David Fincher wishes there were no early film screenings


If you weren’t aware of it already, David Denby’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo review has caused an industry brouhaha. Film critics had agreed with Sony not to run their reviews until December 13th. Denby broke the embargo, and it ran yesterday in the latest New Yorker. While the review was positive, it led to some serious outrage from Sony and the film’s producer Scott Rudin. (They likely captioned all images of Denby with “Christ, what an a**hole.”)

Director David Fincher has shared his opinion on the matter. In an interview with The Miami Herald‘s Rene Rodriguez, Fincher said, “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t show movies to anybody before they were released. I wouldn’t give clips to talk shows. I would do one trailer and three television spots and let the chips fall where they may. That’s how far in the other direction I am. If I had my way, the New York Film Critics Circle would not have seen this movie and then we would not be in this situation. I would be opening this movie on Wednesday Dec. 21 and I would have three screenings on Tuesday Dec. 20 and that would be it.”

Fincher added, “That’s where [Rudin] and I get into some of our biggest fights. My whole thing is ‘If people want to come, they’ll come.’ But they should be completely virgin. I’m not of the mind to tell anybody anything about the movie they are going to see. And that kind of thought is ridiculous in this day and age. But by the same token, when you agree to go see something early and you give your word — as silly as that may sound in the information age and the movie business — there is a certain expectation. It’s unfortunate that the film critic business has become driven by scoops.”

After the cut, a little more information about this situation, including excerpts from an email exchange between Rudin and Denby.

[Via Miami.com, Hollywood Reporter, The Playlist, 24 Frames]

Denby has been a film critic for The New Yorker since the mid-90s, currently sharing duties at the magazine with Anthony Lane. He’s justified the early Dragon Tattoo review by noting the flood of major movies at the end of the year (i.e., the Oscar-consideration rush). In an email to Rudin obtained by The Playlist, Denby wrote:

I know Fincher was working on the picture up to the last minute, but the yearly schedule is gauged to have many big movies come out at the end of the year.

The system is destructive: Grown-ups are ignored for much of the year, cast out like downsized workers, and then given eight good movies all at once in the last five weeks of the year. A magazine like The New Yorker has to cope as best as it can with a nutty release schedule. It was not my intention to break the embargo, and I never would have done it with a negative review. But since I liked the movie, we came reluctantly to the decision to go with early publication…

Rather than run a slew of short reviews in The New Yorker given the space constraints, the review ran early, splitting the allotted inches with a review for The Adventures of Tin Tin. (Who knows, it might make a good double bill.)

In a way, this all began with another kind of awards season rush. The New York Film Critics Circle moved their voting deadline up a week. This was ostensibly done in order to be the first major critical body to bestow year-end honors. Sony arranged an NYFCC screening of Dragon Tattoo for voting purposes. (The Rudin-produced/Fincher-directed The Social Network won Best Picture and Best Director at last year’s NYFCC awards; The Artist took both honors this year.)

Rudin’s response to Denby was disappointed and upset. Part of it read:

I appreciate all of this, David, but you simply have to be good for your word. Your seeing the movie was conditional on your honoring the embargo, which you agreed to do. The needs of the magazine cannot trump your word. The fact that the review is good is immaterial, as I suspect you know. You’ve very badly damaged the movie by doing this, and I could not in good conscience invite you to see another movie of mine again, Daldry or otherwise.

Patrick Goldstein of 24 Frames has his own take on the matter that’s worth checking out. In it, he notes that similar embargo breaks have occurred in the past. For instance, some reviews for The Phantom Menace broke their embargo by 10 days; theater critics similarly slung some early review for the troubled production of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark; and Harry Knowles of Ain’t it Cool News routinely posted embargo-breaking reviews in the past, though that apparently doesn’t happen anymore.

Regardless how you feel about film criticism, potential spoilers, embargo breaks, and inside baseball stuff, Fincher closed his interview with Rodriguez with a larger point about movies and moviegoers.

“Ultimately, movies live or die by word of mouth anyway,” Fincher said. “All that other stuff doesn’t matter. Nothing against film criticism. I think film critics are really valuable. But the most valuable film critics are usually those people who come see a movie with their Blackberry and then text their friends ‘It sucked.’ or ‘It’s awesome. You should see it.’ You know what I mean?”

Remember: we here at Flixist your pals with Blackberries; we’re your Huckleberries in the best kind of way.

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.