Tales from Tinseltown - Online gossip spreads web of grief for Hollywood publicists

Gossip has long been a staple of the Hollywood diet. But with the proliferation of web sites devoted to the film industry, the town is suffering from indigestion, with everything from on-the-set rumors and test-screening reactions to the sexual peccadillos of executives popping up online.

Gossip has long been a staple of the Hollywood diet. But with the proliferation of web sites devoted to the film industry, the town is suffering from indigestion, with everything from on-the-set rumors and test-screening reactions to the sexual peccadillos of executives popping up online.

Gossip has long been a staple of the Hollywood diet. But with the

proliferation of web sites devoted to the film industry, the town is

suffering from indigestion, with everything from on-the-set rumors and

test-screening reactions to the sexual peccadillos of executives popping

up online.



Needless to say, this relatively new phenomenon has Tinseltown PR pros

pulling out their hair. ’The Web has unbelievable reach and immediacy,’

said one publicist. ’Unfortunately, we can’t turn away from it just

because it doesn’t abide by any rules, regulations or civilized

standards.’



Sometimes the effect is beneficial - such as the positive advance word

on The Blair Witch Project, which translated into a huge box-office

take.



But more often, studio publicists are forced to defend against negative

online rumblings.



It is these negative comments, often posted on sites such as

Ain’t-It-Cool News, that cause the most grief. One Warner Bros. insider

admitted that negative online reviews about Wild Wild West, its 1999

big-budget summer movie, forced a revamping of its PR strategy: ’The

whole goal became trying to keep people from seeing how bad it was

before it was released.’



One way the studios are tackling the Net is by having publicity staffers

’plant guerrilla responses that counter the buzz,’ says one insider.



Whether this works or not has yet to be seen, but publicity veterans at

every studio say that monitoring and reacting to the Internet has become

a high priority.



A site that has been giving publicists fits is IFilmpro.com, which

contains ’The Buzz,’ a gossip board that allows insiders to log on

anonymously and post juicy tidbits about the industry. ’It’s nothing

more than an electronic cocktail party that can become completely

radioactive,’ said a PR pro.



For the time being, most studios are trying to play nice with those

Netizens that they deem ’legitimate,’ ruling on a case-by-case basis who

should have access to executives, press releases and screening

invites.



’We’re trying to align with some of these sites and build a critical

mass against people who should be silenced,’ said another head of

publicity.



(None of the PR pros interviewed for this column would go on the record,

citing a fear of reprisal from the Net brigade). ’It’s a matter of

making the bad guys seem less legitimate by making the others seem

legitimate.’



Others, alas, remain wary of getting into bed with the Webheads. ’We

refuse to invite some of them to screenings or send them materials,’

said one head of marketing. ’Our feeling is that if a time comes when we

have to take legal action, we don’t want a record of cooperating with

them in the past.’



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