MEDIA PROFILE: Ain't It Cool News' head geek is always seeking movie scoops

With a behind-the-scenes look at showbiz and a devoted fan base, Ain't It Cool News wants the inside story from PR pros. But, as Sherri Deatherage Green discovers, don't expect a rosy review in return.

With a behind-the-scenes look at showbiz and a devoted fan base, Ain't It Cool News wants the inside story from PR pros. But, as Sherri Deatherage Green discovers, don't expect a rosy review in return.

PR pros contemplating Ain't It Cool News (AICN) may recall President Lyndon Johnson's take on legendary FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover: "It's better to have him inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside pissing in." Conceived by a temporarily bedridden movie geek and born in the internet's own infancy, delivers superlative reviews and insider scoop to movie addicts. Dominic Friesen, director of Los Angeles-based SSA Public Relations, is among publicists who downplay AICN's influence in Hollywood, though he admits clients specifically request placements on the site, which draws more than a million different visitors per month. Founder Harry Knowles' Austin upbringing by a pair of hippy movie-poster peddlers instilled in him a passion for the silver screen. His mother's death derailed his plans to study film at the University of Texas, and as he states in his autobiography, "I may not have been to journalism school, but I have seen All the President's Men and Absence of Malice." For Knowles and his band of often anonymous contributors, a movie is old news by the time it debuts. They prefer to read scripts, visit sets, and mine production news from unofficial sources. "I think they've really changed the industry in that sense," says Jennifer Jones, director of PR for Fathom Studios in Atlanta. "A lot of other publications are trying to get sneak peeks and early release information." Fathom wowed AICN's West Coast editor "Moriarty," a.k.a. Drew McWeeny, by posting online dailies of its computer animated feature, Delgo. Knowles' global spy network admittedly began as fiction. "I didn't want to say I was doing so much legwork myself," he explains. Knowles would find out in what countries movies were being filmed, find local news stories, and then talk cyberfriends into translating them. The spy story became self-fulfilling, as droves of fans e-mailed tips. Grammar never gets in the way of a rambling, impassioned AICN article. About a half-dozen of Knowles' Austin friends and family members form a staff nucleus, while another 20 or so are regular contributors (some of whom are paid) who provide most of the content. The site's success made Knowles a celebrity: He now appears on national news programs, and sometimes shares the studio with Roger Ebert. Coaxial News, coverage of television and home entertainment, occupies the site's right frame. Knowles closely guards the identity of its author, "Hercules the Strong," who he describes as "a man [to] whom all studios must bow." Thus, all TV pitches are funneled through Knowles. Meanwhile, Austin teenager "Quint," a.k.a. Eric Vespe, handles most celebrity interviews. "We're working on expanding coverage of home video and DVD," adds Knowles. He and McWeeny write most such reviews. Primary updates are posted early each morning with breaking news added throughout the day. Although writers don't work on regular deadlines, Knowles recommends submitting materials early. While he can send someone to cover most screenings, personal appearances or set visits must be scheduled weeks in advance. AICN writers prefer to get releases and photos via e-mail with clear subject lines. Since they receive about 1,200 a day, follow-up calls are recommended. Don't send slides or credit lists. "People who read AICN don't need the filmography," Knowles says. While big-budget, mainstream movies get plenty of attention, AICN takes special interest in independent and genre films, like horror, sci-fi, and anime. Knowles describes the reviews as bipolar. "It's very much a love-or-hate kind of thing," he says. "We tend to leave out that great middle." Before accepting set-visit invitations, Knowles often requests review scripts. Those that don't strike his fancy usually collect dust in his library "unless we get the script by our own means, in which case it's fair game." AICN's plentiful detractors include journalists and film critics with college degrees. Some accuse him of selling out by letting studios pay for too many trips. Knowles proclaims that the site is not for sale, noting that he bashed the recent remake of Rollerball even though director John McTiernan put him up in New York's Four Seasons. Regardless, AICN's pre-release coverage has been rightly or wrongly credited with making or breaking some films. Knowles counsels publicists to keep bad movies off his radar screen, but says openness is best once he takes an interest. "It's generally a good idea to let me in," he says. ------------------ Ain't it Cool News Address PO Box 180011, Austin, TX 78718-0011 Web Head geek Harry Knowles Contributing editor "Father Geek," a.k.a. Jay Knowles, Tel/fax (512) 467-8747/857-0132 West coast editor "Moriarty," a.k.a. Drew McWeeny, MoriartyAICN@, Tel: (323) 851-6038

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