As John Oliver pointed out in a magnificent segment on Sunday, the once-inviolable wall between the Church and State of journalism and advertising has become as flimsy as an office-cubicle divider. A few weeks ago, Criticwire wrote about a site that solicits payment from reviews from filmmakers themselves, and today, I received (twice!) the following email:
My name is Jake and I’m a marketing associate for Riot Studios’ newest film, Believe Me. The film releases in Theaters and On Demand September 26th and features Nick Offerman (NBC's Parks and Recreation), Alex Russell (Unbroken), Christopher McDonald (Happy Gilmore), and Grammy Award-winning rapper, Lecrae. After coming across Criticwire, I feel this film is a perfect fit for your readership.
WATCH the trailer featuring music from Jack White: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4z-s3x5x5I
We want to pay you to write about the upcoming release of BELIEVE ME. We'll supply you with a unique link to use in your article and on social media that directs people to the film's homepage and pays you $0.10 each time one of your readers clicks it.
How does it work?
Click here: team.believemefilm.com, and enter your email to receive your unique link.
After you sign up, you'll get an email with all instructions on how to track your clicks and eventually cash out your earnings. I have attached the movie's Press Release and Suggested Interview Questions to assist you in your coverage.
For interviews with the cast, please contact: Michael Conrad, Michael@Lovell-Fairchild.com 214-616-0320. Please let me know if you have any questions or if this is something you would be interested in writing about.
Heading to the site takes you to a further pitch, this one from "Belive Me's" cast (and who can resist a pitch from "Requiem for a Dream's" Tappy Tibbons?):
On the one hand, I suppose it can't hurt to ask. But it should go without saying — although I fear it may not — that any writer who takes Jake up on his offer has effectively changed careers from journalism to marketing. In fact, that's their pitch: Instead of paying some big-ticket marketing firm to hype the movie, we're paying you — yes, you! — to get people excited about the movie. (Granted, they're paying in nickels and dimes, but who doesn't love gum?) Not only does the proposed deal offer writers an incentive to urge readers towards the movie's site, but it gives them a commission on sales. (Incidentally, I signed up at the site to test-drive the system, but the affiliate link is not used anywhere in this post.)
To be fair, although the email's aimed at professional writers, the video is aimed directly at fans: It's not trying to corrupt critics, some of whom like "Believe Me" fairly well, as as much as it is supplementing (or, less charitably, bypassing) them. Of course, indie filmmakers ask supporters to get the word out about their films all the time, but most can't even afford a few cents a hit. If you watch the trailer for "Believe Me," which is crisply cut to a Jack White song, it's clear there's at least some money behind it:
So it seems what's really going on here is the promotional equivalent of what political activists call Astroturf, using money to create the appearance of a grass-roots campaign. Given that "Believe Me" is scheduled to open opposite the likes of "The Equalizer," "The Boxtrolls," and "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby," you can't blame them for trying to stand out in a crowd. But it's unlikely people clicking on all those Facebook and Tumblr links will know why they were posted in the first place.