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A Lesson in Movie Industry Semantics

And More on the State of Movie Blogging / Dustin Rowles

Seriously Random Lists | December 2, 2009 | Comments (39)

We’ve been incredibly lucky for the last month or so to have something of an extra, anonymous contributor here on the site in the form of The Hollywood Cog, who has provided — and continues to provide — quite a bit of industry news that few others have access to, and allowed us to report it. More than lucky, really: We’re fortunate in that we’ve cultivated a reader who thinks enough of us to stick his neck out. But when a movie website that’s not been known for breaking stories starts doing so on a regular basis, there’s likely to be some skepticism with regard to the quality of the information. And there should be. I probably wouldn’t be that inclined to run a news item that another site I’d heard little of (and that rhymes with “vagina,” no less) had reported without at least providing some caveats. Luckily, several of our stories have been confirmed, and the more that are in the future, the smaller that grain of salt will be. For us to run one of these stories is almost a no-brainer — our source has not only gained our trust, but backs up his news items with evidence, which is to say: There’s a lot more here than overheard agency gossip. In fact, we’ve been able to additionally double source more than half of the stories we’ve ran (though our second sources have also remained anonymous).

But in presenting these news items, it is important that we contextualize the information, which I feel we’ve done well so far. The issue, however, is that in contextualizing some of these stories, some of you may not be completely familiar with the terminology, or at least its application in the world of trade news. For instance, the word “attached” could easily be misunderstood. There are hundreds of movies currently in development, but in many cases, no one will pay attention to an in-development project until a named actor or actress is “attached.” Does it mean that he or she will actually end up making the movie? Well, let’s put it this way: After Valkyrie, Tom Cruise was attached to something like 10 or 12 movies then in development. And so far, he’s only in the process of making one of those. Some of those projects have gone on to other actors — Johnny Depp is now attached to The Tourists and Ryan Reynolds is set for Motorcade, for instance — and some projects Cruise will remain attached to until either they are made, they are passed off to another actor, or they eventually burn up in development hell. All of which is to say, if an actor is “attached” to the project, whether he or she ends up making it it depends in large part on how many other projects he or she is “attached” to. In the case of Tom Cruise, “attached” probably means there’s around a 10 percent chance he’ll actually end up making that movie, but a pretty decent likelihood that the movie will be made with someone (after all, the idea was good enough in the beginning to attract Tom Cruise).

Another common term is “set.” There’s more certainty in “set.” It suggests there’s actually a deal in place. Take Will Smith, for example. He’s currently “attached” to something like 25 films; obviously, only three or four of those, at best, will be made with Smith in the lead role, and obviously, where there are sequels (Hancock 2) or prequels (I Am Legend), they’ll only be made if he decides to make them. However, as we reported a few weeks ago, Smith is set to produce Flowers for Algernon, which he’s also “attached” to star in. His production company (along with another one) bought the rights to the book, with an eye toward featuring Smith in the lead role. Will this movie actually get made? There, you have to use your judgment: He bought the rights; he’s set to produce; and the part is an ideal one for Smith, so I’d put the odds at around 60 percent that Flowers for Algernon will be made, and 50 percent that it’ll be made and ultimately star Will Smith.

So, no: It’s not a sure thing. Much will ultimately depend on the script that is produced, the availability of Smith, and who he’s able to coax into directing it.

The driving issue here is the process in which movies are made. I’d say that 80 percent of movies start out as a pitch and usually a lame one, at that. Someone — either an actor or director — will attach themselves to a pitch, often before a script has been written or a writer has even been hired. Take, for instance, the pitch we first mentioned a few weeks ago, a movie called Little Big War, about two guys who discover a 3D copier that allows anything they put into it come to life, so they copy pictures of supermodels. It’s being described as a modern-day Weird Science. It’s a pitch — so far, that’s all there is to it. And Walt Becker (Old Dogs, Wild Hogs) is attached to that pitch. But a lot has to happen before it gets made — namely, someone has to turn that pitch into a screenplay, and then the studio has to attach talent to it and only if everything aligns correctly will it actually get made. If the script blows, Becker may fall off; if the script is really good (ha!), a better director may come aboard. And between the pitch and the script, five different actors could attach themselves to the project. Essentially, they’re acting as placeholders, but as long as someone is attached, the project will continue to develop. But the project never would’ve moved past the pitch stage had there not been a director or an actor attached.

Moreover, directors fall off projects all the time, though it’s rarely reported. In the last month, we’ve reported that Peter Berg left Dune and that Robert Rodriguez left The Jetsons, while The Playlist reported that Paul Greengrass left Bourne 4. It’s fun to report when a director leaves a project — there’s more certainty to it. And as movie reporters, we don’t have to worry as much an actor replacing another actor who was attached to a project before the former is confirmed, thus making us look like big asses.

But we are careful to report only what we know — if someone is “attached” or “set” to star or direct a movie, we say as much, whether the majority of our readers understands the implications of that, or not. Still, until that actor or director is already filming, there’s no guarantee he or she will make it — and in some cases, an actor can be replaced during filming (as Ryan Gosling was during The Lovely Bones).

In other words, contextualizing is important, as is the way you frame the story, and so is your source, otherwise you end up with something like this, from CHUD:

May 8, 2009 Yesterday we learned that Brett Ratner looked to be out of the director’s chair on the new Conan movie, which possibly shoots this summer. The producers have been wasting no time in trying to get a new helmer for the franchise reboot, which after months of development still needs some script work and a leading actor. And according to my very trustworthy, very much correct in the past source, they’ve found their director:

James McTeigue.

one month later

The meetings have been taken. The lists have been winnowed. The director has been signed.

Marcus Nispel will direct Conan the Barbarian . I get this from an impeccable source, one who assures me that this isn’t speculation or rumor. Nispel has signed on the line that is dotted.

I wonder if it was the same source both times? Anyway, it happens. Trusted sources who have been right in the past can be wrong, and things can change in a matter of days or weeks. But it does raise another question:

If There’s So Much Flux, Why Do We Even Report This Stuff?

That’s a good question, and a fair one. But before I answer it, allow me to provide some context. It all seemed to start around the turn of the century. Until then, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were the main trade publications — they reported the trade news in a very flat and uninteresting way, and they were the only ones who really did it. But then sites like AICN started to crop up, and people began to realize that they preferred their movie news mixed with a little insight and a heavy dose of opinion. They didn’t mind waiting an hour after the trades published a news item to read the same thing on another site mixed with a little editorial commentary. Then, more and more movie sites began to erupt, and each seemed to have their own spin, designed for their own niche readership. And while THR and Variety were employing hundreds of people to report news in a flat and uninteresting way, these other sites realized they could do the same thing with one or five people in a more interesting way and, in effect, over the course of the decade make those trade publications more or less obsolete. The more pervasive the actual information became, the less valuable it was, which meant that the trades had to cut their staffs to meet the slowing demand.

Now, of course, you can get the same news tailored to your specific tastes from a variety of sites. Slashfilm and Cinematical are like the CNN of trade news; Cinemablend or Coming Soon is like the MSNBC, ( being the Headline News) while CHUD is like Fox News for Fanboys (where Devin Faraci is the Glenn Beck — whiny and self-righteous). Non-discriminating fanboys go to AICN; more discriminating geeks go to sites like Film School Rejects or Collider. Smart folks with bigger attention spans go to the AV Club; people who beat the rest of us up visit Filmdrunk; cosmopolitans with hipster tastes in music go to The Playlist, and so on and so forth (there’s also about 100 devoted exclusively to bad horror movies). Our niche is probably closer to the nerdy pedants (represent!), both on the coasts and in Middle America (and we may be the only movie site that boasts over a 70 percent female and gay readership, making it one of the few places that you can read the movie news and find a random hook-up).

The thing is: We’re not reporting anything that Variety and THR weren’t also reporting at one point and, to some extent, still are. These “attached” stories have been around for decades. How do we know that Tom Cruise was attached to ten or twelve projects earlier this year? Mostly from those trade publications. They still provide a lot of the information we add our spin to, but now there are other sites who break news (largely from nuggets picked up from junket interviews, scouring the web or from their own sources) that the rest of us add our own spin to, as well. The information itself is no longer that valuable; the way in which it is presented is.

Variety and THR used to keep up on the development of movies, from pitch to the screen — and they reported all the changes that happened in between. Just yesterday, they reported that John Madden is “negotiating” to direct My Fair Lady. Does that mean he actually will? Well, four other directors have been considered for the project, but there’s a good chance, all the same. But in the past, the trades were on top of the story before this point. Sure, they often use other movie blogs’ research to build their own stories (for instance, they will confirm an anonymous sourced story on another site and take all the credit). Now the trades don’t even have the manpower, it seems, to follow up on news items first revealed on other blogs. They just sit back, collect the same press releases most of us get, and turn them into their coverage.

But for us, there’s more to it than “we do it because they do it.” We do it because we’re not meant to be the Associated Press. I loved EW in college, back before they ran it into the tabloid ground. That, in a way, is what I aimed to replicate on the web, only with a more cynical and hopefully more intelligent perspective. We run four or five features a day (reviews, lists, Guides), a book review, Pajiba Love, and Blog Trends, but we start the day with news stories, which we’ve only been doing in earnest since September 2008 (though Pajiba itself is coming up on six years old). We like to shoot the shit about what’s going on in the industry; mock it; reveal it for the sham it is. It’s no different than pre-draft prognostications in the NFL or Hot Stove talk in baseball. A lot of stuff we discuss will happen; some of it won’t. Moreover, it’s fun to get ahead of the trades, because we can frame a story the way we want to present it, and not the way that the studios want it presented. It’s our small and ultimately insignificant way of sticking it to the man.

But mostly, like the movies and television we cover, Pajiba — and other sites of our ilk, which appeal to other niches — are here to entertain; we’re here to break up your day, or to give you something to chat about with your peers (or amongst each other). We take that job, the quality of reporting, and especially the reviews very seriously (most of the time), even if we don’t take the industry all that seriously. It’s fun and rewarding to screw with the system or influence our readers’ movie choices, even from this small place of the web.

We like to report the news; feign our suicides; bitch, moan, and bellyache. But we don’t really take the development of another remake that seriously, and anyone that does take their movie news too seriously has some messed up delusions of grandeur about their position in the world — at the end of the day, we’re reporting on actors and actresses and movies and a fantasy land, not world events, climate change, or the financial crisis. It’s important not to lose sight of that. We love movies; we love to hate movies; otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing this. But you’ve got to look at it with a healthy perspective: If you start getting self-righteous about movie news, then you’ve lost perspective, son. You need to get out of your own head a few hours and focus that self-righteous indignation on something that really matters, and not on how many more Twilight movies there will be or whether Anna Faris will actually star in a remake of Private Benjamin.*

*Our source says she’s “set” to do so.

Another 100 Great Quotes from "The Wire" | Pajiba After Dark 12/2/09


"But when a movie website that’s not been known for breaking stories starts doing so on a regular basis, there’s likely to be some skepticism with regard to the quality of the information. And there should be..."


Translation: Rowles is fucking the "source."


Posted by: BarbadoSlim at December 2, 2009 2:03 PM

(and that rhymes with “vagina,” no less)
OK, I guess I have to be the asshole who finally points out that "Pajiba" and "vagina" DO NOT RHYME! They both have a long I sound, and "pa" and va" I'll agree certainly do rhyme, but "iba" and "ina" DO NOT. "Jiba" rhymes with ... ummm ... gimme a minute ... OK, "biba" or "qiba" or "ziba" but NOT with "gina."

And let that be the end of it.

Oh, wait ... OK, it's like "Pajibal" would rhyme with "Patribal" or "Palibel" or "Pabible" but ABSOLUTELY NOT with "vaginal" which is "VAG-in-al."

And let THAT be the end of it.

Posted by: , at December 2, 2009 2:16 PM

I loved EW in college, back before they ran it into the tabloid ground.

Beautiful summation there. And exactly why I let my subscription lapse this year. The new editor in chief at EW is dedicated to turn the magazine into a less relevant People crossed with Teen Beat. How many cover articles on Twilight are really needed in one year? By the 3rd one I cashed out.

Posted by: TylerDFC at December 2, 2009 2:30 PM

We're still good with Pauley Shore "attached" to play Edward Cullen in the 6th Twilight right? Tha weesull look at mi sparkull. 4Everz!

Posted by: Colostomy Baggins at December 2, 2009 2:37 PM

...and since we've seen pictures, we can safely assume that the actors in the human centipede flick are more than "attached."

Posted by: ja at December 2, 2009 3:00 PM

pajiba !  ||||@ vagina

It's a slant rhyme, at best. 'Nuff said, I say.

Posted by: pissant at December 2, 2009 3:09 PM

I feel smarter already.

Posted by: Cindy at December 2, 2009 3:32 PM

The last paragraph reminds of the "Shrek the Third" brouhaha.

Posted by: FourKings at December 2, 2009 3:34 PM

Good summation. I would hope that most people who read this site would already understand that, but I get that there is always a need to clarify. It keeps the crazies off your back.

Posted by: Peanut_Butter_And_James at December 2, 2009 3:37 PM

That as a nice piece. Thanks.

Posted by: EricD at December 2, 2009 3:40 PM


Posted by: BWeaves at December 2, 2009 3:53 PM

"We're still good with Pauley Shore "attached" to play Edward Cullen in the 6th Twilight right? Tha weesull look at mi sparkull. 4Everz!"

I would so go see Pauley Shore as a vampire.

Posted by: EricD at December 2, 2009 3:56 PM

I am not the mole on this site. I've been a mole on some (coughTWoP before repeated banning post Bravo takeover cough sputter), act as a mole on others, and still post stuff on my own minimal readership blog. The risk is what kind of contract you have to sign when learning of a project. I've broken NDAs (non-disclosure agreements: scary contracts threatening to eat your children if you reveal anything you see, hear, do, eat, smell, or touch while under their control) when there was little chance of getting caught. Others make it too easy for them to sue me straight to the gutter.

For example, I recently had to sign an NDA to see a shitty remake coming to theaters in April without finished effects, sound, editing, or corrective voice work. I doubt the legality of said NDA, but since my name is all over the sites I frequent (one of the employees knows me and personally reads my blog, has for years), it wouldn't be hard for them to connect the dots and pound me hard in places I was saving for the highest bidder if I ever went to prison.

Meanwhile, I was free to say whatever I wanted to about Nine in July, but actual film critics have a gag order in effect on reviewing the film after a November screening. Their NDA was legit. The Weinsteins don't play around when it matters. I would not want them breathing down my neck for mentioning how awful Fergie is in Nine. Just terrible. Horrific performance. Ghastly, even. But I digress.

In other words: the industry is fucked up beyond belief. Terminology changes and not everyone that reports the news even knows what to say. It happens all the time on those crappy horror sites (some have tried to pull me in, I tell them to fuck off and learn to write) where they claim crap like "Renee Zelwigger signs $20mil deal for The Birds remake. Shooting starts in a week." It's rare that anything comes of it. Pajiba's been doing a great job at this and for that I am thankful.

Someday, I'll have a scoop so juicy I'll have to share it here, and the fools letting me in on it won't have me signing an NDA or one they can easily enforce. I believe an elaborate series of pseudonyms and funny hats might be necessary. Then we'll see who gets the last laugh.

Posted by: Robert at December 2, 2009 3:58 PM

Though he may indeed be self-righteous, Devin @ CHUD is far too rational in his writing and arguments to be fairly compared to Glen Beck. And unlike Beck, who just opens his mouth and lets the poop pour out, Devin actually understands the topic he most frequently pontificates about: movies.

But, please know that I defended you, Dustin (and this site as a whole), on CHUD's boards when Devin wrote ever so condescendingly about Pajiba.

Posted by: ChickenStu at December 2, 2009 4:55 PM

Excellent primer on the difference between "attached" and "set". That's news I can use.

As to the "rhymes with vagina" claim, shame on you. Come with me to the sepia-toned days of comments circa mid-2006:

Posted by: sansho1 at December 2, 2009 4:55 PM

God love ya, Dustin, this was awesome. I feel like the site has really put on its fanciest blazer and cleanest Chucks as of late and it's definitely starting to show. Y'all should be super duper proud of how this site has evolved. I was going to say matured, but... Ya know, Butthole.

Anyway, I've appreciated the info y'all've (God bless southern conjunctions) given from the Hollywood Cog. It's been fun to follow. This lesson was nice though. It was long, but definitely worth reading all the way through.

Good jorb!

Posted by: Kayanne at December 2, 2009 4:59 PM

Even though everyone else has already said it, thanks. Sometimes it's nice to remember that part of why I read this site (and have been doing so for a few years now) is because when you guys aren't being sarcastic and awesome or simply enjoying the bits of silliness in this industry, you write pieces like this one that remind me why sometimes a day is best opened by a seriously random list or news piece.

Posted by: ruby at December 2, 2009 5:50 PM

Variety and The Hollywood Reporter were the main trade publications — they reported the trade news in a very flat and uninteresting way, and they were the only ones who really did it. But then sites like AICN started to crop up, and people began to realize that they preferred their movie news mixed with a little insight and a heavy dose of opinion.

and now I miss to know the news and not every little stupid detail as they do in "formal" channels like CNN.
OH my god!! I don't want to analyze the legal implications of someone taking a dump in public while lindsay lohan is wearing hulk hogan's wedding ring!

Posted by: james at December 2, 2009 5:53 PM

Great piece.

Thanks for including, my little online soap box, in the header image too. Though, NiF was snubbed from the comparisons to broadcast news and such. Snubbed!

I know you probably don't hear this enough, but we appreciate the exclusives. At least I do. I've been a Pajiba reader for years. (This is my first comment. I imagined it turning out much better.) I'll have to buy you a beer at Ego's sometime when you head back to Austin.

Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Jeff Leins at December 2, 2009 6:38 PM

Posted by: sansho1 at December 2, 2009 4:55 PM
Well, that settled THAT.


Posted by: , (TCFKAB), at December 2, 2009 6:53 PM

I would like to report that I was attached to a shitter while reading this.

And by "shitter" I was not talking about my two- year-old. This time.

That is all.

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at December 2, 2009 8:10 PM

FROM 2006
Publisher's Note: After careful study and consideration, and upon clear semantic evidence provided by sansho1 and the inspirational poem penned by Aratweth, I am convinced. Pajiba's relationship with a vagina will be heretofore downgraded to "sounds like" status, a change that will be reflected on our About Pajiba page. I apologize for the confusion that has engulfed our beloved readers for the last two years.

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at December 2, 2009 8:19 PM

It's a slant rhyme, at best. 'Nuff said, I say.

Posted by: pissant at December 2, 2009 3:09 PM

Really, I was thinking it was more of a slit rhyme, but what does this perv know anyway?

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at December 2, 2009 8:20 PM

Great piece, Dustin. I find this sort of stuff - the changing nature of movie reporting/reviewing/commenting and the fans' relationship with same - fascinating.

And you just had to throw in that little dig at Faraci, didn't you? S'cool, I'm still pissed at him for spoiling the twist at the end of Lost S4.

Posted by: Daniel Hall at December 2, 2009 8:28 PM

i'm a loyal, daily reader of this site since before the government shut you down...i obviously love the site and refer people to it all the time. keep up the good work!!

Posted by: maxpurr9 at December 2, 2009 8:52 PM

You know, the only time I ever dipped into Twitter was to check the Jiba page and you were in the midst of a pisser of a back and forth with some guy. I felt you clearly had the upper hand, and I felt, clearly, that I wasn't ready for the glue factory for having the gumption to sort it all out.

Not only was this a fantastic read (and further, I'll always be appreciative that you and the staff haven't become superior dickbags even though you have the adulation to justify it) but I feel like I have some relevant background on your disdain for some other sites. I'm chuffed.

Posted by: replica at December 2, 2009 9:14 PM

maxpurr9... HI!

They're coming out of the woodwork today! This is like my favorite day yet! So many new folks!

Posted by: replica at December 2, 2009 9:15 PM

and Peanut_Butter_And_James, I see you baby!

Posted by: replica at December 2, 2009 9:15 PM

Great post, interesting take on the various film sites out there.

Posted by: Mick J at December 2, 2009 9:37 PM

What , said.


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Posted by: ceejeemcbeegee at December 2, 2009 10:34 PM

A lesson in Movie Industry Semantics?

No thank you. If I wanted to read about Jews running Hollywood I would go to a Mel Gibson Bible study.

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at December 2, 2009 10:48 PM

I would so go see Pauley Shore as a vampire.

Posted by: EricD at December 2, 2009 3:56 PM

Then try to get into a Playboy Mansion party.

Posted by: L.O.V.E. at December 2, 2009 10:53 PM

BTW, now that I've finally read it, that's a pretty damn good mission statement there.

Posted by: , (TCFKAB), at December 2, 2009 11:18 PM


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Posted by: ceejeemcbeegee at December 2, 2009 10:34 PM

That is Awesome.

Posted by: Lindsey with an 'e' at December 3, 2009 3:35 AM

I'm bookmarking this.

Thanks Dustin, as a writer currently polishing up my first screenplay and simultaneously writing my 2nd and 3rd, I appreciate this site, the opinions of the people who contribute it, and all of the people who push the buttons to make it appear on my monitor.


Posted by: Mebe at December 3, 2009 5:08 AM

Ha ha, in my bookmark it abbreviated to A Lesson in...itchy People.

Posted by: Mebe at December 3, 2009 5:09 AM

OK, so about this 70% female and gay readership: would someone like to go out with me for a while? I'm terrible in bed but I make a nice risotto.

Posted by: Caspar at December 3, 2009 6:32 AM

*puts on sleeveless Alpha Beta letterman jacket*

Who wants a beating, ya pussies?

Posted by: FilmDrunk Burnsy at December 3, 2009 9:09 AM

I found a HOTTEST interracial club ===MixedConnect--*__*--C om====for black Women and white Men, or black Men and white Women, to interact with each other. Interracial is not a problem here, but a great merit to cherish!

Posted by: flaky at December 3, 2009 11:20 AM

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