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Fired over a movie

June 15, 2007

No, kids, not me (yet) no worries that Little Dork will have to start modeling for The Gap to buy diapers. Sure many of you are familiar with Ain’t it Cool News, the movie web site featuring lots of geekery and snarky remarks about up coming films. They rely on reports from mostly non-professional movie reviewers who have access to films before they’re released, either through those free passes offered in your local alt. weekly or some kid schlepping pop corn whilst working on the Great American Screenplay.

One such contributor to the AICN site goes by the handle Memflix, so named for his residency in Memphis, TN. He now has his own movie web site. Memflix is one of those people who is employed at a theater (a Malco theater in Memphis) and gets to see films before they come out. He happened to catch an advance of the latest Fantastic Four junker and wrote about it. He didn’t care for the film that much. The AICN devotees made much of the review and word spread on the internets. Same word got back to Fox, the studio releasing Fantastic Four: ROTSS, who called Memflix’s bosses at Malco and complained, according to Memflix, “They said 20th Century Fox called them that morning and read them the riot act, making threats.” Guess they didn’t like that he didn’t like the movie, because, according to Memflix, his bosses suspended him “until further notice.” Why they couldn’t say “you’re fired” is beyond me, perhaps they were afraid of Trump hitting them with a trademark violation law suit.

Fox is officially denying any involvment in the firing. They claim to have only alerted his bosses to the situation. His bosses claim that Memflix violated a “trust,” a trust that they should be smart enough to have him sign papers for. Oops, no nondisclosure agreement, too bad. 😦

What exactly did Memflix do wrong? Well, the screening he saw was a “trade screening,” meaning the film is shown for business purposes (how many theaters do we want to show this thing in? etc) rather than for journalistic purposes. Apparently, what happens in a trade screening stays in a trade screening. However, Memflix signed no papers saying he couldn’t talk about what he saw, that he couldn’t engage in speaking about film. If Malco makes the argument that as an employee of the theater he can’t talk about what he sees in screenings they’d be wrong. I happen to know a couple of very good reviewers who help pay bills by tearing tickets (one occasional dork nation reader).

This cat IMO is pretty clearly looking at a wrongful termination suit. I assume that’s the real reason he was told he is supsended and not fired. However a court would see through that. Get a lawyer, Memflix.

Even more intrigue into this, there’s another review on the film posted at AICN which thinks the Fantastic Four sequel is “cool as balls.” Long time AICN readers (of which I am not one) believe this “cool as balls” guy to be a Fox studio plant, something that is not uncommon these days as movie studios are increasingly terrified by the power of the Internet, not just for downloading, but for taste making. They send out minions to write glowing reviews (when they can’t con weak minded critics to do their dirty work for them or when they can’t fake pull quotes for the print ads) and place them in spots like AICN.

I know there’s a lot of money at stake in these big budget bullshit tentpole summer movies. If you’re a studio exec you have to play everything close to the vest to protect the investment. Yet, getting some guy fired, a guy with a 5 month old kid, mind you, over a bad review is just beyond the pale.

If Memflix version of this is accurate, I call for a boycott of Fox until this kid gets his job back (and if you’re in Memphis, a boycott of Malco theaters). I know you probably weren’t going to see Nancy Drew or maybe even FF:ROTSS anyway, still lets shame these suits into doing the right thing. Even if Fox simply let Malco know what was happening, he’s still been wrongly terminated, even if it’s just morally wrong (ly). If you’re a film fan and you read this, spread the word. Attica! Baby.

This tut-tut-er with insider cred begs to differ. He likens what Memflix did with releasing “trade secrets” and movie piracy. That’s just reaching. Align me with the “six year old” mindset however, even if you accept Memflix did something “wrong” by reviewing a film not being screened for review, absent something spelled out in the employee handbook, firing the kid is not the way to go, certainly not good PR in a business that thrives on good PR (the any PR is good PR axiom only works for starlets and rappers).

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