Let’s stop with the unofficial, camera-phone caught, plot-spoiling, on-set images shall we?
As a huge movie fan -- and a film and TV writer who has recently developed a children’s TV show for British broadcaster ITV -- I love being teased by movie studio trailers, TV spots and images from upcoming films. Discovering titbits about plot twists and epic never-seen-before explosive scenes is all part of the film world fun.
But I’m getting increasingly perturbed by over-zealous people with camera-phones and too much time on their hands. More and more people are uploading out-of-focus and completely out-of-context [with the film’s storyline and concept] images from film sets, usually taken more than a year before the finished movie is due to be released.
These trigger-happy camera-phone people -- who we will lump in with the slightly derogatory but very accurate term “citizen journalists" (as it suggests they have no qualifications, rights or skills to be reporting on anything) that just happened to be there and really should get the hell back to their day job and read something written by professionals instead. They are clearly not real movie fans.
If these “citizen journalists” were bona fide movie fans, they’d truly understand the pleasure and joyous anticipation of being teased with trailers and appropriate poster campaigns instead of shaky YouTube footage captured on a lunch break from half-a-mile away and then uploaded online.
And yes, I am aware that film news websites partly rely on these types of on-set videos and images because they become instant entertainment news updates. They help fill the greedy jaws of the rampant, hungry internet beast that is jam-packed with endless film sites waiting to push a digital wave of film spoilers across the globe.
So then, am I saying put an end to something that is a result of 24-hour worldwide digital media? Something that can often work as a positive marketing tool for a movie? And something that is a positive content provider for news-hungry film websites?
No, I’m not. Because this is what editors are for. And I mean editors of well-recognised, well-written and well-executed film websites (as well as printed magazines and TV entertainment shows), not those aiming for letsspoileveryonesfun.com.
These professional, experienced and well-trained editors -- the ones true movie buffs look up to and respect because of their understanding of the big, fun game of teasing out a story over a period of time -- need to show restraint in not publishing some of the completely unofficial, out-of-context images that reveal how the baddie gets killed at the end of a film a whole year before any special effects, music, sound, lighting and character development have been added.
I acknowledge this movie spoiler practice is not new. Both “citizen journalists” and film studios are guilty of leaking the kind of poor quality, confusing images they wouldn’t be happy to take home to show their mothers over dinner. But, just recently, it seems the “citizen journalists” have been going wild, enticing movie websites with their badly-rendered photography and quickly-edited footage of scenes-in-progress from upcoming blockbusters such as the "Dark Knight Rises," "Judge Dredd" and "Man of Steel."
We’ve had Batwing crashes, stunt double incidents and Catwoman cock-ups from "Dark Knight Rises," ridiculously boring pictures of a cordoned-off house from "Man of Steel," and a badly-lit image of Karl Urban from "Judge Dredd." This last one had JD comic fans wetting their pants in disgrace at how bad the picture was and so, therefore, how terrible they thought the movie was likely to be.
And therein lies the real problem.
Because, if movie studios can’t stem the waterfall of unofficial on-set image release then there’s the potential, revenue-damaging danger for fans to make negative judgments on unfinished movies 12 months before they come out. They might share that negative judgment with their several hundred digitised friends -- a judgment likely to stay with them all so they think twice about going to see that film when it does, eventually, come out in theaters.
The hype surrounding new films is important, of course. How else can studios market their product? But that’s part of the movie game and not what I’m talking about.
There is a real difference between officially sanctioned material and crap, blurry on-set footage shot from eight hundred feet away. Not only does the latter ruin the mythical and magical status of a film and its brand, it changes how audiences eventually view the finished product. In the back of their mind, they’ll be watching the film (at the cinema hopefully) and looking out for that Batwing crash that seemed so awful, so slow, so lacklustre in the footage they saw on YouTube.
Good viral marketing helps, bad viral marketing can kill an upcoming film. But, short of all studios investing in cell phone jammers for every set to stop would-be “citizen journalists”, how can this issue be stopped or at least made good?
Well, as an example of doing on-set footage properly, let’s take Rupert Wyatt’s recent "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Here is an intelligent, fantastically executed, even beautifully-made movie that was shot almost completely under the “citizen journalist” radar.
What I mean is, any on-set footage was filmed and controlled by 20th Century Fox – not a 12-year-old with an iPhone and internet access – and released appropriately.
The result: no preconceived, negative views from an excited audience and a smash-hit, brilliant movie.
So, if you’re a “citizen journalist” and you’re guilty of clicking/shooting and uploading awful on-set movie images that ruin our fun, then shame on you.
Be warned: if I see you, I’ll be confiscating your phone, sending you to your bedroom and telling your mother.