Three days ago it was reported that Variety‘s longstanding TV critic Brian Lowry has taken a new media writer gig at CNN. Six days prior (4.6) it was announced that Variety film critic Justin Chang will leave to become Kenneth Turan‘s heir apparent at the L.A. Times. These follow last July’s decision by chief film critic Scott Foundas to take a new gig with Amazon. The old Variety guard…adieu!
Variety‘s film editor Claudia Eller is “interviewing outside candidates,” according to a Penske Media employee, but right now the trade is without a top-dog, marquee-brand, NY-or-LA critic to shoulder the domestic burden.
The exodus (“if that’s the word,” cautions a Variety staffer) started when Derek Elley, David Rooney and Todd McCarthy were let go by the old Reed Business regime in 2010.
After Foundas left for Amazon Variety interviewed a fair number of critics, including a couple of big names, but didn’t hire anyone, probably figuring Chang would be happy to do all the big films. Now with Chang off to the L.A. Times they’ve got no one.
It seems doubtful that their Paris-based critic Peter Debruge will return to fill Chang’s shoes, having only been in Paris for a couple of years. There’s also the London-based Guy Lodge, of course, but right now the stateside ranks are thin.
A critic friend writes that “how Variety will field a strong team of critics for Cannes at this point is anyone’s guess.” Chang, who leaves for the Times in a couple of days, says otherwise. “I think Variety will do an excellent job at Cannes as always,” he says. “They have a brilliant, formidable team of critics that includes Peter, Guy, Jay Weissberg, Maggie Lee, Catherine Bray, Alissa Simon and Ben Kenigsberg. I’ll be cheering them on.”
Is the mood at Variety “pretty desolate at the moment,” as one Los Angeles-based journalist observes, with the “initially enthusiastic attention of Jay Penske having now drifted to other business opportunities”? A Variety insider counters that some just-revealed editorial hires, which he calls “substantial,” says “a lot about forward thrust.” Is one of the hires a new film critic? “Nope,” he says.
What about HE’s theory that Penske might want to shift Indiewire film editor/chief critic Eric Kohn over to Variety as Chang’s replacement? A former Variety staffer believes this idea “is probably not a ridiculous suggestion” as Penske, whose company owns Variety and Indiewire, “has always been aware of the base value of film-festival criticism” and “has always been at least attuned to the concepts of overlap and aggregation.”
A senior Indiewire source disputes this: “There is no editorial overlap among the Penske brands. They don’t share editorial staffers. They are separate.”