Why part three? Only because one has not detected the sense of outrage one was led to expect concerning the ridiculous shenanigans as Ain’t-It-Cool-News. If neither you (the reader) or the lemmings in the media are properly pissed off after this, well, I did my best. If anyone desires to pursue this further, say anyone with better connections within the FBI and MPAA, be my guest.
A TRAIL OF COOKIES WILL LEAD YOU TO THE PRINCE OF LIES
In Los Angeles, the bullshit from the top of the industry food chain only builds in size and strength as it rolls downhill, bouncing on every tier of power on the way. As expected, the poor saps on the bottom take the most grief with no one to whom they can pass on the abuse.
However, a curious byproduct of all the raging egos is a marked lack of discretion. As many in the upper echelons are too busy maintaining their status to notice the activities of their minions, the rank and file have the opportunities to lay a great deal of information upon their bed of resentment.
A few years ago, the studio grunts took notice of a phenomenon that was placing their lordly tormentors on edge. Armed with boundless enthusiasm, a thirst for insider scoops, and apparently a great deal of free time, Texas native Harry Knowles translated a love for movies into an extremely high-profile endeavor. However, he came by his information (see previous articles), Harry tapped into something big with Ain’t-It-Cool-News.com. There was a fair-sized public hungry for info not passed through the traditional filter of studio flacks and hacks.
It takes a hell of a lot of people at all levels to make studio pictures. Little stories can pass through a lot of people. By and large, it was individuals on the lower rungs and fringes of show business, like contributors Michael Gerhard (AKA Joe Hallenbeck), Drew McWeeny (AKA Moriarty), and Paul Alvarado-Dykstra (AKA Robogeek), who soon fed the content of AICN. Knowles media profile only got bigger.
Soon, he was too big to fly under the media’s radar any more. Once noticed, it was easy for the studios to discover Knowles’ weaknesses. Harry, like most white males of west Los Angeles north of Pico Blvd., was stuck in a case of arrested adolescence. What do kids like? Cookies. And if you offer a 14-year-old boy the right cookie, he won’t think about whether or not he should take it. He’ll just eat it.
AIN’T-IT-CAUGHT IN THE COOKIE JAR
A lot of people began to offer Harry cookies. Robert Rodriguez (director, “Desperado” and “The Faculty”) offered Harry cookies. So did Guillermo del Toro (director, “Chronos” and “Mimic”). Jerry Bruckheimer (producer, “Armageddon”) and Dean Devlin (producer, “Godzilla”) offered cookies like paid set visits and paid trips to movie premieres. Harry never seemed to turn one down. He never seemingly failed to comment on the site on how tasty those cookies were, no matter what kind of bitter taste they left everyone else (i.e., “Armageddon” and “Godzilla”). Harry eventually had so many cookies that he had enough left over for his new-found posse to sample as well. Unfortunately, you tend not to do the most intelligent things to impress your friends.
Now I ask you, what happens when you eat too many cookies? One of your friends will eventually turn to you and say, “Dude! Your ass is going to hell!” In this case, the ass was AICN. The impartiality of the site was completely compromised to nearly everyone who looked at it. Harry’s reaction was the same as any junkie: tell yourself (and others) whatever lies will convince you that it’s okay to keep the cookie jar filled.
Knowles soon became pretty experienced at lying, or at least concealing the truth. By just admitting to taking the cookies he may have thought he was off the hook, but failed to notice the damage inflicted when the cookie truck repeatedly ran over any reputation he had.
LESSON # 1. HARRY LIES TO HIS AUDIENCE FOR HIS FRIENDS ^ What kind of lies did Knowles spin to cover his ass? Let’s shine the truth on three little tales of deception, distortion, and/or stupid activity.
In an article posted on the site last year Harry pimps a couple of spec scripts as follows:
“Well there are two scripts that have come across my desk that are not attached to any talent whatsoever that I’m aware of… and they are both genuinely scary and wonderfully thought out scripts. The first is a script called DONNIE DARKO by Richard Kelly and the other is called AMUSEMENTS by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. Both of these scripts feature smart characters in very scary situations.”
Normally, I would applaud Knowles for taking the time to plug some unknown talent. There’s just one problem. He fails to indicate that Drew McWeeny is actually Moriarty, one of the biggest contributors to AICN. He goes on to say:
“And AMUSEMENTS is a larger scale film… Actually it is a very large scale film that I just adore. Like DONNIE DARKO it is a superb script, but instead it’s about adult characters in a place where they don’t have ANY control over anything. It mixes up elements from DISNEYLAND to GHOST IN THE SHELL to… well… I don’t know. And it’s scares are on the very real and relatable plain. In a perfect world this script would land in Zemeckis or Fincher’s hands. In hell, it’d end up in Renny Harlin or Jan De Bont’s.”
Harry eventually closed this rant by stating:
“…That’s four sets of folks, with great material that you guys in Hollywood haven’t gotten yet… But well… they sure as hell deserve to be in the game… From folks like Guillermo Del Toro and Stuart Gordon… to folks like Richard Kelly, Drew McWeeny, Mike Prosser, Scott Swan and Mike Williamson… There’s a shitload of talent you folks are not using….”
Thanks to some disgruntled patrons of AICN, I now possess my own copy of Drew McWeeny’s/Moriarty’s script. The first problem is that it’s a horrible “Westworld” rip-off, with dialogue like, “Close your eyes and your ears. He’s not through with you yet. He lies, David.” That’s not the real problem.
The real problem here is that we’ve caught Harry completely misrepresenting a script as coming from some unknown writer who is actually, according to Harry, a paid contributor and representative of the site. I’m sure McWeeny then attempted to use this “press” coverage as a weapon in the fight to get the thing produced. This little faux pas brings to mind three questions:
POP QUIZ #1
1. Wasn’t lying about projects that were promoted on the site extremely unethical?
2.But more importantly, how many times has Harry pulled this stunt before or since? How can one trust any information on the site if Knowles is so willing to mislead his own readers?
LESSON #2. MINION LIES TO FBI FOR HARRY, THEN HARRY LIES TO FILM THREAT
You may remember from the last article a section about an AICN contributor who went by the pseudonym Joe Hallenbeck. His real name is Michael Gerhard. Previously, I was unable to find all the answers I needed concerning a spot of legal trouble young Michael found himself in. Neither the MPAA nor the FBI would comment to me about this case. In the last couple of weeks I received many answers, but now I’m left with more questions. To the best of my knowledge, this is the story so far:
Michael lived with his parents in North Hollywood. Around April of last year, he reportedly answered the front door only to be greeted by representatives of the MPAA and the FBI. They did not leave without confiscating Michael’s computer and every videotape and DVD they could find. Among the tapes were a few family videos and a very large number of bootlegs of Hollywood films, several of which had yet to be released.
As it turns out, Michael was selling a large number of these tapes as well as unreleased movie soundtracks over the internet and elsewhere, sometimes under the name MV Logan. Instead of renting a mailbox somewhere, he used the address of his grandmother who lived next door. Where did the tapes come from? What could have possessed him to sell them? Let’s re-examine Knowles’ comments to me when I questioned him on the matter:
Ron Wells: “There’s a writer you had by the name Joe Hallenbeck. What happened to him?”
Harry Knowles: “He became a student at a college and wound up with a girlfriend in San Francisco.”
RW: “So, he’s currently in San Francisco?”
HK: “I’m not sure, I don’t stay in contact with him.”
Okay, Harry’s already lying. Joe/Michael still lives near Los Angeles, though no longer with his now-peeved parents. He does have a girlfriend. He still talks to Harry, though not quite as often as before he got busted when he could provide Harry with cookies (bootleg videos).
RW: “Did he have any kind of unfortunate situation come up that you know of?”
HK: “He, um, let’s see… if memory serves, Joe had a problem with … he had sold a videotape that he wasn’t supposed to sell, then the MPAA came down with an investigation on him. To be honest, I don’t know too much about what happened there.”
RW: “When was the last time you talked to Joe?”
HK: “He called me up about three weeks ago.”
Okay, they don’t stay in touch, but they talked three weeks ago? I think it had been more recently than that but I detect a great deal of squirming. Let’s continue:
RW: “How did he get the video that he sold?”
HK: “Um, just through somebody there in Los Angeles. I don’t know who Joe was dealing with.”
UH, OH, BUSTED!
That last line was the big lie. From people around Michael, sources in Austin, and at least one of Michael’s disgruntled ex-customers, let me tell you what I’ve pieced together.
Michael first communicated with Harry after he first discovered AICN. Under the name Joe Hallenbeck (the Bruce Willis role from “The Last Boy Scout”), Gerhard contributed many extremely acidic reviews to the site including one in which he suggested that Skywalker ranch be burned to the ground and urinated upon. No joke. Michael apparently had some of his own sources for bootlegs of studio films, but by this time Harry had many more. Michael bugged Harry for copies of these films. Harry found it easier to place Michael in touch with his Los Angeles sources and then Michael could dub VHS copies to send to Texas.
As might be expected, Knowles fielded a large number of requests from his extended posse, all for copies of the films he regularly boasted of receiving on AICN. One witness stated that it was Harry’s idea that Michael should sell to all of these new friends copies of the tapes at prices that would cover his expenses. This same witness indicated they were present at a time when Harry was physically in California and the pair had a face-to-face conversation about the money Michael was getting. Michael reportedly boasted of receiving a significant, for him, amount of cash, even though one of his former customers told me that he was only paying $8 a tape. Michael could reportedly produce a copy of anything from an Academy Awards screener to a work print of nearly any film, particularly anything from New Line Cinema or Disney/Touchstone. I’ve seen one of these, a copy of “Mighty Joe Young” where the gorilla was often only in wireframe form. This tape was available several months prior to the movie’s release. Evidently, it was a very early copy of Disney’s “Tarzan” that was the primary source of ire to the MPAA.
Now, the individuals who were providing these source tapes did not know the films they were supplying AICN, probably to bask in Harry’s glory, were then being copied and sold. One source, supposedly provided by Harry to Michael, who provided the Disney tapes, was of course promptly fired after the shit came down. How do you suppose he feels?
Michael was, of course, questioned about any involvement in this idiotic scheme on the part of Knowles or AICN. Gerhard denied Harry took part and took the blame himself. Michael eventually received a slap on the wrist, but didn’t get his stuff back. The authorities seemed to view him as just a stupid kid. The only reason I’ve revealed his real name is there is some indication that he may not have learned his lesson. By disavowing any hard knowledge of this episode, I don’t think Harry has either.
POP QUIZ #2
1. Did Harry receive any money for the sale of these bootleg tapes?
2. How many people lost their jobs because Knowles distributed tapes they provided and the bootlegs were then traced back?
3. Did Harry cut Michael off since he could no longer provide “pwesents”?
LESSON #3. HARRY LIES TO HIMSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE ABOUT THE “PWESENTS”
The saddest lies are the ones we tell ourselves just to get through the day. Harry has repeatedly attempted to justify the studio-paid trips he enjoys for screenings or set visits. The most recent example would be his recent trip to see a roughcut of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.
Knowles, who had been critical to that point of the project, indicated to me and others that director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer flew him in because they cared what he thinks and wanted his input about how to improve the film. After all, who better to seek out for advice than some guy in Texas with a website who’s been taking potshots at you? Harry wants us to believe that he is genuinely the friend of the filmmaker. He has indicated that he’s acting as some sort of unpaid consultant on such movies.
Following round-trip tickets and an expensive hotel, Harry of course felt more confident about the quality of the film.
Guess what? The studios and the filmmakers don’t really care what Harry, me, or Roger Ebert think until it’s time to put a line of ad copy on the posters (if then). The rest of the time they look at film critics as a bunch of dingoes out to make off with their babies. Harry Knowles is not a respected expert on film, he’s just a line item on the marketing budget. The Hollywood foreign press garner more respect, and they’re the drunks who gave a Golden Globe to Pia Zadora. Until Harry, it seems can see this, he’s only deluding himself.
What Harry really deludes himself about is that he’s the filmmakers’ friend. If I were a director, I would not expect my “friends” to post a snotty criticism on the internet of a script that’s months out of date and barely resembles the movie in production. A “friend” would not post another snotty criticism of a rough cut on the web before I had some kind of completed version. A “friend” would allow me the opportunity to correct my mistakes in private before pointing them out to the public.
You know who Harry’s “friends” are? After communicating with a large spectrum of people both far and near to the kid from Austin, his pals seem to be whoever will suck up to him or send him bootlegs, knickknacks, plane tickets, or any other sort of “cookie”.
Of course, instead of flying him to Los Angeles, the studios could just send Harry a tape. You know he’d never give it out, right?
POP QUIZ #3
1. What’s the final cost of good buzz on Ain’t-It-Cool-News, you know, including the limo?
2. How many of the past year’s films have received good buzz on the site and were not released by studios who could afford to kiss Harry’s ass?
3. What kind of advice have filmmakers actually used from these little “consulting” trips?
My only hope about this whole scandal is that perhaps guys like Garth Franklin (Dark Horizons) or Patrick Sauriol (Corona’s Coming Attractions) will be taken more seriously for doing a great job with a modicum of scruples and that Knowles might actually learn from the example. I can’t tell that he’s learned anything.
As such, this final test isn’t for you, the reader, it’s for Harry.
1. What is the point of Ain’t-It-Cool-News?
2. Of all the paid trips Harry has taken, what percentage resulted in site coverage going from bad to good?
3. Knowles secretly pimped Drew McWeeny’s screenplays and at least empowered Michael Gerhard’s video bootlegging operation. What kind of illicit benefits did his other friends receive?
4. How many people have lost their jobs from items they send AICN and were then distributed or disseminated?
5. What does Harry still care about other than Harry?
These are questions Harry should answer honestly to his public. If he doesn’t read them, perhaps one of you can read them to him yourselves at an event like the San Diego Comicon July 20-23. He’ll be at a panel of movie webmasters (a jury of his peers?) on Saturday, July 22nd at 10:30 AM along with Film Threat’s own Chris Gore. You can see me there, I’ll be sitting in the front row. The only way the public can fail this test is to continue to allow Harry off the hook for the wrong responses.
NEXT POST-SAN DIEGO COMIC CON REPORT: Showdown in San Diego, Guest of Dis-Honor.
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Stills from the film Millennium’s End: The Fandom Menace directed by Jeff Cioletti. The film contains interviews with Harry Knowles and Drew McWeeny AKA Moriarty.