EXCESS HOLLYWOOD: THE FILM THREAT AVENGER STRIKES BACK

If you are a film producer you may have heard of On the Air Publications (OTA), a company which owns MovieObserver.com, CinemaTribune.com, USAFilmReview.com, FilmSpectator.com, NewFilmReviews.com, SilverScreenNews.com, MediaChronicle.com and AmericanFilmDispatch.com. Boy, that will fuck with a spell checker.

According to its web site, OTA publishes “film, video, (sic) media projects reviews ONLY for our advertisers or select artistic works.” The company “always” attempts to “find a positive slant in every project” and provides a “synopsis and some film project data” to accompany the “concise, upbeat review,” which includes “several quotable remarks that you can use in your advertising, ‘buzz’ and promotion.”

As to be expected, this will cost the filmmaker some money, but if OTA “cannot offer an upbeat Glowing Review,” it will “return your payment in full.” The term “pay to play” comes to mind, but to be fair, I checked the company’s various sites to see what films were worthy of its praise.

As of June 6, all the OTA sites looked the same. Some even shared identical artwork. All the films reviewed were mainstream pictures (“The Pianist” and “Black Hawk Down” were two that were featured), and all the sites reviewed the same films. That’s just odd. Eight sites all reviewing the same film? I guess it looks good if your movie poster has eight positive quotes from eight apparently different sources.

It doesn’t take a Harvard grad to see what OTA is doing and how it pertains to a fool and his money. Well, what better fool to be parted from his dough than Henry Bernstein, filmmaker? (Read his profile on AOL. His screen name is HBfilmgod.) Never heard of him? That’s because he’s me. I posed as that person recently and sent OTA the following letter (mistakes are intentional). I just wanted to see how much integrity the company possessed.

Dear On the Air Publications:

My name is Henry Bernstein, and I am an up and coming film producer. In fact, my first feature is almost “in the can,” as they say in Hollywood. I am sure to be one of the next household names like Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher. I am 27, have ADD, and grew up in Santa Cruz, where I led a crazy life. When Friday night came around, I wasn’t in movie theatres watching films, I was living, which is why I turned to film making and producing. I’m going to bring the chaos I experienced into multiplexes and home theatres.

I saw that your sites offer film reviews and hosting for a small fee. (I have received all my funding from my father and credit cards. My father, who owns a small insurance franchise, was thrilled to learn I was making movies. He said, and I quote, “I will help you promote this film however I can. Whatever you need to spend, I’ll write the check. Let’s make movies!” I was excited upon hearing that because I didn’t know how I’d do it.) I think your sites may be just the thing I need to get the buzz out there once I’m completed editing and sound. Let me tell you about the film. I’m telling you this in confidence. Even my actors don’t know anything about the scenes they aren’t in. Please do not give my secrets away to your Hollywood connections. Do not even mention them in passing. This film will be big!

The film is called “Seven Days of Pollution” and is a take on the old forest tale “A Man in the Tree.” Instead of using German peasants, I use actors portraying homeless people and the incredibly talented Amanda Wong as God! (One reviewer say a play Amanda was in and said, “This five-foot-two powerhouse of Asian acting can’t be beat!”) God comes to Earth in her chariot (I actually was able to use a Nissan painted GOLD for this) and gathers the homeless around her. She says, “I want you to fix things … proper!” And then the homeless, like the German peasants, go on their way to make the world a better place. This is where my film differs from the old story.

Instead of doing things the right way, the homeless folks (I have four actors who play thirteen different homeless roles, but I use different clothes and makeup to achieve startling effects) do things wrong. They burn down houses (awesome special effects) and attempt to have sex with white children. (In one of the strongest scenes, I have a leering close-up on the dirty face of one “homeless” chap as he looms over a screaming white girl. An unseen actor in the background screams, “My God, it’s the devil!” The way the light is, it really looks like Satan!) The homeless have gone nuts, and God doesn’t know what to do.

God consults with her angels (played by Jeremy and Martin Syndale -twins from Tulsa!). The advise her to give into “Earthly temptations” and forget about the “diseased planet we all grew up on.” They then have sex with her (it’s not a really graphic scene), and shoot her up with some drugs (I never say what the drugs are because my father would flip, but I’m assuming MY audience will be smart enough to know it’s heroin). God nods off and then I use various war and disaster footage to simulate the end of the world. All is not lost, though!

When God comes to, she sees her angels having sex with each other! (Again, not graphic.) She decides that she needs to remake Earth in her image so that all will be proper. I then use footage from China and Japan to show Asian people like they are all over the world and looking like God. The only “normal” looking people left are the 13 homeless. Get it? 13! It’s like the Last Supper. These homeless people sit at God’s table and they eat the bodies of the two angels. At the end, the one homeless guy who looks like Satan smiles, and I superimpose a picture of an Asian child’s face over his.

There is one more twist, but I don’t want to give it away. I have to figure out a way to obtain the proper permits and a snake handler, but it will be huge.

I want to submit it to you and have you do a website, but I don’t want to waste my father’s money and, more importantly, my time. Does this sound like a film you could get behind? Please let me know ASAP. Thank you. -Henry

I didn’t really expect to receive a response. After all, any idiot can see that I’m just fucking around. What the hell is an “old forest tale” anyway? I purposely wrote the letter so that it sounded like a hoax. I made the movie sound as idiotic as possible, and I made myself sound like an arrogant fool. I forgot that I was dealing with a company that tries to find the good in every project, though. Even the made up ones. I heard back from OTA.

Hi:

We enjoyed reading about “Seven Days of Pollution”. It sounds extremely creative.

If you have a finshed copy or even a rough cut, we would be prepared to consider it for review and advertising in one or several of our publications.

As you understand from reading our website, we will only accept your LINK advertising and offer a review IF we like the film, but it does sound GREAT!

Of course, we are very much aware of being discreet and will not discuss your film with anyone unless you chose to have us review it.

The rates for advertising are on our site: www.OnTheAirPublications.com

We have REDUCED our rates for independent filmmakers during the summer, so now is a GREAT time to take advantage of advertising in several of our e-magazines at once.

Also we can offer you either a free or very low budget web site so people can link to an actual site to read the full blown BUZZ on your film.

Filmmakers tell us that they appreciate our service and that what we do for them helps get their films taken much more seriously.

I hope we can work with you soon.

Bill Reiter, s.o.c.

President

On The Air Publications

Reiter tells me that my film sounds “extremely creative.” I thought maybe that was just Hollywood slang for “crappiest idea ever and won’t sell a single ticket.” Maybe he was just trying to be nice. He does offer me a “free or very low budget” web site, however, so he can’t be all that bad.

Reiter also tells me that his company will only accept my link advertising and give my film a review if they like it, but that it sounds “great.” Really? “Seven Days of Pollution” sounds as good as The Pianist? I’m flattered, and I think I’m supposed to be. You see, OTA wants filmmakers to think its critics are objective while at the same time selling hope. There’s little doubt in my mind had I made this film, it would get a great review with press-ready blurbs that would say things like, “Creative,” “Wildest movie of the year,” “Artistic” and “A journey of the senses.” You’ve seen reviews like that for films nobody in their right mind would say that about. They come from places like OTA … and critics from small town papers in Ohio and Oklahoma.

I had to write back. This time, though, I wanted to appear to be broke. This would really tell me which way the wind was blowing. Again, all mistakes are intentional.

Bill,

Recently you sent me an e-mail about my “Seven Days of Pollution” movie. I must say that you filled me hope. Finally, someone who understands my vision! I want my film to be associated with your site and your professionals. I saw that you reviewed The Pianst. My film is better.

I recently showed a rough cut (one of the men who is helping me edit at this point is doing a short stay in jail — I told you — I live life raw) to my father. I needed more money for some post and to send you. In a word, my father flipped. He said things like “blasphemous,” “obscene,” “Asian-eccentric” and “crazed.” He cut my funding instantly. Like all great artists, I must suffer.

With cut funding, it means it will take me longer to employ your services, but then I came up with an idea I think you’ll like — especially being a fan of film.

According to my calculations, this film will make fifty million dollars ($50 million) it’s opening two weeks. I arrive at this number based on market demographics, current culture, projected theatres, opening weekend draw, and word-of-mouth advertising spurred on by reviews on sites such as yours. Fifty million is a lot of money. How would On The Air Publications like to fund the rest of my movie, advertise it, review it, get exclusive interview rights for a 15% percent cut of the box office? Hard to resist? No. Impossible. Of course, nothing in life is free. On The Air Publications would pay for the advertising on its site and fund the rest of the film.

I know you are thinking, “Conflict of interests, Henry.” Wrong. I am willing to make On The Air Pubications part of the production company. The first words that flash across the screen are, “Diseased Goat Productions and On The Air Publications Presents: Seven Days of Pollution.”

If that doesn’t give you chills, you are already dead.

I can’t predict how much the rest of the film will cost. With you on board, though, I can go for bigger special effects, and maybe even a cameo by a “name” actor. (I would normally hate working with such cattle, but it does help fill the seats. I’m sure you understand.)

This is art. This is movies. This is your chance to be part of it. Screw my father. His favorite movie is “Casablanca.” Mine is “Mermaid in a Manhole.” Whose side would you rather be on? -Henry

If the first letter wasn’t taken as a hoax, I thought for sure Reiter would see through this one. It’s filled with wacky math and more pretension than James Cameron. Admit it. You read it and laughed. Reiter didn’t.

Hello:

We are not in any position to fund or partially fund any film projects. Our job is to e-publish GLOWING film reviews and by doing so help promote them and make them more viable. We are offering a special 2 FOR one SPECIAL right now for a limited time. Advertise in one e- magazine and get a run in The USA Film Review .com for 30 days FREE. Both 30 day magazine runs would only cost you $790.00, complete. And if you wanted us to do a simple but cool website for your film we could do that for an extra $399.00. You would supply all the copy and we would create the site, buy the domain name and put it all together.

Let us know if we can help. Best of luck in your search for funding and good luck with your film.

Bill

Hey! Whatever happened to that “free or very low budget” site?

I used to work as a telemarketer. Crappy job. Only lasted a month. I had to sell these coupon books to people who didn’t want them. The people who ran the company knew their potential customers had no need for the books. To counter their protests, we were given a sheet with a list of things to say if they gave excuses like, “I’m on a budget and can’t afford the thirty dollars for your book.” (“This is the best thing for your budget. You’ll save far more than thirty dollars, sir/ma’am. You’ll save hundreds. Now how many books do you want?”) Reiter’s letter sounded like the pitch I was supposed to throw at that job. (I never did, by the way, which is why I only made like one sale.)

This was fascinating. It was time to call Reiter on the carpet, though. Yes, I wrote back.

Bill,

I’m saddened and dismayed. Such is life, I guess. I’ll find the money I need one way or another.

As I read your letter and looked at your site again, I had to ask myself: Am I just paying money for you to give my film a good review? If so, that doesn’t really make it a valid criticism, and I don’t know who would take the review seriously. There are plenty of sites that review movies honestly, and I wouldn’t have to pay for the review.

You tell me that my project sounds “GREAT” and “extremely creative,” yet you don’t want to help fund it because your job is to publish “GLOWING” reviews and run them on your sites for a fee. Fair enough. Did the studio behind Black Hawk Down actually pay you?

I think you’re trying to sucker me out of my money. You’ll play to my vanity and my wallet. You’ll hope I’ll submit a film and money and you’ll give it a good review no matter how crappy it is. You, sir, are a disgrace to honest film making. -Henry

I thought the matter would drop here. If this were “60 Minutes,” some guy would be throwing his hand up in front of the camera while roaring, “Get the hell out of here!” Not Reiter.

If you read our website carefully, you will see that we only review films that we like and CAN give a GLOWING review to. If we do not like a film we will not review it and we return the advertising fee. We will not give a negative review or take money to review films we do not like. This is OUR CHOICE!

Also, we are not FILM CRITICS! We do not believe in negative criticism and leave that to the frustrated filmmaker critics driven in that direction. We believe in positive energy only.

If your film is a piece of “crap”, as you say…. we would not review it nor accept your advertising fees. This is also stated in our website.

We thought what you wrote us about your film was very interesting and quite creative. Of course, until we see a film we never know.

Best of luck and hope much positive energy comes your way,

OTApublications

And there you have it. OTA only reviews films it likes and can give “GLOWING” (always in capitals) reviews to, yet they are not “FILM CRITICS.” Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t know how a person goes about reviewing something without being a critic. OTA even goes one step further and makes it seem like critics are lowly beings by painting them as “frustrated” filmmakers who can only give “negative” reviews. If you review a film and give it a positive or negative review — you are a critic. No New Age mumbo jumbo about “positive energy” can change that.

This leaves the final question, the question that is probably plaguing every reader: Is On The Air Publications a rip-off company that is only after a filmmaker’s money? OTA says that it is not. It also claims it will refund a person’s money if their people, who aren’t critics, can’t give a film a GLOWING review.

I’d tell filmmakers to send their film and their money to OTA, but only if they are positive their movie is a piece of garbage. I’m pretty sure you’ll get a GLOWING review there, and I’m positive it will cost you some dough you’d be better off using in post. Don’t send your movie to me, though, because I’m just a frustrated filmmaker who doesn’t ask for cash to screen your work.

Remember, people who disdain critics, yet happily review films, have zero clout and even less respect in the industry. Food for thought.

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Posted on August 29, 2003 in Features by

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