Week Four

A Deeper Look into Variety’s Story on Disney’s Rebranding of Fox

One of the biggest stories in the world of entertainment business over the past few months was the rebranding of Fox under Disney. Disney acquired Fox’s movie division, and Disney has gone straight to work in converting all of Fox’s properties into their own. One of the biggest moves they’ve made is dropping the “Fox” name in favor of “Searchlight Pictures” according to Adam B. Vary’s article on Variety’s website titled ‘Disney Drops Fox Name, Will Rebrand as 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures.’

One thing that I think would instantly throw somebody checking to verify this story’s accuracy would be the fact that the story says, “Variety has learned.” Let’s say, hypothetically, we were looking at a political story that said, “United States President Donald Trump hates dogs, New York Times has learned.” I think I’d be a bit skeptical. Who told New York Times that Donald Trump hates dogs? Why is this news? What reason does the New York Times have for keeping its source’s identity a secret? In this case, I don’t really need Variety to expand any further. Knowing Variety’s history as one of the most accurate and successful entertainment journalism outlets in the country, I have every reason to believe this is correct. Based on Variety’s history of connections in the entertainment industry and Adam Vary’s author page, it seems as though this story is well thought out and well informed. I’d guess that Variety has sources who send out credible information to different outlets from inside studios, as it mentions that email addresses are being changed. If a lower level employee informed Variety of this change, it might not even make a difference to identify the source by name. If Vary wrote that Eric Smith, the 21-year-old intern who brings lunch to Disney C.E.O. Bob Iger, was the source of this information, it wouldn’t make much difference to me. I don’t know of this theoretical Eric Smith. I know of Bob Iger, so it would probably be important if the information came straight from him, but it likely didn’t, so I don’t think it makes much of a difference.

It doesn’t make much use of web-based tools to improve the story, but I think the background it gives is enough. It explains the purchase of Fox’s movie division by Disney, including that the sale occurred in March of 2019 for $71.3 billion. It does, however, provide hyperlinks to other stories about Fox and Disney, which could lead readers to other stories about this major acquisition. I’ve also always liked how interactive Variety’s website is. For example, there’s a comment section with active engagement, there are related stories and there is a section going over current general movie news. I think it does enough keep audiences clicking on the site and facilitating conversation about the topic.

I also couldn’t find any evidence of bias from the writer’s perspective. He does mention that Fox’s news channel will remain a part of Fox Corp., which could absolutely provoke opinions (as evidenced by the comment section), but it comes across as more informative than anything. I remember when this story broke, and I wondered what that meant for the television network, the news network and the sports channels. While I might have liked for this article to answer a bit more about the sports channels, I understand the basic premise of what is going to happen to the television channel and the news network. If I were to give this story a letter grade, I’d probably give it an A-minus. It has voice, and it’s informative enough for me to know exactly what is happening. While it doesn’t name its sources, I trust Variety, especially with a story revolving around something like a rebranding. I don’t see a reason for this story to be false, but I see every possibility that Variety has sources inside Disney and inside Searchlight Pictures who could transmit this information, and their names are mostly inconsequential to me. I think this is a good story, and I always look forward to more like it from Variety.

Week Three

Where Business Fits into Art

For last week’s blog post, I went a little bit broad. I started to discuss the movie industry as a whole, but I’ll shrink it down a bit this week and discuss it as a business. I think it’s important to remember that the movie industry is still a business. I know that I, personally, love to see the bright lights at the movie theater and think about all of the magic made behind the scenes and the worlds I might be taken to when watching the latest releases, but there’s some guy in a $6,000 suit somewhere with those thoughts incredibly far from his priority list.

First, I found this article from Deadline explaining how Oscar nominations impacted nominated films at the box office. Though there are definitely opinions inserted throughout the article, I absolutely believe that this is a news  story. It draws conclusions from the numbers it sees, but I truly believe that it makes completely logical conclusions in terms of causation because of correlation. For example, it explains that films nominated for Best Picture actually saw jumps in their domestic box office totals over the course of one weekend, which, in my experience, is mostly unheard of outside of awards season. It’s a great news story to show the relevance of the Oscars and how they impact the business of film. I also trust Deadline because they, along with places like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, have spent decades earning their credibility. These outlets can be seen by some as the New York Times of entertainment news, and they’ve established trust with their readers. They also use data to illustrate their points. The data derives from official box office totals, and it’s presented clearly without seeming to misrepresent what is actually happening.

Next is this article, again from Deadline, about this weekend’s box office projections. This one seems to be very straightforward in its intentions to inform. It is simply discussing box office totals, which show how successful a movie is each weekend. I also like that this article informs us of the budget of films, which is important to contextualize the box office return. It explains that The Rhythm Section, a new film starring Blake Lively, is projected to finish with a box office total of $3.1 million. It’s pretty easy to understand why that’s bad when the article also explains that the movie had a production budget of $50 million, which doesn’t even count marketing expenses. This article even explains the demographics of ticket buyers, complete with percentages, and it reports facts about what critics say. It never explicitly mentions opinions on the films, but it certainly leads us to conclusions about how to interpret the data, and the data suggests that The Rhythm Section is a big flop considering it will come in tied with Little Women for 8th place this weekend, a movie in its 6th week of release. Having read both news articles I’ve talked about I can conclude that Little Women might be able to keep up with The Rhythm Section’s opening weekend total because of Oscar nominations, so going deeper into news is obviously helpful. Again, Deadline is very reliable, but I also believe these totals because it is simple data collected by official box office counts. There’s not really a reason for me to be skeptical about this, and Deadline isn’t showing any bias by showing numbers and contextualizing those numbers.

In terms of opinions, I went back to 2009 for this review from Time’s Mary Pols on the movie Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Obviously this is an opinion piece, as it’s a review, but any time the writer describes something as a “play date from hell,” I think it can be interpreted as subjective. I’ve seen the movie, and she’s exactly right, but it’s still an opinion. She even discusses her experience with the Transformers franchise anecdotally by placing herself inside the article and explaining that she missed the first film in the franchise, which she considers a blessing. I think any time the writer places themselves into a story or an article and expresses his or her viewpoint regarding the subject of that article, it’s an opinion. I love opinions, but they’re definitely meant to be taken in stride. Even critics I’ve connected with over the years oftentimes have different opinions regarding certain movies than I do, but I enter reviews and editorials knowing that. As far as the credibility of this article, I think Time is credible. The only thing I might be skeptical about is whether or not this critic actually saw the movie. Until I have proof, a la Entertainment Weekly’s review of Netflix’s The Witcher, that the critic did not watch something, I believe she watched it. Unfortunately, it would only take one slip to make me refuse to trust her in the future, but when I’m only counting on her to watch a movie, I’d consider myself to be in safe hands.

Finally, I thought I’d take a deeper look at the Transformers franchise with this article from Polygon titled, “How does a ‘terrible’ movie make $300 million in three days?” Right off the bat, I know that this is an opinion. It is from 2014 and comments on the success of Transformers: Age of Extinction, a movie that currently sits at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, yet somehow managed to make $300 million worldwide in its opening weekend. The article goes on to give the typical criticisms of a Michael Bay movie: no plot, dumb explosions, flat females and robots that embody racial stereotypes for some reason. These are all observations, but they are also, by definition, opinions. Even according to the Rotten Tomatoes scale that gives a black-and-white, yes-or-no response, 18% of critics liked the movie, so who’s right? We’ll never truly know, because these opinions can’t be proven. I had honestly never even heard of Polygon prior to this assignment, but it seems to be reputable for what it’s doing with this article. This is just an opinionated analysis of a business trend in movies. That said, I probably won’t be visiting Polygon again because my screen was riddled with ads the second I opened it, and I was attacked with the spinning wheel of death as my computer tried to load them all, but for a one time read, I’m willing to indulge the writer and listen to his opinion.

Photo Credit to Paramount Pictures for use of images

Week Two

Who’s Playing What?

Baseball was my first love. It’s the popular girl with whom I really thought I had a chance with until she told me there was no way we’d ever be together after my grand gesture asking her to prom. Movies are the smart, career-driven girl who I wish I realized I loved long before I did and is going to make a much better life partner for me.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve been passionate about stories. I remember laying in bed asking my mom for a story before I fell asleep, not because it was going to help me get to sleep, but because I wanted to think about it all night long. Who were the main characters? What did they learn? How did they learn it? What was gained and lost along the way? My love for stories evolved into my love for my favorite storytelling medium, and film and I are on our way to our happily ever after.

While it’s fun to romanticize movies- and there’s plenty to romanticize- I also recognize that it’s a business. It’s a business that I’m hopeful I get to be a part of one day, either as an active proponent in making that news or as an active journalist covering that news, delivering opinions and facilitating conversation among those who love movies the way I do. A lot of stories I follow revolve around who will be working on certain films for different studios. Sometimes that means actors, sometimes it means directors and sometimes it means writers. It never includes gaffers, which seems unfair to me, but maybe that’s a change I can push for in the future. Anyways, one of the latest stories I’ve heard regarding casting is about Hugo Weaving’s involvement in The Matrix 4. Weaving himself confirmed in an interview that he would not be involved in the fourth film of a franchise he has played a pivotal role in because of scheduling conflicts.

Editorial use only. No book cover usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Larry Dale Gordon/Warner Bros/Village Roadshow/Kobal/Shutterstock (5885917z)Hugo Weaving, Keanu ReevesThe Matrix Reloaded - 2003Director: Andy & Larry WachowskiWarner Bros/Village Roadshow PicturesUSAScene StillScifi
Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures from “The Matrix Reloaded”

I think this kind of reporting is much more human than one would expect. This is a first-person source, and I would honestly say that’s pretty common when it comes to these types of stories. I’m not relying on some reporter saying that he or she has a source saying that said Hugo Weaving will not be returning as Agent Smith because of scheduling conflicts. I’m hearing it straight from Hugo Weaving. Another example would be a recent confirmation by Ryan Reynolds that work on Deadpool 3 has already begun. Variety picked up this story that originated because of an interview Reynolds did on Live with Kelly and Ryan, a morning show hosted by Kelly Ripa and Ryan Seacrest. Again, this information is coming directly from Reynolds, who is hands-on in the creative process of the Deadpool movies.

While it’s far from uncommon to see actors, directors or other talent confirm projects themselves, I often see stories from sources confirming information without a named source. For example, when Timothee Chalamet joined Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, Deadline broke the story. This is one of those situations where I’d refer to and fall back upon that meter of trust that was discussed in our lectures that ranges from -30 to 30. It’s commonly accepted that places like Variety, The Hollywood Reporter and Deadline have sources inside studios who are confirming news like this, and they’re very rarely wrong. They’ve built this trust over decades, so they’re close to 30 when it comes to stories such as this one.

There are rare occurrences that cause a bit of a stir in the film fan community, such as when it was reported that Ben Affleck wanted out as Batman in February of 2017. It was originally reported by someone I value and trust who was a member of a daily movie news show on YouTube, and the story was picked up by We Got This Covered among other outlets. At the time, John Campea, a member of the daily news show said that Affleck no longer wanted to play Batman, which was actually denied by Affleck himself months later. We’re now almost three years removed from that story, and Affleck will not be returning to the role, so despite the controversy the report caused, it seems to have been correct.

I think it’s pretty rare that stories like this are inaccurate, mostly because there’s very little reason for them to be inaccurate. Despite actors sometimes making it seem like they’re the most important people on the planet, it’s not like they’re holding the presidential office. They want their work to be recognized and publicized without secrecy, and if they see a story that’s untrue, they can come out and denounce incorrect stories themselves. They typically say nothing if the story is true because any publicity works in favor of both the project and the actor. I don’t see any issue with the way these stories are covered, and I see them continuing to be covered similarly in the near future and beyond.

Featured Image Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures from “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”