Fansites’ “Raid” on Hollywood: How First-Gen Web Film Journalists Are Reshaping Movies In Their Own Image

A new wave of films is coming from a few familiar names, but they aren't filmmakers you know, but film writers. On the evolution of film sites from advocates...

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In the marketing materials for “The Raid: Redemption,” one of the most prominent quotes comes from Ryland Aldrich from TwitchFilm, who is quoted as saying the “Best action movie in decades.” He isn’t wrong, but it’s worth noting that just beneath that hyperbole on the film’s poster lies the name of the site’s founder Todd Brown not in his journalistic capacity as the editor-in-chief of Twitch, but in his other role as the head of acquisitions for XYZ Films, a production company behind “The Raid.” (Update 3/15: To his credit, Brown said over Twitter that he did not see the review before it was published and pointed out the conflict with the studio Sony Pictures Classics.) You might think this would be leading to a rant about the obvious conflict of interest, but you’d be wrong. Instead, it’s noting an odd moment in time for genre filmmaking when the fansites are not only actively promoting films, but producing them as well.

Looking back, that appears to have been a point of destiny for sites such as Bloody Disgusting and Ain’t It Cool News, which fostered a deep community of fans both as readers and writers. If you spend your days obsessively poring over the details of even the most obscure French horror film, it’s not a reach to believe you’d rather be making movies than talking about them. While this actually yielded valuable coverage –  the kind of intensive beat reporting for film that mainstream outlets neglected until they realized the Web potential of it later in the decade – it also proved to be a placeholder for some.

Recently, “Chronicle” director Josh Trank stunned Harry Knowles by saying he had been reading Ain’t It Cool News for over a decade, which served as a precursor for the more surreal situation Knowles found himself a couple weeks later when he interviewed Andrew Stanton for “John Carter,” a film he spent the mid-part of the 2000s trying to get off the ground as a producer with such directors attached as Robert Rodriguez, “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” director Kerry Conran and Jon Favreau. It actually was the second project that Knowles had worked on after AICN took off, first signing a deal with Revolution Studios to produce a film called “Ghost Town” in 2003 (not to be confused with the Ricky Gervais comedy of the same name) that ultimately never came to fruition when Sony affiliate went belly up.

In a strange twist of fate, Knowles’ name may not appear on the Disney version of “Carter,” but he soon will finally see his name in the credits as an executive producer of the Morgan Spurlock documentary “Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope” that opens in limited release in April and he’s hardly the only one from the Austin-based Web site with a movie on the way. Kristoffer Aaron Morgan and Eric Vespe, who go by Kraken and Quint on AICN, sold a horror film last year to Dimension called “The Home,” which will star Brian Cox, Cloris Leachman, Louise Fletcher, Ed Asner and Fionnula Flanagan as residents in an old folks’ home suffering from psychological (and possibly physical) terrors. Not to be outdone, C. Robert Cargill, who has long written for the site under the pseudonym Massawyrm, will have his first produced screenplay with “Sinister,” a supernatural Ethan Hawke thriller directed by “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” helmer Scott Derrickson, that comes out in October from Summit.

This also coincides with the rise of Bloody Disgusting as a full-service production company. Led by editor-in-chief Brad Miska, the site has used its their reputation as a source for all things horror to become a distributor first – their first release was Lucky McKee’s controversial Sundance selection “The Woman” last October – and a producer second, with this year’s Sundance pick “V/H/S.” The latter film is particularly intriguing as it relates to Bloody Disgusting’s initial incarnation as Miska was able to corral six directors he’d long championed on the site such as “The Signal”’s David Bruckner and “The Innkeepers”’ Ti West and parlayed it into an anthology film, which was picked up by Magnolia after its Park City premiere.

None of this would be worth noting if the movies weren’t actually good, yet “The Raid” and “V/H/S” received exceptional reviews during their festival premieres and appear poised for success once they hit theaters. Although it’s not exactly the second coming of the early days of Cahiers du cinema, the French film journal that could count Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Claude Chabrol as its contributors, there is a comparison to be made between the first generation of Web film writers who have finally seized their opportunity to make headway in the industry as filmmakers and start to shape it in their own image.

Inevitably, it will also reshape how these sites operate and in some ways, it already has. While many of them have been diligent in sidestepping the various conflicts of interest that could exist — AICN has never broken a story about any of the projects its writers have been involved in and all of the sites mentioned above have printed negative reviews of films made by potential partners after those partnerships have been announced — the trick will be retaining the outsider status that brought readers to them in the first place.

It’s also been interesting to see the evolution of Badass Digest, the news site started by Alamo Drafthouse mastermind Tim League in 2010 that in recent weeks hasn’t hidden its promotion of Drafthouse Films’ release “Bullhead” with a daily “$5 Ad Campaign” and often cross-pollinates with the Drafthouse blog penned by employees, yet although it could draw traffic for Badass Digest, the Drafthouse offshoot Mondo regularly debuts its posters on Entertainment Weekly and the Los Angeles Times’ Hero Complex blog. With Devin Faraci at the helm, the site’s independence can’t really be argued, but it seems to be starting at the place where many other film sites appear to be going, taking advocacy beyond writing about good movies to having an active hand in getting them to audiences, whether that's by getting the rights to distribute them or actually making them. If the early results are any indication, that may actually be a good thing.

But do you think it's a good thing? Let us know in the comments below.

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