Hollywood Media Is Abuzz With a Star Columnist’s Request for Priority Access
A well-respected awards columnist at The Hollywood Reporter is causing a stir in Hollywood media over an email he sent to studios and strategists last week, requesting priority access to the hottest movies coming this year. If the studios didn’t comply, there may be consequences, he suggested in the email. “As you plan the rollout of your film(s), I would like to respectfully ask that you not show films to any of my fellow awards pundits before you show them to me, even if that person represents himself or herself to you as (a) a potential reviewer of it, (b) needing to see the film in order to be part of decisions about covers, or (c) really anything else,” Scott Feinberg, THR’s executive editor of awards, wrote in the email reviewed by Vanity Fair.
“We feel that doing so is plainly unfair to THR, as it puts us at a competitive disadvantage, especially at film fests, where every second counts,” Feinberg wrote. “It is not unreasonable to ask you to insist that someone is either an awards pundit or a critic/cover editor, but not both, at least during awards season,” he added, expressing apparent frustration that critics and editors who also do awards punditry jump him—primarily an awards pundit—in line to get access to screenings. Feinberg, a longtime Hollywood columnist, is known for the “Feinberg Forecast,” in which he predicts various showbiz awards races, and for his interview-driven Awards Chatter podcast.
In the email, he went on to imply that there would be repercussions for studios that continued to widely distribute invitations to screenings, and that “moving forward, [THR] may take that into consideration during the booking of roundtables, podcasts, and other coverage,” he wrote, referring to the sought-after spots on the outlet’s celebrity-fueled discussion series. Sources who saw the email—which I’m told went out widely and has since circulated even further—found it either a faintly absurd attempt to get ahead of his competitors or an implied threat that they had to take seriously. “As somebody who’s organizing and spearheading an Oscar campaign this year for a certain title, it just puts a really bad taste in my mouth,” says one senior publicist at a top studio, who notes that the decision to screen early “lives with me, and it lives with people who are working with filmmakers.” They added: “This culture of prescreening has just clearly gotten a little bit out of control if you have these kinds of emails going around, where people are demanding they see it before their competitors, who are actually their colleagues.”
Penske Media Corporation took over operations of THR in 2020, as it continued to expand its entertainment news footprint. The company also oversees Deadline, Variety, Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Indiewire. A spokesperson for PMC clarified in a statement that Feinberg “did not in any way mean to imply that he should see films before others, but just that all awards analysts should see them at the same time and not be given preferential treatment,” adding that the email was “inartfully worded” and that Feinberg plans to follow up with the studios and strategists to make that clear. “It was Scott’s understanding that there have been instances where other awards analysts have gotten early access to a film by also claiming to be a reviewer and were able to see films before others. Any suggestion of consequences for not providing early viewing access to Scott was not the intent,” the spokesperson said.
In many ways, Feinberg’s ask speaks to this moment in Hollywood—as the dual writers and actors strikes turn the entertainment media apparatus on its head. Feinberg specifically noted his desire for exclusives “given the relative quiet in the business,” and cordially expressed his hope to work with film promoters through what will likely be a very bizarre awards season. SAG-AFTRA, the union representing Hollywood actors, has barred actors from promoting their work in the press, putting an indefinite moratorium on everything from cover shoots to interviews to red carpets. Meanwhile, the screenwriters work stoppage has ground the entertainment industry to a halt. “The celebrity factory has shut down,” The Ankler CEO Janice Min told Vanity Fair last month. “If this goes on for a long time, you will feel it across the whole internet.” Trade publications like THR and Variety will likely feel it even more, given the loss of advertising—particularly around for-your-consideration campaigns—that comes with the press blackout.