Monday night, as I melted into my couch watching the 2010 Major League Baseball season kick-off, my idle hands wandered into Twitter as they’re prone to do. I follow several film writers, bloggers, critics and journalists and am pretty friendly with most of them. Those I don’t follow are generally people whose sites don’t do much for me so why bother. I soon noticed that a handful of writers were all hanging out together in New Orleans and since it’s not Mardi Gras and the Saints already had their Super Bowl parade, I quickly deduced they were there for some kind of set visit.
I scanned back a few tweets and found out that indeed, 4-5 bloggers were on a set visit in New Orleans but, try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what set they were on. The reason for the lack of information turned out to be intentional on the behalf of the writers as they were all copping to being in New Orleans for work-related reasons, but they were all being intentionally (and damn near ridiculously) vague as to what this trip was all about. This brought to mind another “Top Secret” set visit a few months back where a group of writers were flown to Ireland, put up in a hotel and allowed access to another set that, much like this one, wasn’t referred to by name. I was able to find out it was the set of the new David Gordon Green movie “Your Highness” starring Danny McBride. This all got me thinking… what’s up with that?
It seems really strange that a group of writers who are doing something most film fans would kill to do were kind of lording it over everyone while at the same time not being forthright in what they were doing. I mean, if I were on the set of a major motion picture and the majority of my Twitter followers were fans of my site or my writing, they might like to share in the excitement of being somewhere exceedingly cool. But rather than pique interest by saying where they are and asking readers and followers to stay tuned for a big write up, they just kept tweeting how cool it was to be where they were without telling what they were doing there.
I called a few colleagues who do set visits and movie junkets to see if the studio or PR folks ask them not to say what they’re doing and everyone I called said that was not the case. Aside from some simple ground rules that involve posting photos, there really are no rules to a set visit or junket other than you’re expected to be professional. In fact PR firms and studios don’t even ask for a positive review or buzz about the film, although I still feel that’s implied. But that’s another blog entry.
After trolling through the tweets I found myself annoyed by the childish secrecy going on which prompted me to tweet “One of several reasons movie set visits are unethical and lame are the way participants won’t tell what set they’ve been brought to” and then I named one of the New Orleans set visitors in his Twitter handle. Being the stand-up guy that writer is, he told me they were visiting the set of the new Bruce Willis thriller “Red.” Cool! But again, why keep this information to themselves if they haven’t been asked to do so by the people who brought them there? It strikes me as strange but also comes off as sneaky for some reason which makes me wonder what, if any, protocol film writers are following these days.
My logistical question was answered but, in my mind, a can of worms was opened and I thought I’d throw it out to all you readers: Do you care that an outlet has been flown to a set to cover a movie? Do these writers owe readers an explanation or any information as to what they’re doing and what they were given in terms of travel coverage or does it not matter? Do you feel (as I feel) that if a writer is flown to a set and put up in a hotel that this should disqualify them from reviewing the movie later on? If you agree or disagree… why?
I’m honestly just looking to start a conversation about something that seems to be the elephant in the room on many of these movie review sites. I’m not really into calling anyone out on it specifically as I think the issue isn’t necessarily typical of one site or individual. Also, those who may follow me online know I am constantly griping about behavior I feel is unethical, but I really would like to know if any readers even care. Thoughts?