Director Threatens to Sue Variety Over Oscar Shakedown Scheme

Joshua Newton, the director of Iron Cross, forced Variety to spike a critical review of his film from the web because he'd purchased a $400,000 Oscar campaign in the paper. But that wasn't enough—now he's considering suing.

Newton, a British filmmaker whose Holocaust revenge drama turned out to be Roy Scheider's last movie, told Gawker that he and his investors are contemplating a lawsuit against Variety for selling them on a $400,000 Oscar campaign only to turn around publish a review calling the film "hackneyed," "preposterous," "mediocre," "choppy," and "uncertain." Variety pulled the review, by freelance critic Robert Koehler, in December.

"We are currently reviewing our options," Newton told Gawker. "I can't comment on the legalities, but suffice it to say—how can I put this? There are issues. There are valid issues."

To hear Newton tell it, Variety considered him an easy mark in a shakedown scheme that has shades of For Your Consideration. A Variety salesperson first approached him last summer, he says, to pitch him on a $400,000 ad campaign—on the very same day that Variety editor Timothy Gray just happened to mention Iron Cross out of the clear blue sky as a potential Oscar contender in a column. "We were put on a short list of Oscar contenders by the editor himself," Newton says. "The sales department—on the same day the column ran—rang me up and said, 'Hey, did you know you're on our list of Oscar contenders?' I won't say anything else, but you get the gist of what went on."

Newton and his investors bit, and purchased a raft of omnipresent ads and slots for Iron Cross in the Variety Screening Series—usually reserved for Oscar contenders—in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

But the deal went sour when Koehler published his scathing review in December (you can read the Google cache here). "They made a very big fuss over us," Newton says. "So you can imagine how I felt when, on the day of the San Francisco screening, I got a phone call from my publicist reading that review. I was quite taken aback. It just didn't make sense. It was completely contrary to the campaign." Newton got Variety to take down the review, but that doesn't seem to have done the trick: While he says "editorial considerations" never came up during negotiations over the ad buy, he clearly feels that $400,000 should have bought him a more solicitous review than the one he got.

"We weren't just simply advertisers," he says. "We did a joint venture with Variety to promote Iron Cross. It was not a decent thing to do."

The column in which Gray dropped Iron Cross as an Oscar contender, by the way, also mentioned 55 other movies as worthy of consideration. We imagine that was a very busy day for his sales team.

Variety publisher Brian Gott, editor Gray, and Koehler didn't immediately respond to e-mails.