From Austin's Basement to Hollywood's Back Door: The Rise of Ain't It Cool News and Convergence Culture

By Owczarski, Kimberly | Journal of Film and Video, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

From Austin's Basement to Hollywood's Back Door: The Rise of Ain't It Cool News and Convergence Culture


Owczarski, Kimberly, Journal of Film and Video


Billy Wilder once said there're only two things that money is any good for: helping your friends out, and telling producers "fuck you." I don't have fuck-you money yet, but I do have a Web site.

- Harry Knowles (Knowles, Cullum, and Ebner 100)

although new technologies have always been integrated into Hollywood filmmaking practices, digital technologies offer vastly different opportunities for the industry than adapting to the wide-screen format, sound, or color. Computer-generated imagery (CGI) allows for creation of the unfilmable in lifelike realism, as the realism of the aliens in District 9 (2009) attests. The final, digital print of a film permits both a cheaper and a more widespread release pattern, as witnessed by the worldwide release of Avatar (2009) on more than 17,000 screens simultaneously. Studios can use the Internet to promote films and target specific markets, as Paramount successfully did with Paranormal Activity (2009), attracting the desirable young demographic to theaters through having them demand a screening in their hometown via a specific social networking Web site, Eventful.com-a tactic that helped the low-budget film generate more than $100 million at the domestic box office. DVDs, or digital versatile discs, provide a nonlinear approach to the film-viewing experience, allowing the viewer to choose what content and in what order. All of these new digital technologies have contributed to the soaring grosses of Hollywood in recent years and play a crucial role in how texts currently are developed, filmed, marketed, and released.

Though these technologies undeniably have offered new possibilities for filmmaking and profit in Hollywood, they also offer a number of new challenges. Copies of films are available via the Internet while they are still in the theaters, sometimes even before their initial release date, as occurred with Fox's X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), a problem heightened by increasing access to broadband and Ethernet connections worldwide. Individual Web sites can broadcast material that studios do not want made public, such as unfinished scripts, pictures of costumes, or entire episodes of a TV series. Viacom's recent lawsuit against Google over the continual uploading of the company's intellectual property onto YouTube is a high-profile manifestation of this conflict. Studios fear that these sites will provide misinformation about their product and will keep them from earning profits that legally belong to them. As digital technologies continue to develop, Hollywood studios face growing difficulties in protecting their products and are threatened particularly by the highly unregulated nature of the Internet.

However, it is not only recently that Hollywood has faced substantial challenges as a result of new media technologies and how consumers are making use of them. In the past, Hollywood studios originally reacted to television, cable, and home video with hostility, only to find that each of these technologies in fact helped them earn substantial profits.1 In many ways, Hollywood studios' initial reaction to the Internet mirrored their reactions to these earlier technological challenges. In the late 1990s, Chris Pula, then the president of marketing for Warner Brothers, claimed that the Internet was dangerous to the film industry, particularly in terms of marketing, because "anyone with a computer has this profound bully pulpit at their disposal. To dismiss it as a silly little annoyance would be imprudent" (qtd. in Haring D6). Speaking primarily against Harry Knowles's Ain't It Cool News (hereafter AICN) Web site, Pula and other Hollywood industry insiders believed that unsanctioned Web sites such as AICN threatened the Hollywood system of film marketing because individual users could post reactions to early test screenings. In a 1997 article for the New York Times Magazine, journalist Bernard Weinraub described Knowles as "Hollywood's worst nightmare" and stressed that AICN offered "a direct threat" to the preview process for soon-to-be-released films (119). …

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