It is not an exaggeration to say that Harry Knowles and his website, Ain’t It Cool News, created a cottage industry: the film geek website. Now there are literally dozens of sites like Ain’t It Cool pumping out rumors, scoops, exclusives, set photos, and reviews for hardcore movie dorks. But when Knowles started AICN out of his bedroom in Austin, Texas in 1996, there was almost nothing like it. The site quickly rose in popularity and power — and Knowles himself quickly became a nerd icon.
But a new article in The Hollywood Reporter details the not-so-cool financial struggles Knowles has faced in recent years. As Hal Espen and Borys Kit reveal, the site owed “$300,000 in unpaid taxes” and with traffic (and therefore advertising revenue) down, Knowles was forced to dip into his personal savings to pay his writers and keep AICN afloat.
Espen and Kit paint a complex portrait of Knowles. Here, they talk about the impact his fame had on his writing, and on accusations that he could be easily swayed by access or favors:
“Knowles ‘was offered every golden teat that would come around for writing.’ He also found himself heading into the teeth of a fearsome backlash. After indulging in all-expenses-paid studio- and director-bankrolled junkets to screenings and to the sets of such projects as ‘Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ ‘The Green Mile’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ — and praising many, though not all, of those movies — Knowles earned a ‘junket whore’ label that stuck. Los Angeles Times Magazine published a profile in which Knowles came off like a megalomaniacal bully with dubious ethics. Film Threat more or less claimed he was on the take in exchange for positive coverage. (Knowles denies these allegations: ‘I don’t want to cross that line.’)”
As a reader back in those early days, I can attest: in the late ’90s, AICN felt mighty cool (for, y’know, nerdy crap) and maybe even a little cutting edge. Until I read Espen and Kit’s piece, I had sort of forgotten the illicit, underground vibe the old AICN had: the scoops were legit, and so was Hollywood’s anger when their scripts and photos leaked. Now it’s something decidedly different — a little more friendly, a little more insider-y — except in its design, which has remained largely unchanged for years. Regardless of whether the site regains its former status, Knowles’ impact on the world of film is significant — which makes this article significant as well.