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Motion picture studio lies and deceptions

Back in 2001, Sony Pictures admitted that two fans seen giving glowing reviews in a television advertisement for their film The Patriot, were not fans at all, but were employees of the company. Sony has since also conceded that it has used made-up quotes by phony movie critics for other films. Worse yet, a spokeswoman for Sony said such marketing ploys were common throughout the movie industry. "It's terribly wrong, I acknowledge that," said Sony's Susan Tick, "But the fact that it's not only Sony and everybody is acknowledging that those testimonial ads tend to be actors anyway."

In 2005, Sony Pictures Entertainment paid over $1,000,000 (one million U.S. dollars) to settle a class-action lawsuit accusing the studio of citing a fake movie critic in ads for several films. The lawsuit, originally filed by California moviegoers, claimed the ads lured the plaintiffs into seeing A Knight's Tale with false statements made by a fictional film critic named David Manning. In one ad for the action-comedy, a critic identified as "David Manning of The Ridgefield Press" was quoted as calling star Heath Ledger "this year's hottest new star!" In an ad for The Animal, Manning was quoted as declaring, "The producing team of Big Daddy has delivered another winner!" The suit, filed in 2001, accused Sony of unfair business practices, including the "intentional and systematic deception of consumers," by using fabricated quotes attributed to the fake movie critic Manning. Manning was identified as a critic for the Ridgefield Press, a Connecticut publication, and his quotes in praise of such films as Hollow Man, Vertical Limit, A Knight's Tale and The Animal appeared in studio ads and promotional materials.

While the Ridgefield Press is an actual small weekly newspaper in Connecticut, they never had a movie critic named David Manning.


Sony Pictures claims its lies are protected by the First Amendment

In the above case, Sony claimed that it was exercising its right of free speech, saying the quotes were protected by the First Amendment.
Thankfully the courts saw through this argument and found that the quotes represented commercial speech not protected by the First Amendment.

After the dispute was made public, the studio temporarily suspended two executives and promised to monitor its publicity and advertising more closely.


Creative bookkeeping at Hollywood movie studios

While it's certainly true that motion picture studios have never been known for their candor and honesty, regularly lying about their stars, and boxoffice receipts, the most flagrant abuse of the public trust by studios has to be the "creative bookkeeping" they often use to ensure their pictures don't show a profit. This practice may seem counterproductive to the general public accustomed to Enron-type overstatements of profits, but in the case of the studios, this practice is employed to prevent actors, directors, and producers from receiving a piece of the profit's a film generates. Now familiar with this ruse, the more powerful actors and directors negotiate to receive a certain percentage of the boxoffice gross, not profits.


Conclusions

Motion picture studios have a history of lying to the public in order to get you to part with your money. When you see a movie review quote in an ad that seems too good to be true, it just might be.
Quotes in movie ads attributed to major critics are usually accurate. There have been a few notable exceptions, but, by and large, the studios avoid misquoting the leading critics. So, if you have a favorite movie critic that you trust, always check his or her review of the film before you throw your hard-earned money away, let alone a couple hours of your valuable time.

Caveat emptor when it comes to those ubiquitous motion picture ads.

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