Saturday, February 11, 2012


What the hell is going on at IMDb?

By Edward Copeland
Back in my mobility days, when I had just started working at a newspaper, the Internet had yet to explode into the great reference source it can be. By the time Google appeared and fact-checking became so easy (albeit with possible land mines of misinformation planted everywhere you typed), it became difficult to remember how we looked things up before the Web. The one exception for me was movie trivia — particularly Oscar trivia — because that sort of thing happens if you get exiled to a small Kansas town during your junior high years. You end up accidentally memorizing Oscar facts because instead of buying a book with all the Oscar nominations in it like a normal person (The late Wiley and Bona's Inside Oscar didn't exist yet), you check one out of the library and painstakingly type your own copy of the nominees and winners, building a visual memory without realizing it. (Yes, on a good-old fashioned typewriter no less — even did it with carbon typing paper so I'd have two copies. It's funny, because if I try to recall nominees for best actor in a certain year and get stuck, I remember the list alphabetically so I can narrow the missing actor to a section of the alphabet between the nominees I do remember.) As a result, Oscar errors leap out at me and when I find errors in the Internet Movie Database (of any kind), I try to inform them so they can make the site a better, more accurate resource. However, recently I've discovered something strange has been transpiring at IMDb and I imagine others have noticed this as well.

One gripe I've always had with IMDb is the way they denote the Oscars. For example, let's take last year. The King's Speech was named best picture for 2010, the year it was released. Now, the Oscars, even as they've moved up the ceremony, always bring up the rear, so it received its statuette for best picture of 2010 in 2011. Many an error has been made by people looking for quick Oscar facts who check IMDb because in the awards section for The King's Speech it denotes all its Oscar wins and nominations as being 2011. If you're an Oscar obsessive such as myself or Sasha Stone at Awards Daily or Nathaniel R. at The Film Experience or our own Josh R. here and countless others, you'll recognize that they refer to the ceremony. If you aren't, such as an older entertainment editor in the Midwest, you might put down that it was named best picture of 2011. It was named best picture in 2011 but of or for 2010. If you scroll lower, you'll see that any of the film critic awards the film took tend to say 2010 because they announced them before the calendar year ended. Of course, since we do have the Internet at our fingerprints, they have no excuse for not checking the real authority and looking up things on the Academy's official database which notes that The King's Speech was named best picture 2010 and best picture 2011 won't be handed out until the end of this month.

One early Oscar winner (and in my opinion, still the best of the best picture choices they made), Casablanca proves really problematic, even for movie buffs. The film deservedly holds its designation as a classic and everyone agrees that the movie was a 1942 release, owing to its premiere followed by public exhibition in New York on Nov. 26, 1942. Well, everyone except the Academy that is, It didn't open in Los Angeles for that requisite one week in a L.A. theater until Jan. 23, 1943. Despite the odds against a film opening that early in the year (and competing against nine other films, many fresher in voters' minds), Casablanca, the 1942 release, won the Oscar for best picture of 1943 at the ceremony held in 1944. On the IMDb Awards page for Casablanca. the only two years mentioned are 1942 (at the top as its year of release) and 1944 (as the year it supposedly won best picture, director and writing, screenplay. Oscar itself can have some strange occurrences such as Chaplin's Limelight, which came out in 1952 in most places, such as New York, but such Chaplin was persona non grata in Hollywood at the time, the movie never managed to open in Los Angeles until 1972, but the Academy ruled it eligible and Chaplin, Ray Rasch and Larry Russell won original dramatic score for the 20-year-old film (listed as 1973 on IMDb) — the same touching night that Chaplin received an honorary Oscar from the Academy for lifetime achievement and apologizing to him for being such an asshole to him for having opinions.

The most recent IMDb incident that prompted this post concerned an error I noted in its listing of awards for the movie Pariah. I had just finished watching the film so I made a point of seeing who had done the cinematography, which I thought was exceptionally well done for a low budget film. The credit clearly said (it was the second credit after written and directed by Dee Rees) Bradford Young. As I went to IMDb to check its awards page, it said that Pariah won the Grand Jury Prize for best cinematography in a dramatic film, only it credited the win to Dee Rees. Never mind that on its full cast and credit list for Pariah it properly names Young as cinematographer as does the movie's Web site in crediting him the Sundance prize.

Always trying to correct errors, I went in to try to edit the awards listing but no matter how I tried, it kept being rejected and referred me to a comment thread. The thread was led with a not by a site administrator explaining why they didn't allow updating of the awards section because of a job opening — dating back to late 2010. Of course, someone is updating them since new awards are going in. Here is the letter's text which leads to its thread. It was posted March 14, 2011.

This message is to provide an update on the current status of the Awards List.
As many of you will know, we closed down the Awards submissions pipeline in Spring 2010, to completely overhaul the internal systems that we use for Awards data.
We very gradually started re-opening the Awards pipeline in October/November 2010 - using the new system.
This has proven challenging, and we have attempted to make improvements to our internal tools post-launch.
In addition to this, and perhaps more significantly, the individual previously responsible for for the Awards list left IMDb in mid December. This has resulted in us being understaffed within the Database Content Team.
Those of you who regularly monitor the processing times page will have seen that we have been in a backlog for the Awards list for a significant amount of time.
We have been actively recruiting for a Data Manger since that time, as you may have seen from our jobs page, and recruitment is going well.
Until we have successfully filled this role, we have reallocated some workload within the team. As a result of this, we now have a team member who has taken ownership of the Awards list, and is actively working through the backlog.
There are a number of open bugs with the current interface, which are being actively worked on currently by our software team. I will post a further update on those when I have one.
I appreciate that this has been a less than satisfactory situation for our contributors, particularly those that have been attempting to submit Awards data - and I apologize for that. With a data manager dedicated to this list from this point forwards, and software developers working with that individual, we are now in a position to make the improvements this unique and important type of content requires/deserves.



Call me crazy, but I'd think they'd still want to be aware of the errors, even if they didn't want people to use the new system. (Never mind that there hadn't been an update in nearly a year.) Wait — there's more. Recently, when I was working on my Centennial Tribute to José Ferrer, I found a couple of errors in his biography. They also were repeatedly rejected, though I found some other way to contact them and sure enough those mistakes eventually got fixed. Here though comes the most disturbing one of all.

Right after watching the movie Margin Call, I went to read their summary, just to make sure I was getting those tricky financial terms right. While there, I discovered the summary had a big plot point error. The summary's date indicated it had been written a few months prior to the film's opening. I went to try to edit the summary where I encountered what apparently any new users encounter if they try to register, what IMDb refers to higher "identity verification" or some such nonsense. I wrote them a note mincing no words that I'd be damned if I was going to give them that information just to try to correct an error. At least I knew it was wrong. Heaven help the people who didn't. I didn't even tell them what was wrong, but they've since had an updated Margin Call summary and the wrong information has been purged, so someone else got it to them.

That error though isn't as troubling as their reaching out for cell phone and credit card numbers. What that amounts to is they expect newcomers or anyone trying to change a summary to give them their cell phone number (making the assumption that everyone in the world has a cell phone) and, more disturbingly, a credit card number that they "swear they will never use." If they are never going to use it, why do they need it? It reminded me of Kirk's question in the awful Star Trek V: "Why does God need a starship?"

The cell phone scam is easy to understand: It's the same reason that Google and Facebook try to con you into giving them yours in the name of "security" should you lose your account. It's because they figure most people don't know that one of the loopholes in the rules of the Do-Not-Call-List law is that it doesn't apply to any business that you have a relationship with, so once they get your number, let the telemarketers ring your cell off the hook. The credit card bit is more ominous. Old users are grandfathered, but for how long? What are they planning? They can't expect run-of-the-mill users to get a hankering for IMDb Pro. unless they are planning to hide more things there, but I sure as hell wouldn't pay for a reference source that doesn't consider accuracy a priority.

On the last season of Boardwalk Empire, they had the wrong actor listed playing a part. Luckily I got the real cast lists from HBO and recognized that the actor's photo and age didn't match. Their TV credit listings are laughable as some actors and actresses will submit themselves as generic types such as "Townsperson" and claim to appear in every episode, though they add uncredited afterward. On the new series Luck, on individual episodes Kerry Condon's character is identified as Rosie but on the main page for the series they still just call her "exercise girl." They don't know what the hell to do with Nick Nolte. Sometimes he's Walter. Sometimes he's Walter Smith. Sometimes he's The Old Man. All are correct, but it's same character and looks confusing that way.

Be wary, all of you. I fear IMDb could start making Wikipedia look 100% credible.

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Ah, Eddie. I've been cursing IMDb for years. The always seem to be on the lookout for tech people when what they really need are a few films scholars on their team. I tried to complete their filmography of Curtis Harrington, which lacks several of his short films, to no avail. They have two separate listings for the same Japanese actress who has acted using two different names (see my Man Walking in Snow review). Classic Thai filmmakers in some cases do not exist. For what they claim to offer, Col Needham and company really don't care whether their info is correct or not.
I forgot to even mention that their David Letterman entry had absolutely no mention of his 1980 HBO special Looking for Fun which was the first time I saw the Letterman Late Night-type humor in him instead of just isolated stand-up slots that didn't do much for me.
Not very encouraging. I agree with Peter that they need more film scholars, along with the techs.
Your mention of Casablanca and Limelight reminds of the strange Oscar fact the Truffaut's Day for Night won the Best Foreign film Oscar for 1973, but Truffaut himself was nominated for Best Director for this film in 1974!
That used to be the old Oscar rule that since countries submitted films (and still do) for the foreign language category, they might not have opened in the U.S. yet until the following year or later. Same thing happened with Fellini's Amarcord which won best foreign film in 1974 and then he was nominated as director in 1975. There's an anecdote in the Inside Oscar book about Spielberg being upset since Jaws got nominated for picture in 1975, but he didn't get nominated for director. "They went for Fellini instead of me?" or something to that effect. The rule now is that if your film is one of the five nominated for foreign language and it didn't open that year to get other nominations: Tough luck. On the plus side, Mexico submitted Y Tu Mama Tambien (in 2000, I think), but it didn't get nominated. So when it got a U.S. release in 2001, it was eligible and ended up getting an original screenplay nomination. The really bizarre one predates the category. In 1951, Rashomon was released in the U.S. The National Board of Review gave it best foreign film and Kurosawa best director and the Oscars voted it a special Oscar as "most outstanding foreign language film released in the U.S. in 1951." Then, when the 1952 Oscar nominations rolled around, somehow, the Academy deemed it eligible again and nominated it for best black-and-white art direction. To make things even stranger, even though the Academy and the NBR had called it a 1951 release before, not only did the Academy nominate it again in 1952 but the Directors Guild nominated Kurosawa (the only time they ever did) as best director for it as a 1952 release. Crazy. Makes my head want to explode (and that's not even taking into account that in those days the Directors Guild had 18 nominees for director of the year.
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