’s fault other than his! That includes his grumpy refusal to go to the panel, which one of us ought to have prevented by talking to him when we saw him looking so downcast in the hotel lobby that morning.

I’m serious! Read his blog! That’s really what he says!

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Update on JeffWellsOxfordGate 2009

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Jeff Wells update! The festival provided a fantastic lunch yesterday at a local restaurant called City Grocery. It was for the filmmakers and the fest’s invited guests, including, apparently, those who had not actually done what the fest brought them here for. Wells was there, enjoying the free food and drink, and asking them to serve his lunch upstairs at the bar, instead of downstairs at the tables with everyone else.

That was all anyone saw of him yesterday. He didn’t show up at any of the evening’s screenings (at least not that we saw), or at the parties (he definitely wasn’t there). And then this morning he posts this:

The Oxford Film Festival cool kidz (Rocchi, Voynar, Yamato, etc.) are shunning me, or certainly not initiating contact. I guess yesterday’s cruddy wireless funk along with my subsequent disinterest in taking part in yesterday’s media panel was a factor. In any case this feels like high school all over again. The cool kidz didn’t hang with me back then either.

So he stays away from all public gatherings, then says everyone’s shunning him. Because he’s always the victim, you know. Everything is always everyone else’s fault but his.

But as it happens, yes, everyone in Oxford who knows what he did yesterday thinks he’s a jerk. The only person in the entire world who is informed on the details and still sides with Wells is Wells.

Today he sent an e-mail to Melanie, the festival organizer, and copied it to me, Weinberg, and other pertinent invited guests. Lacking his permission to print it in its entirety, I will paraphrase, with key phrases quoted directly:

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Jeff Wells should be ashamed of himself

Friday, February 6th, 2009

There is a film blogger named Jeffrey Wells, whose site, Hollywood Elsewhere, is fairly well read within the industry. He’s not a film critic, per se, though he does often express his opinions about movies. Mostly he writes about the whole Hollywood business, everything from behind-the-scenes deals to ad campaigns to distribution strategies.

He was one of the people invited to appear on the panel about film criticism this morning at the Oxford Film Festival, and I was eager to meet him. Though we’ve been attending many of the same festivals for several years, I’d never actually talked to him, and I was curious to learn whether he was as much of a condescending, humorless curmudgeon as he seems in his blog. Maybe it was all an act, or maybe in person it would be funny and not off-putting. I’ve certainly been misinterpreted before, so I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions about him as a person.

Our introduction was affable enough, and we chatted briefly at the opening-night party. My impression was that maybe he plays the role of the ever-offended grouch online because it’s interesting and is perfectly reasonable in everyday life.

And then he refused to appear on the film criticism panel because he couldn’t get wifi in his hotel room.

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Shaming Live Universe into paying what they owe you actually works!

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

The story so far: My website was an ad affiliate for the Peerflix Media Network, and my payments arrived regularly each month. Then Peerflix was bought by Live Universe, whereupon the checks immediately stopped coming. E-mails to my contact at Peerflix, who was now a Live Universe employee, yielded no answers. When she responded at all (about one response for every three e-mails I sent), it was to say she still didn’t know when I’d be getting paid.

With no way of contacting anyone else at Live Universe, and having no recourse short of filing a lawsuit, I wrote about it on my blog, here and here. I hoped that a little public shaming would spur Live Universe to action. This got a little bit of attention, but not much.

Last week, I set up a new website: www.Live-Universe-Owes-Me-Money.com. The idea was that people who were in the same position as me (and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of us) could tell their stories, and we’d keep a running tally of how much money Live Universe owed its affiliates. I posted my own story, got a colleague of mine to post hers, and then started sending out e-mails to relevant blogs and message boards, trying to get some more publicity.

On Friday, I got an e-mail from someone at Live Universe! Someone other than the worthless contact I already had, I mean. This guy wrote:

Just recently became aware of the situation of an outstanding balance with your site and Peerflix/LiveUniverse.

Want to work with you to better understand the situation & resolve it for you.

Can you please advise what the best # to reach you at on Monday is?

I wrote back and said, well, the situation is pretty easy to resolve: pay me the $600 you owe me. There’s not much to discuss. But sure, here’s my phone number, call me anytime Monday, etc.

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Why isn’t ‘W.’ screening in Portland?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Here’s a puzzlement. Oliver Stone’s “W.,” a satirical biography of a fellow by the name of George W. Bush (haven’t heard of him), opens next Friday and is being screened for critics in most markets on Tuesday night. Yet it’s not screening in Portland at all.

One’s first instinct is that Lionsgate is trying to save money by only screening it in the largest markets. But that doesn’t wash: It is screening, for example, in Salt Lake City and Charlotte, N.C., both of which have smaller populations and fewer media outlets than Portland. So if they’re trying to save money by screening it in fewer cities, they’re choosing those cities strangely.

Maybe they’re not screening it in cities where they fear it won’t be received very well? Also illogical, given Portland’s famed liberalism and Salt Lake City’s (and possibly Charlotte’s) conservatism.

Whatever the reason, it’s got Portland’s newspaper film critics agitated. Our heaviest hitter, Shawn Levy, who writes for The Oregonian, told Jeff Wells that his paper won’t review the film at all — not an after-the-fact review, not review from the wire services, nothin’. He said our two weeklies, Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury, have issued the same decree.

Maybe Oliver Stone hates Portland because he knows it’s where I live and he remembers my article making fun of the press junket I attended for his last film, “World Trade Center”? Probably not. Paradoxically, the only person who could ever swallow a conspiracy theory that contrived and unlikely would be Oliver Stone himself.

Piles of words produced by Eric at other sites

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Two items of possible interest:

At Film.com, I wrote “The Differences Between Nicholas Sparks and Shakespeare,” which was necessitated by Sparks actually comparing himself to the Bard. Seriously. He repeated it again in Entertainment Weekly last week. This guy needs to be punched.

And at Cinematical, Scott Weinberg interviewed me and Will Goss about our respective reviews of “An American Carol,” and the reaction they got. Will reviewed it for Cinematical, totally hated it, and got ripped to shreds. I reviewed it here, expressed milder feelings about it, and, um, also got ripped to shreds. Anyway, the conversation about the whole thing might interest you, if you like reading conversations about things.

Pretending to hate ‘The Dark Knight’ just to make people mad is fun

Thursday, July 17th, 2008

So I was in the shower Wednesday morning, and I was thinking about the Rotten Tomatoes users’ unusually vicious responses to negative reviews of “The Dark Knight,” and you know me, I’m always looking for a little fun, so I thought, “I should post a negative quote on Rotten Tomatoes just to see if they wish fiery death upon me, too.”

And so I did. I wrote a “review” of the film that simply said this:

This is easily the worst Batman film so far, and I include “Batman & Robin” in that statement.

Just kidding. It’s fantastic. My real review will be posted Thursday. I just wanted to see if a negative quote on Rotten Tomatoes would get me the same kind of psychopathic comments that other negative reviews have gotten. If it does, I guess that means those idiots really are just going by the one-sentence quotes, and not actually clicking over to read the whole review.

At Rotten Tomatoes, I gave it a “Rotten” rating and posted the first sentence as my quote: “Easily the worst Batman film so far, and I include ‘Batman & Robin’ in that statement.”

(Didja know that the RT staff doesn’t assign Fresh or Rotten or choose the quotes, but that the critics themselves usually do it? I suspect the big-time critics like Ebert have interns do it for them, or maybe the RT people give them special consideration. But most critics — particularly those of us on the lower rungs — provide our own quotes.)

I did all of this just before 10 a.m. Within 45 minutes, there were 67 comments posted. You can read them all here. To my great surprise, almost everyone did actually click the link to read the whole review before they posted, and thus saw the joke and laughed at it. In fact, the sudden massive influx of traffic clogged my site for several minutes.

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