Ain't It Cool News South Florida Film Critic Billy Donnelly Allegedly Fired For His "Brutal Honesty" UPDATED
While you were clicking 'like' on that photo of your cousin's ugly baby, Billy Donnelly was busy getting fired through Facebook.
Donnelly was until recently known as The Infamous Billy the Kidd, South Florida editor of Ain't It Cool News (spoiler alert: it ain't). He doesn't want to insult his former boss, Harry Knowles, who sent Donnelly a Facebook message "at two in the afternoon saying that I was out and good luck with life." Donnelly's reluctance may be because, as he tells Cultist, he has "been trying to maintain the high road, even if there is no getting around the way I was dismissed and that how it happened kind of says it all."
UPDATE: Ain't It Cool News has responded to this story, denying Donnelly's claims. We've added more information after the jump.
Before being fired, Donnelly was known as one of the harder to please critics on the once very popular movie news site. He compared his afternoon lost to Les Miserables as being "in line with one of those picking-out -wallpaper-all-afternoon deals." In his dismissal of the new Evil Dead remake, he asked, "Couldn't the world do without a few extra morons?"
It's not as though Donnelly had no idea that his style was clashing with the tone of AICN, a site that has been accused by its own readers and others in the industry of trading positive coverage of films for access to productions and casts. Donnelly explains, "I had a conversation with Harry months ago where he'd talked sort of about my tone in stories. I took it under advisement and tried to take things from a more optimistic perspective. But when it comes down to reviews, I don't see how you can change that you're going to like some things and dislike some things. The point is to be honest about what you're seeing and to start a discussion."
Though Donnelly could be merciless with the films he didn't like, he also took pains to champion films he felt were worthy of his readers' attention. And he was a fixture in the South Florida film fan community, hosting preview screenings in South Florida and facilitating conversations on a local level, in addition to the writing he did for the site.
"You can point out the positives of a bad film or the negatives of a good film," he says. "But you're still rooting for good films. If I have to watch something for two hours, why do I want it to be shit?"
But in an email, AICN Chicago Editor Steve Prokopy says Donnelly wasn't fired for negative reviews; he was fired for poor writing. "We have another writer who tends to go negative a lot, but he's also a fantastic writer and actually substantiates his negative criticism," he writes. "No, Billy was fired because he doesn't know anything about movies made before 1990. His lack of film knowledge is legendary, and the number of times one of the other writers at Ain't It Cool News has contacted him about a very basic film fact that he got wrong in a news item or review was something that lowered the quality of the site in general. And while his often negative opinion didn't really bother me, he never really backed it up with examples of why he didn't like something, which is kind of what being a critic is about. You can't just say Yay or Nay, you have to explain why you felt that way with some degree of intelligence and knowledge that Billy simply didn't have."
Prokopy also says Donnelly was rumored to hoard screening passes, hounded film studios for free swag, and was "a terrible interviewer." According to Prokopy, the last straw was a direct violation of an order from Knowles: "Harry asked him to take a break for a few days, and not long after Billy posted another piece, violated Harry's request, so Harry fired him on Facebook."
Now that he is on his own, Donnelly is starting a new site called ThisIsInfamous.com, intended to be a community space devoted to geekdom.
"If there's one thing you've taken away from ... interactions with me, it's my brutal honesty when it comes to one of the things I love most - movies. Recently, that straight-forward and opinionated approach worked against me, but this is the chance to turn a negative into a very big positive," Donnelly explains at the project's Indiegogo fundraising page.
Eventually, ThisIsInfamous.com will include a radio network and cover a broader range of topics than AICN.
"We're looking to be more encompassing," Donnelly says. "To fit a broader sense of this geek community. Whether it's movies, television, comic books, or even professional wrestling. We're their voice and we're trying to give them a voice."
If you visit it now, you'll be redirected to an Indiegogo fundraising page where Donnelly is collecting donations for his new venture. Indiegogo means there will be perks for his supporters. So how much to have Donnelly reconfigure his facial hair into a custom design of your choosing?
"We're not asking for a lot," Donnelly says, shooting down the idea. "I think [$5,000] is a reasonable amount. If we were making a movie, if we were making Garden State 2," he continues with an audible shudder, "I might offer some Zach Braff-like things. But we're not."
Great, great. But how much to get in the ring with wrestling fanatic Donnelly?
"I'm kind of fragile," he insists. "And I'm getting older, so unless it's a small child that I think I can beat in a fight, I'm not going to do it. I don't want to get my ass kicked."
So what can you get? Well, for 50 bucks, you can get a 10-minute thank you call from Donnelly. Which even if he could speak a dozen languages would still probably leave him with about nine-and-a-half minutes left to fill.
"Inviting someone into my office to watch me write doesn't seem all that exciting," he counters. "When I'm at screenings or events, I'm always there to talk to someone. My wife usually has to drag me away because I'm talking cool stuff with people who feel the same way about things. I want to thank people but I also want to have a conversation about whatever you want. Star Trek. Man of Steel. Transformers 4. How you hate whatever, what you love. I'm game for it."
At $100, you get a 15-minute Skype video call. Presumably, other than five extra minutes, supporters at this level will get some additional visual stimulation. Donnelly promises to stay clothed for all 15 minutes of the conversation, no matter what. If, however, the supporter wishes to get naked, Donnelly will be accommodating.
"That would be completely bizarre," he says. "Like a sex chat? It'll be the exact same thing as the phone call but there's something being lost in one-on-one personal connections and this gives us a face-to-face. But they've got their 15 minutes, so I'll just look around my office and try not to let things get too awkward."
For $500, you can be a guest commentator on a This Is Infamous radio show.
"They will be archived as podcasts," Donnelly says, "but we're looking to build a network of actual live shows and have them be as interactive as possible. We'll give you a segment and we'll give you a voice."
Not to worry, nudists with $500 and no pockets to put it in. There's a place for you, too, at This Is Infamous.
"There's no video on the radio show. So if they're more comfortable with their pants off, that's their prerogative."
To contribute to Billy's new website, visit ThisIsInfamous.com.
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