Paul Fischer: The Unpardonable Hack Who Charmed His Fellow Junketeers

There was once a time — before the Internet, or perhaps not at all — in which film critics conducted themselves with something approximating journalistic standards. It was never very much. These were, after all, film critics — often underpaid, most having lost the capacity to marvel at the frequent cinematic magic playing before their eyes and most lacking the dignity to recuse themselves from professional duties before they soured. But the nagging need to catch up with some perceived discrepancy between the fruitless remuneration from their cold analysis and the wanton luxury enjoyed by film stars, to matter in some arrogant and misguided manner, soon caught up with these desperate crayfish. If you have ever had the misfortune to attend a press screening populated with these types, you will encounter, for the most part, wan and humorless individuals with an insufferable sense of entitlement who announce, in all seriousness and with all the subtlety of a Wlliam Shatner line delivery, the big star that they’ll be talking to for ten minutes tomorrow (is that what they truly live for?) and who check their email in the dark instead of paying attention to the flick, the thing before them that they are, after all, paid to take in.

But no so long ago, fly-by-night pettifoggers who scarfed up every scandalous junket that arrived in their barren laps weren’t taken so seriously. Anyone who violated the vital covenant between journalist and reader was rightly left to rot. And while there remain some individuals devoted to upholding this trust, such as Erik Childress, a man who thankfully shows no reticence in exposing today’s frauds, these golden years, as the Vancouver Sun‘s Chris Parry has sufficiently demonstrated, are now over. The so-called “critics” — most of them now online — who pretend to stand before some shadow of journalistic truth are now defending the diabolical hacks. And they too wish to fatten their gastropathic bellies from the complimentary buffet.

The latest charlatan is Paul Fischer, a man who proved so amoral and so egotistical that he actually plagiarized whole sentences from the Sundance film guide blurb in his “reviews,” believing that he wouldn’t get caught. Parry offered countless examples. And Parry’s invaluable efforts have caused Dark Horizon’s Garth Franklin to take note. Fischer has rightly disappeared into a bottomless pit of his own making. His reviews have been removed.

But the story isn’t over. Because several of Fischer’s pals have lambasted Parry for daring to point out the obvious truth that this Little Lord Fauntleroy wore no clothes. As Parry points out, Edward Douglas, an amental “journalist” I have already taken to task, has declared, “…so what if he uses the OFFICIAL PLOT SYNOPSES from the notes or festival guide. That is what they’re there for, to inform… his actual opinion about the movie is completely his own.” In other words, Douglas is supporting the junket whore’s right to pilfer whole sentences, claiming the work as his own. Cutting and pasting a press release may win you many allies in the publicity department, but it cannot possibly constitute plausible journalism in any form.

But that wasn’t all. Douglas also wrote, again demonstrating his primitive panache for all caps, “but it’s INCREDIBLY UNPROFESSIONAL on the part of the Vancouver Sun to waste its readers’ time with what is essentially an attack on a colleague in the entertainment business.” Really? Is it “incredibly unprofessional” to reprimand Jayson Blair for fabricating a story? Is it “wasting the reader’s time” to steal the hard labor of others and claim it as your own, as Nada Behziz did?

But let us be clear and let us even be liberal. We are not talking about stealing the work of other journalists or even making up a story. It might be sufficiently argued — and it certainly it is within David Shields’s forthcoming book, Reality Hunger — that what writers pilfer isn’t nearly as original as what it seems. Even if you do manage to pull a James Frey and invent details, as odious as Frey’s antics may be, there remains some faulty independent effort to create a narrative. But Paul Fischer couldn’t even do that. He lacked the writer’s basic skill to change even more than a few words from the original source. He was essentially paid by Dark Horizons to do what anyone with a basic understanding of word processing could accomplish in seconds.

And that is why Fischer must be nailed to the wall by anyone who values the written word. He didn’t just betray the reader’s trust. He didn’t just whore himself out to the studios. He didn’t just shit in his own pants because he couldn’t even slap together a decent sentence. Fischer failed at the basic act of writing. He couldn’t even create something. And, as a reporter who couldn’t shoot straight, he failed at the basic act of journalism.

Yet improbably, among some gutless hacks lacking a shred of ethical compunction, Fischer has emerged as some strange dethroned hero. The Independent Eye‘s Vadim Rizov has seriously suggested that the only reason people care about Parry’s article is because of “complaints from filmmakers that negative reviews (since pulled from their host websites) were being propped up with blatant laziness.” Hardly. A film review may not live up to the journalistic value of Woodward and Bernstein, but it is still a piece of journalism, whether it appears in print or online. A reader trusts that the journalist has gone to see a film and has developed an independent opinion about it. If “normal people” didn’t care about such basic trust, then why then would they leave so many comments on Rotten Tomatoes about Armond White’s suspicious contrarianism? Why would Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert canvass his readers to understand? Why have so many regular Joes flocked to Red Letter Media’s brilliant takedowns of Avatar and The Phantom Menace? Because on some basic level, normal people, contrary to Rizov’s elitism, imbue commentary with a level of trust.

You can blame the system, as Rizov does, all that you want. But you can’t ignore the fact that, in less than a week, 417,215 people have viewed a video review of Avatar performed in a satirical style. That people are flocking in droves to some guy with a creepy voice who has creatively edited together some footage from The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, suggests that the crisis in American film criticism and that the need for trust has reached an unprecedented level. People want to understand why a film does or does not work. They want to have their assumptions challenged. Therefore, it’s incumbent upon film critics to not only explain these nuts and bolts, but to do so in a manner that is ethical and entertaining.

The minute that a film critic or a journalist steps on board a junket plane financed by a big studio, he abdicates his right to call himself a journalist. He surrenders his ability to take in the situation with anything approaching objectivity. And the minute that a figure like Paul Fischer is justified, well, the defender may as well spread his legs, lie back for the Big Five, and call himself a junket whore.

[UPDATE: In fairness to Fischer, it’s worth pointing out that Chris Parry wrote an article in 2004 lambasting Fischer and reporting on a shared history that was not sufficiently disclosed in Parry’s Vancouver Sun article.]

Edward Douglas, Hopeless Hack and Amental Film “Journalist” — Part Two

Last week, Reluctant Habits initiated a weekly series on New York hack “journalist” Edward Douglas, a creative typist employed by and an intellectual coprophiliac quite happy to scarf down the moist cloacal deposits offered by film publicists. Unfortunately, in the last seven days, Mr. Douglas’s work has not improved much. We see traces of anti-intellectualism and a failure to comprehend basic nouns, along with other unpardonable sins.


Edward Douglas offers this stunningly idiotic sentence:

Director M. Night Shyamalan often gets a bad rap, not because of his movies, whether you like all, some or none of them, but because people claim him to be an arrogant egomaniac.

Not only do we get another typical instance of Mr. Douglas mangling his clauses, but we get the redundancy “arrogant egomaniac.” Is Mr. Douglas then suggesting then that Mr. Shyamalan is a humble egomaniac? Or is he simply clueless with nouns? One thing’s for sure. Mr. Douglas has no problem wrapping his well-oiled orifice in Mr. Shyamalan’s presence. While boasting about his “10-minute lightning round interview” (such insight!), Mr. Douglas writes, “You have to admit that he doesn’t make movies haphazardly though, always spending a good amount of time thinking about every aspect of the story and characters and how they might be perceived by the public at large.”

There are many filmmakers, of course, who spend a good deal of time thinking about movies. Consider the time that Michael Cimino expended to think about every detail in Heaven’s Gate, right down to the period underwear. And we all know how that film is currently regarded. But it does not logically follow that, because a filmmaker has used up time and energy, he has put out a quality film.

Mr. Douglas’s paralogia can also be witnessed in such dunce questions as “With all the paranoia in the air, can this movie still be seen as escapism?” (presumably, Mr. Douglas has a limited definition of the escapist blockbuster) and “This is a very short movie compared to your other movies, but it’s only 90 minutes and I was curious about that.” In clinging to such boilerplate, Mr. Douglas remains as graceful as a two-year-old who requires a life preserver in a wading pool.

Mr. Douglas also suggests that Scientific American “grilled” Mr. Shyamalan in asking about science. I must presume that Mr. Douglas is referring to the innocuous question, “Do you see part of this movie being a statement about science and technology being all you need in the world?” If this question did indeed come from Scientific American, it does not grill in the slightest. It is a question founded on legitimate inquiry. Perhaps by “grilled,” Mr. Douglas is referring to a vaguely intellectual area he will never inhabit. But rather than asking more specific questions about The Happening‘s relationship with science (Scientific American‘s George Musser had the decency and the smarts to ask him aboutthe great Guy Maddin. But don’t let Mr. Maddin’s importance fool you into thinking that Mr. Douglas offered anything approximating interesting inquiry. Early in the conversation, Mr. Maddin offers an intriguing answer about Michael Burns okaying a rough outline for My Winnipeg. And rather than asking Mr. Maddin about just how loose he can get with Burns and the level of rejection he receives as a maverick filmmaker, Mr. Douglas asks instead, “Did you still do any kind of research at all?” (Incidentally, Mr. Burns was recently fired, which leaves one to wonder about Maddin’s remaining allies at the Documentary Channel and the freedom he still has a filmmaker. But, of course, Mr. Douglas is too gutless a questioner to follow up.) He doesn’t even ask about the relationship between writing with wholesale invention and relying upon preexisting fact, which would seem an important component to a film dealing with urban legends in some form.

When one interviews someone like Guy Maddin, the interview practically writes itself. But there are too many times in which Mr. Douglas cannot parse the conversational trajectory in front of him. Mr. Douglas’s interview is a fine example for anyone wondering how not to conduct an interview.

Edward Douglas, Hopeless Hack and Amental Film “Journalist” — Part One

New York hack “journalist” Edward Douglas, a creative typist employed by and an intellectual coprophiliac quite happy to scarf down the moist cloacal deposits offered by film publicists, recently left a comment. Mr. Douglas writes that telling the truth about Hollywood and the junket system is “the reason why blogs like [sic] shouldn’t be considered viable outlets to do these interviews.” Is that so?

In a moment, I’ll address the question of whether Mr. Douglas is a writer with enough credibility to make such a claim. But for now, there is a more pertinent question: What makes Mr. Douglas’s idiot tinkerings at any different from a blog? It appears that Mr. Douglas doesn’t write for newspapers. In fact, he writes exclusively online. Could it be that Mr. Douglas is merely a piss-poor journalist? Could it be that Mr. Douglas’s isn’t that good of a writer? Could it be that he is a small insect creeping his way up the dunghill of film journalism? A mere mite to be smashed with a robust and responsible Doc Marten?

In an effort to determine precisely why and how Mr. Douglas is a lazy and inept journalist, I’m initiating a weekly series that will examine Mr. Douglas’s work (if his scrabbling can be called that) as it appears on his site, This is the first installment.


On June 5th, Mr. Douglas interviewed Jon Favreau. Instead of using this time to investigate Iron Man 2 at length or ask Favreau about some of the interesting connections between his earlier and more “real” films (Swingers and Made) and these newer fantasy blockbusters, Mr. Douglas preferred to state the obvious to Mr. Favreau, asking him the vapid question, “So now you are back to being in front of the camera and goofing off?” Clearly, it is Mr. Douglas who is the one goofing off here with this slipshod inquiry. But, of course, since Mr. Douglas (and the other junketeers who were present for this interview) is a consummate ass-kisser, this early question was merely a setup to stroke Mr. Favreau’s ego with this scintillating observation concerning all potential superhero epics now in the planning stages: “I guess you will have to direct all of them.” Again, we see that Mr. Douglas and his unsearing peers prefer constant assuaging over journalism.

Also on that day, Mr. Douglas wrote this amazingly idiotic piece of hackery in relation to Anand Tucker. Marvel at this atrocious sentence!

It must have been a bittersweet departure, because it would have been a fantastic film under Tucker’s guidance and he was a big fan of the books, but leaving the film allowed the director to successfully dodge the bullet and the backlash when the movie bombed horribly, something that many felt greatly accelerated the decline and death of New Line in its previous guise.

Mix your metaphors much, Mr. Douglas? Split your infinitives much, Mr. Douglas? Separate your clauses at all, Mr. Douglas? Are you even aware of Strunk & White, Mr. Douglas? Does anybody edit your pieces, Mr. Douglas? Unable to deploy a figurative metaphor (“the bullet”) for his object, Mr. Douglas feels a strange need to introduce a literal one (“the backlash”). And who are the “many” who felt that The Golden Compass was responsible for New Line’s decline? Is this like the tribunal scene at the end of M? Mr. Douglas suggests by this cavalier item that he is an insider. But he is a dilettante. A proper journalist would offer a link or a specific authority for others to follow.

Let us also ponder the modifier “exclusive” — a word that Mr. Douglas seems peculiarly fixated upon. An exclusive interview suggests that Mr. Douglas is nabbing these interviews on his own, that he is obtaining bits of information that nobody else has. Mr. Douglas is not in the habit of confessing when he’s at a press conference or a sharing a roundtable interview with other journalists. So perhaps he has deluded himself into thinking that he’s getting an “exclusive.” Or this is what he tells the people who pay his checks. Either way, he is a liar. And further examinations into the “exclusive” nature of Mr. Douglas’s material are forthcoming.

But for now, I note that Mr. Douglas reported that he had “an exclusive” item involving Werner Herzog’s upcoming movie, Bad Lieutenant, with Herzog claiming that his film was not a remake of the Abel Ferrara film. But if Douglas had such an “exclusive,” why then did the same news (with a strikingly similar quote) crop up on Defamer one day before Douglas’s report? Could it be that Defamer’s S.T. VanAirsdale (who also blogs at The Reeler) was at the same junket/press conference? (VanAirsadle, to his credit, had the humility and the decency to avoid the word “exclusive,” pointing to “some minor miracle/apparent PR botch” that permitted this interview to happen.)

On June 3, the hopeless Mr. Douglas posted his conversation with documentary filmmaker Nina Davenport, where one can see Mr. Douglas’s considerable deficiencies as an interlocutor. Davenport was commissioned to film an Iraqi film student. The resulting film became an altogether different documentary named Operation Filmmaker. Sounds like an intriguing exposé into cultural transition, yes? Well, not for Mr. Douglas. He was not so tickled at putting forth remotely challenging questions on, say, how much Davenport and her camera might have been inadvertently responsible for the film student’s erratic behavior. In fact, since Mr. Douglas is apparently incapable of using his noggin (or unwilling to) for his questions, we get three questions from Mr. Douglas that rely upon the “It must have been hard”/”Was it difficult?” interviewing cliche.

Let us consider this hackeneyed phrase. In what world do you utter such a conversational banality and not get your ass kicked? You don’t ask a dentist if it’s “difficult” for him to fill in a cavity. You don’t tell a barista that “it must have been hard” to make that latte for the last customer. Why are amental hacks like Mr. Douglas so content to treat their interview subjects like children? (Answer: Because today’s junketeers aren’t interested in adult conversations. They remain inveterate assuagers.)

Douglas really thinks his readers are idiots. Why else would he write, in relation to a junket with Kung Fu Panda co-director John Stevenson, “A lot of what he had to say will certainly be of interest to anyone hoping to one day break into the animation or computer effects field.” Even discounting the fact that Douglas (or one of his fellow roundtable junketeers) foolishly compares the Head of Story position with ADing, is Douglas arrogant enough to believe that aspiring animation students will be going to to get technical information? Compare Mr. Douglas’s condescending flummery with Steve Fritz’s more comprehensive and informed interview of both Kung Fu Panda directors, where Fritz not only gets answers on how fight moves were animated and carried out, but even obtains a concise paragraph on key frame animation.

It will, of course, take some time to examine the spineless atavist known as Edward Douglas. I should observe that Mr. Douglas’s affronts to journalism are, as I have intimated with the comparisons above, by no means endemic to film journalism as a whole. I have my problems with David Poland, but at least Poland is attempting some basic ratiocination. One cannot say this of Mr. Douglas, whose execrable word spewing makes Poland look like F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is not just the ineluctable conclusion that Mr. Douglas writes with all the dependability and precocity of a malfunctioning dot matrix printer that should trouble us. He actually gets paid for this.

It is now my goal to inform those who pay Mr. Douglas for his services that they are getting a terrible deal. It is he who is the one not deserving of any credibility. It is he who is the one who should be confined to a go-nowhere office job without the benefit of air conditioning. Future dispatches will follow.