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||He has a firebrands passion for cinema and unlike most critics today hes not afraid to call foul on the biggest names in the biz.
With not much more than a rabid fans encyclopedic knowledge of movies and an internet connection, Harry fashioned himself into a film critic.
Now every major player in Hollywood visits Aint It Cool News,
his website of reviews and opinion, as religiously as they read Variety.
JESSE: You basically built a media empire from a bedroom in your dads house in Austin.
HARRY: Back in 1996, the only movie news online was a site called Mr.
Show Biz, which just reprinted stuff from Variety and Hollywood Reporter.
Entertainment Weekly had a site, but it was the same as the print version,
and it came out a week later. The postings at movie news groups were one good
source for info, because in amongst the embittered bitching, people would interject
actual news items to add to the conversation. Aint It Cool
News started when I said, Why dont I gather all the good stuff
at a new site?
JESSE: How did you put together your network of spies?
HARRY: After eight months of doing the site, I found this guy who claimed to have seen all the big movies that were coming out that summer and this was in January. I was like, Hes a fuckin liar! So I got in touch with him. He told me that the studios do advance screenings of movies to see if theyre any good. He said, Ive been doing this for years. I asked him to write for the site, and then I started searching online for other people who were writing early reviews. Also, I had a lot of extremely gung ho L.A. fans theyd paste posters for the site in theater bathrooms and hand out cards with the web address on them. I wasnt encouraging it, but I was also like, Wow, this is cool.
JESSE: You watched your army grow. Was there a certain point when the site really took off?
HARRY: Batman and Robin was like the kerosene that really got
us going. Ive always been perturbed by the way that superhero comics tend
to get made into B movies. People like Joel Schumacher direct them, as opposed
to Scorcese or Coppola. Personally, I see no difference between Batman
and Beowulf. Theyre both pop legends of their time.
JESSE: I do remember the site just ripping Batman and Robin to shreds.
HARRY: When the reviews of the early tests came in, people were writing about a screening where someone in the audience had stood up and screamed, Death to Schumacher! Then I found a review by a guy who said that he got so impassioned that he stood up and screamed during the screening.
JESSE: You found him.
HARRY: And I was like, Can I use your review on my site? Ive
got all these other reviewers that said they heard you scream. When I
posted all the reviews of that Batman and Robin test, it was the clarion
call: cry havoc and release the dogs of war on Hollywood.
JESSE: That was 1997.
HARRY: An exceptionally bad summer for movies. People gripe about this
past summer, but 97 had Speed 2 and Batman and Robin, which
were excruciatingly bad. And the good movies that came out that summer were
things like L.A. Confidential, which didnt make any money, and
Contact, which they completely bungled the marketing job on. So even
when the studios were putting out good stuff, I would scream at them for marketing
JESSE: Pretty relentless.
HARRY: Then, that August, the L.A. Times ran a piece that preemptively
trashed Titanic. Not because they knew anything about the film or theyd
read the script, but because of rumors about James Cameron throwing hissyfits
and screaming at stunt men, budget overruns, obscene excess in terms of attention
to detail. They were setting it up to be another Heavens Gate.
JESSE: A total studio killer.
HARRY: The media attention was so bad that Fox actually sold off half
of the film to Paramount. And I was getting really upset because Id read
the script and it was good. Also, Cameron had cast it dead on. Leonardo DiCaprios
star had just taken off after Romeo and Juliet. My sister already had
Leo Fever. I realized, This could be huge. So I got the drop on
a test screening. Somebody at the studio contacted me and hinted that it was
going to take place in the Twin Cities. I recruited through the site, telling
people in the Minneapolis area to contact me because I had a secret mission
for them. About thirty people wound up getting in, and the reviews were all
sterling. Just positive to the extreme. Within two days, there was a front-page
story on me in Variety and a major story in Hollywood Reporter.
Then Entertainment Weekly and Premiere picked up the story
Titanic was going to be the biggest film ever made. There was a total
reversal in the press. So, instead of being the scariest guy in the world, I
became the guy who could save Hollywood.
JESSE: Which is just as ludicrous.
HARRY: Yeah. By the time Titanic came out, there were people in
the media saying, The boy who made the biggest film ever in box office
history. It was insane all I did was help the media turn a corner.
James Cameron made the friggin movie, and little girls who were in love
with Leo made it take off. I figured into the equation only on the minor level
of turning the medias attention. So Titanic and Batman and Robin
were the films that created the entire pop mythology of the site.
JESSE: And how did things change for you then?
HARRY: I started getting the best people in Hollywood people from inside the studios to be my spies. We began to get first reviews of literally every film in the world. I also took on the reputation of being somebody who would champion scripts, get early drafts out of development hell, and shame bad filmmakers out of projects.
JESSE: They really took heed of what you said.
HARRY: Totally. There I was, a fat geek who didnt finish college shaking the foundations of these giant corporations. I look back on it now and its so patently Capraesque.
JESSE: What are your criticisms of the movie industry right now?
HARRY: The most depressing thing is the major studios obligatory:
Weve got to have a gigantic summer film. Dont get me
wrong I love big summer films. But I hate it when theyre rushed.
New Line recently announced that theyre making a third Austin Powers
that will shoot in November and be released in July. That is such a slam-bam
schedule. I like films that actually get a good amount of pre-production time.
JESSE: Theres also the event-movie syndrome. Films will do one huge weekend of business and then theyre gone.
HARRY: Thats Entertainment Tonights fault. When that
show debuted in the early 80s, they always focused on what movie made
the most money each weekend, and then the papers started doing the Top Ten every
Monday and Tuesday. It became all-important to be Number One.
JESSE: Which made for massive openings.
HARRY: The first Star Wars opened in 1977 in something like twenty-six
theaters. The Phantom Menace opened in 1999 on about four thousand screens.
JESSE: Thats out of control.
HARRY: Its sort of like if all women woke up one day and decided they only wanted to sleep with guys who came quickly. All of a sudden the most important thing is: Biggest gross ever. Premature ejaculation would be a virtue.
JESSE: What else is wrong in Hollywood now?
HARRY: Studio executives and creative developers thinking that they themselves
are creative. I have a copy of a script called Kill Shop, which is based
on a fantastic Elmore Leonard book. The first draft was amazing. Ive read
the two subsequent drafts and each one got decidedly worse.
JESSE: Because of studio interference?
HARRY: Yeah, because of Miramax. And Miramax is supposed to be a bastion
for artists. Theyre supposed to be the good guys. When even they start
overdeveloping great work, making it mediocre, you sort of begin to lose hope.
USA Films, the studio that put out Traffic, is trying to woo really big
directors away from Miramax the names that made Miramax what it is.
JESSE: Im thinking of the initials Q.T.
HARRY: No comment.
JESSE: You dont wait until a movie opens to talk about it you follow the script and the entire production.
HARRY: It has to start with the script. Take a look at Oceans
Eleven, Steven Soderberghs next film. I read the original screenplay
and it was fantastic. Then I heard they were rewriting it. Rewriting almost
never does any good. But the first rewrite came out and it was fantastic.
Then they rewrote it again! I was like, What are they doing? Finally,
I got the shooting draft and I said, Oh, please be good. And it
was. Plus, the film has a great cast and an impeccable director whos on
an insane run right now. So I feel no shame in hyping the hell out of Oceans
Eleven. However, I wont stop looking for evidence that it could be
bad. I actually got one of my top guys into a test screening.
JESSE: How did you manage that?
HARRY: We contacted Soderbergh and said, Is the film shitty? Are
you afraid to let us in? Thats how we got to see Gladiator
before it was released. A theater in San Francisco had offered me its space
for a screening, so I called DreamWorks and said, Is Gladiator
ready to show to a room full of film geeks? DreamWorks bit, and the audience
went nuts for it.