Earl Dittman - In His Own Words (An Interview)
By Erik Childress
Posted 01/29/04 15:31:28
When I checked my voicemail this past August, the expression registered by my brain was beyond surprise when the vocal pattern on the other line claimed to be none other than Earl Dittman. We had been searching for the elusive Dittman for sometime and my recent half-hearted attempt at leaving a few messages seems to have turned up someone who, at least, shared the same name. An accompanying e-mail with a heading of ďwirelessĒ led me to believe that I was in the midst of the great prize ox of the sea. After a brief game of phone tag, it was surreal to actually be earpiece-to-earpiece with THE Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazines.
For years, Dittman has been one of the prize attractions here at Criticwatch. His quotes found in various film ads have raised both an eyebrow and an ire to those of us who watch the public get duped into seeing crap by someone who had exchanged their soul for a studio gift basket. Through all our efforts, including an all-intensive piece written by our own Chris Parry and contributed to by yours truly, no one seems to have been able to find a copy of the very publication that Dittmanís quotes are pimped under. Yet, those we had found who either spoke with Earl or even met him face-to-face testified at what a truly pleasant individual he was, even if their statements were quickly tempered by amusement or disdain for his wacky opinions.
When I first spoke to Earl not long after the CNN piece on Criticwatch surfaced, we had a nice chat (he is a pleasant individual) and we discussed an interview of our own. Dittmanís experience with previous on-the-record discussions left him disappointed that his comments were trimmed down to fit a soundbite or to just add more fuel to the feeding frenzy against his name as the marquee headliner for quote whores everywhere. We just wanted to hear his side of the tale and have him answer a few tough questions on the nature of his professionalism. No editorializing. No dot-dot-dots to conveniently eliminate choice words. No gifts exchanged to softball the truth. Just the facts. One-on-one as the words flow directly from Earl Dittman.
EC: Why donít you tell me a little about yourself and your association with Wireless Magazines? How did you get started in the profession?
DITTMAN: I began writing when I was in my teens for a local teen-oriented magazine. I went to the High School for the Performing Arts. After I got out of high school, I majored in drama and then minored in journalism.
EC: Any of the teen magazines noteworthy?
DITTMAN: Oh no. Actually they were just little ones that were launched.
EC: Did you do movie reviews?
DITTMAN: I did music profiles and stuff. And then by then once I got out of college I started writing for some local publications; freebies, things like that. And eventually got in with some real publications, hoping someone would buy my stuff. Mostly music at that time. There was one called Only Music which is a Circus/Rolling Stone wannabe that I became editor-in-chief of. From then on, after that folded, I came to Wireless. It basically popped up at the right time for me. Iíve been pretty lucky in that way.
EC: Tell me about Wireless Magazines and its publication.
DITTMAN: Wireless is syndicated. Itís their own publication. Distributed around the country. Clients purchase it from their markets. Movie chains, record stores. For instance, we had a very big corporation who does internet shit so they did a big mailing with us where they direct-mailed their discs and several of our publications to about five cities. So they used it as a promotional tool; the magazine and then the disc is right in there. Itís sold on newsstands in other cities. Basically clients buy it and do with it as they want in their cities to promote their product or to outright sell. Most of the editorial is the same in every city with the exception of anywhere to 5-15 pages for their own advertising for the local market.
EC: How big is the magazine?
DITTMAN: The actual base of the magazine varies. Itís usually about 60 pages. But if they want to buy 15 pages of ads, it can go up.
EC: And how long have you been writing for them?
DITTMAN: Itís been a long time now. Since the mid 80s.
EC: Did you start out doing movie reviews or music stuff for them first?
DITTMAN: Wireless started out doing both. It leaned a little bit towards music but I actually did both.
EC: You faxed me some of your reviews. Theyíre relatively small. I guess because you have 3-4 pages to work with and try to put in as many reviews as you can.
DITTMAN: Movie reviews arenít my biggest. Thatís just one of the departments that I handle.
EC: Do you do mainly celebrity interviews and things like that?
DITTMAN: Yeah that and I do profile pieces. Basically that.
EC: Ironically enough your name has been more associated with movie reviews than interviews though.
DITTMAN: Yeah, which is surprising. I donít understand why. (laughing)
EC: You donít understand why? Does it concern you that you write these movie reviews for Wireless and then you get quoted in various places from various studios? Then the entire country sees your name and Wireless Magazines associated with these movies. Does it concern you that they canít find what you write, whether it be the reviews where the quotes come from or even the interviews?
DITTMAN: Iíd love for them to see my name everywhere. Iím sure my bosses would love Wireless to be everywhere. Thatís the nature of syndication. While Howard Stern might be in one city, he might not be in another one. For instance, we donít have a Howard Stern here.
EC: Which is in Houston?
DITTMAN: Yeah. You have to be concerned with the fact that thatís just the nature of syndication. Same thing with television shows. It may be in some places but may not in others. You know you just have to look up to the sales guys to speak to one of those markets and find ways to utilize it.
EC: Wireless is a monthly magazine?
EC: So 12 times a year.
DITTMAN: A lot of customers may request a special issue in the middle of the month or something like that but thatís not the norm.
EC: The pages that you faxed me were from when?
DITTMAN: If I remember correctly, it was last month and the month before.
EC: So August and July. These were taken from two different months?
EC: The magazine comes out generally the third week of the month?
DITTMAN: Weíll say third week of the month.
EC: You go to regular screenings in Houston?
EC: So you go to the regular screenings and you write your reviews for Wireless Magazines. Now how does your name occasionally end up in film ads before the movie comes out and possibly even before Wireless Magazines issue that month is printed?
DITTMAN: They screen for us out in the field. I donít know if itís the same in Chicago. Sometimes they screen a film three weeks or a month in advance. Matter of fact, I know theyíre screening a film next week that doesnít come out until November. So a lot of the time I try not to review the films early, but if I need to fill up space then I will review a film early or, (long pause) Iím trying to think of the best way to say it. If thereís a film and I see it early, I try to get it done and get it out there and not have to worry about it. Get the work done and move on to the next one. So thatís why and they do screen a lot of the stuff early. And I think thatís the case in most markets. Is that how it is in Chicago?
EC: Depends on the film. Depends on the studio.
DITTMAN: Exactly. Sometimes they donít screen it until the day before.
EC: Right, exactly and then you donít get the chance to get your name in the paper. And you said youíre not restricted with the general embargoes from the studios.
DITTMAN: Weíre not restricted like the dailies.
EC: So say you go see this movie thatís coming out in November and you need some space to fill for the October issue, you would put it in the October issue and you would not face any heat for that?
DITTMAN: If I need to fill the space I would. I try not to, but if I needed to I would.
EC: You have been quoted as saying that occasionally youíll be a little less easier on a film than most critics. Would you say thatís accurate?
DITTMAN: It was meant more of a joke as we were talking about me being a drama major at one time and a frustrated filmmaker and thatís (laughing) probably why subconsciously I might be a little easier on people. I wouldnít say it was taken out of context, but there was more to it than that. But am I easier on a film? I go to a movie to see if Iím entertained and I think Iíve said to you before, if you want a critique of the film, you know, Iím not Film Comment. I donít do those at all. I try to let people know how I enjoyed the film and if I was entertained, what it did for me. If you read it, itís in a very folksy, talkative buddy-to-buddy kind of thing. I would like to think that itís done in a way that people would feel like if their best friend is asking ďwhat do you think of the movie?Ē I go to see if Iím entertained and then Iím surprised when people think theyíre the worst movies in the world. And vice versa, there are some movies that are counted as the best movies ever made and they just did nothing for me. So I donít know if Iím easier. And I say this in all fairness, in the film critics or film journalist community, thereís a tendency to be snobbish. ďOh, this is the blah-blah-blah filmĒ Before then it was seeing the film. Iíve been guilty of it before. Iím not going to say that Iím not guilty of that. But people judge films before they even see it because itís cool not to like a film or itís not cool to like this person and I try not to go in there with that kind of baggage. If the film makes me laugh, itsí goofy or as dumb as it may be and I try to say that itís dumb and goofy but it still made me laugh. Or it sappy but I still cried.
EC: Would you think you were guilty of possibly hearing some bad buzz about a movie and then going in and think its not that bad so you maybe overemphasize the other end of it?
DITTMAN: (laughing) Iím actually more of the opposite. If I hear bad buzz and it is what people say then Iíll go ďyeah, they were right.Ē Honestly I try to go with a clear head. If Iím entertained, if I laugh, if I cry then I try to emphasize that. Itís truly the bare bones of it and consequently thatís gotten me in trouble with other peopleís opinions. Is my taste weird, eclectic, offbeat? Probably. But I enjoy a lot of things and I enjoy a lot of the classics as well.
EC: So you would equate yourself more with the Regular Joe going to see a movie?
DITTMAN: I would think so, yeah.
EC: When you differentiate the ďcriticĒ and Film Comment and someone like yourself who goes in with a regular Joe attitude, do you ever think that there are many critics that do have an equal balance of the Regular Joe mentality and knowing what a good film is in a critical sense?
DITTMAN: Oh yes, oh definitely. And I like to think I have some of that. I donít go in there with complete blinders on and go ďok, make me laugh and Iíll love youĒ I donít want to give that impression. (laughing) I know what makes a good film. Iíve been doing this long enough to where I know what makes a good film. As critics we have a tendency to go in there with a lot of baggage. And we donít judge a film on their merit. A Ė Are they a good film. B Ė Are they entertaining? We judge them because Bruce Willis took X amount of dollars and Demi Moore is good to hate this month or something like that. Do I? Of course. I donít pretend to call myself the best film reviewer in the world. There are a lot of people out there who I admire and like to read.
EC: Who would some of those be?
DITTMAN: I find myself a lot of times, believe it or not, reading Roger Ebert. I think heís one of them. I also read, surprisingly, Elvis Mitchell, even though he can go off the deep end sometimes, I find myself agreeing with him. Of course, thereís the oldies from years ago, Pauline (Kael) and things like that. There are some out there that are exciting to read and I read their stuff not as often, but I weigh their decisions very carefully.
EC: Do you think there should be some sort of minimum standard of excellence for a movie to reach in order for it to be recommended? Or do you just enjoy going to movies so much that any Ďol flick is worth a passing grade sometimes?
DITTMAN: No, no. If a movieís bad, itís bad. I donít know if you read what I sent you, but there was one film, I think, that I didnít give anything to.
EC: Thereís a couple of them actually. Gigli. Bad Boys II
DITTMAN: Oh God, yes. There are some films that just have no redeeming feature. Ugh.
Here are the full texts of Dittmanís Gigli and Bad Boys II reviews, taken from the section of Wireless Magazine known as ďEarlís WorldĒ
Gigli (Zero Stars)
Itís no wonder Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez fell for one another during the making of this movie. If it was half as excruciating to film as it is to watch, they had to do something to ease the pain. Gigli is a bonafide bomb. Iíd gladly view 24 hours worth of repeated screenings of the Madonna/Sean Penn debacle Shanghai Surprise before Iíd sit through Gigli one more time. Whatís so bad about it? Do you have a couple of hours for me to list the problems? A supposed comedy devoid of a single humorous situation or joke, and an alleged sexy romance suffering from sensual impotency, Gigli is fraught with half-baked ideas, trite clichťs and intolerably wooden performances. And thatís just whatís good about it.
Bad Boys II (Zero Stars)
Looking for a dose of fun, gut-busting ultra-violence? Well, if shootings, torture and mindless killings are your idea of an exciting evening filled with giggles and grins, Bad Boys II is just the ticket. A follow-up to the genuinely funny buddy cop comedy from the mid-90s, Bad Boys II is nothing than a shockingly vicious sequel that relies on our fear of crime and mayhem for its laughs. However, if over-the-top violence doesnít manage to tickle your funny bone, then the filmís usage of every disgusting expletive and derogatory term known to man should have you rolling in the aisles in unbridled glee. (Heck, I wanted to wash my mouth out with soap after watching Bad Boys II, and I curse like a sailor!) Will Smithís expert comedic skills manage to bring some level of respect to the blood bath, but his efforts are far too often overshadowed by Martin Lawrenceís futile attempts at acting and half-witted sense of humor. If Bad Boys II was meant as a parody of the brutal, bombastic action/comedies that continually inundate our multiplexes, then it deserves to be labeled the work of a genius. That just doesnít seem to be the case here. Bad Boys II is meant to appeal to lowest common denominator of movie-goer. That is, if anyone besides criminals and sociopaths finds it appealing at all.
DITTMAN: Thereís a lot of films that donít deserve any kind of passing grade. Are they good filmmaking in terms of technical and stuff like that? Michael Bayís a great filmmaker (back pedals) or is a very good filmmaker. He directed Bad Boys II, right?
DITTMAN: Did he direct a script that was crap? Yes, I think so. I think some of the actors in the film were not up to par and I donít think they should be paid what theyíre paid because I donít think theyíre good at what they do. But thatís just my opinion. So no, I donít think anyone deserves a passing grade just because they get on the screen, not at all. Because thereís too many out there that get ignored that are 100 times better.
EC: Like what recently?
DITTMAN: Bend It Like Beckham. 28 Days Later. I just saw something the other day that really blew me away. Thereís a lot of films that get ignored because of these blockbusters, because of sequels and buddy films and I try to remedy that as much as I can by seeing them and writing about them as well and saying ďthis movie is really cool, go see itĒ, ďthis movie is really, really entertaining,Ē ďthis film is worth seeing, it may not get a whole lot of coverage but its worth seeing.Ē Thereís a lot of movies like that and thatís what I hate the most is people ignore those.
EARLíS WORLD REVIEW - Bend It Like Beckham (4 Stars)
This charming, coming-of-age English import with a pair of soccer-playing heroines at its core Ė Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley Ė deserves all the accolades itís been receiving and so much more. Never heavy-handed in dealing with issues such as cultural traditions, racism or misogyny, this heartwarming story about following your dreams scores from the very moment it lights up the screen. Already becoming bigger in America than its titleís namesake, footballer David Beckham, this film is in a league all its own. A motion picture for the whole family.
EC: Of films that you have been questioned for your taste, say as a Regular Joe you go up toÖ
DITTMAN: OK, which one?
EC: Oh itís coming, donít worry. Not even something that youíre writing about, you go up to your two best friends in the world and you tell them how much you like Boat Trip. What kind of looks do you get when you recommend something like Boat Trip?
DITTMAN: Yes I would. I still stand behind Boat Trip.
EC: You stand behind Boat Trip?
DITTMAN: Is it the best movie ever made? No.
EC: Do you think itís the best Cuba Gooding Jr. movie this year?
EC: Or since Jerry Maguire? I have to ask, because Boat Trip is a movie that if you go to Rotten Tomatoes Ė 6% positive.
DITTMAN: 6% of the audience liked it?
EC: No 6% of the critics.
DITTMAN: Hated it?
EC: No, 6% of the critics liked it. So 94% hated it. Out of 77 reviews, 5 are positive. (Since this interview, 3 more negatives have appeared.)
DITTMAN: Have you seen it?
EC: I have seen it. Itís one of the worst films Iíve ever seen.
DITTMAN: Why? What your major objection?
EC: One, right off the bat, wasnít funny.
DITTMAN: You see, I laughed a lot.
EC: You did?
DITTMAN: Maybe Iím just (pauses) now what did I say about it in the quote? I hope you see that my quote, is not taken out of context, but is actually bits of what I said. Sometimes I really donít even know what the quote is saying.
EC: Boat Trip Ė ďOne crazy and daring romantic comedy. Vivica A. Fox absolutely sizzles.Ē
DITTMAN: Yeah and I think you agree that Vivica Fox sizzles.
EC: Well, sheís hot. But you can probably say she sizzles in just about anything then. Sheís only in the movie for about ten minutes.
DITTMAN: And I think I mentioned this, but one of the most revealing facts is that Vivica Fox absolutely sizzles.
EC: Well she was on a pole in Independence Day and I think she sizzled more in those 30 seconds then she did in Boat Trip.
DITTMAN: You know, I enjoyed the film. I think that if you just read the quote, youíll see that I didnít call it the best film of the year.
EC: No, but I think the quote alone is enough for people to raise an eyebrow. Just the fact that its there even if you only gave the movie three stars.
DITTMAN: I donít have anything to do with how a quote is taken out.
EC: Right, I understand that. But itís still your words.
DITTMAN: I think maybe if you read the whole thing youíll see how itís taken out. I think you probably know that. You see how things are taken, not out of context, but Iím allowed to say I still liked it. But by no means will I say itís the best film.
A copy of Earlís Alex and Emma was amongst the pages faxed over to me, but in some bizarre karmic reality, portions of it were actually cut off in the transfer. What remains is the following:
Alex & Emma (3 Stars)
Öjust one reason to spend yourÖbucks on Alex & Emma, itísÖ..her classic turns inÖRob Reiner-directed Alex & Emma reconfirms sheís a first class actress and natural comedienne. The plot of Alex & Emma may be a little far-fetched and it borders on being a bonafide chick-flick, but itís still an incredibly engaging and witty romantic comedy. Bring a date, because Alex & Emma is one of the most hilarious date movies youíll see this summer!
Dittmanís quote in the ads read ďKate Hudson continues to shine. Absolutely dazzling! One of the most hilarious date movies youíll see this summer!Ē
In the same ďEarlís WorldĒ section the following star grades were given:
4 Ė Le Divorce, Legally Blonde 2, Spy Kids 3-D, Terminator 3
3 Ė Grind, Hollywood Homicide
2 Ė Seabiscuit
1 Ė 2 Fast 2 Furious, Freaky Friday, Hulk, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas
He was quoted on both Legally Blonde 2, Hollywood Homicide & T3. The latter just displayed his 4-star rating in the ads while the formers had the following trims:
Legally Blonde 2 Ė ďHilariousĒ
Full Sentence Ė ďHer hilarious antics and surprising heroic deeds will have you cheering so loud and laughing so hard, youíll be hoarse and your funny bone will ache.
Hollywood Homicide Ė ďAdrenaline-pumped action sequencesĒ
Full Sentence Ė Packing some deadly funny comical firepower, Hollywood Homicide will keep you on the edge of your seat with its adrenaline-pumped action sequences and Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnettís hilariously gutsy performances.
EC: I think when it comes down to the taste aspect that people criticize you for, it has not so much to do with the fact that they canít read your review and see in what context the quote is taken. But just the fact it seems that most people would have a guilty pleasure maybe once or twice a year, you have about 12 or 13. 12 quotes we have you down for this year and you got quoted 23 times last year.
DITTMAN: I was thinking about that the other day and compared to how many movies are out, I donít see that as an excessive number.
EC: Well, compared to the overall scheme of things, certainly there are 200+ movies that open a year, so not everyone is going to quoted on everything. Not counting Roger Ebert or ďTwo Thumbs UpĒ, the leading quote-getter last year was Peter Travers with 55. You had 23 and that put you in the top ten of people who did get quoted in 2002. So 23 out of 200, percentage-wise not a lot, but you put it in some algebraic context to all the other critics who were getting quoted and you were still one of the highest. Then many of them, fortunately or unfortunately for you, were on films that people would question your taste for.
DITTMAN: I do love those, the Chicagos and things like that but they never read it. They didnít use any of my quotes for Chicago or anything like that.
EC: Cause they donít need to. They have the major critics to pull quotes for the good films. Maybe you do give positive reviews for these Oscar-worthy films or these really critically acclaimed films and then you donít get credit on the ads for that. Fine. But people only see your name on the Boat Trips and Serving Saras. Which means youíre liking everything.
DITTMAN: Itís unfortunate. But itís not something I expect or something that I would demand studios to give me anything or do anything for me. And I donít mean that in a sarcastic way. How they use my work as long as they donít twist them in a way that they werenít written. Hey, theyíre fair game as far as Iím concerned. Thatís part of the thing. Would I like to see better movies that are Oscar-worthy films that Iíve written about used? Yes, Iíd love to. And a lot of them have. I think in your article you mentioned about Moulin Rouge. Well, everybody liked Moulin Rouge. I think I saw it a month-and-a-half before it was even released when people where still talking about whether it was going to be a bomb or a hit. Remember that film came with a whole lot of predicting the worst thing or the best thing. I certainly understand that people like Ebert & Roeper carry a lot more clout than I. Weíre in a ton of markets. Maybe not the top three markets, but we have an incredible circulation. We have a certain amount of readership thatís great, but I understand that there are bigger people out there with more clout than myself.
EC: There are certainly different classes of critics, not to use the word ďclassĒ that their taste is better or worse or anything like that. Thereís your Ebert and Elvis Mitchell and Michael Wilmington from the Chicago Tribune here.
DITTMAN: What I was seeing early on was that people would look at the publication you wrote for, and not just me but for other people, they automatically assume that other peopleís words were more valuable than yours because they wrote for a better paper. I donít believe that. You write what you write.
EC: It seems that generally when your name is in the paper, the top class critics that the studios love to have in the ads, usually the daily newspapers, they are hindered by the embargoes so they canít release their stuff until the movie opens. So after it does, occasionally theyíll switch quotes. So maybe youíre on that Friday but the next week youíre off and Roger Ebert and Elvis Mitchell are on there. Sometimes Ebert & Roeper run an early review (on the TV show) so then ďtwo thumbs upĒ appears all that week until the movie opens. And then you have people like yourself who will either be on the ads for one of two reasons. One Ė youíve seen the movie early and youíre not restricted by the embargo so studios can use your quote because itís out there. Or when they canít find anyone else.
DITTMAN: Honestly I will say, and Iím not being naÔve, that itís more the first. It really is. 6% of Boat Trip? Hey, maybe you got me there.
EC: You want a few more?
DITTMAN: (laughing) No.
EC: Are you sure?
DITTMAN: Itís probably Serving Sara, Drowning MonaÖ
EC: I can just give you this year. Alex and Emma Ė 9%
DITTMAN: I liked Alex and Emma. A lot!
EC: Yeah. No one else did.
DITTMAN: I donít know why people hated that. What were some of the others?
EC: A Man Apart Ė 9%. Vin Diesel. View from the Top Ė 12% - which youíre actually in good company. You got ďtwo thumbs upĒ on that one.
DITTMAN: Theyíre all opinions. Thatís my whole thing. Movie reviews are subjective. To point at somebody and say ďyouíre wrongĒ or ďyou did this or that because or your opinionĒ I donít agree with very much, but you know it just comes with the territory. Did you see A View from the Top?
EC: Yeah, I did. I thought it was really bland. Itís not Boat Trip or Gigli, but itís bad.
DITTMAN: You really have a hard-on for Boat Trip donít you?
EC: Wow, I donít like my hard-on and Boat Trip in the same sentence. Boat Trip is soooo bad and the sad thing is that I think Iíve seen five films worse than that this year.
DITTMAN: This whole year has been horrific. How many quotes did you say I had this year?
DITTMAN: That should give you an indication and kinda let you know how I feel about this year. This year has been horrendous and Iím not sitting in the pockets of studios and saying ďOK, I liked this and that.Ē No, there hasnít been that many good movies and Iím not going to say that thereís many good movies.
EC: You havenít been quoted since Terminator 3
DITTMAN: It got really mixed reviews.
EC: Well, if Rotten Tomatoes means anything, that got 74% positive. That and Phone Booth was the other movie you got quoted on thatÖ
DITTMAN: I liked Phone Booth a whole lot.
EC: Phone Booth is a great movie.
DITTMAN: Oh, you agree?
EC: See thatís the common misconception with Criticwatch. The top criticism that always comes down, and is very easily explained, is ďhow are you accusing people for taste?Ē And weíre not. All weíre doing is listing everyoneís quotes. Thereís a lot of movies here that I like, have written full-length reviews for and support wholeheartedly. Iím not criticizing yourself because of the movies.
DITTMAN: Well you had in the article youíd written about me how ďweíre after you.Ē It was a little over-the-top. (laughing) ďWe welcome you to come sue us.Ē
EC: It wasnít even something where we were trying to get a reaction from you. The practice itself has gone really over-the-top. Expound a little bit more on how youíve said you donít go to junkets a lot.
DITTMAN: I try not to. Only because I need exclusive interviews, one-on-oneís that arenít always possible at junkets. When I do need to go to junkets, itís because I canít do all those things, so then I will.
EC: Give me a little more about the junket experience so we have a general idea what the process is. Have you ever been flown out and the studio paid for your expenses to attend a junket?
(Dittman thinks about it a while.)
EC: What was the last junket you were on?
DITTMAN: (laughing) Iím trying to think. I havenít been on one all summer. Maybe it was Terminator. It was Terminator. No, no it wasnít even Terminator. Gimme a minute and Iíll think of it.
EC: Whatever it was or not, Iím sure you remember if you were flown out or not.
DITTMAN: Oh yeah, I have before. Sure.
EC: So do you get set-up for a weekend?
DITTMAN: You basically go in and see the movie. A lot of people arenít flown out. A lot of people pay their own way. You go out, see the movie, letís say you get there on a Friday. Have you ever been on a junket?
DITTMAN: Oh, OK. You get there on a Friday. You see the movie Friday night. You do interviews Saturday morning and then you fly back home. Thatís the whole extravagant great junket experience. Now thatís one movie. If thereís two movies with two different studios you get to have another movie Saturday night and interviews Sunday morning. And those great gifts we get are T-shirts. I will honestly say they are mostly T-shirts and hats.
EC: So you get that and the coverage and access to celebrities. Now after you see the movie, are the studios ever asking you for quotes or opinions or whatever? Do they ever ask you to come up with something or write something up immediately?
DITTMAN: No, but Iíve been asked ďwhat did you think about itĒ and Iíll say itís OK or I really liked it. Theyíll ask ďwhat was your general opinion?Ē Theyíre not writing it down or anything. Usually its people I know from my territory.
EC: Have you ever given them something and then end up finding yourself in an ad somewhere? Like say ďI thought the movie was fantasticĒ or ďIím giving it four stars.Ē
DITTMAN: No, I havenít but, and again this is only secondhand or heresay, but Iíve had someone tell me that itís happened to them. But no, itís never happened to me.
EC: In the article at the site about you it was brought up how here in Chicago, one of the critics was actually called up by one of the studios after a James Bond movie and was asked if he wanted to ďhave one of these four quotesĒ
DITTMAN: Maybe thatís where I heard that then. (laughing) But Iíve heard those stories too.
EC: You said occasionally, if youíve gone to these things, you may have bumped heads with some of the other people that we roundly criticize. Do you think that some of these people who may attend the junkets more than yourself where theyíve flown you out and given you 100% access to everything you needÖ
DITTMAN: A lot of the times they donít fly me. A lot of times I have to pay for it myself. I pay for my flight and my hotel.
EC: Wireless doesnít provide you with that?
DITTMAN: Well yeah they reimburse me.
EC: As I was saying, these people, even the self-proclaimed ďjunket whoresĒ like Mark S. Allen that I joked about with you one time, do you think that if they have been flown out and theyíve been given this special treatment and access to the movies and the celebrities and then give a glowing review, do you think the public deserves a disclosure of that fact whether it be in the review or in their coverage of the interview in some context.
DITTMAN: I know a lot of writers who mention that in their pieces. Theyíll say ďwe were in Beverly Hills at the Four Seasons at a press junket.Ē I know a lot of them that do that. Do I think itís necessary? No. When they have political junkets when theyíre talking to the President, I very seldom see that mentioned that ďwe were at a press junket with the President.Ē That stuffís been around for travel, for politics. Movies didnít invent this.
EC: Letís say a journalist or someone who writes for a website or even works for a website, maybe they worked on the movie or their website hosts the movieís official website and then the week of the movieís release they post a really positive review of the movie without letting on the fact they were involved in promoting the movie or production of the movie. What about in that case?
DITTMAN: I donít think if youíre really closely tied to a production. I think it would be wise to admit that very much like Entertainment Weekly says ďweíre a parent company of this and that.Ē Do I think its necessary? Thatís one of those really kind of gray areas. I think if youíre really closely tied, I think it would be nice but I donít think itís required. If youíre starring in the movie and youíre putting up a review of itÖ(laughing)
EC: Now thatís probably an extreme case. But you mentioned political junkets that obviously they donít mention that they got put up at a hotel, but at the same time thereís the wild card factor that the studios are using your press and your words to promote the movie and those words are going out to the public who are then going to pay their money to see the movies. Do you ever feel responsible or embarrassed or ever have anyone come up to you whether it be for Boat Trip or Terminator 3 and say ďHOW DARE YOU?Ē
DITTMAN: No, not at all. Never have. When I write something, I honestly keep it in mind that I might be influencing someone to go pay their five or seven bucks to see something. And I want them to go see what I think, again what ďIĒ think was a good movie or a bad movie. Donít waste your money on this or yes, this is worth seeing. If I can influence someone to see something that they normally wouldnít see like a Bend It Like Beckham, then I think thatís great and Iíve helped out that film in a way. And if I can avoid people from going to see Bad Boys II, thatís fine too. Do I feel a responsibility? They are my opinions. People can take them for what theyíre worth. I take other peopleís opinions for what theyíre worth. I would hope that theyíre giving their honest opinions and I can fend for myself and go with them one way or the other I guess.
EC: Do you ever get the sense that a critic or someone reviewing a movie even on radio or TV is maybe not giving their honest opinion or has ever given you reason to believe that maybe in the future that you canít trust them? Taste is one thing but even beyond that?
DITTMAN: I canít honestly say. Give me a for instance.
EC: Well letís say you go to Criticwatch and you see thatÖ
DITTMAN: I never go to Criticwatch. (laughing)
EC: Whatever. So you go and see that Peter Travers is recommending everything which to me is just as bad as some arthouse critic who wonít give an inch to a Hollywood movie just because it has that stigma attached to it. Thereís no in-between. They either love everything or hate everything. Just this weekend, Travers is quoted on every single major release. Heís on Matchstick Men, Lost In Translation, Cabin Fever and Once Upon a Time In Mexico. Thatís a rarity. This is a weekend to cherish because thatís four quotes in one weekend.
DITTMAN: Iím mum.
EC: Youíre mum, OK.
DITTMAN: I can only assume and I donít know Peter Travers and Iíve never met him but I can only assume that what heís writing is what he feels. Do I always agree with Peter Travers? Seldom. I may like the movies he likes. I may hate some that he likes. Do I agree with many of his reviews? No, not a lot. He may like them for different reasons, but do I think heís making them up? I donít think so. I donít think heís trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Then again, I donít know him and can only read what heís written. I donít read his stuff a lot and I think it goes back to what you were talking about Criticwatch. I usually read reviews of magazines or publications that I am a normal, confident fan of. I am a constant fan of Entertainment Weekly or USA Today.
EC: Do you think there are critics who go out of their way to be contrary?
DITTMAN: OH GOD YES!
EC: Can you think of any recent examples? Maybe something that you disagreed with?
DITTMAN: I think all of us are guilty of it from one time to another.
EC: Speak for yourself, but Iíll give you a perfect example where weeks before it even came out it was already going to be a joke. Gigli. YOU even gave it zero stars. I gave it one-and-a-half stars. Ebert almost went out of his way to give it a positive review. We actually had bets in Chicago what he was going to give it because heís a J-Lo fan.
DITTMAN: Boy, wouldnít you all have just loved it if I gave it a great review? (laughing) Bet you were praying for it.
EC: Could you have even imagined when you were watching it? How early did you get to see Gigli?
DITTMAN: About two weeks before. Just enough time to get it in (the magazine.)
EC: I assume you were probably hearing the negative things already?
DITTMAN: No, I didnít. I didnít know anything about it. I had not heard that until the day beforehand. If I would have liked it you would have been saying ďEarl Dittman liked it, oh my God.Ē I would have cut my wrists.
EC: Well, they found Byron Allen to give a quote for that movie. Byron Freakiní Allen. And thatís only the second quote heís given all year. He doesnít get quoted that often, but heís got that little interview show that he does thatís basically footage of him on the junkets and he makes everyone look like theyíre his best friend.
DITTMAN: (laughing) Heís the only one they could find?
EC: See, even YOU want to disassociate yourself with Byron Allen after the negative reputation that youíve received.
DITTMAN: Heís a nice guy. I donít dislike him. Hey, heís got a show and I donít.
EC: Yeah, well he can have it. Weíre certainly not trying to question how nice these people are. You could have easily turned on us pretty easily. There could have been a number of things. We had one critic really early when we started doing Criticwatch named Joe LeydonÖ
DITTMAN: Yeah I know Joe. Heís in my market. I see him at all the screenings.
EC: When we were down in Austin for the South by Southwest Festival this past March, we attended a seminar where Joe was on the panel and he actually proudly pronounced that he was a whore and that heíll be happy to write a few words for free stuff. He announced it to an audience.
DITTMAN: But did he say that in jest?
EC: He didnít say it with a wink. Letís just say that he was very proud.
DITTMAN: I couldnít imagine. Heís actually a veryÖoh, but you never know with Joe. Hey, maybe so.
EC: We can pretty much tell when someoneís joking and heís a guy who interrupted the flow just by making this announcement. And you hear things like that and you think how can you set yourself up in a profession like this where youíre going to denigrate yourself?
DITTMAN: Maybe thatís his way of combating people for the whole thing of attacking people for their opinions. Letís be honest like in the article where you talk about ďgo ahead and sue me.Ē To me that was very extreme and I could have gotten mad and called you up and yelled ďyou assholes, how could you write this?Ē But, hey, thatís your opinion. Did it cost me some flack? Yes. But thereís nothing I could do. Itís your opinion, just like I have mine. It goes with the business, I guess. It made me understand how other people feel when theyíre being interviewed or critiqued or reviewed. Itís certainly given me a whole new perspective.
EC: Whether in preparation for this interview or maybe after either of the articles got published, did you take a few glances through Criticwatch to see where we were trying to come from?
DITTMAN: Well, Iíd seen it before. Actually the one that bothered me the most was the Toronto Star one. Only because I had met him and he knew of me. That was the part that offended me the most. I donít think it was you. Well yeah, maybe after I got mentioned in yours but people pretended they didnít know who I was and didnít know where Wireless was from and had never seen it when in actuality they had. Thatís what angered me the most was that they were out-and-out lying. In your case, Iím sure you had never, but thatís what made me angry about Toronto. They didnít have their facts in a row because they knew what the facts were and then they skewed them to make it look better for their article.
EC: Thereís certainly a bandwagon mentality with the media in general.
DITTMAN: Thatís what makes me mad. If you want to call me ďthe shame of the film critics,Ē thatís fine. Thatís your opinion. But when you lie about something I know you know the truth about, thatís when itís wrong. And I think weíd agree on that. Call me crazy.
EC: I never talked to the Toronto person and even Todd Leopold from CNN said that he was going to be talking to you. When he talked to me, he hadnít yet at that point. But Iíve had publicists and a couple people through e-mail who have commented that they DO know who you are and what a nice guy you are. So itís clear that people do know you.
DITTMAN: Well it must be that there are a lot of jerks out there then. (laughing)
EC: Iíve heard a few stories.
DITTMAN: Tell me, tell me. (laughing)
EC: Well, you hear things like Jeffrey Lyons yelling at someone because the movie didnít start on time.
DITTMAN: Iíve heard about a million of those too.
EC: Do you think that weíre a little bit off-base with what weíre trying to do with Criticwatch?
DITTMAN: I understand what youíre trying to do. Maybe I donít agree with your methods of it, especially when it came to my case and being a little confrontational about it. Only because I think you donít realize the repercussions in terms of how it affects me professionally. You know, Iím a writer. Iím a well-published writer with magazines around the world and my name is my ticket. Thatís my in. Sometimes with things like that, whether it be tongue-in-cheek or just to get a rise out of people, I always donít think itís the right way to go. If thatís what we do, then thatís what we do. If we have 27 quotes for the week then thatís how many we have. In the end you have to remember that itís not all within our control. We donít make up the ads.
EC: Have you ever suffered the Ebert syndrome where youíve given a movie a totally negative or passing negative review and then found a quote from you for that movie which you didnít give a positive?
DITTMAN: In a lot of ways, one of two of those that weíve talked about is kind of like that. Iím not going to mention it, but I donít think itís taken out of context because its not. But if you were to read the whole thing you would understand that. I would mention the name, but there was one review that I did where it had one redeeming factor about the film and the redeeming factor was about as far of a stretch as you can get. I donít even remember what it was. And then they USED that and I thought, my God.
EC: And when you see that in the paper, does that embarrass you?
DITTMAN: On a film that I particularly didnít care that much about and maybe I liked one little aspect of one line or one personís performance, I donít know if embarrassed is the right word. I kinda cringed.
EC: What about anger?
DITTMAN: No I wouldnít say anger. I cringed. More embarrassed. Maybe I should have written it differently. I donít know, but thatís happened to me before. Taken out of context and rewritten? No, never.
EC: Based on the negative press that your name has received, not just from us but from similar peopleÖ
DITTMAN: I think itís a Monkey-See, Monkey-Do thing. People have latched on. They see you doing it and they think thereís a story there so someone else jumps on, then somebody else jumps on. 20/20 jumps on. Oh, there must be a story so letís do it too. Thatís what I think that is. Everybodyís looking for stories.
EC: So based on all these articles then as itís come to this point, have you changed what you do at all in response to that?
DITTMAN: Oh yeah. I think when I jokingly told you the other day you all had beaten me, Iíve changed a lot of the ways I do things. We were restricted from doing a website because we were syndicated and that when you put information from the magazine up there, it becomes invaluable because anybody can get a hold of it and so why should they buy it for their market? Itís no longer any good. Itís old news and somebody else has it. Weíve had big meetings in response to this where I may put an Earlís website up there. Earlís World website and then invite people to respond and Iíll e-mail it to other people if they hate what I do, like what I do, and think Iím stupid for liking this. Maybe that aspect of it has made me understand maybe I should go ahead. Maybe there are people who like what I think. We donít get letters from people saying that what Iíve written was a crap of a movie review. I know I never write letters. Iím too lazy to.
EC: Professional-to-professional I think that would be extremely beneficial to you just because that would cut out 50% of all this because then people can just focus on whether your opinion jives with theirs or not. Just like everyone elseís. Youíve certainly proven beyond a reasonable doubt that reviews are written but you have the radio people or those TV people who do junkets, give a little blurb and you never get the full gist. All theyíre really saying about a movie is whatís in the paper and thatís literally all they have to say and they get quoted. My sister could do that. (Not to associate anyone in my family with quote whores.) It gives a lot of credence to not so much ďeveryone IS a criticĒ but then ďeveryone CAN be a criticĒ.
DITTMAN: I think in a weird sort of way, everyone CAN, but I think you have to have a certain amount of training.
EC: Well, you should have a general knowledge about past film. First and foremost you should be a movie lover. Thatís going to lead you into it. Second of all, in a very simple criteria, you should know a little something about the medium and the history of it and what goes into making a movie and not just beyond whether J-Lo looks cute or how charming she is in Maid in Manhattan. Were you quoted on that one?
DITTMAN: I didnít love it, but I enjoyed it.
EC: OK. Will Wireless give you any grief for putting up a website?
DITTMAN: Oh, no no no. Theyíre the ones having meetings with me. All this publicity is unfortunate. People just read the name and then try to sell to somebody on the market and they go ďWireless said that somewhereĒ and then they think negative. Like you said, itís a way to clear up 50% of this. I think itís a good idea. Itís mainly to stop the naysayers.
EC: I think it puts you on the even playing field with everyone else. People couldnít even find the publication and thatís more than 50% of the problem.
DITTMAN: Exactly, everyone comes up with their own speculation on where it is and where itís at.
EC: Itís not like we wrote that article and then didnít do our research, not trying to find people who could send us a copy of Wireless Magazine.
DITTMAN: But weíre listed in the directory system. Thatís why I canít understand.
EC: Like where? In Yahoo?
DITTMAN: No, if you call like telephone directory.
EC: Chris Parry tried calling a ďWirelessĒ in Houston and had no luck.
DITTMAN: No, its Wireless Magazines. Weíre listed. I guess people didnít think to call 4-1-1. (laughing)
EC: I guess in the end, all we had were your quotes in the papers and on TV.
DITTMAN: For better or worse.
When the interview was over, Dittman had been mentioned 13 times in film ads, with his last coming two months prior in early July. Since the end of September, Earl had been quoted another 11 times on films including Duplex, Beyond Borders, Radio and Timeline and recently placed #3 on Criticwatchís Top 10 Whores of the Year list. Maybe ďwhoreĒ isnít exactly the right word for Earl. Perhaps ďoverly enthusiasticĒ is more suited for a man of his sensibilities. All of us have friends and acquaintances whose movie taste sets off a shudder and a pause. We may mock them or we may ignore them and they may do the same to us. After all, we know its all just opinions. But when you donít know someone and all you have are their words, itís very easy to form your own opinions. We still have ours about Earl. How about you?