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New York Times Movie Reviews, $11,000 a Pop

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by Sam Adams
March 7, 2014 9:32 AM
8 Comments
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"Dark House" opens at Manhattan's Quad Cinema on March 14

It's not exactly news that certain New York theaters are in the business of renting out their screens to filmmakers for the express, even sole, purposes of garnering a review in the New York Times. Not so long ago, this was considered a step in the right direction:

Leading Manhattan art house, the Quad Cinema, has developed a new division called "Quad Cinema 4-Wall Select," a program it styles as an opportunity for indie filmmakers to theatrically open a self-distributed movie in New York. The theater plans to "carefully select" films for the program to insure that titles participating in the new initiative "meet the Quad's standards."

But if those standards are still applied, they're elusive at best; among critics who write for New York-based publications, a Quad release has become shorthand for a subpar movie that's inevitably passed off to a third- or fourth-string freelancer -- a response that, while reductive and undoubtedly unfair to certain films, is nonetheless backed up by ample experience. 

It's not surprising that the Quad might spin its four-wall initiative one way to an indie-film news site and another to hopeful filmmakers. But it it is striking how nakedly they pitch potential clients on their ability to game the system. In an email sent to Indiewire titled "SUBJECT: THE IMPORTANCE OF A NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW," Quad president Elliott Kanbar writes:

As long as the system remains as it is, there's no reason for filmmakers not to exploit it: $11,000, the coast of the Quad's program, wouldn't buy a postage stamp's worth of ad space in the Times, let alone the column inches covered by the shortest review. Nor is it reasonable to expect the filmmaking community to take its collective foot off the gas just to make journalists' jobs easier. But when the opportunity -- or "OPPORTUNITY," as the Quad's pitch to potential four-wall clients repeatedly puts it -- is being so openly manipulated, a rethink might be in order.
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8 Comments

  • ANONYMOUS DISTRIBUTOR | March 7, 2014 7:56 PMReply

    The thing that really sucks about it is that the Quad's not a bad theater, and lots of decent films do well there. But the crap they four-wall turns off every critic, every filmmaker, and I suspect, a chunk of the audience. $11,000 a week seems like easy money, but what's the cost for the hit on reputation?

  • Sam Adams | March 8, 2014 12:27 AM

    I don't think anyone's quite read it this way, but I hope it's clear I'm not anti-Quad (or anyone else who does it, although in NY they seem to be synonymous with the process). As long as the current system exists, someone will exploit it.

  • Jordan Hoffman | March 7, 2014 4:46 PMReply

    The Quad is still a decent place to go if you are in the Washington Square area and missed a much discussed movie and wanna catch it right before it is on DVD. "Inside Llewyn Davis" is playing there right now. Not too shabby. Plus, the place has a bit of a vibe. Original poster of "Blow-Up" and "Persona" in the carries a lot of capital with me.

    However, the many 4-walled films I've been condemned to see (in the exact assignment scenario Sam discusses) have ranged between awful and atrocious. And that's just the As. Maybe someday a gem will slip through. Anything's possible. But when you consider the redundancy safety checks that are the festivals you've heard of and film distributors, I'm not holding my breath.

  • Jordan Hoffman | March 7, 2014 4:47 PM

    *in the lobby.
    It's Friday.

  • FP | March 7, 2014 2:33 PMReply

    Okay, now you're just trolling, Sam. Why didn't you just title this piece, "NY Times, Elliot Kanbar Has Horrible Taste. Stop Reviewing His Films"? Talk about a misleading headline and a lack of context. You don't work for the Times. Who are you to tell them who to work with, and why as someone covering independent film, when not ditching screenings, are advocating less opportunity for independent film?

    Ladies and gents, the white Armond White.

  • Sam Adams | March 7, 2014 7:08 PM

    First, nowhere do I "tell the New York Times what to do." I suggest reconsidering an approach that dates back to when there were a few hundred movies opening in a year, not well over a thousand.
    Second, you will find little (really, no) evidence to support the idea that flooding the Times with reviews every Friday is good for anyone (except maybe the Quad, et al). The reviews aren't widely read, and the movies, which sorry to say largely deserve their fates, aren't seen. This isn't kindergarten. Not everybody gets a trophy.
    Third, you don't know what "trolling" means.

  • j | March 7, 2014 10:02 AMReply

    I'm all for giving (even selling) opportunities for films to be seen. When the Quad started this, I posted on FB that is was "a step in the right direction." in exact agreement with the opening of this page.

    But, the New York Times has, or should have, standards. It will not review books published by vanity publishers, for example.

    I wouldn't want all the films played at the Quad's Four Wall option to be excluded from the New York Times reviews. But, maybe the Times could exclude lukewarm & worse reviews of films that have been four-walled. That way, the Quad couldn't guarantee a Times review, and promoters of lousy films will have less of an incentive to hire the Quad.

  • Sam Adams | March 7, 2014 12:29 PM

    That seems like a step in the right direction. The Times doesn't review every book, every album, or every TV show. A commitment forged when 200-300 movies opened in a year does not mean the same thing now.

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