Sometimes you just have to sit back and tip your hat to brilliant public relations. Today a whole rash of “Green Lantern” set visits were released on various movie news sites. These articles — I’ve got ten of them open in my web browser at the moment — all strike the exact same note: we are super excited for the “Green Lantern” movie but we can’t tell you why.
I understand the appeal of set visits. As a kid, they were always my favorite articles in movie magazines. I loved Premiere‘s long-running column of Hollywood production photos by David Strick. And the collection of green power rings on my desk suggests nobody is looking forward to a “Green Lantern” movie more than I am. I’m also under no illusions that set visits are anything other than publicity tools, even under optimal circumstances. But good set visit reports should pull back the curtain that shields us from how movies are made. We want to be tantalized, sure, but we also want to learn something, too.
That ethos is totally absent in these “Green Lantern” set visit pieces. No chance of getting behind the curtain here; the experience is more akin to listening to someone describe how cool a club is while you’re stuck waiting behind the velvet rope. At this point, Warner Bros. has barred the journalists who visited the “Green Lantern” set from revealing almost any of the specifics of what they saw. However they were either permitted or encouraged to publish these “previews” (a word that pops up again and again in the articles) voicing their enthusiasm for the project in the most general and non-specific ways possible. The results all look and sound almost identical: “We can’t reveal too much now,” and “we’re not allowed to tell you everything we saw” and “the studio’s not allowing us to go into too much detail about what we saw,” but nevertheless “I really couldn’t be more excited” and “all of my faith in the film has been restored,” and “this movie is going to look incredible on the big screen.”
In other words, all these writers are permitted to share is unsubstantiated enthusiasm. This has to be one of the most ingenious PR moves in Hollywood history. If you allow these journalists to share details of the production, you also allow for the possibility that readers might form their own potentially negative opinions (“I don’t care what he says, that sounds lame.”). By controlling their reports this way, what you’re left with are ten identical pieces of hype. The only reasonable response for a reader, besides jealousy of the authors, is excitement. You can’t question because there’s nothing to question.
For a far more interesting variation on the standard set visit article, check out filmmaker and critic Michael Tully’s recent series on Hammer to Nail about his trip to the set of David Gordon Green’s “Your Highness.” Tully provides plenty of the requisite “dirt” — details of the production, interviews with the cast and creators — but he also writes honestly about he felt traveling to Ireland on someone else’s dime to interview people he knows personally. It’s a good read; no question of journalistic ethics escapes his site.