Shocking twist to the Paramount ban: Paramount had nothing to do with it!

For readers unfamiliar with the saga of the Paramount ban, I will recap it briefly before moving on to the surprising recent developments.

In July 2006, I went on an all-expenses-paid press junket for the film “World Trade Center.” I then wrote a column making fun of the whole shady practice, in which “journalists” are essentially wined and dined in exchange for fluffy, favorable coverage.

Paramount got mad at what I wrote and banned me — not just from future junkets (which I had no interest in anyway; this was a one-time thing), but from its press screenings, too. Press screenings are held, for most films, a few days before they open theatrically. All film critics in the major U.S. markets are invited to attend them. I was now removed from this list.

Now, the way these press screenings work is that they are handled in each market by a local public relations or advertising agency. In Portland, where I live, Paramount is handled by the Seattle office of Allied Advertising, which has branches around the U.S., most of which focus on film publicity. No one from Paramount ever contacted me directly. Instead, they had their Seattle publicist at Allied tell me I’d been banned. It was this Seattle office that had set up the junket I attended.

This Allied publicist also said that, in solidarity with Paramount, they were banning me from their other clients’ screenings too. Luckily, besides Paramount, Allied in Seattle only handled the Weinstein Company and Miramax. The other big studios were handled by other Seattle agencies, and none of them cared. (One of the other publicists even called me to say how funny and dead-on she thought the article was.)

So ever since then, my understanding has been that Paramount was mad, and that Allied in Seattle had removed me from their press list entirely. I kind of assumed that Paramount had strong-armed Allied into the latter decision.

But now new facts have come to light. Last week, I was going to be in Salt Lake City for a few days, and I wanted to attend the press screenings of “The Incredible Hulk” and “The Happening” while I was there. They are Universal and Fox pictures, respectively, not Paramount. And in Portland, neither of them is handled by Allied, so I was invited to the screenings at home.

However, in SLC, those studios are handled by the Denver branch of Allied. I had a moment’s pause when I called that office to find out about the press screenings, but then I thought: That’s silly. It was only the Seattle office that I ever had trouble with, and really only with Paramount. Surely Allied doesn’t have some company-wide no-fly list with my name on it.

“Hulk” was to be a public screening. They tape off a row for critics, but the rest of the theater is filled with regular folks, mostly people who won passes by calling in to radio stations or by picking them up somewhere in town. Plus, critics are allowed to bring guests. So there was no need for me to ask permission to attend. I could just go as the “guest” of one of my local critic pals.

“The Happening,” though, was a press-only screening, no guests, so I’d need to be invited. The publicist handling the account at the Denver Allied office ducked my calls. She didn’t respond to my e-mail, either. I didn’t want to get paranoid. I figured it was a Fox thing, not allowing online critics to its press screenings, which that studio has done before. Sure, I’d been invited up in Portland, but maybe Denver and Allied were going by an old set of rules. No big deal.

Then one of my critic pals in SLC told me this: The Denver Allied office had told him that I was not allowed at “The Incredible Hulk,” either. The screening that was open to the public. The screening that could be attended, literally, by a homeless guy who lives in the park, as long as he stopped by the radio station to pick up a ticket. THAT screening, I wasn’t allowed to attend.

As it turns out, Allied DOES have a company-wide no-fly list, and my name IS on it. I am not allowed to attend any Allied screening anywhere in the country, regardless of which studio it is.

Now the facts were starting to seem a little lopsided. All of this in response to one article that made fun of Paramount in Seattle? How does that translate to me not being allowed at a Universal screening in Salt Lake City?

A little more digging confirmed what I’d begun to suspect, the twist ending to this crazy story: It was never Paramount that wanted me banned. It was Allied. We had the wrong villain all along!

Oh, I don’t doubt that someone at Paramount was mad and called someone at Allied to yell at them. But Paramount probably got over it five minutes later. Think about it: Why would the oldest movie studio in America, a multi-billion-dollar company with holdings all over the world, care what some blogger they’d never heard of said about their press junkets?

Allied, on the other hand, is who actually deals directly with the press. They’re the ones who would have felt angry and betrayed by the column. They’re the ones who would hold a grudge for this long, and actively seek to enforce a ban that Paramount would have forgotten about a long, long time ago.

And remember, no one from Paramount ever contacted me. It was an Allied rep in Seattle, who passed it all off as Paramount’s decision, not hers. (In fairness, it wasn’t the Seattle branch of Allied that made the call. It was someone higher up in the Allied hierarchy.)

How intent is Allied on holding this grudge? Someone from the Denver office called the representative who was running the “Hulk” screening in SLC on Monday and told him not to let me in. “Eric Snider’s in town!” she said. “He is not allowed to attend any screenings!” Not as a guest, not as a guy off the street, not at all.

I am not making that up. She actually called to WARN them.

Luckily, there were midnight screenings of “The Incredible Hulk” on Thursday in Las Vegas (where I went after my SLC stop), and I could still write my review in a relatively timely fashion. I paid to see “The Happening” on Friday in Las Vegas, contributing $8 to that film’s “money we stole from innocent moviegoers” fund.

I had no idea Allied Advertising had extended its Eric D. Snider ban to cover the entire country, much less that the organization was still clinging to the grudge so tightly almost two years later. Too bad the whole brouhaha wasn’t over the movie “The Grudge.” Then at least it would have been funny rather than pathetic.