How clueless is Variety's Hollywood coverage?
Everywhere you look these days, Variety has been getting a black eye, whether it's from a nasty lawsuit filed by a filmmaker who's furious that the paper took $400,000 in advertising and then gave his film a bad review or longtime industry readers who are incensed that the paper abruptly fired its best-known writer--longtime film critic Todd McCarthy.
But lost in all the uproar is the fact that the trade paper, having lost its top reporter, Mike Fleming, to Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood, is simply being beaten everywhere but Sunday by its competition--and doesn't even seem to know it. Here's the most recent example: Variety's Pamela McClintock posted a news story at 8:27 last night saying--in boring old Variety-ese--that "veteran producer and director Ivan Reitman will get back behind the camera in May to direct Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher in an untitled romantic comedy for Paramount."
It was another snoozy announcement story, accompanied by one tiny, equally snoozy six-word quote from Reitman. But what made the story really so unbelievably clueless was that more than four hours earlier, Vulture's Claude Brodesser-Akner not only had already posted the scoop on the casting announcement and revealed the movie's title--"Friends With Benefits"-- he dug up far more intriguing information about the film's origins, including the fact that the script had made the 2008 Hollywood Black List of unproduced screenplays.
Even more important, he offered a far more tantalizing behind-the-scenes story about Reitman's involvement in the Paramount project. According to Brodesser-Akner, rival studio Sony Pictures has been quietly trying to jettison Reitman from its proposed "Ghostbusters" reboot in the hopes of hiring a younger, hipper director. (Reitman is 63, which by Hollywood standards might as well make him a contemporary of D.W. Griffith.) According to this theory, Sony would like to do for "Ghostbusters" what it's doing with "Spider-Man," where the studio has hired the requisite younger, hipper Marc Webb, director of "(500) Days of Summer."
But as Brodesser-Akner puts it: "But the studio can't fully realize that plan unless Reitman bails. Sony hoped the problem would be solved for them if Reitman were too busy on another project.... However, Sony's hopes that 'Friends With Benefits' would lead to Reitman making a graceful exit from 'Ghostbusters III' will likely be dashed. Insiders familiar with Reitman's plans say he thinks the two comedies are not mutually exclusive, and still plans to direct both, raising serious questions about whether Sony will want to proceed with 'Ghostbusters III' at all."
Now that's a fascinating explication of internal Hollywood politics. But is any of it in Variety's story? No. Did Variety acknowledge that a rival publication had the casting information first? No. In years past, Variety could get away with printing the official studio, Pravda-style version of events without even raising an eyebrow. But not anymore. That's why Variety readers are slowly disappearing, along with its ads. The news is all out there, written in a far more independent, less studio-reliant voice, all over the Web, making a morning read of Variety less essential than ever.
Photo of Ivan Reitman from Getty Images