Richard J. Leskosky: Get insider film info online
One of the many great things about EbertFest is that, with so many film industry people in attendance, you can hear the stories behind the films and the careers. If that whets your appetite for more insider info, there are several websites you might want to check out.
Of course, the two major Hollywood trade papers, "Variety" (variety.com) and "The Hollywood Reporter," (hollywoodreporter.com) maintain their own sites, but they will let you look at them only a few times for free. Then they will expect you to subscribe, and both currently charge $99 for 51 weekly digital issues. But you also have some very good free options elsewhere on the Internet.
Showbiz 411 (showbiz411.com) reports on movies, television, theater and music "From Hollywood to the Hudson." It's the principal domain of Roger Friedman, who has written for "The Hollywood Reporter," New York magazine and Fox News, among others. Friedman also likes to focus on certain celebrities and so, for example, you can find the latest-breaking Michael Jackson news here. (I'm not joking about the Michael Jackson news.)
Breitbart's Big Hollywood section of its news/commentary site (breitbart.com/big-hollywood) covers the Hollywood left from the other side of the political spectrum. It has some items you're not likely to find elsewhere and approaches those you can find elsewhere from a different point of view. At least with Big Hollywood, though, the political agenda is right out in the open.
Deadline Hollywood (deadline.com/hollywood/) is good for the latest news, including news about projects that won't reach the screen for months (maybe years, maybe never). It's actually part of the larger Deadline.com site, which has buttons to click to check on New York, London and Paris. I could not get the Paris button to work at all, however, and the New York and London pages did not seem to report anything different from the Hollywood page when I last checked them. The site, founded by the consummate insider reporter Nikki Finke as a blog in 2006 and sold by her in 2009 for seven figures, lost a lot of its bite once she left in 2013 after a disagreement with its current owner. But it remains a good information source nonetheless.
Finke maintains a Twitter feed. I assume she had signed some sort of noncompetition contract, which prevents her from doing another blog for a certain period of time after parting company with Deadline Hollywood. But on her Twitter feed, she regularly posts links to articles in Studio System News (studiosystemnews.com). The site's claim is that it is "For Insiders. By Insiders." It has an exuberant tone similar to "Variety" in its heyday and to Finke's in her Deadline days, though not as acerbic. A recent headline, for instance, read "Captain America Reigns while Transcendance Tanks and Heaven Is For Real Rises High."
If you are interested specifically in animation, then you will want to check out Animation magazine (animationmagazine.net), the animation industry's equivalent of "Variety" and "The Hollywood Reporter." Like those publications, it also has a regular hard copy version (monthly in this case, though). And I would also suspect that sooner or later, they will insist that you subscribe.
Cartoon Brew (cartoonbrew.com/), however, is free and covers everything animated, from special-effects-heavy blockbuster Hollywood features to interactive apps, TV series to computer games, commercials to music videos. It is owned by film historian Amid Amidi (whose 2006 book "Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in 1950s Animation" is also well worth a look).
Of course, if you are just interested in watching films in the comfort of your own home, you can look into DVDs Release Dates (dvdsreleasedates.com), which tells you when titles will be coming out on DVD or Blu-Ray. The site also gives a brief plot summary and abbreviated credits, but it does not tell you what special features each disc might have. It does, though, provide links to the Amazon and Best Buy sites to purchase the titles, and those sites do detail all the special features.
Finally, if you don't want to watch a particular film but still want to know what happens in it or if you need to have your memory about a film refreshed (or if you want to know what the post-credit Easter egg was in a film you just could not sit through the 10 minutes of end credits to see yourself), there is The Movie Spoiler (themoviespoiler.com). The site boasts detailed plot synopses for more than 3,000 films. These are mostly recent films, including movies that just opened within the last couple of weeks, so you won't find too many older, classic films here (no "Citizen Kane," but, hey — SPOILER ALERT! — Rosebud is a sled!). And if you can't even be bothered reading the complete story and just want to know the good bits, many entries sport a Cut to the Chase button at their head that will take you to a short summary that reveals all the major plot points and secrets.
Of course, the Internet Movie Database, the American Film Institute's site, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences site are wonderful sources of information as well, and I've written about them before, but the sites I've listed in this column will give you as much of an insider's look as you will be able to find online without having to pay a hefty fee.
Richard J. Leskosky taught media and cinema studies at the University of Illinois and has reviewed films for more than 30 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.