A full day of ‘Snow White’ speculation reveals the tabloid appetites of Hollywood press

You can’t be fired from a job that doesn’t exist.

Today has been a long day of hysterical headlines and wild overreaction to what basically amounts to a non-story, a re-confirmed detail that has been combined with one new piece of information, slathered in rumor, and then served up in a mixture that is designed to outrage and drive page views, but which seems to me to point out one of the fundamental flaws of entertainment “news” as a whole.

David Koepp was hired to write a sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman.”  That’s true.  David Koepp is now moving on, presumably to some other high-profile job, as Universal tries to decide what, if anything, they’re going to do with the script.

Let’s imagine we lived in a world where “Snow White and the Huntsman” was a giant megahit and people were genuinely asking for a sequel.  Let’s imagine that in that version of the film, Kristen Stewart felt like an organic piece of the overall world and not a momentarily hot actress shoehorned into a franchise role that ill fits her.  Let’s imagine that there’s a scandal involving her and the filmmaker and the studio decided to fire her as a way of scolding her for her sexual indiscretion while they reward the filmmaker with another job.  That would be a situation worth reporting on, and it would be a fairly damning course of action by Universal Studios.

That didn’t happen, though.  That version of the narrative is fiction.  That version of the story, printed and reprinted today like some journalistic game of telephone, is nonsense.  We know that for several reasons.  First, Universal has been developing several versions of the sequel since well before the film was released to theaters.  They decided to at least develop a draft of the script where Snow White was not in the film and the Huntsman became the main character instead.  In April, Ron Meyer talked about those plans briefly in an interview he gave about the studio’s franchises and their overall approach to big tentpole films.

Right now, Universal has no firm plans for what they’re going to do.  Rupert Sanders has not been hired to make the second film.  Kristen Stewart has not been fired from making the second film.  There is not a script that has been agreed upon.  No greenlight has been given.  There are any number of questions that still exist before they even decide if they’ll make a follow-up, much less which version they’re going to make.

So why so much outrage today?  I think people want to believe the idea that Hollywood is going to punish the sexually active young woman while rewarding the cheating husband.  I think people like that version of the story because it allows them to rail about how sexually screwed up Hollywood is and how the institutionalized misogyny punishes actresses in ways that actors don’t have to deal with, and while all of that might actually be the case, this is not that story.  This is not that situation.  This is not worth the energy expended today, and yet here I am writing about it because I see so much misinformation bouncing around out there.

I like many of the reporters who work at The Hollywood Reporter, but this is the same outlet that insists that every single story about the Aurora tragedy has “‘Dark Knight’ shooting” in the headline.  I think that’s a disgusting example of how the pursuit of the best possible SEO headlines is starting to turn even trustworthy news sources into gossip mongers and liars.  It is at the very least misleading to build the headline around the breathless news that Kristen Stewart has been “dropped,” since that is not the new information today.  David Koepp leaving the project is new.  That’s it.  Other than that, Kim Masters didn’t break news today.  She simply repackaged it, sensationalized it, and caused a huge firestorm over the headline.

The LA Times ran a straight-up denial of the story, which reads more defensive than it should, but based on the fury that was directed at Universal Studios today, I can see why they felt like they needed to be defensive.  Honestly… just apply logic to the situation.  Is Rupert Sanders a box-office draw?  Nope.  Is Kristen Stewart?  Arguably.  When they’re making the big decisions on the next film, box-office is going to be far more important to that conversation that who did what with who in a marital indiscretion.

This is what happens when tabloid sensationalism starts to bleed into business reporting.  Lines get blurred and we get this sort of speculative accusatory blather repeated and repeated and repeated, each new indignant piece making it sound even worse.

How about we take a step back, let Universal figure out if they even want to make another movie, and then wait to see who they cast and in what roles.  If they hire someone else to play Snow White, that’s a story.  That’s a specific choice.  Short of that, I think people who spent today wagging their fingers at Universal and scolding them should examine why they want to believe the worst of the studio, and why they’re so invested in what is, at heart, a story about a broken marriage and a personal betrayal.

“Snow White and the Huntsman” arrives on DVD and Blu-ray Sept. 11, 2012.