Two weeks ago, I wrote a post here at Movies.com that gave a number of independent filmmakers a chance to express some complaints and concerns they have about popular film reference and review aggregate sites, particularly IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes. I intended the post to serve as a forum for the filmmakers to begin a conversation, which it has.
Afterward we invited both IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes to respond with their side of the discussion. IMDb declined the opportunity to address the complaints, while Rotten Tomatoes Editor-in-Chief Matt Atchity was game to participate and offered up some answers and explanations. First and foremost, I want to share one clarification he provided us:
"Our movie data isn't crowd-sourced the way some other sites are," he says, via email. "I'm not sure where that idea comes from."
RT actually gets much of its information on movies, such as synopses and cast and crew credits, from data providers like Cinema Source and Rovi. This sort of service is depended on by a ton of sites featuring individual pages for thousands of films, many of which may never be released, because such listings are difficult and costly to develop and monitor completely in-house.
Atchity does recognize that on a certain level RT is used and trusted as a reference point more than other sites employing this kind of outsourced data, as well as a tool for filmmakers looking to represent themselves for possible distribution deals, and so he assures me they are trying very hard to make sure to present the most accurate information.
"The 'customer service' aspect of responding to data fixes is something I'm really trying to get fixed," he adds, responding to filmmakers' problem with alerting RT to errors. "My staff and I have established lines of communication with the major studios, so if there's a problem with data for one of their films, they know how to reach my team pretty easily."
What about independent filmmakers, like the ones who reached out to me with their issues? He acknowledges it's a challenge for those outside the studios to reach them. "There are a lot of moving parts involved," he explains, "but we are trying to improve things, and I'm hoping to get a more user-friendly correction system in place this year."
As for the other major issue indie filmmakers have with RT, Atchity provided me with details and justification for the seemingly "inconsistent" and "frustrating" system of film review selection. "Tomatometer inclusion can be granted to an individual or an outlet," he says. "For instance, any reviews from Movies.com will get picked up on the site, since that's an approved source, or any reviews from Alonso Duralde will get picked up no matter where he publishes, since he's approved as an individual."
But in some cases -- mine, for instance -- he reminds me that I do not have approved status as an individual, and some of the outlets I write for are not approved sources, so that is why some of my reviews don't influence the Tomatometer or show up in a films' batch of reviews. The same is true for numerous other critics. He points to a list of approved individuals and one to approved sources, though he also admits these are not that easy to navigate.
"I'm planning to add some data on each reviewer and source profile page this year to explain how their reviews qualify," he promises, "but that's going to take a while before it goes up."
For now, he directs me to the page defining the criteria for individual approval, which isn't what it used to be.
"Before I took the position as EiC, the criteria wasn't well-defined," he confesses, "but one standard used was membership in one of the critics organizations we had listed on our site. We've since changed that, so that critics organization membership will be one factor in the decision, but we focused our criteria to look at reach and distribution. In some cases, quality of writing may warrant inclusion, but in a nutshell, we're looking for critics and sources with a broad reach."
Hopefully these answers clear up some misunderstanding and appease some frustration among those filmmakers we heard from in the previous post. Atchity says he understands why some may think RT's aggregation process is inconsistent, but it is obvious they adhere to a comprehensive and reasoned set of rules, which apparently are subject to change, that are best suited for the site's means and purposes.
I thank Atchity for providing us with Rotten Tomatoes' side on all the issues raised specifically about that particular site. And I welcome any responses to his statement or continued comment on any part of this conversation below.