Twitter ye not: film studios try to censor their stars

Guy Adams
Tuesday 20 October 2009 00:00

If, like millions of fans, you've grown accustomed to following Hollywood stars via Twitter, you may soon need to find another way to keep up with their daily banalities. At least two major film studios are curbing creative staff's use of social networking websites.

In accordance with the industry's long tradition of keeping its biggest names on a tight leash, Disney and DreamWorks have both decided that the "talent" needs to be kept under close control online. Both studios have inserted clauses into employment contracts to stop stars sharing personal thoughts that might interfere with their carefully-honed public images.

Quite how this will affect Ashton Kutcher's ability to "tweet" photographs of wife Demi Moore's bottom remains to be seen: the contracts, quoted in a front-page story in The Hollywood Reporter, are so vaguely worded as to be potentially all-encompassing.

Disney's clause bans studio staff and actors from breaching confidentiality via "interactive media such as Facebook, Twitter, or any other interactive social network or personal blog". At DreamWorks, meanwhile, employees are to be barred from breaking news embargoes via "a social networking site, blog or other internet-type site".

Legal experts say the move smacks of old-fashioned control-freakery. "This is just the beginning," a lawyer told the Reporter. "Hollywood has a long history of controlling what talent says in the media. [Twitter] is just a new area of media that hasn't been controlled yet."

The crackdown follows several incidents in which stories that, in the past, might have been spoon-fed to a pliant local media were instead directly, and chaotically, announced via social networking sites.

In August, Paula Abdul revealed that she was leaving the judging panel of American Idol following a dispute over pay. The previous month, the sacking of NBC's troubled chief Ben Silverman was broken on the Twitter feed of TV host Ryan Seacrest. And Greg Grunberg, a star of Heroes, posted a message that many readers wrongly interpreted as an announcement that the show was being cancelled.

Some reports have even suggested that the new regulations will force Cameron Diaz and Mike Myers, who are on the cast of DreamWorks' new Shrek movie, to abandon Twitter. However that seems unlikely, since they agreed to appear in the film long before to the advent of the site.

In an effort to have its cake and eat it, some film studios and TV networks are encouraging employees to use social networking forums to build "buzz", while also attempting to control the sort of announcements they make.

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A set of "guidelines" circulated by ABC, and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, told staff that "Twittering is of course not mandatory, but if you have a Twitter account, we would like you to tweet regularly." It then listed forbidden types of tweet – including messages that would act as plot spoilers and ones that made disparaging remarks about a show.

Spilling the beans What they said

Paula Abdul

*The former American Idol judge caught Fox on the hop when she tweeted her resignation, neglecting to tell her paymasters first. "With sadness in my heart, I've decided not to return," she wrote – wrong-footing the show's PR operation

Kevin Smith

*Few members of Hollywood's Twitterati are as ebulliently foul-mouthed as Smith – but then his movies, including Clerks and Chasing Amy, are similarly obscene. Has been known to tweet his toilet trips

David Boreanaz

*No Tweeter himself, the former Buffy star and his new show Bones came a cropper when a writer posted that Boreanaz's swine flu had held up filming. The ensuing rumour forced the writer to issue a nervy retraction minutes later

Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher

*Twitter's favourite couple are followed by millions. But Moore is not always on-message, and once used the site to accuse a gossip blogger of breaking child porn laws

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