On Tuesday, we heard the rumor that Warner Bros. is so overjoyed with Ben Affleck in the current cut of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that it has asked Zack Snyder to go back and add more Batman and subtract some of the Superman stuff to make up the difference. Yesterday, we heard the rumor that Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman movie, due out in 2017, will set the first half of the story during World War I and the second half in the modern day, kind of like if someone crammed the two solo Captain America movies into one (I know, I know, First Avenger is set during WWII, not WWI).
Both rumors come from former LatinoReview scooper Umberto Gonzalez, who has set up shop at this new site HeroicHollywood. He gets his news from a variety of sources, sometimes from people in the industry, other times from bartenders and other civilians who overheard something they weren’t supposed to. In return for the information, he’ll facilitate things they might need, that is if they actually want anything. Some people just leak the information to screw with their competitors or because they’re a disgruntled employee looking to stick it their boss. If you’re given to conspiracy theories, you could even speculate that some rumors are leaked intentionally to use the internet as a free focus group, or are perhaps dummy rumors made up and left out as bait on sting operations to identify the in-house spies feeding stories to people like Gonzalez.
When Gonzalez was recently profiled by Grantland, he conceded that there is a 72 hour life cycle for all of his scoops:
“If Gonzalez gets something up on Monday morning, the traffic peaks by the afternoon. Chances are the Monday story will still be driving traffic on Tuesday. But by Thursday morning you’d better have something else. It’s a grind (especially for a site with only one full-time employee), and an oddly thankless one. Gonzalez puts something out there, and the rest of the Internet gets busy hot-taking and think-piecing based on the news he’s broken, like a flock of seagulls all taking off in the same direction. But after a certain point, nobody remembers who had these stories first.”
Sure enough, if you look around at all the major film news sites (e.g., SlashFilm, FilmSchoolRejects, ScreenRant, DenOfGeek, etc.) and countless superhero movie-leaning blogs (like the one you’re reading this very second), most have already reported, analyzed and debated Gonazalez’ latest rumors, although some are simply linking to HeroicHollywood’s reports and writing one or two paragraph stories which conclude “It’s a rumor, nothing more.” Forbes’ Scott Mendelson started his reaction to the Batman rumor by recounting all the prior Batman rumors that were debunked (like that one about a new standalone trilogy of Batman movies) or have yet to be confirmed (that Geoff Johns is working with Ben Affleck on a solo Batman movie) before taking the latest rumor seriously and taking Warner Bros. to task for possibly failing to understand that at this point Batman is the most overexposed DC character across film and TV.
Of course, it’s just a rumor, but Mendelson had to write about it because his article on the subject brought him over 3,000 views. That’s 3,000 more opportunities for Forbes to force users into viewing an ad before accessing its website and then having to minimize the inevitable pop-up videos. But more about those ads in a second.
Plus, dangit, when Collider did a post-release analysis to see how many of the Internet’s Avengers: Age of Ultron rumors turned out to be true it concluded, “Looking over these results, it looks like most of the rumors are true, which means the sites reporting them likely had their hands on the script or talked to someone on the inside.” So, considering the source some superhero movie rumors can’t simply be written off as mere rumor.
There are those that think Gonzalez and his ilk are killing the state of modern online film criticism and commentary. Why bother with serious analysis of what’s in front of us when the most clicked through stories are those with headlines about movies that won’t be out for months if not years, or so the thinking goes. In my experience, it can be a lot of fun dishing about superhero movie rumors, offering your take on it and then talking to your readers about it in the comments section. Plus, you don’t technically need to dig too deeply into it, or do you?
Over the summer, though, the general simmering frustration on the topic boiled over when The Dissolve, the high-minded, high-quality film site started by former AV Club writers with backing from Pitchfork, went out of business, leaving its roster of talented writers now competing against each other on the open market for freelance jobs. FilmSchoolRejects lamented, “Over the past few years, movie fandom has broadened enough to support a dozen major film websites and a dozen more dinky sites like ours who only pull in a few million readers a month, and it has also become deeply fascinated by the siren-sweet ululations of The Possible. The Possible is unblemished by production realities. The Possible is shiny and chrome. The Possible is a blank slate for us on which to write our fantasies. What might happen in cinema is now more broadly important than what happened on screens over the weekend, let alone two weekends ago or (gasp) a year or fifty ago.”
In that same piece, FSR took several swipes at BirthMoviesDeath’s Devin Faraci, arguing that while he was once a great critic he had reduced himself to the role of “superhero scrap news filter.” Indeed, Faraci breaks superhero movie news all the time, though he holds back far more than Gonzalez. When Devin interviewed Kevin Feige for Age of Ultron, the Marvel czar jokingly pointed out how hard it can be making a movie when someone with a website like BirthMoviesDeath manages to get a hold of your shooting script.
Devin does it because he’s a fan, as he explained in his response to FSR, “I honestly love superhero movies. I believe that I can live a life where I review obscure Israeli films from the Jersusalem Film Festival, where I discuss Double Indemnity on my weekly classic movies podcast and where I also am unabashedly excited for Captain America: Civil War. In fact I think that a real movie lover would naturally find themselves interested in classic cinema and art cinema and blockbuster cinema.” Of coure, part of is also about giving the people what they want to keep the lights on, “You want to create an environment where you rope people in with popular movies and then, once they have subscribed to your RSS, also feed them a steady diet of old movies and weird movies and offbeat movies. You can lead a horse to water, and you can also trick him into drinking it if you’re presenting it right.”
While Devin ropes people in with his superhero movie scoops and hopes they’ll stick around for the fascinating other articles by his writing staff, Gonzalez is out there forever in search of the next scoop or rumor. He’ll surely have another one to break soon, especially since he only makes money off of this if he cranks these things out every couple of days. According to his own estimated 72 hour life cycle, the Batman v Superman rumor is about to run out of juice. “I break it exclusively,” he told Grantland. “You go write it up Grantland, aggregate it, guess what happens to me? Because your site has higher rank authority than mine, I get kicked to the curb. And I go back and I’ll be lucky if I’m on page five.”
As a result, Gonzalez is looking to get out of the movie scooping game. His three-year plan is to build up his site and then sell it to the highest bidder.
Oddly, today is actually the first time I’ve ever gone to Gonzalez’ HeroicHollywood.com before, even though I’ve read plenty of aggregate stories re-reporting one of his rumors. I was surprised to see that his site seems to run a little slow, or at least it does in the Firefox browser on my aging laptop which needs to be replaced sooner rather than later. Either way, simply accessing the articles detailing the Batman v Superman and Wonder Woman rumors was a bit of a chore because a sponsored videos kept routinely playing in the top right hand corner of the site.
But that’s how he makes money, or at least it’s one way he does. Sites like BirthMoviesDeath, FilmSchoolRejects, Vox and Grantland appear to (or at least used to) have some form of corporate backing, like the Alamo Drafthouse for BMD or Comcast for Vox. However, advertising money is drying up. Using my own very small site as an example, my web traffic has been rock steady for the past year, but the ad revenue has been on the gradual decline. Why? Plenty of complicated reasons, I’m sure, but it might have something to do with the way web companies are making it easier for readers to avoid having to view any ads online, as MondayNote recently explained, “Ad blocking started as an initiative by independent developers who wanted to improve our browsing experience. Now that at least one company, Apple, has made Content Blocking ‘official,’ ad-supported publishing business models are in trouble.”
Removing my own site out of the equation, this is a problem which is internet wide, “We now have a race to the bottom where publishers use tricks (some say fraud) to generate advertising revenue. This leads to pages that are overloaded with ads that publishers no longer control, combined with the collection of the most minute crevices of user behavior, information that’s then pimped to advertisers who are constantly looking for more finely-tuned methods to target their ads. Ad Blocking technology — browser modules that could detect and block ads — emerged as a way to combat some of these abuses […] We’re now about to have a cleaner set of content blocking APIs in upcoming versions of Safari for OS X (desktop) and iOS 9 (mobile).”
The result is that “Marginally profitable Web sites, which is most of them, will lose advertising revenue and plunge into the red.” The big institutional websites, the kind that are already behind paywalls, will be fine. Everyone else will have to step up their game. “Too many sites are just echo chambers, they rewrite news releases, add strong adjectives and adverbs, and a bit of spin. Competition for attention, pageviews, and advertising dollars drives them to shout from the rooftops. If they don’t want to disappear or be rolled up into a larger entity to ‘optimize expenses,’ they’ll have to somehow get us to pay for their content.”
Bringing it back to Batman and Wonder Woman, it still pays to talk about the latest rumors pertaining to their future cinematic adventures, but maybe not as much it used to. Somewhere out there right now Umberto Gonzalez is shaking hands and patting backs and arranging secretive meetings to land his next big scoop, and the rest of the internet will offer its response. Because, seriously, why can’t Warner Bros. figure [insert latest annoying thing about their DC Cinematic Universe plans] out, and when is Marvel’s [insert latest thing they’re not getting around to as quickly as they should] going to happen?