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By Don R. Lewis | April 8, 2010

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?

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  1. don r. lewis says:


    Sooo…if a movie studio offered you a free round trip ticket to New Orleans plus a hotel and all you had to do was show up and watch Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Brian Cox and Helen Mirren make a movie. A big budget movie at that, you’d PASS?!?


  2. eyeresist says:

    “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”
    – “unethical”?
    Look, being on a film set = glamorous. Being on the set of the new Bruce Willis turd (as much as I like the guy) = fail. Hence the secrecy.

  3. Akfak Znarf says:

    Honesty is appreciated, and people know when they are being had. Like a very few sites, being up front and basking in paid ads by these companies tipping off the reader that the view of this product is slanted, is simply showing the reader that the site is what it is up front, instead of reading shady, like they all do.

    On the other hand, a reader should also be tipped off in advance, if the site doesn’t have day-one reviews, or additional content, and it should offer something more in return. This is when skilled editors and talent come into play. Oh, and I forgot. If a site is using “honest coverage” as their gimmick then it will naturally be scrutinized. It comes with the fact that they are trying to be a creditable source. I am using gimmick here in the most casual way.

    I have seen endless amounts of hate sites for Uwe Boll turn into adoration sites right after the German Tax law was changed. In fact, right after that debacle, you couldn’t find a single bad thing that was said about him before aside from one blurb on wikipedia (which the sited site was not creditable). In other words, s**t will always stink

  4. Dan (Truth On Cinema) says:

    Don, as a follower of said movie sites, like yourself, I tend to not care as much about set visits. Although it’s exciting that someone I am following actually gets to visit a set, they usually are so handicapped as to when they can publish it that I lose interest.

    Someone may go to New Orleans in March to visit the film set of “Red” but we may never hear anything about it or even read about the visit until July or August, to coincide with the film’s release. In the Internet Movie World, that’s an eternity.

    But, I agree that, if Paramount flies you out to visit the set of Iron Man, that there’s a certain level of expectation in your review of the film. In that case, the review should fall to someone else on the staff who didn’t get to be on the set.

    Good topic Don!

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