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New Hollywood Jesus owners = dudes from Grace Hill Media

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According to producer and director Phil Cooke, one of the most popular Christian movie review Web sites was purchased this month by Grace Hill Media, Jonathan Bock's publicity company which markets big studio movies to Christian audiences.

As I admire and respect both David Bruce, the former owner of the site, and Jonathan Bock, for his heart in helping Christian journalists get involved in pursuing excellent and honest stories on film, I find this news a bit disorienting.

I understand the need for good publicity.

I understand the need for excellence in film criticism.

But I'm not so sure I'm comfortable when they start mixing like this.

Will you trust reviews on a Web site that's run and paid for by a company that exists to promote the films?

Discuss.

The news is posted at:

http://www.philcooke.com/superman

By the way, Jonathan Bock and the team at Grace Hill Media have recently taken over the Hollywood Jesus site and given it quite a facelift.
Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Assuming the report is true, that explains why Hollywood Jesus writers get to rave and rave about Superman Returns, while those of us who are not being paid by the studio are being strictly instructed that we are not to publish our reviews until opening day under threat of penalty...


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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FWIW, I was a speaker at a meeting of Hollywood Jesus writers on New Year's Eve (that's where I finally met utzworld in the flesh!), and I seem to recall David Bruce saying something to "the troops" about an upcoming arrangement with Grace Hill. Though I don't think he got into anything more specific than that -- or if he did, I have completely forgotten it.

Incidentally, I posted a couple photos from that event here.


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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This one is a toughie. Without more details, this does seem to present a conflict of interest issue.

In this situation, won't this only affect their reviews of Grace Hill Media related films? (Granted, it sets a bad precedent, I am just wondering how this plays out.)


"...the vivid crossing of borders between film and theology may save the film from the banality of cinema and festival business, and it may also save the church from the deep sleep of the habitual and the always known."

(Hans Werner Dannowski)

Filmwell | Twitter

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Studios pay for junkets.

That's how most of the interviews and behind-the-scenes information ends up in articles about movies.

Christian critics have been flown to junkets by the studios for a few years now. I've attended many of these... on the condition that I would receive absolutely no direction on what to write.

No one has ever leaned on me about what to write.

All they've done is provided opportunities to do interviews and gain extra information.

And as you'll see if you read my review of Constantine and Secondhand Lions, I didn't hesitate to slam the movies when they fell short.

Now, if I was writing reviews for a site owned by a company promoting those movies, THAT would be a conflict of interest.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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As I stated in my post on HJ, I can't imagine a motive for GHM to purchase HJ other than to put forth positive reviews of its film. If all they want is exposure of their movies on the site, they could just buy advertising.

I'm hoping Bruce will speak up soon.

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Here's what I'd like to know:

Who is Rick Bonn's boss? Who hired him?

Did David Bruce hire him? Is David Bruce paying him? Or did Jonathan Bock hire him? Is the salary coming from Grace Hill?

The answer to that question determines whether Hollywood Jesus is an arm of the studio, or a critical endeavor owned and run by David Bruce.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I sent an email to a friend of mine who knows Rick Bonn personally and asked him if he knew who he was working for. He's not mentioned on Grace Hill's website anywhere. It's pretty much just Bockland over there.

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This issue answers the question I raised here.

(Also addressed here.)

Alan's 2nd link is broken - use the one above in my quoting. I fixed it.

DB is on the site right now (David Bruce, not me). (12:30 PM EST) Maybe we'll get a response.

Grace Hill does not own HJ

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Rumors are amazing. HJ is in no way owned by Grace Hill Media. HJ is owned by "Hollywood Jesus, Inc." I am a partner in that corporation. Grace Hill is its own separate corporation. None of the writers at HJ are ever told what spin to give a review, nor are they ever told what to review or not review. Example: Grace Hill worked with "Cinderella Man" but HJ gave it a mediocre review. Same thing happened with

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Rod Dreher is succinct. (More about a particular film, but I thought it related here as well.)


"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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my response:

Are you a partner with Jonathan Bock of Grace Hill Media?

This is my source for the info. Is he completely off base?

Is it a coincidence that you and Grace Hill now have the same Web Site Designer and that your reviews of Superman were posted days before most journalists were allowed to release theirs?

They may be coincidences and rumors, and if they are let's quash them entirely

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Assuming the report is true, that explains why Hollywood Jesus writers get to rave and rave about Superman Returns, while those of us who are not being paid by the studio are being strictly instructed that we are not to publish our reviews until opening day under threat of penalty...

If you look very very carefully, Jeff, NONE of the HJ regulars (myself, Darrel, Mike Furches, Maurice Broaddus, Elizabeth Leitch, Mellisa Ledman, Mark Stokes, and others) have reviewed the film. Maurice did a commentary paralleling Superman with Christ, but NONE OF US have submitted a review of this film as of today (6/27/06 - 9:56 AM PST).

The reviews that you see are from OUTSIDE SOURCES and, once again, not from any (original) member of the Hollywood Jesus staff. David Bruce's policy from the time I first joined the team has been to build pages and start discussions of any given film long before it's released...he launched discussions for "The Passion Of The Christ" long before Mel Gibson even found a distributor.

In the future, and in light of the fact that 2 Hollywood Jesus representatives are members of A&F, I would hope that you or anyone else would check with the aforementioned HJ sources before airing commentary and making inaccurate assumptions such as this.

P.S. All of y'all should know by now that I'm not on anybody's payroll. I dance to the beat of my own Drummer. Neither Grace Hill nor David Bruce has ever influenced a single line of any of my reviews. That, my friends, Will Not Change.

Edited by utzworld

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I have just spoken with Jonathan Bock of Grace Hill Media.

Here's your answer.

Hollywood Jesus, Inc. is now co-owned by

Jonathan Bock

Ted Gartner

and

David Bruce.

So, Grace Hill owns Hollywood Jesus, right?

No. Hollywood Jesus is co-owned by David Bruce and... the owners of Grace Hill Media.

Conflict of interest? You be the judge.

If Bill Gates became editor of a computer-systems consumer-reports magazine, but made it clear that Microsoft was not in any way the owner of that magazine... would you take it as an objective source on the PC/Mac divide?

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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This from Bruce on the message board:

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The comment is not negative

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

His comment is:

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Conflict of interest? You be the judge.

HJ has been partnering with Grace Hill for a while now. From my POV, all they've done is gotten us in the door for screnings and press junkets. As I said before no one from Grace Hill has advised me or any other HJ staffer on what to put in our reviews. Regular viewership of my peeps' reviews will clue on in to the truth of this fact.

Quiet as its kept, with the exception of Darrel, I doubt that most of you even read us regularly (my stuff included). If that is not the case, let me know. As I said in another thread, I just assume that you sophisticates toss us on the trash heap of simplicity because our reviews aren't "deep" enough for ya. I eagerly anticipate being corrected!

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Is there a significant difference between these two scenarios?

A

Bill Gates buys and manages a Consumer Reports-style magazine judging the whole range of PC and Mac software and hardware.

B

Bill Gates invites the writers of a Consumer Reports-style magazine to his home so that he can give them a look at his new product, and allows them to report whatever they want.

Personally, I think I'd be less inclined to trust a publication in situation A than the publication in situation B.

And the question still remains:

If professional critics are expected to respect embargoes and avoid spoilers, what does it say for the Christian film critics at Hollywood Jesus and their editor when they disregard that message from the studio?

It seems to me that if they posted an early NEGATIVE review, they just might hear about it from the people who own their company, because those owners have some stake in the movie performing well.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I read HJ's reviews regularly for my Film Forum column.

If I find reviews that are written to professional standards --

that is, they have been carefully edited;

they demonstrate some critical thinking beyond "I liked it" or "I didn't like it;"

they go beyond summarizing the film;

they abastain from spoilers;

they avoid getting bogged down in "sin-counting" (to borrow a popular HJ term);

and they are published on the release date and not before...

then I include them in Film Forum.

But the truth is, I have to pay close attention to find reviews there that read as if a professional editor has read them carefully. Most of the reviews there read more like blog entries or Ain't It Cool News reviews than they do the kind of thing you'd find in The Seattle Times or The New York Times or even Entertainment Weekly (which is owned by a studio).

That is not to say I don't enjoy the HJ reviews. They're full of passion and personality. But enjoyable online reviews by moviegoers and reviews that are edited to the high standards of professional journalism... those are two different things.


P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Your C analogy is a little off. Bill hires Ken to promote his products, and Ken then buys out a Consumer Reports type publication.

The question is not about what we think of Bill or Ken, but whether we really trust that Consumer Reports magazine.

In addition I question your assertion that since one film review doesn't sway the market any more it's not as much an issue.

1. I think "Passion Dollars" (money spent by the vast Christian filmgoing community) are largely dictated by what the big Christian Film Reviewers are saying. And HJ is in the top three or so most popular of those sites.

2. Does the degree to which the impropriety has an effect really matter? If it's impropriety...

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In all of your options, Gates has "hired" someone.

When it comes to junkets, reporters haven't been hired by a studio at any point. Back to myself as an example, I've accepted an invitation to access resources that would help me write an article. If their belief is that "even bad press is good press," I'm happy to let them entertain that idea, because it's a lot more interesting to have quotes from the filmmakers that reveal their perspective on their film, for good or bad, than it is to sit and merely speculate.

But if at any point my review was to be published BY the studio as part of their own marketing campaign, or if I was to be paid to write a review rather than given hospitality that allows me access to resources, those are different things.

And I'm sorry if this sounds defensive, Ken... I don't mean it that way. I'm just using my experience as an example because, well, it's the example I can speak about most clearly. If the junkets are designed to "buy" good reviews, they may have convinced some. Constantine is prettly clearly a terrible film. If you look at Christian media reviews of that film, you'll see pretty clearly who's been "bought." Relevant put the movie on their cover and celebrated it. Most of the rest of us panned it as preposterous and downright aggressive toward Christianity.

Anyway, on we go.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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AT: Excuse me while I defend my house. When you get right down to it, you shouldn't expect any less from me.

Once again, we are not on anybody's payroll. If you read our reviews (other than Darrel's), this fact would be OBVIOUS.

On the other hand (and, once again, this is a long standing David Bruce/Greg Wright practice that was set in stone LONG BEFORE Grace Hill came into the picture), with our audience demographic being what it is, we are called to a different standard of writing. It has never been enough for us to say "I like this movie/I hate this movie". Heck, we're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't. If we say "I like this movie," and the A&F - as well as the Baher-ites - don't, then we're not upholding proper Christian ethics and standards. If we say, "I hate this movie" while the rest of the world (the Biblical definition of "the world") embraces it, then we're nothing more than a bunch of Holy-rollers looking for sin at every turn.

It's a hell of a fine line. What are we supposed to do, then?

We do what we've always done. We do what David has always encouraged us to do.

We say, "Parts of the movie were good. Parts of the movie were bad. BUT, here are some elements in the film that A. parallel our relationship with God, B. we relate to on a human level, C. help us understand God's love in a way we've never thought of", D. (my personal style of writing!) point out the flaws in American Christianity that may have prevented you from considering a relationship with God.

Bottom line: We do the opposite of the Baher Critical Approach - We look for Christ in everything. And, of course, everything means EVERYTHING. This has been our attitude long before many of us knew Grace Hill Media existed. Our hope is that this attitude will remain as we go forward into the future.

The more I think about it, the more this notion of our work being tainted by our affilation with Grace Hill is a friggin crock! Using that logic, maybe we should start to question the integrity of Looking Closer as a result of their head writer's affiliation with Christianity Today. Talk about conflict of interest!

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Chris:

I'm glad you feel loyalty. But your reviews are not in question. It's the decision made by your employer. Despite the fact that he says (and I believe him) he's never swayed his writers about how to write the reviews, it stinks to high heaven. The door for impropriety has been opened. It's a mighty slippery slope from here.

Answer me this WHY, FOR WHAT PURPOSE would Grace Hill want to buy out (eh... hem partner with) one of the most read Christian Movie Websites?

Edited by DanBuck

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It's the decision made by your employer.

Employer? David Bruce doesn't pay us a dime to do what we do. We write on a volunteer basis. Strictly for the love of merging film and Christ. It's always been that way...

...and perhaps that's the missing link in this whole discussion. To set the record straight, the statement "we are not on anyone's payroll" is to be taken both figuratively AS WELL AS literally. Heck, that would also explain why some around here feel that our writing

read(s) more like blog entries or Ain't It Cool News reviews than they do the kind of thing you'd find in The Seattle Times or The New York Times or even Entertainment Weekly (which is owned by a studio)...
Edited by utzworld

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It's the decision made by your employer.

Employer? David Bruce doesn't pay us a dime to do what we do. We write on a volunteer basis. Always have...

...and perhaps that's the missing link in this whole discussion. To set the record straight, the statement "we are not on anyone's payroll" is to be taken both figuratively AS WELL AS literally.

Anybody? Are there any on staff reviewers? I notice Rick Bonn did a lot of the superman stuff. Is he paid?

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Anybody? Are there any on staff reviewers? I notice Rick Bonn did a lot of the superman stuff. Is he paid?

I can't speak for Rick. I can speak about the aforementioned "old school HJ staffers". AFAIK, none of us has received a dime for our services. All I've ever gotten for what I do is an "In Good Company" Hat/Bag/T-shirt at that movie's press junket, and a trip to Seatte including 1 night's hotel room for the HJ Gathering last December.

I've never gotten any money. Heck, I can't even stay overnight at hotels for press junkets because Orange County is considered "local", which also screws me out of that lucrative food stipend. :blink:

Darrel, have you ever received any money for this?

Edited by utzworld

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