A Word on IMDb (From a Film Industry Perspective)


IMDb, short for The Internet Movie Database. Launched in 1990 by computer programmer Col Needham, the site quickly took off as the go-to for folks looking to find information about their favorite film titles. The site boasts over 2 million titles from around the globe, providing information from cast and crew all the way to goofs, trivia and message boards for fans to discuss the movies they’ve seen.

As the site grew, so too did the need to find a way to monetize its content. In 1998, Col sold IMDb to Amazon as a subsidiary, maintaining control over the operation of the site in exchange for allowing Amazon to advertise sale of DVDs on the site. The site remained with Col in charge, along with a number of managers and section managers in charge of monitoring content.

In 2002 at the Sundance Film Festival, IMDb launched a Pro service to compete for the business of entertainment industry professionals. Like Tracking Board or Done Deal Pro and similar services, IMDbPro sought to give professionals a behind the scenes access for fee regarding the dealings of the industry. The main difference being, it is much more limited than its competitors, often lagging behind in terms of reporting news. It exists primarily for those looking to use the site more in terms of LinkedIn and resume building than actual access to information.

The fact remains, IMDb is NOT a valuable tool for those in the industry. More often than not, it is actually a minor inconvenience.

IMDb is primarily reserved for the info-hungry movie going public, which was the case since its inception in 1990. As the site grew, growing to become an Alexa top-50 site on the internet, it became increasingly important for industry professionals to be mindful of the correctness of information on the site, as well as monitoring message-boards to keep track of buzz regarding projects. It is NOT a tool used by the industry to browse deals, gather info etc. as IMDbPro likes to suggest, it is an informational tool for the non-industry movie-going public.

Industry professionals don’t use IMDbPro for anything more than to correct information, or sparsely update development details of projects. They are primarily following the Tracking Board, or Done Deal Pro or any other number of services with more direct ties to the business. However, as IMDb is the public face of their industry, they must still update the site, which at times can become problematic.

The reason this site has also become a hindrance is that professionals now must monitor their reputation and projects on yet another website, one which of late has increasingly failed to quality assure information as it had in the past. As the site grows, more and more staff must be hired to overlook the volume of entries to movie titles, actor info, corrections, deletions and any other range of information. This information is submitted through page-edits by site users (not necessarily within the industry), like Wikipedia, but the information is then quality assured and approved by a section manager.

Recently, I was making corrections to my own page, when out of curiosity, I decided to look up a favorite producer and former mentor of mine. Under his Past Projects, I noticed a suspicious new animation entry slated for release this December. At first I was even fooled by it, it had 67 listed crew members and a release date. I figured, surely if it got past Section Managers, it must be legit! I clicked on it, and immediately saw the “director” credited under multiple departments, including voice actor, storyboard artist and animator. When I clicked on distributors and company info, no production company was listed, those distributors that were listed were competitors (they would never co-distribute in the same territories). Red flags were everywhere. The film didn’t even list a writer! And in the back of my mind, I felt I would have heard about a project moving forward if one of my favorite filmmakers were involved.

Since I have an IMDPro account, I decided over my lunch break to do a little investigative work, and what I uncovered should show just how bad IMDb quality assurance has become.

I Googled the film’s title in quotations (since the title itself was very generic) alongside the name of the director (also in quotations). What I found were two website results – that’s it. Only two unverifiable sites, and nothing industry related!

The first site was an Instagram account of the director, animator, storyboard artist jack-of-all trades who pulled off this elaborate prank on IMDb. He is a 19 year-old college student living in Idaho. On his account, he advertised an animated poster of the film with hash-tags denoting crew, distributors and phony release information. On the second site, a Wikia page, he drew up a mock credit and film Wikia page (much like IMDb). There he tried to tie his fake film in with the Producer (also ironically once an Idaho college student) and a past animated title of his (hint: there is no relation between these two films).

So IMDb allowed a fake film to be submitted to its site with only a Wikia page (easily created by the prankster – and probably pathological liar) and an Instagram account to “verify” its existence. Not a single mention of this project exists on any verifiable website from Trade dailies to the Tracking Board, or in the news, or uttered by the Producer(s) or distributors themselves. What took me a 3 minute Google search to uncover, was completely overlooked by IMDb!

I have since requested IMDb remove the title from its website, since I am sure my favorite producer would be quite irked if he’s even seen it (as I am sure the other 65 or so “crew members” would be). I have yet to hear back, but I am sure they will corroborate and follow through.

This is just one instance I have seen, heard of or dealt with regarding a serious lapse in quality control of high-value information on IMDb. These people are worth millions of dollars, and their image matters very much. The other producer listed (in addition to my former mentor and professional influence) has made over a billion dollars in Box Office the past two years alone! This is completely irresponsible (almost negligent) by IMDb to allow a 19 year old from the Mountain West to misrepresent folks in the business this way.

The fact that this even has to occur is ridiculous, especially since they recently raised prices on their Pro membership. This is something I would expect from Wikipedia, but not from a paid service with Section Managers overseeing submissions. Pro membership offers little, other than to have management over your page or projects (which is an obvious necessity in the information age). IMDb has forced its way into industry relevancy as an information access point. I have yet to meet people in the business who value it as a truly reputable resource the way the Tracking Board or other forums/sites are seen.

So for now, I await IMDb doing the right thing and taking this ridiculous prank off its site. And when they do, I will promptly suspend my Pro account until they can assure me lapses in quality like this won’t happen again. The industry frankly deserves a better information outlet and public face.


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