By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood March 10, 2010 at 8:12AM
Todd McCarthy got some good news and bad news Monday. While he lost his job (after 31 years) as chief critic at venerable trade Variety, he will go to the Cannes International Film Festival as the newest member of the New York Film Festival selection committee. The official announcement
is expected shortly came Friday. McCarthy talks to the NYT.
Last year the Film Society added two film critics, ex-Time Out New York reviewer Melissa Anderson and ex-Voice film editor Dennis Lim, to the committee, joining LA Weekly film editor Scott Foundas (who has since joined the Film Society of Lincoln Center as an associate programmer) and Voice critic Jim Hoberman, whose term has since expired and was not extended. There had been speculation that Film Society director Mara Manus would rejigger the composition of the committee in hope of winding up with a more audience-friendly NYFF programme.
As McCarthy considers his options, no talks have begun with Variety regarding his freelance status, leaving the trade's Cannes coverage up in the air. McCarthy used to coordinate a global slate of reviews with London-based Derek Elley. Junior critic and copy editor Justin Chang is the only Variety staffer who is in a position to glue the Cannes coverage together. In other words, if Variety had really wanted to keep on critics McCarthy, Elley and David Rooney as freelance contributors, editor Tim Gray did nothing to set that up in advance and by summarily laying them off (btw, I object to the The Wrap's over-dramatic use of the word "fired"), alienated the marquee names he says he intended to keep on board.
Not surprisingly, other outlets are already approaching McCarthy, although he will soon be forced to deal with the harsh reality of the journalism economy. He could opt to write more film books (his biography of Howard Hawks is a must-own) and pursue documentary filmmaking, along the lines of ex-Time critic Richard Schickel.
In other Variety news, staffer Ali Jaafar has left the London office to pursue
PR moviemaking, while editor-in-chief-turned-columnist Peter Bart (star with Peter Guber of the Encore showbiz series In the House) has lost his phone-answering, email-printing assistant and corporate BlackBerry. He used to type his correspondence, columns and blog entries (which he abandoned after Michael Fleming defected to Deadline.com) on a typewriter and have someone else put them on the computer. Now he files from home.
When Bart, who started his career at the New York Times, was running Variety from his corner office overlooking Wilshire Boulevard, he had the power to fight the good fight for the institution he built. Now numbers cruncher and Variety publisher Neil Stiles is the architect of change. His lack of faith in the future of Variety came across loud and clear at an October Digital Hollywood panel where he asked, “If content is not king. What is?” His answer was to stop worshipping content and think about how to serve Variety's users. “I don’t think ad revenue and subscription streams support what we do,” he said. “‘I’m not optimistic about supporting the habit we call journalism...The issue is two-fold: how to pay for it. The old model doesn’t work. We have started toward paid content. It is going to be different than it has been in the past.”
Judging from lay-offs vs. new hires, Stiles is abandoning quality journalism in favor of the conference business. He's turning a 104-year-old brand into a series of trade shows.