Friday, September 23

Serenity: Little Green Movie Critic update



Last night, I received an e-mail from the Serenity folks, and it seems there are few strings attached to the "free movie for bloggers" deal. Here's the relevant text of their e-mail:

Congratulations! You are one of the lucky bloggers to be chosen and confirmed for the screening of SERENITY for the time, date and the number of guests that you have requested. Please note, this confirmation DOES NOT guarantee you a seat at the screening.

To significantly increase your chances of getting into the screening, you MUST do the following:

· You MUST include the film's synopsis on your blog (synopsis below) and you MUST link your blog to the SERENITY website (which has the trailer and production notes) http://www.serenitymovie.com and featured artwork. After you have screened the film, please discuss it on your blog. Please provide us the links to all of your blog posts on SERENITY at serenity@gracehillmedia.com
(All emphases in original). Note the e-mail address to which I can send links to the posts to show off my pimpin' abilities for the movie. Now, before we talk a little bit about the substance of this, here's the obligatory synopsis:

Joss Whedon, the Oscar® - and Emmy - nominated writer/director responsible for the worldwide television phenomena of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE, ANGEL and FIREFLY, now applies his trademark compassion and wit to a small band of galactic outcasts 500 years in the future in his feature film directorial debut, Serenity. The film centers around Captain Malcolm Reynolds, a hardened veteran (on the losing side) of a galactic civil war, who now ekes out a living pulling off small crimes and transport-for-hire aboard his ship, Serenity. He leads a small, eclectic crew who are the closest thing he has left to family - squabbling, insubordinate and undyingly loyal.
And here's some more of the obligatory artwork:



And the obligatory link (again)

So there you have it.

Now, this fact scenario raises an interesting question of contract law. If you view my previous post, you'll see a link to the Townhall post where I registered. (I registered before they put up the notice about being fully booked.) You'll also see the link to the a law professor's announcement of the event that reads:

It's free, and all they ask is that you blog something, good or bad, about it.
(emphasis added.) Also, after I registered, I was lead to a page (printed off and safely stored at the office) that informs me that I am registered to see the show and that I can skip all lines at the theater on the night of the showing because I am on "the press list."

Those are the facts; now here's the law that any first-year law student can recite to you from memory. An enforceable contract requires: 1. offer 2. acceptenace and 3. consideration. I think any lay person can see that there was a contract at the moment I registered and was lead to a web page that said I could see the movie in return to posting my thoughts on it. But just in case the Grace Hill attorney is a little cloudy on the analysis, here it is stated explicitly:

1) Grace Hill offered seats to a screening to people with a blog willing to publish their thoughts about the movie; 2) I accepted the offer by filling out the form at form at Townhall; 3) there was consideration on both sides--they let me see the movie and I write a review to get the word out about the movie. Thus, CONTRACT.

The subsequent e-mail represent what we in the 'biz like to call the "battle of the forms." The publicist, Grace Hill, is attempting to add terms to the contract after it was formed by including the terms in correspondence. In other words, they are trying to weasel. You see, Grace Hill apparently has a problem. Their underground publicity campaign has been a little too successful. They had more folks sign up to be blogger-reviewers than they had seats. Accordingly, they came up with a way to try to whittle down the numbers.

Alternatively, they never intended to give a seat to each person that registered; they wanted to turn it into a "who can plug the movie more" contest. If they intended the latter, they certainly could have stated so explicitly on the registration form. The text accompany the registration form could just as easily stated "Bloggers: register to get access to exclusive artwork and synopsis for Serenity and a chance to earn a seat at a free screening in your city." But they didn't say that. The message they put out (and heard loud and clear by Townhall and, none less, by a law professor at a major a major university) was: "Bloggers: sign up to see our movie, in return for promising to write a review about it."

Now, I already hear someone gnashing, "no consideration! The movie tickets would be free, and thus just a gratuity. NO contract!" To this, I say "Bull!" I promised to write a review and post it at my blog. That's consideration, a promise to do something for the benefit of another. Whether writing a review is "enough" consideration for a movie ticket is irrelevant; it's the agreement that Grace Hill bargained-for. They are a sophisticated enough party that a court wouldn't replace its judgment for that of the parties'.

I also already hear another objection: How could Grace Hill know you were actually going to write a review? My answer is simply that they don't know, but so what? They agreed to extend "credit" in a sense, by agreeing to perform their end of the bargain first. [In fact, by the nature of the agreement, they had to perform first. How could I write a review of movie I didn't see?] By trying to weasel in a new term--advertise the movie for a chance at a seat--they are trying to reverse the order of performance in the bargain. Indeed, they seem to be trying to negotiate an entirely new agreement!

The most disappointing aspect of Grace Hill's weaseling is that it goes against the major libertarian themes in the Firefly series. As Sara T. Hinson observed in America's Future Foundation's online magazine, Brainwash:

Here are some of Firefly's foundations for liberty, the foundations [that main character and ship's captain Malcom Reynolds] upholds:

. . . .

Contracts must be honored. On the outer rim of the Alliance, no government entity is accessible to uphold contracts or settle disputes. Even when dealing with clearly immoral and corrupt clients, Mal is sure to either provide the service he agreed to or return the money he was paid. Without such basic principle, the outer planets fall into lawlessness, and the Alliance might feel the need to step in and regulate; by honoring contracts, the outer rim stays free.
Unfortunately, that message has been lost on Serenity's publicist, Grace Hill. But in the end, go see the movie. Don't blame the producers for its publicist's shenanigans.

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