Michael Bay, Scott Rudin — two Hollywood hot shots on hot seats

The new year is well underway and while most of the nation suffers in the grip of winter’s frigid bear hug, two of Hollywood’s biggest guns are shooting blanks.

While neither is in crisis, per se, neither either enhanced his reputation. Maybe because Michael Bay and Scott Rudin are so well-known for creating fantasy worlds, they seem to want to live in them as well.

Let’s start with Bay, whose movies include Armageddon, the Bad Boys series, The Rock, and the Transformers series. He appeared at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to promote Samsung’s curved Ultra HD TVs. You really have to watch the film clip to see what an egg he laid.

His teleprompter died, leaving him speechless and beating a retreat stage right. Is it really that hard to discuss your work and the technology you use? Stunning. There is no evidence of it, but my immediate reaction was to wonder if he was drunk; or maybe he spent all night in the editing room trying to get Megatron to cooperate. Not an impressive public appearance — and thanks to my partner at EMA, Peter Osborne, for sending it along.

And that turns us to a key part of reputation and crisis management: Preparation. Don’t wing it. Maybe he got stage fright. But if you are properly prepared to speak publicly, whether to a large audience or a single interviewer, you practiced a lot. Think about the questions; write down the messages you want to communicate; respond to the mirror. Practice. Be ready.

Rudin, a major Hollywood producer and force, has been behind The Social Network, Captain Phillips, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and No Country for Old Men, among many others.

He is well-known for his temper, which does not play well outside of Hollywood. Now he’s in a pissing match with the New York Times, though it’s not a big one and probably didn’t hit his Top 10 to-do list Monday.

In an effort to promote — to audiences and Oscar voters — his movie Inside Llewyn Davis, his production company took out a full-page ad in the Times Sunday partially quoting a tweet from its film critic A.O. Scott praising the movie.

This is also not a crisis, and probably goes more to the divide between old and new media than anything else. There are two issues here. First, was the company free to grab a Scott tweet, alter it, and use it. By all accounts, the Times’ advertising department thought so. And movie critics have been quoted out of context, excerpted and altered by ellipses as long as there have been film critics. Then there is the issue of whether a leading critic’s tweet is fair game as an endorsement.

As Margaret Sullivan writes in her public editor’s column:

 Mr. Rudin called shortly thereafter to say that he saw no problem whatsoever, that he has frequently used tweets before in ads for movies or plays, and that he recognizes no distinction between what a critic writes in a review or on Twitter. He also noted that Mr. Scott later told [company spokeswoman] Ms. Swartz in an email that he found the ad “very clever.”

“If a critic is going to tweet it, we’re free to use it,” he said. “We’re free to edit any review. We pull out what we want.”

What’s more, Mr. Rudin said, The Times approved the ad. “The paper running the ad is a tacit approval of the content of the ad,” he said.

He disagreed with my suggestion that there is a well-recognized wall between the newsroom and the advertising department. “They took our money and they ran the ad,” he said. The cost, according to Mr. Rudin and confirmed by Ms. Murphy, was about $70,000.

She writes, among her conclusions:

Journalists who are active on Twitter have to be hyper-aware that what they write may be used in ways they never imagined. It’s all too easy to think you’re in a conversation involving a few, or even a few hundred, people. In fact, it’s the entire wired universe, or – if it’s used in a printed newspaper – even the non-wired universe.

These are both reputation issues, not crisis ones. But they don’t help either Bay, Rudin .. .or the Times.

[Full disclosure, Ms. Sullivan and I worked together for 20 years at The Buffalo News and I was honored to be her managing and editorial page editor for eight of those.]

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.


About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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