Eric D. Snider

Dishonest Advertising for 'The Singles Ward'

Dishonest Advertising for 'The Singles Ward'

If You Can't Get a Good Review, Make One up!

It is clear to anyone familiar with the art of filmmaking that "The Singles Ward" was made by people who were new to the process. This is not a liability, necessarily; many films have been made for very little money, often with some technical imperfections, but have still been worthwhile as entertainment.

However, when the lack of expertise turns into outright unprofessionalism, we begin to have a problem.

The reviews of "The Singles Ward" were not generally favorable. I gave it a C-; the Deseret News and City Weekly gave it two stars; the Salt Lake Tribune gave it only one. Of the major publications, only the Ogden Standard-Examiner was somewhat favorable, with a 2 1/2 star review. (Minor publications such as the Utah Valley Journal, Utah Statesman and the LDS-themed Meridian Magazine gave it positive reviews.)

Some critics have reported receiving e-mails and phone calls from people within the Halestorm Entertainment office, chiding them for their reviews. One such e-mail even indicated they were waiting for a public apology from that critic. Perhaps none of this correspondence was from anyone acting officially on behalf of the company, but it was from within the organization, anyway.

And then the ads hit. The Feb. 8 edition of The Salt Lake Tribune had a display ad for "The Singles Ward," complete with glowing endorsements from three critics. Here is how those quotes appeared in the ad:

"Cameos ... equal laughs ... fresh-faced cast ... amusing." -- Jeff Vice, Deseret News

"A ... spiritual celebration ... truly funny ... amateur hour is over." -- Sean Means, Salt Lake Tribune

"Endearing ... a definite sense of fun ... over-the-top performances." -- Eric Snider, Provo Daily Herald

(We will temporarily ignore the attribution errors: Sean goes by Sean P. Means, and I go by Eric D. Snider; that's how our names appeared on the reviews they quoted. Also, the word "Provo" does not properly appear anywhere in the name of the newspaper I write for.)

What they have done is to take three very negative reviews, find positive-sounding words, and create an ad in which we three critics appear to endorse the film. This is unprofessional, dishonest, and possibly illegal. Our words have very clearly been taken out of context to promote a movie that, if you were to ask us, we would heartily encourage you NOT to attend.

So where did those quotes come from? Let's look at them in context.

From Jeff Vice:
"Celebrity cameos do not automatically equal laughs."Still, one thing does save this LDS comedy from being completely excruciating -- the appeal of the fresh-faced cast." "While the appearance by LDS filmmaker Richard Dutcher (making fun of his hit '"God's Army') is amusing enough, the other [cameos] are either unsuccessful (bits involving local sports heroes Danny Ainge, Steve Young and Wally Joyner) or downright irritating (those with TV weatherman Mitch English and computer pitchman Super Dell)."

From Sean P. Means:
"Their caustic attitude toward community life within the LDS Church is at odds with the spiritual celebration they mean their movie to be." "The movie's one truly funny moment is also the most telling: When Jonathan's ward friends watch 'God's Army' on DVD, Dutcher himself appears, declining an invitation to join them because 'those toilet scenes are kind of offensive.' You know 'The Singles Ward' is in trouble when it cannibalizes a movie genre that has barely gotten off the ground. It's tempting to go easy on 'The Singles Ward,' since it's a local production. But when you must pay the same $7 that gets you into 'A Beautiful Mind' or 'The Lord of the Rings,' amateur hour is over."

And from Eric D. Snider:
"Its amateur nature is sometimes endearing, but other times, the over-the-top performances ruin what might have been passable jokes." "There's a definite sense of fun within the large cast; everyone involved clearly had a good time. But there's also a definite sense that Hale and Moyer wanted to cram in every LDS culture-related joke they could think of, often at the expense of the story and characters."

I encourage you to click the links and read the complete reviews, to get a sense of how fully and perversely they have twisted the intent of our words.

UPDATE: After I posted this, Kurt Hale sent me an e-mail in which he seemed to say that it was meant as a joke. He said they'd had lots of positive feedback from people who had read the original reviews and thus found the ad funny.

Well, that's just silly. Who's he asking, his office staff? The average reader probably doesn't even look to see which critics are being quoted; he just reads the enthusiastic words. And if the reader does note who's being quoted, the average reader is not liable to remember what that critic's review originally said.

Now, if you wanted to do this in a way that would actually be funny, with a joke that people would actually get, you could do this:

"Thanks to ellipses, the critics are raving about 'The Singles Ward'!"
"!" -- [critic]
"Better...than...anything...I've...ever...seen!" -- [critic]
"!...!" -- [critic]

But as you know if you've seen "The Singles Ward," "funny" is not really their strong suit.

Prior to the opening of "The Singles Ward," I interviewed Kurt Hale. The article is here. Following his example, though, I have taken some quotes from that article out of context. These are all his actual words:

"I don't think we could ... get any laughs."
"We'll feel like we succeeded if we get any laughs ... at the expense of our religion."
"Mormons ... are ... void of any doctrine. ... You won't see any ordinances or prayers ... in a singles ward."

UPDATE II: While still clinging to the fairy tale that the ad was a joke, and everyone KNEW it was a joke except me, Kurt Hale wrote, "We don't want a fight, and we apologize." That is, presumably, the end of it. The next batch of ads had fictitious quotes from nobodies like "Brother So-and-So from the Provo 22nd Ward," and stuff like that.

Stumble It!

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