This post has been updated to correct errors.
By comparison to the $11,000 Manhattan’s Quad Cinema charges for a week-long theater rental that guarantees a review in the New York Times, the $150 "Pro Package" offered by Filmmaking Review is a steal. The site, which is apparently run by the husband and wife team of Henry and Cate Baum, offers reviews of current releases like "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" as well as an interview with "Dance of Reality" star Brontis Jodorowsky such as you can find on any reputable film site. But click on the "Get Your Movie Reviewed" tab, and things start to get fishy.
A series of packages offer filmmakers the opportunity to pay for coverage ranging from posting press-kit info to 500-word reviews; at the $59 level, they promise cross-posting to IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes on request. Here’s what the top level gets you:
• Three reviews of 500+ words and trailer showcased
• Still and links added to FMR
• Interview articles with your stars optimized as exclusive content on FMR and all social networks
• Reviews cross-posted to Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB on request
• Posted on our Facebook, Twitter, G+ and Pinterest
Direct payment for coverage is, of course, a major breach of journalistic ethics, but then it’s not clear anyone involved is, or claims to be, a journalist. They certainly don’t pay their writers, although they do promise they’ll be able to "work up an impressive portfolio of website articles." The site’s Twitter account has just over 100 followers, although its Facebook page has over 3,000 likes.
Rotten Tomatoes’ Ryan Fujitani points out that Filmmaking Review’s profile, which contains only two reviews, is a user account and not an approved part of the site’s Tomatometer ranking — in other words, no different from a profile that filmmakers could create themselves in a few spare minutes. "To be fair," Fujitani says, "it doesn’t appear that FMR are technically claiming they are Tomatometer-approved; they’ve simply stated that they will put up a review on RT, which is true in a sense, but somewhat misleading, as evidenced by the number of people who have read those statements on their site and thought, ‘What? RT allows paid reviews?’ … We believe in the integrity of the Tomatometer, and we do our utmost to preserve that integrity. Paying to have your film reviewed presents a conflict of interest that undermines that integrity, and we could not, in good conscience, allow such a review."
Knocking out the major feature films that are unlikely to have paid for coverage, most of the recent reviews are of short horror films, including "The Red Skirt," whose producer, Jesse Hernandez, responded to a query from Criticwire. (Filmmaking Review and IMDb did not return emails. Update: Baum has written a response to this post on the site.) The review of "The Red Skirt," which runs nearly twice as long as the 200 words promised for the $29 shorts package, reads, in part, "There is definitely a cultural and religious element to it, and the film’s overall feel has a local flavor." The author is not identified.
"We did use their service," Hernandez wrote, "and the result was not what we expected. We expected a critic, good or bad, but the fact is we believe their review was off point. As the director mentioned to me in a conversation about this, they did not go over areas we expected some detail on. For example there was really nothing on the cinematography, Direction and editing as well. I agree with him that this review lacked of many areas, good or bad…. All in all, this is a review and we respect it. We just believe there was much more to critic on and we were left with very little. If you ask me if we spent our money well with this review, I would say no."