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

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire March 7, 2014 at 9:32AM

When a Manhattan theater openly offers to help filmmakers game the system, it might be time for the New York Times to rethink its policy of reviewing every movie that opens in the five boroughs.
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"Dark House" opens at Manhattan's Quad Cinema on March 14
"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:

Quad
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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