The movie-blogging community's most prominent figures have sent a harshly worded letter to the major Hollywood studios accusing Alex Billington, founder of Firstshowing.net, of "blackmailing" Universal Studios to gain access to a secret, surprise screening of "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" at this year's Comic-Con.
The letter, written by Hitfix.com film editor Drew McWeeny and signed by nearly 20 of the clubby and cutthroat community's most well-known writers and webmasters, says Billington threatened to expose Universal's plans for the private screening some 36 hours in advance — unless he was allowed inside.
Universal capitulated, Billington got in and the surprise remained unspoiled. At the Thursday panel for "Scott Pilgrim" in Hall H, director Edgar Wright told the crowd that fans holding a special coded button could follow him out the door and down the street to see what was essentially the film's world premiere.
Select members of the press, including TheWrap, were invited in advance on the condition that the event be kept a secret. The screening included a speech by Wright, the appearance of several castmembers, and a performance by Metric, whose music was featured in the film.
Universal declined to comment on the situation to TheWrap.
In a statement to TheWrap, Billington described a fraught relationship with Universal and apologized for being "overly harsh in my communications" with the studio's publicity department. But he strongly denied a blackmail plot.
He did not deny communicating his advanced knowledge of the screening to Universal, though he did say that McWeeny's version of events as described in the letter to studios was inaccurate.
"The information in Drew's letter isn't true and it seems as if it was crafted purely as a vicious attack against me by my competitors in the industry," Billington wrote.
The letter, sent Tuesday to Universal and all the major Hollywood film studio publicity departments, calls Billington's actions "the most clear-cut case of blackmail that I have ever seen." It calls upon the studios to "sever professional ties to Alex Billington and First Showing. There is no other way to impress upon him that professional adults do not blackmail one another to get what they want."
The letter was signed by Harry Knowles of Aintitcoolnews.com, Devin Faraci of Chud.com, Steven Weintraub of Collider.com, Erik Davis at Cinematical.com, and several other prominent online movie webmasters, many of whom participated in or moderated panels at Comic-Con 2010.
It's a cozy and yet competitive group; many keep in constant contact online and, in some cases, are more than wiling to express anger and frustration with one another. At the same time, they are often seen traveling in packs at Comic-Con and other premieres and events, where they are frequently approached by readers and fans (continues).
Billington's statement acknowledged his place among them.
"I'm hurt and saddened that people I once called friends would participate in a smear campaign against me and my website, but I do certainly appreciate all the support Drew and the rest of my peers once gave me when I was a small, growing website. I have always learned from any mistake I've made and this is no exception. This is more than I have wanted to say publicly, as it is a private matter that I am still resolving with Universal."