Interview with Drew McWeeny

On this evening, as the drugs begin to take hold, I notice to myself just how good this Cherry-flavored Cola with the movie promotional advertisement on it tastes. As I sip gingerly, savoring that sweet, sweet caffeine, I notice how my hand perfectly frames the logo, turning my entire being into an extended walking advertisement for this shitty product. I remember how I used to mock commercials where the actors would perform what I call the “commercial hold”, where they would do what I just described. No longer can we truly “obey our thirst” or reach for “the joy of cola” because we are slaves to the advertising market. If we weren’t, we?d just drink water. Oh, wait, they found a way to sell that shit too, didn’t they?

So as I sit back and listen to my bad gay-cum-hipster-club techno music, things begin to split and distort, and I ponder to myself on the reasons for writing the above paragraph. Indeed, my interview victim this week is none other than Drew McWeeny, aka Moriarty, the West Coast Editor of uber-site Ainrt-It-Cool-News. I grew up on AICN, man, I think we all did. It’s pretty hip these days to trash it, and well, they deserve it sometimes, especially their fucked up fans. Not that our fans are any better, but they just seem to be better behaved when I’m around… ahem. Poppa Savant don’t take no shit.

DS: In beginning this interview, I must confess that I peruse Ain’t It Cool News quite a bit. I find your rants both intelligent and funny, and yet, I also must confess that I haven’t quite figured out just what the f*ck your position is over there. Enlighten me, please: where do you fit in the AICN scheme?

DM: Originally, I was just an occasional contributor to the site. I had been on the Internet for about a year before Harry started AICN, and when it went online, I was just another reader. I had a sort of a newsletter I sent out to people that’s a lot like what I do now… script reviews, occasional bits of news, that sort of thing. And Harry was one of those guys I’d seen in IRC rooms like #movies and newsgroups like rec.arts.movies.current-films… the same places I met Ed Havens, actually. (Editor’s Note: Yes, Moriarty and I were both moderators in #movies many many years ago. I went by FilmJerk and I believe he went by Divine, but that’s another story for another time.) When he started his site, I would visit in and Corona’s Coming Attractions and Drew’s Script-O-Rama and Dark Horizons, and I sent stuff to all those guys at different times. Harry and I just became friendly, though, and after he gave me the pseudonym “Moriarty,” I sort of rose to the bait. I started sending in more stuff, writing in character, and we started talking more, and I guess it was after ShoWest ’99 that I realized just how much time I was spending on the site. It was also strange, attending something like ShoWest as an official member of “the press,” meeting people from other outlets, and hearing their feedback about what we were doing. I quit the regular job I was working at the time, closed-captioning TV shows and movies, and I started freelancing to magazines and working with Harry as AICN’s west coast editor. I work with a lot of the “spies” we have out here in Los Angeles, and I serve as the physical presence of the site for a lot of events. Harry travels enough as it is, and we try to schedule things so he only has to be in Los Angeles once every six weeks or so. The rest of the time, I’m the guy out here. As far as what I actually do… a lot of reading, a lot of watching, a lot of writing. It’s basically me trying to crunch as much raw pop culture as I can and spit it back out for our readers. My main job is to keep my eyes open for films that are worth paying attention to on the site. If I find one IRON GIANT a year, then I feel like we’ve really done something.

DS: Let’s talk about your so-called spies for a minute. I have a hard time believing that most people are willing to risk job security and lawsuits (Non-Disclosure Agreements are king in H’Wood) to tell you the secret color of Spiderman’s new jockstrap. Do you pay these people anything, and how do you know if they’re moles/shills? Hell, do you care?

DM: Sometimes, moles/shills give you solid information. It’s only when they’re claiming to “review” something that a problem arises. Every site out there has people who they trust who feed them things. Some of those people do it without their bosses knowing. Some of those people do it at their bosses’ requests. We don’t pay our spies. We are a very small company, and it’s only the core team of people that are currently on payroll. That’s important right now. It’s getting bloody out there, companies folding left and right, good writers out of work, people scrambling to save these sites they’ve built. For a lot of people, the kick is knowing that they’ve got something to say, and there’s a place they can say it. There’s something addictive about being a “spy,” and we’ve been able to cultivate some great relationships with people just by offering to listen to what it is they have to say. Obviously, there are people we trust more than others. And some fake reviews no doubt occasionally make it through. After doing this for many years, though, we’re all pretty good about spotting a fraud. If you’re not sure, asking someone for further information via e-mail, asking specific questions, is a good way of figuring out who you’re talking to. In some cases, we’ve been able to figure out EXACTLY who it is who’s writing to us, just based on what they know and when.

DS: Here’s the thing: say someone ‘big’ writes you and offers a bullshit scoop to generate hype. You know it’s bullshit, and you KNOW for a fuckin’ fact that there will be perks down the line. You get hits and favors, they get publicity, win-win. Have you or Harry ever done anything remotely similar to what I just described? Can Harry Knowles, Drew McWeeny, and AICN be bought?

DM: Well, first, let’s define terms. What is a “bullshit” scoop? One that’s false? Believe me… people seem to work overtime to try and hoax us, and we’ve fallen prey to it just like any other media outlet. I was hoaxed very, very hard last year regarding Christopher Walken being in STAR WARS: EPISODE II, and when the truth came out, it was embarrassing. I think you’re talking about something else, though. I think you’re referring to someone sending us information on their own project and trying to pass it off as a leak. That’s why I said sometimes shills end up being better sources of info than they realize. At least they’ve got their facts straight. The key to using a bit of information like that is understanding the context in which it was offered. If you can trim the hype away, you’ll often end up with a kernel of something useful. Now… on to the bigger question. Let me forward you a link about a recent press junket, one which AICN was notably EXCLUDED from, precisely because they knew our opinion on the film wasn’t for sale: I’ve talked to a number of the journalists who went on this trip, and to a person, they all say that the footage they saw was “an atrocity” and “unwatchable.” But go read all the coverage out there. Go to CHUD or COUNTINGDOWN.COM or COMING ATTRACTIONS or ZAP2IT or ABOUT.COM and read their reports from the set. Tell me if what you read reflects the opinion that the film is a bomb waiting to go off. These people were flown to Australia, put up in a luxury hotel, and treated right. And Warner Bros. got what they paid for. They got some good buzz to spin our negative reactions, based on reading the script and paying close attention to the project as it’s come together. When Harry was brought to LA to visit the sets of THE GRINCH, it was after writing much negative coverage of the early script drafts. Ron Howard chose to meet his harshest critic instead of hiding from him, and Ron earned Harry’s respect. There’s a giant difference. Our critics spent last year attempting to assault our credibility, and in the end, we’re still doing what we’ve always done, comfortable that our integrity is intact. I can tell you, unequivocally, I have never done a favor for a film that I didn’t feel deserved it because of quality. I have never been given a gift or a perk by a studio in exchange for a review. I have turned down trips to the sets of films I knew were in trouble due to lousy scripts. Harry is the same way. So… to answer your question… no… AICN is not for sale. Not for rent. Not available for barter. 100% no.

DS: Dissing a movie with Freddie Prinze Jr. though… that’s like curb-stomping a cripple. You say that you turn down set visits when things smell funny, yet Harry goes on a trip to a Ron Howard/Jim Carrey (note the names) flick that you had similar suspicions about? So let me ask you from a different angle: has there ever been a lush, all-expenses-paid set trip that ended with extremely negative articles or reviews?

DM: Ahhh… but that’s what they want you to think. They want you to think that you shouldn’t bother beating it up since it’s only SCOOBY-DOO. But when you sell your opinion to any film… when you compromise your voice for any film… you’re telling the studios that you’ll do it again for them if the circumstance is right. Maybe next time it’s the set of BATTLEFIELD EARTH 2 they need to fly you to since the buzz isn’t so good. Maybe next time it’ll be GANGS OF NEW YORK, and you’ll realize it’s really in trouble, and you don’t want to be the dick who slagged Scorsese and gave Matt [Lilliard] a free pass so you don’t pipe up again. Once you’ve started, where’s the line drawn? When Harry wrote about his GRINCH set visit, he still had a number of questions. Score. Script. Editing. FX. He wrote about the sets and the makeup only, and he was very clear that he wasn’t claiming the film would be great. When he and I saw an early cut of the film, we both thought there was very good material in there, and with judicious cutting of the broad comedy, it could be a solid picture. This was pre-FX, pre-score, and pre final cut, though, and we still qualified it as such. We said it could be affected radically by those things. For years, Bill Mechanic was notoriously mad at Harry because he flew him to LA for the premiere of ALIEN RESURRECTION, a film Fox was sure Harry would cream over. At the premiere, they pressed Harry for a reaction, and he told them flat out that he thought it was a piece of shit. We’re still not invited to Fox screenings.

DS: You’ve got me all erect and bothered by the notion of these press junkets. Can you take me through a typical screening/hype machine, and describe the naughty things they do to coach good publicity out of your Anyone ever offer you an underage hooker or good smack?

DM: To be frank, AICN doesn’t do many junkets. We’ve all done a few, but for the most part, those are all parties being thrown by the studio. The studio is the entity that has the financial interest in the film, that doesn’t care what it has to do to jam that film down America’s throat, and that suffers if the movie fails. They are not to be trusted, ever, even when they have a good film on their hands. They sometimes don’t even realize they have a good film on their hands. AICN prefers to talk directly to key people on the projects, engaging them in dialogues, and we prefer to arm ourselves by reading the material we’re discussing. If we’re going to be tracking projects, we take it upon ourselves to read the scripts, to see what else we can dig up, to learn as much as we can so that we can offer our opinions to our audience. That doesn’t mean we think we’re right, either. Just informed. Opinion is still only opinion. Having said that, the junket process is interesting to observe a few times. A typical junket is divided up between print and television media. Television is always treated better. Television gets one-on-one time. Print gets stuck around a table together, jumping all over each other. It’s no fun, and it certainly isn’t any way to get any sort of real impression of an interview subject. I’ve had some interesting junket experiences and written about them extensively: PRINCESS MONONOKE, AMERICAN BEAUTY, and some of the ShoWest events are pieces I’d recommend to you, way too lengthy to repeat here. Harry just went through his first official junket, actually, in Cannes for LORD OF THE RINGS. That was different, though, because the director of the film really wanted him there. He and Peter Jackson have developed a great rapport in the three or four years Harry’s been writing about these films now. Harry has a piece that’s coming in the next few days that details his impressions of working an event like that one. Should be interesting. Notice that these aren’t really junkets where you fly somewhere for a set visit and are put up in a hotel and taken care of. Hawaii is a big place to do those, especially recently. THE BEACH. FINAL FANTASY. PEARL HARBOR. Each time, dozens and dozens of reporters are flown over, put up in luxury hotels, and there’s been a show put on for them, a concentrated effort. That type of event, like the surprise Phil Collins concert Disney threw in Vegas after a sneak of TARZAN in ’99, is designed to hammer a reviewer into submission. Harry has written quite openly about going to see the premiere of GODZILLA and loving the experience, only to see the film the next day and realize it sucked. It’s a valid point. There are people whose job is to design events that will influence people. I’m actually about to do my first out-of-town set visit. I’ve had a few offered, but they were big-budget monstrosities that didn’t really interest me. In this case, I’m going to Florida to spend a few days with John Sayles as he works on a film called SUNSHINE STATE starring Edie Falco and Angela Bassett. Indie film, ensemble drama, great script. I’m from Florida. Lived there most of my life. Why wouldn’t I want to go cover that and talk to him about the film? It’s just me, not a group of people all together, and it’s a great script. This is an opportunity that comes up that’s going to be worthwhile, and having done the research, I’m confident in accepting the trip. I’ve never been offered anything good, and I want it on the record: studios are not trying hard enough to buy me out. More than anything, it’s the lack of imagination that disappoints.

DS: Well, be honest here, do film critics actually have any fucking power? People are going to see “Godzilla” and “The Mummy Returns” no matter what anyone says… I think it’s the small indie flicks like Memento that you can make or break with reviews, and thus, word-of-mouth. If the studio throws a giant party where Phil Collins strips nude and moons the audience at the end, flashing a giant crusty cumstain that reads “Tarzan was here!”, isn’t the name-brand publicity enough?

DM: I don’t think critics have the power to break films. But I do think that if you develop a relationship with your readership over time, you might be able to help bring a smaller film to their attention that they might otherwise miss thanks to quirks in distribution or non-existent ad budgets. Ummm… sorry. You pretty much answered your own question.

DS: I did? Right on! I’m not supposed to know what I’m talking about though, so don’t tell anyone. So moving on, like any great soap opera, there’s always a twist that no one ever sees coming. What’s the twist of Ain’t-It-Cool-News? Are you and Harry secret gay lovers?

DM: Only if you listen to pretty much everything that comes out of Harry’s dirty lying mouth. The big twist of Ain’t It Cool News? Turns out, we’re all men.

DS: Too easy… must move on… must not succumb to temptation… to crack jokes about serious shortage of machismo… or conspiracy theory by Terry Gilliam to replace Harry with midgets from ‘Time Bandits’ in a giant gorilla suit… [injects heroin] Ahhhhh. Okay. So Moriarty, as you seemingly dwell in the giant, soul sucking shadow that is Harry Knowles, have you ever disagreed with his tactics? I don’t mean as a pure journalist, but say, do you support him when he begs like a bitch who hasn’t had non-battery-powered satisfaction in 25 years, milking his audience for birthday ‘pwesants?’

DM: Hey, that’s no space station! That’s my boss! One of my favorite things about AICN, and the reason that I ended up affiliated with this site and not one of the others, is that it’s all about personality. When Harry begs for pwesants, that’s really him. It’s not an act. He’s equal part four year old and forty year old, thanks to the really fairly insane life he’s led. He indulges my quirks and shortcomings like no one else ever would, having made me my own editor. Harry and I argue all the time about film and other things, and I think it’s important to know that you can call your friend a fucking retard, hang up on him, and still know he’s got your back.

DS: I have a question regarding your fans. Part of AICN’s claim-to-fame are the talkbacks, where each article/post has its own forum. On these talkbacks, fans get rowdy (of course), but often it goes way too far for most people. While jokes about Harry’s weight and your real name seem to be somewhat in vogue, I’ve noticed that the amount of venom thrown around when it comes to certain aspects of racism, homosexuality, and religion, well… tend to get really fucking vile. Now while you can’t really control who your fan base is, and even though freedom of speech is still an assumption, why haven’t you guys made a stronger effort to curb some of the really bad shit?

DM: First… the whole “freedom of speech” thing refers to the phrase “Congress shall pass no laws restricting freedom of speech,” which has little or nothing to do with our Talk Backs. That’s a forum, a service we provide for the readers of our site, and as such, it’s subject to moderation in any form we see fit. Having said that, we consider Talk Back an experiment, and we try to keep our hands off it as much as possible, even when someone shows their ass. That’s part of it. Fanboys can be morons. One very well-known filmmaker described Talk Back to me once as “rabid ferrets fucking in a burlap sack.” Another filmmaker I know is actively terrified of Talk Backs. They can say incredibly little things about people, and they can fly off the handle faster than anyone. On the other hand, they can be deeply knowledgeable about all sorts of subjects, they can be wickedly funny, and they can argue passionately about any number of things. If someone’s a blatant moron, chances are someone else is going to call them on it. The personal attacks on us get deleted. It’s that simple. Or at least, I delete them. I have had many opportunities to take higher-paying gigs than AICN, and I’ve chosen to stay and work with Harry because I think we’re doing something really great, something I want to be able to say I was part of. And I think the fact that I put so much into the site, as do contributors like Hercules The Strong or Capone or Anton Sirius or our Euro-AICN guys or any of a dozen other regulars, all of whom do it for free, because they also like the idea of what we’re doing… I think that buys us a little automatic respect, and if someone’s not willing to afford that to us, then I have no problem taking the bandwidth back from them. There are times when our Talk Backers surprise us. Recently, I ran a review of a film I saw that I really like, really want to support, called JEEPERS CREEPERS. The film’s directed by Victor Salva, [of POWDER fame], who’s a controversial figure to put it mildly. Salva’s legal history has been well documented, and there are a number of people who won’t see something by him. Personally, I would be more likely to avoid seeing a John Landis film for moral reasons than Salva’s film, just because Salva did his time. When I ran the review, I really debated what to say in the article, whether I should address the issue, and in the end, I decided not to bring it up at all, not to say anything about Salva’s personal life. He made a great, original monster movie, and that’s all I wanted to talk about. When I posted the story, I was dreading the Talk Backs, and instead of it turning into the homophobic hysterical free for all I was afraid it could be, it turned into a serious, intelligent conversation about the merit of art versus an artist’s personal life. I’ve noticed, too, that the most thoughtful people tend to e-mail us instead of posting to the public forum. The best feedback we get is in e-mail, and the volume tends to be greater, too. I think the Internet sponsors an idea of intimacy. People feel comfortable engaging you in a direct conversation if you give them the address.

DS: In your articles, you seem to cover indies to B-flicks to blockbusters. Do you have a particular favorite genre or type of film that makes you just spray your shorts with that diabolical green seed of yours?

DM: Are the Coen Brothers a genre? Every film viewer has their fetishes. I’m still figuring some of mine out. I didn’t know until recently that I’m pretty much head over heels with Italian films from the ’70s. Quentin Tarantino turned me on to some amazing gangster films by a guy named Fernando Di Leo that are genuinely about as good as any gangster flicks I’ve seen. My two favorite movies are Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL and David Lean’s LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Make of that what you will. I grew up on the films of the ’70s and ’80s, and as a result, I find my heart is equally pitched between small, personal, challenging films, and big giant blockbusters. It’s the thing that makes it possible for me to do a lot of the work on AICN. One of the things I’m painfully aware of is my own blind spots in film. I’m working on my international cinema knowledge, seeing anything I can, and god bless programs like the American Cinematheque for making things like that available. I think having an appetite for all cinema is crucial if you plan to write about it. If I was a snob towards fun movies, I would eventually turn into a broken record, someone like Kenneth Turan who seems incapable of enjoying certain films. If that ever happened, I’d stop writing about movies. What would be the point?

DS: Now, we all know that Hollywood is filled with some really interesting people, and judging by the amount of cameos that Harry gets, those people do some really interesting drugs (or know good publicity whoring when they see it.) Has anyone ever offered either you or Harry a film/TV deal, behind the camera or pen?

DM: Harry and I come at that from real different directions. See, I moved to LA ten years ago for one reason: to make films. I had my first piece of writing produced in 1995, and I’ve been a WGAw member ever since, along with my writing partner, Scott Swan. We’ve been repped by agencies like William Morris, UTA, and the Gersh Agency, and right now, we are preparing for our newest piece of work to go out to buyers. I’ve taken meetings where people just wanted to meet Moriarty, and I’ve taken meetings with people who have no idea what AICN is. In the end, I don’t think it really helps, but I don’t think it hurts, either. And what happens if something sells? Well, I make a full disclosure on the page so no one thinks I’m being sneaky, and then I split my duties as Moriarty with my work as a writer, and I just keep doing what I do now. Harry, on the other hand, actively works to keep those kinds of offers away at the moment. He’s been offered directing jobs — at least two I know of r but AICN is something he’s building for the long haul, something that is going to be around for a while if he has his way, and he’s focusing his energy on things like our upcoming pilot for our television show and ways of expanding the AICN brand. Sooner or later, he’ll get the bug, and the right opportunity will fall into place, and he’ll make a movie. And when that happens… God have mercy on us all.

DS: Whoaaaaa… god I love this job, didn’t see that coming at all. You’ve been repped by WHOMr With names like that (on most Fantasy Sports Screenwriter’s pools, I might add) why have you continued to switch teams? Are they just not managing to sell your shit?

DM: They sold some. Didn’t sell all of it. And in the end, you get swallowed at the bigger agencies unless you’re at the top of the call lists, and I wasn’t. I got inherited by one agent from another, left that agency to follow the first agent, got lost in the roster at the new agency, switched again, finally found an agent I had a real rapport with, and then he left to become a manager, and I followed. It’s just the way relationships evolve. You hop around a lot until you find the place where you belong, and then you finally settle down and get to work. I have no illusions about my place in this industry right now. The one film that’s been made from a script of mine is unreleaseable indie blather, sitting on a shelf in Chicago right now. I’ve been paid to write quite a few scripts that haven’t made it to screen. I’m still a question mark in most people’s minds, if they think of me as a writer at all. That’s changed the last few years thanks to the last few projects we’ve written. Each one has opened new doors for us, each one has attracted major fans who continue to work to get the films made, and each one has marked real growth for us as writers. The new script, as I said, is just about to finally be released, and we’re in an odd place this time, with people actively chasing it, trying to be in line to see it first. Here’s hoping we’ve written something that is worth all the attention it’ll get.

DS: Can you name some of the absolute lowest, dirtiest things that you have done to get a scoop? That ‘you’ is collective, by the way, and includes Harry and anyone else involved with the site.

DM: You’re not going to believe me, but I can’t think of any. It’s really not like that. I’ve never had to do anything I’d even consider slightly shady to get a scoop. The most infamous for the site overall is probably the Oscar “scoop” that happened over the nominations in 2000, but I wasn’t involved, and I still don’t really know much about how it all went down. That’s a Harry story.

DS: How many people actually visit AICN per day? Actually, let me rephrase, how many freakin’ impressions are you getting in order to justify that 4-figure daily advertising fee that’s currently being lobbied on the site?

DM: Assloads, dude. We do somewhere around 350,000 individual users per day, and that’s not the number of impressions. That’s much larger. Overall, we’re reportedly seeing about 3 million discrete users each month.

DS: Okay. Very important question. Can you get me tickets to the “AI” press screening?

DM: Damn! I was about to ask you the same thing. I think they just showed it to long-lead critics this past Monday. I’m harassing everyone I know for a ticket to any screening of it before it opens, and I am willing to use brute force if required.

DS: I guess I gotta ask you what your plans are for the future. Do you want to stay with AICN, start your own rumor site, work for a print magazine, troll full-time in Hollywood for writing gigs, or just be a pimp?

DM: I have a very strong pimp hand, and I gots me some fine ho’s, but all that’s just so I keep in touch with my spiritual side. On a professional level, I’ve got the most half-assed, random sort of game plan you can imagine. I’ve been very lucky as a writer so far. Every time I’ve gotten passionate about what I was writing, I’ve found an audience for it. My next step is to take that further in every arena. I’m talking about doing detailed books about the making of a few films in the near future, we’re literally in pre-production on the pilot of our show as I type this (the designs are wonderful… just wonderful, I tell you!), and my new script is about to be released to readers. I want to make my own films and not just comment on the work of others. I’m willing to lay my balls out there and let other people take their shots. The most important thing is to continue this amazing rapport I’ve developed with my audience. I love our readers. They’re fascinating, and they surprise me daily with the mail they send. They are smart, funny, and they’re nobody you expect. The age range of our readership goes from mid 50s to mid teens, and they all write. People’s moms write me. Kids write me. The people I write about write me. If I make even the slightest of factual hiccups, I get 200 e-mails in an hour to correct me. It’s awesome to think that there are all these people out there who I am able to engage in this great ongoing conversation about movies, and I hope that when I am making my own films, they all come along for the ride.

DS: Okay man, just one more question for you, perhaps the most important one of all! If you could have any living movie star shove his or her fist up your rectal cavity, whom would you choose? Yes, you must choose, and choose wisely… and fucking be honest!

DM: My first choice would be Famke Janssen, because, you know, she’s the Dutch Treat. She’s crazy. I can tell. I’m sure we’d both be hopped up and it’d be real wild time. And if Famke was booked… well… maybe Mickey Rooney, ’cause he got some fine tail back in the day, and his hands… they’re sooooo tiny. It’d be a real smooth ride with the Mick. Anyway, thanks for taking the time. Read AICN. Adios.

DS: You’ve never dated a Dutch bitch before, have you? Take care, man, come back and whore your wares to me anytime you want.

Kudos to Moriarty and the AICN staff. See you all next time, when I attempt to understand the mind of a guy who works in a fisting bar.