Fincher on Denby-Rudin Clash

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo director David Fincher spoke this morning with Miami Herald critic-reporter Rene Rodriguez about David Denby‘s embargo-busting review of his film in the current edition of The New Yorker. Tattoo producer Scott Rudin responded by banning Denby from future press screenings of his films, including “the Daldry.”

“I think Scott [Rudin]‘s response was totally correct,” Fincher said. “It’s a hard thing for people outside our business to understand. It is a bit of a tempest in a teapot. But as silly as this may all look from the outside — privileged people bickering — I think it’s important. Film critics are part of the business of getting movies made. You swim in the same water we swim in. And there is a business to letting people know your movie is coming out. It is not a charity business — it’s a business-business.

“This is not about controlling the media. If people realized how much thought goes into deciding at what point can we allow our movie to be seen, they would understand. There are so many other things constantly screaming for people’s attention. I started shooting this movie 25 days after I turned in The Social Network. We have been working really hard to make this release date. And when you’re trying to orchestrate a build-up of anticipation, it is extremely frustrating to have someone agree to something and then upturn the apple cart and change the rules — for everybody.

“Embargoes…okay, 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.

“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.

“Ultimately, movies live or die by word of mouth anyway. 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?”

There’s nothing like seeing a movie “completely virgin,” or almost virgin. In the pre-internet days of the early ’80s, when I was based in New York, I was fortunate enough to catch long-lead screenings of films I knew relatively little about. What a great thing…but those days are long gone.

  • Ryan Stewart

    I was once assigned to do a magazine article on Fincher and I went through almost a month of torturous negotiations with his team, the purpose of which ultimately became clear: Fincher wanted full editorial control over the piece.

    Believe me, it’s all about controlling the media, no matter what he says here. And if that’s his agenda more power to him, but reputable media shouldn’t put up with it. The New Yorker should’ve run their piece without even responding to that silly email. Since when does the most venerable film criticism outlet in this country bow to the marketing needs of a David Fincher movie?

  • Colin

    I miss not knowing what a trailer will be before the film I’m watching. But a big part of that is that we often go looking for film news to post, read, dissect. Fincher’s right everything is driven by who has it first now.

  • the sandwich

    Fincher FTW. Artist vs Marketing.

    And Ryan Stewart can suck it. How reputable is a media outlet when it kinda breaks it’s agreement with a studio so it has something “better” to write about than a Zoo movie with Matt Damon? Not much.

  • Glenn Kenny

    Actually, it’s a shame Ryan and Fincher never met. Fincher might have considered Ryan for the John Carroll Lynch part in “Zodiac,” then thought better of it, because, you know, typecasting, and oh, what an exciting article Ryan could have gotten out of THAT.

  • Roger Sweets (gnosis)

    Denby absolutely if he signs an agreement should not break that agreement and the New Yorker should not ask him to.

    This is not debatable.

    If you show a movie before you want it reviewed though… even though the New Yorker should adhere, the twitterverse won’t.

    So I agree with Fincher. I think if all producers stuck to that plan then the NYFCC would fall in line and wait until the end of the year – they’d have to or look like idiots. Won’t happen, just sayin’

  • Tristan Eldritch2

    I agree with a lot of what Fincher says there, and I do really miss the pre-internet days when you knew eff-all going in to a film.

  • Glenn Kenny

    That was really unfair to Ryan, I now realize. Perhaps I should have tried to give him something more illuminating. To whit.

    In the new book “Conversations With Clint,” Eastwood and Paul Nelson discuss what was then Steve McQueen’s policy of not even ever looking at a project that didn’t have a five-million dollar payday attached. Eastwood tells Nelson that he believes to a certain extent that this is McQueen’s way of playing possum: that is, not doing stuff he doesn’t want to do by making the conditions upon which it might be done impossible to actually meet. This happens ALL THE TIME. In some cases it’s more desirable to insist on the impossible so the result is that the thing doesn’t happen, rather than just flatly refuse to do the thing itself. And that’s what happened with you and your Fincher piece, Ryan. Let’s ask Lynn Hirschberg about her experience interviewing Fincher and Mara for W, or whoever did the Vanity Fair cover piece this month, and maybe we can get some corroboration on it.

    Also, just because Fincher said “this isn’t about controlling the media,” it doesn’t mean anything about his behavior/attitude outside the given situation.

  • Ryan Stewart

    Glenn, I think your legendary confrontation with T.T. Boy scarred you for life, and now you see enemies everywhere. It’s sad.

  • 62Lincoln

    Thanks for posting this, Jeff. Fincher sounds as reasoned and intelligent as his pictures.

  • Ray

    Judging by Fincher’s honest and agreeable statement, he CLEARLY doesn’t park in Jeff’s spoiler-filled dank disappointment-filled garage of woe.

    YOU MUST HATE HIM NOW.

  • Abbey Normal

    There’s an assumption here that I don’t think is actually correct…Fincher, Rudin, Wells and others believe that people actually read reviews. Most don’t. For 95% of the population, Denby’s early review won’t change a thing. It’s actually kind of cute that anybody thinks it matters this much.

    Along the same lines, the dream of being a movie “virgin” lives on for many, many people who aren’t following the press and opinions, and are just going out to see something a friend told them was good. Honestly, the worst offenders to that goal aren’t early reviews, it’s trailers that give away every little goddamn plot point…easily the hardest thing to avoid.

  • Abbey Normal

    how many times can I say ‘actually’ in one paragraph, btw? Edit me before I post again…

  • Eloi Wrath

    “There’s nothing like seeing a movie “completely virgin,” or almost virgin. In the pre-internet days of the early ’80s, when I was based in New York, I was fortunate enough to catch long-lead screenings of films I knew relatively little about. What a great thing…but those days are long gone.”

    Didn’t you criticize those two Latinos who didn’t know anything about what they wanted to see only about a week ago?

  • heli

    Fincher can’t act like the process has so much integrity when all the ads are basically ‘look how sexy this half naked girl is’. face it, they are just bitter that the NYFCs didn’t give their remake a single award.

  • AnnaZed

    @Abbey Normal good point about the damn trailers. If I didn’t already know the plot of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ I certainly would by the end of that eight minute magnum opus thingy. I am still off the wall hyped for this film by the way and am impervious to the thought rays of David Denby before I see any film even at the best of times.

    But!

    One thing I do wonder about (and perhaps Jeff could speak to this) is if there is any downside to the macerating process that takes place during the window (however long it is, two weeks, even two months) that starts when a critic first sees a film and ends when they publish. I know that I often cool down from ‘gee, gosh that was awesome’ to a sort of world weary sighing even over some of my very favorite movies over the course of a week after seeing them. I do get influenced by people that I am close to. My filmmaking studying nephew for one can tear a movie to pieces and sometimes make me blink a bit.

    So, a critic like Jeff sees a movie like ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and has one set of thoughts, after sleeping on it and jawing with Sasha Stone maybe he has some more thoughts (and the adrenaline has ebbed), then he sits on his thoughts for weeks ~ I can’t help but think that this can’t be a good thing for the movie.

    This is a process that I go through at least once a week ~ hyped & psyched ~ followed by “I just saw it and it was great” ~ morphing into “ok, what’s next?” You would think that I would tire of this, but I never do.

  • talentedgc

    “There’s nothing like seeing a movie “completely virgin,” or almost virgin. In the pre-internet days of the early ’80s, when I was based in New York, I was fortunate enough to catch long-lead screenings of films I knew relatively little about. What a great thing…but those days are long gone.”

    “Didn’t you criticize those two Latinos who didn’t know anything about what they wanted to see only about a week ago?”

    You’d expect most people to have a criteria beyond what is simply the genre. I think it’s still possible to see a movie “almost virgin” just by selecting certain directors/actors who have a reasonable pedigree.

  • http://www.railoftomorrow.com ScottNye

    AnnaZed – This is why I love embargoes. It seems like most studios give you some flexibility, often (though hardly always) letting you toss out a tweet or two with some general thoughts, but requiring you hold your review for days or weeks. This time is crucial for some films, and much appreciated. And hell, if nothing else, it gives you some more time to write the freaking thing – reviews aren’t always easy, particularly for really great films. Nothing worse than having a review due the day after, or the day of, a screening.

    So I’m onboard with Fincher’s dream scenario; just make the three screenings a week in advance.

  • a_loco

    “Virgin” film experiences are overrated. I’d rather know a little about what I’m in for, just enough to let me know what kind of experience it’ll be.

    I remember seeing Let The Right One a few years ago knowing nothing about it except that it had 98% on RT and it was about vampires. I have nothing against slow Swedish art films, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I appreciated it a lot more the second time around.

    So if some middle aged yuppy sees Dragon Tattoo knowing nothing except that it’s from the Director of Social Network (unlikely, but still), they could potentially leave the movie with a knee-jerk negative reaction, which is obviously not ideal for anyone.

  • JLC

    This does seem like a very “old media” kind of dispute.

  • lbeale

    My take is Denby never should have signed the pledge in the first place. It’s just a way for the studio to control the press, and becomes a slipper slope: signing pledges re where the story will run, what photos can run, quote approval, etc.

    Do. Not. Do. It.

  • lbeale

    Uh, that would be ‘slippery.’

  • LexG

    I know I “choose” to follow sites like this and movie critics’ Twitter feeds when I’m just a workaday schmo with no real ties to the movie business…

    But as a member of the great unwashed 99% that will inevitably see DRAGON TATTOO with a turkey-bloated audience of snoozy, snoring holiday belchers texting all the way through it and kicking my chair, I find “Movie Critic Breaks Studio Embrargo!” to be some real White People Problems type bullshit.

  • Blore

    “There’s nothing like seeing a movie “completely virgin,” or almost virgin.”

    When you are remaking a movie that was already popular and based on a popular novel the idea that you could say such a thing shows you are just a fool.

  • gnosis

    Denby absolutely if he signs an agreement should not break that agreement and the New Yorker should not ask him to.
    This is not debatable.

    If you show a movie before you want it reviewed though… even though the New Yorker should adhere, the twitterverse won’t.

    So I agree with Fincher. I think if all producers stuck to that plan then the NYFCC would fall in line and wait until the end of the year – they’d have to or look like idiots. Won’t happen, just sayin’

  • Edward Havens

    What the hell is there to be spoiled about by Dragon Tattoo by now? It’s based on a global best-selling trilogy of novels which was previously made in a trilogy of movies in its native land. I haven’t read the books, nor seen the original movies, but I know what they story is about, and I still want to see this movie, because of Fincher, because of Zaillian, because of Craig and Mara and Plummer and Wright and Skarsgaard and Richardson, because of Cronenweth, because of Reznor and Ross, because it’s two hours and forty minutes, and because of an R rating that needed to point out the violence isn’t just brutal but brutal because of rape and torture.

  • Paul Lynch

    It’s hard to argue with The Finch, however I do disagree when he says “Ultimately, movies live or die by word of mouth anyway.”

    That is maybe the case with small movies, but Hollywood now relies on massive openings, with box office falling off a cliff after the first week…… with crappy movies still able to make a profit despite negative word of mouth.

    Personally, I try and avoid trailers as I don’t want to know too much about a movie before I see it. This conflicts with listening to Oscar Poker podcasts, which are full of spoilers!

  • The Pope

    Okay this may sound insane but for quite a while I have been considering the idea that critics should not review a film until AT LEAST couple of weeks AFTER it has come out. That way they can let it bed down and that way they don’t have to be “FIRST!”

    Especially in this hot age of internet, where pre-publicity determines so much about a movies opening weekend position, critics are not needed (as much as they used). Critics now are only needed for discussion, not assessment. So, let them assess and because we all have blogs, that’s how the criticism/discussion/assessment will take place.

    And that hopefully will release the critic from being “correct” before anyone else was there “first.”

  • hollywoodtease

    Great topic as I was just discussing with a friend this quandry of knowing *all* about a movie before you see it, or the ability to find out about it all. How it was so much better to just go into see Empire, Jedi, Indy movies, etc before the internet had info everywhere. Granted, those are franchise movies I am referring too, but you get the pi

    I have to say, had I not read about/saw trailers of this flick I would be less likely to see it. I knew nothing of the books or the previous movies made, so they needed to market to me to grab my attention on this one. I can’t argue with Fincher on this one. Studios don’t spend hundreds of millions of $ to F**k up a movie release.

    Now about those kids mulling around the marquee….

  • CinemaPhreak

    “‘Virgin’ film experiences are overrated.”

    Except when they’re not.

    I saw THE MATRIX without having seen the trailer, read a review or knowing much beyond “it’s about virtual reality and has Keanu in it, so Johnny Mnemonic Redux.” Considering how plugged in I am about releases, it’s a huge fluke.

    It definitely helped set me up to be blown away by the Wachowski’s film, so a_loco choose a perfect name because he is definitely crazy and speaking out of his ass.

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