|HAS CHUD BECOME A DUD?: Online fansite in conflict of interest debate
|by Chris Parry
Fan-based movie websites have often complained that they get a bad rap when corporate entities and the media portray them as unprofessional goofballs. The likes of AICN's Harry Knowles have often played hard and fast with the rules in their quest to be the first with a piece of gossip or a review of a film that won't be released for six months, while the rest of us moan that guys like Knowles ruin it for the rest of us. But it seems that even the fanboys that protest loudest about the ills of the online world just can't help themselves but bend the rules when it suits them - and we're not talking about Harry Knowles this time.
The good folks at CHUD, an admittedly ultra-informative website devoted to all things movie, have attempted to have their cake and eat it this month by slamming the recently released Freddy vs. Jason film on their Creature-Corner.com sister site, with two totally negative reviews and one other that could be best described as 'mostly' negative. The Creature-Corner kids poured scorn on Freddy vs Jason (http://www.creature-corner.com/reviews/freddyvsjason.php3), describing it as having a "bizarre, overly melodramatic, kabuki theater atmosphere" and calling it "a lumbering disappointment across the board."
"I've been asked one question repeatedly," says Creature-Corner contributor The Inspector, "Who wins? My answer has been the same every time: Who wins? No one. Who loses? We do."
Which is fair enough, I suppose. Freddy Vs Jason surely isn't everyone's cup of tea, and though a lot of people have been pleasantly surprised by this film (and continue to be, judging by its box office), one can certainly understand why a reviewer would crap on it. That's valid. I may even do so myself in a day or two.
Unfortunately though, there's a pretty sizable conflict of interest in Creature-Corner's coverage of Freddy Vs Jason. To understand what that conflict of interest is, you only need to look at the URL of the official website for Jeepers Creepers 2, another horror flick due to open against the late stages of Freddy Vs Jason's release, and directly opposite another slasher flick, Cabin Fever. That website, in case you haven't seen the commercials, is http://www.jeeperscreepers2.CREATURE-CORNER.com
"Okay, so what? So we're making some coin working with a film sponsorship, big deal," we can almost hear the CHUD kids say. Oh, but if only that were as far as things went...
See, if you want to be taken seriously as a film reviewer, or as a site that runs legitimate reviews, you need to engage in a little thing called "full disclosure." Folks that have the first ounce of knowledge about journalistic ethics know this phrase well. Those words are the same words you hear when CNN does a story on their parent company, AOL Time Warner. They're the words you hear when a legitimate film reviewer says "I can't review this movie, because I worked on it." And they're the words you hear from me when people ask me why I don't review Kevin Smith movies (for the record, I used to work for the guy, so I'm fairly certain any Kevin Smith-movie review by me would contain a level of inherent bias. Thus, I don't touch 'em).
But the CHUD kiddies don't seem to feel full disclosure is really necessary when they relentlessly hype Jeepers Creepers 2, even going so far as to run production diaries (http://www.creature-corner.com/columns/jeepersjournal6.php3) for the film (did I mention one of their main contributors, Ryan "Rotten" Turek, was an Assistant to the Director on the film's production?) for weeks before its release.
But it goes further. This possibly comes as no surprise, but Creature-Corner just ran their first review of Jeepers Creepers 2 (http://www.creature-corner.com/reviews/jeeperscreepers2.php3), and it sure wasn't a harsh one. To quote the piece, written by 'Straxboy', "Suffice it to say, if the Creeper’s reveal in the first picture made your balls ache from the pounding you gave them – well you’re going to lose them inside your abdominal cavity this time around. It’s a monster mash from the outset, no bones, no apologies and no punches pulled."
This 4-star review was followed in Creature-Corner's 'Official JC2 Discussion Thread' (http://chud.com/board/ubbhtml/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=3;t=004614) message forum with this little blurb, from CHUD honcho Smilin' Jack Ruby: "Excellent, excellent review Straxboy... Just a note - chatting with the press corps here in LA at the double junket yesterday (MGM with JC2 and Lion's Gate with Cabin Fever), the reporter-folk liked Jeepers Creepers 2, but absolutely HATED Cabin Fever nine ways to Tuesday, particularly the older critic types."
I wonder how that makes Ruby feel, seeing as he's being paid to run Cabin Fever banner ads on his site as I type this.
So what we seem to have here is a total scrum to push Jeepers Creepers 2 forward as the second coming of Christ, and the denigration of any similar film opening against it. (Incidentally, all those who have reviewed Cabin Fever for our site have LOVED IT nine ways to Tuesday, just so you know (http://hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=7206).)
Now, of course Freddy Vs Jason may well be a steaming pile of doody, but in the interests of fair play, shouldn't Creature-Corner.com point out, when they're slamming the opposition, that they have a potential conflict of interest? And while the older folk may well despise the fantastic gratutitous butt shots and blood-spurting gore of the hilarious Cabin Fever, when pointing that fact out, shouldn't Creature-Corner.com point out that they're making coin from the film opening opposite it?
For the record, they could well be right on all counts. JC2 may be the frickin' Shakespeare of horror films, and Cabin Fever may have just struck it lucky with every festival audience I've personally seen it sell out over the last six months (and that'd be three cities, three screenings, and three standing ovations if we're disclosing our own experiences with the film), but if Creature-Corner.com, and their CHUD head office, can't 'fess up and say "in case you're wondering, here's our official connection with this film," when it comes to JC2, then their opinions, positive or negative, have to be taken with a grain of salt.
When Aint-It-Cool-News posted a positive review for The Real Cancun, while running thousands of banner ads every day for the film, people rightly pointed out that their objectivity had to be held in doubt (especially since just about everyone else on Planet Earth despised it). If I went out and directed a film and then ran a positive review on this website (or disagreed with a negative one), the same assumption would be in play.
Now, before the CHUD faithful point out that Creature-Corner hasn't hidden its Jeepers Creepers 2 connection (if you dig deep enough on their site, you *can* find Turek admitting he worked on the film, even though his production diary is referred to as a 'set visit'), but that's beside the point.
Full disclosure means that anyone who stumbled across that review is exposed to the disclosure right there and then. No hiding things in the sixteenth layer of the site, and no assumptions that "any moron can put two and two together." You're either being straight up and honest, or there's going to be big questions about the mere possibility that your integrity is in doubt.
So it's time for the CHUD kids to step up and hold a little online confessional. Quit the 'above and beyond' hype-fest, disclose the commercial deals in any review of the film, or those of the competition, and hold themselves up to the kind of harsh spotlight that they recently held up to several other movie review websites (our own included) at a San Diego Comic Convention 'online movie' panel.
See that? Right there? That reference to CHUD saying negative things about us in the past? That's called 'full disclosure', and it shows the reader that we're not hiding anything from them. We didn't need to say it, but we figured we should lay all the cards out on the table and not leave anything out.
Try it, CHUD.
CHUDs (and non-CHUDs) RESPOND TO DUD ALLEGATIONS
Ah, don’t you love it when a plan comes together? A few days ago we published an article asking the very simple, very clear question, ‘shouldn’t creature-corner.com disclose their connections to the upcoming movie Jeepers Creepers 2 whenever they post a positive review, or a negative review of something in competition with it?’ The reason we asked this is because Creature-Corner.com has been running a long series of articles and reviews hyping the film, as well as hosting the film’s official website, and one of their main contributors actually worked on the production. Now, we don’t take issue with the kids making some coin, or even not making coin but getting a little kickback in publicity for their time. In fact, we actively support that kind of thing. All we ask is that, if we’re going to point fingers at Harry Harry Knowles for being a dribbling fanboy with questionable integrity, we have to play by a higher set of standards. Right? Well, here’s what the kids from Creature-Corner.com and CHUD had to say about our piece, complete with our own answers to their points.
From Nick Nunziata, head honcho of CHUD:
In reference to your article on our apparent conflict of interest you first must understand not to group CHUD.COM and Creature-Corner.com as one site. We are two sites. You use the CHUD name I assume because its higher profile, but if you read the site you'll know that we often shred the films whose ads run on our site and on our message boards. I ripped both Cabin Fever, Jeepers 2, and just about every other shitty horror film we've had to endure. I just didn't run a review on the site yet because I'm embargoed and I actually respect those rules.
1. Smilin’ Jack Ruby isn't a honcho. He's a contributing writer.
2. CHUD isn't his site, he isn't being paid to run ads. I sell all of the ads and I did the Cabin Fever ad. The company who bought the ad knows my distaste for the film.
3. Ryan's involvement in the hideous Jeepers film is no secret.
Your article is all wrong in its facts. I'd hope in the future you'd go directly to Butane or Ryan before assuming. Especially don't use the CHUD name when it had no relevance.
Okay then. A few questions come from this.
1) If the CHUD name has no relevance to Creature-Corner.com, perhaps Nick could explain the “an appendage of Chud.com” logo on the bottom left corner of every Creature-Corner.com page. Maybe they’re just friends. Maybe they’re not. But when you run that image, you’re inferring to the world that one is part of the other, clear as day. We get the same kind of thing when people assume we’re part of UGO, because we run their ads and logo on our page. If you wear someone else’s badge, you just gotta expect occasional confusion.
2) If Nick respects the embargo rules, why don’t the folks at Creature-Corner.com? Does working on a film give you special dispensation to not have to respect the same embargo everyone else does? Does having a positive review of the film nullify the embargo altogether? We’re not particularly fans of the embargo process at all, but clearly if you’re going to play by the rules, you play by all of them.
3) Ryan’s involvement in the “hideous Jeepers” is most definitely a secret, at least to a casual reader who might have happened upon the hype for the film on the site without having delved deep enough into the thing to find the admissions of said involvement. To someone who knew nothing about Jeepers Creepers 2, the words on Creature-Corner.com would appear to be honest applause for a ground breaking horror film. But to find any contrary opinion, or disclosure of behind the scenes involvement, you’d have to go DEEP into the bowels of the site, something 90% of readers will never do.
But hey, thanks for correcting all of my “wrong’ facts, Nick.
On to the next one, this from Smilin’ Jack Ruby:
Just wanted to write in and say "hello." Read Chris Parry's article about CHUD and wanted to make a couple of points in response. I'm not CHUD's "honcho" - 'tis Nick Nunziata so as nice as it would be, I don't see a dime from the "Cabin Fever" banner ads (nor the "Jeepers Creepers 2" ads, nor the Warner Brothers ads on the mainpage - they just keep the server going). And, truth be told, I personally like "Cabin Fever" better than "Jeepers Creepers 2," a comment I've made in several other message board threads beginning when I saw the flick last year. The only reason I made the comment about the junketeers was because there's been so much hype over "Cabin Fever" and it's somewhat sad to see a lot of the older folks not like it (most didn't understand its comedy). I got in a similar row with David Poland who came back from TIFF last year hating it and, I believe I befuddled him with liking it as we're pals.
Keep up the good work!
Well, that was pleasant. I like Smilin’ Jack. He seems to be a decent fella. I’ve a feeling I could share a sixer with him and talk crap about Bret Ratner, which is something I couldn’t possibly say about Harry “Orange Crush” Knowles. But he’s really not getting the point at all (though the point about not being the CHUD head honcho is received and understood - score one point for the other team).
See, whether or not CHUD or Creature-Corner or anyone connected with same is making dime one out of Jeepers Creepers 2, Creature-Corner is getting some benefit out of the arrangement. That needs to be disclosed whenever the deal might be construed as too cozy by a casual observer, or it just doesn’t look right. I could run glowing reviews of my short film, Creatures of Habit (plug!), on my website and claim the film is the second coming of Orson Welles, but if I left it to a couple of message board posts to make my involvement as writer and director clear, what would folks say?
You know what they’d say, Jack. Oh yes you do. And thus we continue, this time with a message board post from Rotten Ryan Turek:
To a certain Mr. Parry:
Since I'm curiously having a hard time finding a direct e-mail to reach you, I thought I'd address your "bitch slap" on my turf seeing as you frequent our boards. I'll make this wicked brief because my temper gets the better of me sometimes.
Is it really necessary to disclose any further that we're in bed with MGM? I mean, are you that blind to the matter? It's pretty blatant to see that yes, we've been supporting this film since day one and yes, we posted a positive review of the film from someone not connected with the picture. We've got nothing to hide, dude, and you're creating unnecessary drama and whining over inconsequential bullshit. Not to mention neither Creature-Corner nor CHUD has seen a single dime from our advertising and marketing push. Get that? No. Money. And no, my journals are not disguised as "set visits" in the least bit. I think I make quite apparent in the first chapter that I worked on the film and would be recounting my experiences.
And for chrissakes, would you stop referring to us as CHUD.com? Feel free to e-mail me directly if you'd like to further this conversation.
As for all the Corner folks: Keep this discussion in check and continue to talk about the flick, I just had to get this post off my chest.
Wow, Ryan did such a nice job of keeping his temper in check.
So let’s address his points, on MY turf, since he seems to frequent my site.
1) Why is my email address not plastered over everything on this site? Because I get sick and tired of being told by people I don’t know that my penis could be four inches larger if I just spent $9.95 on some magic pills, and that some dude in Nigeria has $5m he wants to send me if I’ll just sign over my bank account to him.
2) Clearly, yes, it is necessary to further disclose that you’re in bed with MGM, because people are talking. Even on your own site, there’s message board talk questioning the potential bias of your site toward the film. It’s no biggie, I’m sure nobody’s going to sue your ass or anything, but it doesn’t look great to the casual observer, and as we all know, most of the folks wandering around the internet are in that category.
3) It doesn’t matter that you made no money off the deal. In fact, if that’s the case, it’s a pretty crappy deal. Regardless, whether you got paid in money, exposure in advertising, t-shirts or coke-whores, you made something out of the deal and the conflict of interest that stems from that, real or imagined, is worth mentioning. For example, when Dick Cheney hands yet another rich Iraq reconstruction contract to Halliburton (which he used to run), it may well be a case of Halliburton being the best company for the job, as opposed to a sweet deal among friends. But the perception that there may be favoritism going on is undeniably going to influence what people think of the deal. You? Halliburton. The studios? Cheney. You see where I’m going here?
4) Yes, in the first set visit.. uh.. I mean diary piece, Ryan did mention he worked on the film. But on the front page of his site right now, there’s links to episode 5 of that diary, as well as episode 6, but no apparent sign of episode 1. Sure, I’m certain a person can find it if they’re trying, but they shouldn’t have to read six articles to see the connection.
It’s interesting to see Ryan telling his readers to ‘keep the discussion in check’… What does that mean? ‘Don’t talk about this anymore?’ ‘Get back to hyping the flick?’ I’m just askin’ is all.
So we move on to the final chapter (thus far) in the Creature-Corner conflict of interest debate (I’m sure there’ll be plenty said on their site in the next few days, but for now…), let’s hear from Johnny Butane:
In response to your recent article about CHUD and Creature Corner's coverage of 'Jeepers Creepers 2', some corrections...
First off, Smilin' Jack Ruby makes no money or profit from CHUD.com or the Creature Corner, he is merely a contributor and friend. Where you got that information boggles my mind, because there is no indication of it on either site.
Secondly, and most importantly, you may have noticed that the Corner did not one but TWO contests relating to 'Freddy Vs. Jason', gave the movies tons of space and support before it's release. When the staff saw it and most of us hated it, we let that be known. The movie is shit, plain and simple, and we never hid our opinion from the readers.
Yes, Ryan worked on 'Jeepers Creepers 2' as Victor's assistant, but that is the only money he or anyone involved in the site will ever see relating to the movie. MGM decided to have us help support it by creating the URL simply because they knew we were one of the biggest horror sites out there, and they knew Ryan first hand. No money exchanged hands, no deals were ever made with them to finance the site in any capacity. So revealing "full disclosure" would simply mean saying "Hey, we got nothing from this but more traffic". Simple as that.
There is no "official connection" with 'Jeepers Creepers 2' other than the fact that Ryan knew and worked with MGM's publicity department when he was working on the film, giving them ideas for marketing and such. Again, THEY approached US to see about getting the URL that you see on the posters and in TV ads, but not for monetary gain on our part in the least.
I can, however, see where you would've gotten your ideas from, but we have NEVER ONCE given a false opinion on a film just because the studio was working with us to promote it. Ryan and I bust our asses on a daily basis for NO PAY at all. Nothing. We do it because we love the genre and we want to support it as much as possible.
Ryan has NEVER ONCE said that his 'JC 2' articles were from a set visit. He worked as Victor's assistant from day one, it was announced on the site and in our message boards months before the film went into production, and we've never called it anything else.
And lastly, what Nick may or may not have said about your site has no bearing whatsoever to the Corner. He designed the site, he hosts the site, but we run and represent the site, plain and simple. If Nick insulted HBS, he did it on behalf of CHUD, not us.
Thanks for your time.
No Johnny, thank YOU!
It’s funny the way people see conflicts of interest differently when they’re involved in them. From the outside you see something that looks suspicious and say “You know, even if there’s nothing fishy there, they oughtta come clean and make it REAL obvious so we know they’re legit,” but from the inside everything is all, “How could they even THINK that about us? We’re awesome!”
And Creature-Corner.com is awesome, if you’re into the horror stuff. And CHUD too is awesome, if you’re into that whole ‘going to movies’ habit the kids seem to like. In a perfect world, HollywoodBitchslap and CHUD and Creature-Corner would all be great friends and we’d share backrubs and talk about girls (“do you like Charlize Theron, or do you LIKE-like her?”). But this is bidness, kids, whether you’re actually making money or not. The best of intentions don’t put food on the table, and nor do they keep the naysayers at bay.
So here’s the hard lesson Creature-Corner has to learn – perception is everything. I honestly believe they’re just trying to do the right thing, they just ain’t doing the right thing in the right way, and though that may seem insignificant to them, or those who spend a lot of time on their site, it has significance to those who don't.
In order for the web-based critics to show their worth in the real world, we have to be better than the Kevin Thomas’ and Peter Travers’ and Harry “oh, the humanity” Knowles’. We must be trustworthy. We must be clinical. We must be the ones the people can come to and say “I know YOU guys won’t feed me bullshit, cos you guys are REAL.”
But if Johnny Lunchpail goes to Creature-Corner.com right now, he’s going to read that Jeepers Creepers 2 is awesome, that Freddy Vs Jason is crap, and that Cabin Fever was hated by respected critics. They won’t read (unless they dig or wait until after the embargo passes) that anyone disliked Jeeper Creepers 2, that anyone loved Cabin Fever, and that Freddy Vs Jason has its fair share of supporters.
So how can this be resolved? Well, it kind of already has. Creature-Corner undoubtedly feels slighted by us (sorry guys, it's what we do), but I’m sure if they didn’t think they had a case to answer, or at least a perception of a case to answer, they would have been far more vocal in their offense. I'm admittedly surprised by the lack of knuckles in their correspondence, which only leads me to conclude that they either respect us (!) or they can kinda see where we're coming from, even if they disagree.
The Jeepers Creepers 2 message boards now have ample talk of this conflict, the Creature-Corner gurus have heard the complaints, and thus, dear readers, the issue should probably be put to sleep and we can all get back to pounding Earl Dittman.
The PR campaign for Jeepers Creepers 2 has just been launched, complete with a blurb from a critic hyping the film as "a relentless thrill ride."
So who is credited with saying these words?
Giles Edwards, of Creature-Corner.com.
Connect the dots. Shame, MGM, shame.
link directly to this feature at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=781
originally posted: 08/26/03 21:25:06
last updated: 12/29/03 17:42:50