Frequently Asked Questions
Your questions answered.
What is “Aint it Cool News?”
“Aint it Cool News” is a movie review website that held popularity in the early 2000s. At its peak, the site influenced major Hollywood blockbuster films such as Lord of the Rings and and the horde of comic book movies that flood our cineplexes every year. The site was founded by Harry Knowles, and captured international attention and ran by him until September of 2017, following Sexual Assault allegations made against him. The site is now primarily inactive and run by Knowles’ sister, Dannie.
Why did you want to tell this story?
We get this question a lot, and to be transparent, some who ask it do so as a form of criticism, which is fair.
Currently, we live in a culture that holds many present or formerly powerful men accountable for acts of sexual misconduct. One tactic we have taken as a collective response during these instances has been to label the offending party as ‘problematic’ or ‘shitty’ and then avoid speaking about them or their work ever again. We understand this response and respect those who choose to make it for themselves.
At the same time, we see the story of Harry Knowles and Ain't It Cool News as a unique case study that explores the baseline of sexism and misogyny that has thrived on the internet since its inception.
In exploring the life and work of Harry Knowles, we have an opportunity to delve into root causes and warning signs that the millions of people who followed this website over the years certainly ignored. We do this with the hope that one day, we will not only properly react to cases of misconduct in the future, but also help engineer a society where they never happen in the first place. Justice in the form of punishment can feel rewarding -- especially during situations when our collective anger and outrage are justified -- but the true goal should always be prevention. We will always lose in this regard if we respond to incidents of wrongdoing by silencing dialogue or discourse.
Simply put, this is an important story that is worth telling because we don’t want something like this to happen again.
Additionally, within the shattered legacy of Aint It Cool News, there are many untold stories of writers -- men and women -- who toiled at their keyboards for years to disrupt cinema culture. Many are people who watched as the credit for all of their work was given to Harry Knowles. All of them were unpaid or vastly under-compensated for their work. When Ain’t It Cool News was brought down by allegations of sexual assault in 2017, these writers who mostly lived in other towns and states from where the incidents took place were forced to walk away from this period in their lives empty-handed.
The history of the internet is written on dry erase boards. For that reason, I want to chronicle the stories of these writers and collaborators and explore the meaning and impact of their work before everything is wiped clean.
What inspired the production of the podcast?
A lover of movies and cinema, series creator Joe Scott, was a huge fan of the Paul Thomas Anderson film “Boogie Nights,” which presented a fictionalized history of the adult film industry during its transition from 16mm film to VHS. Budgets became tighter and most attempts to imbue the work with aesthetics, craft or real meaning were jettisoned completely. One could argue the same happened with film culture in the mid to late 2000s when scores of print and newspaper movie critics were laid off only to be replaced by mostly unpaid bloggers and content creators who worked for online outlets. We very suddenly lost film analysis driven by perspective and context in favor of aggregate services like Rotten Tomatoes that rendered all voices into a meaningless collective to decide whether a movie is just ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
To be sure, newspaper film criticism had its problems. But in stories of tech disruptors -- which most definitely applies to Ain't It Cool News -- too often, I find that the focus is on what we as a society might have gained. I was a fan of Ain't It Cool, and I admire how they created a world where genre and comic book filmmakers have an easier time sharing their vision with the world. At the same time, when looking back to even the mediocre cinema of my childhood, I can’t help but mourn what we lost. Major studios have almost entirely abandoned medium budget dramas or romantic comedies, as they now have no relevance in the new internet movie geek culture that requires clicks and fanboy appeal in order to be viable.
Is this a true story?
Actors were hired to read the dialogue of Harry Knowles and individuals who were either deceased or unavailable for interviews. That said, this podcast follows the real-life account of Harry Knowles as detailed in decades of reporting, his own writing on his website, and even his own biography.
Why didn’t you interview Harry Knowles?
We wanted to tell a story that had never been told before through the perspectives of people who had largely been ignored. Through both his book, website, and extensive media coverage, Harry Knowles has had many opportunities to tell his story. Those texts exist for us to mine. At the same time, our main goal was to talk to his collaborators who, because they largely worked under pseudonyms or code names, received virtually no credit for their work in reshaping cinema culture.
In telling the story of media mogul Harry Knowles, the similarities between his story and that of the imaginary newspaper publisher and protagonist in Citizen Kane were too many to ignore. Stylistically, we thought it would be fitting to have this story told by those who collaborated with him, just as Orson Welles did with the fictional Charles Foster Kane.
We assumed that based on his response to other media inquiries during 2017, that Harry would not want to be interviewed. Maybe we were wrong?