Despite remaining in Needham during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sneider has been able to keep in contact with his sources.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Needham doesn’t have many connections to the bright lights of Hollywood. Last year, a Chris Evans movie was filmed in a Needham neighborhood, pretending it was a Newton one. Back in the 80s, “Mermaids” featured a hospital scene that was shot in Needham. And the dad from “Even Stevens” is from here.
At first glance, there are very few even spurious connections between Tinseltown and our town, which is why it might surprise you to know some of the biggest scoops in Hollywood have not just come from a Needham resident, but were broken right here.
Needham High class of 2002 graduate Jeff Sneider has been working as a Hollywood reporter since college, and has broken such huge stories as James Corden taking over “The Late, Late Show,” Jared Leto succeeding Heath Ledger as the Joker in “Suicide Squad,” Mahershala Ali starring on the third season of “True Detective,” the existence of “Borat 2” (which he broke while in town) and Jordan Peele producing a remake of “The People Under the Stairs” (which he broke in town last week).
How did someone from Needham end up with the kind of access to Hollywood insiders to get this information? It all started at NYU, when a DJ friend didn’t want to see one of the “Matrix” sequels.
“Basically,” Jeff explained, “I was at NYU studying screenwriting, and my friend was a DJ at the NYU radio station. She got invited to see one of the 'Matrix' sequels early, and she wasn’t interested, so she gave me the invite. I ended up seeing one of the 'Matrix' sequels and wrote up a review and sent it to Aintitcoolnews.com. So at 19, I ended up reviewing films for Aintitcool, which was kind of a big deal back then, and so I made a name for myself at AIntitcool and in New York, interviewing some of the biggest celebrities in the world in between classes at NYU. When I finally graduated and moved out to LA, I got an internship at Variety, and at Variety I worked my way up first as a production editor and then as a reporter. So, I made a name for myself at Variety and The Wrap.”
Now writing for Collider, Jeff noted that LA was a much smaller town than people realize, so while out there, he looked to be a social butterfly and network with as many people as he could. This led him to develop a wide base of sources, which he is still able to depend on during the pandemic.
“I think it’s important, whether you’re a reporter, or you go out to LA to be a director or a writer, agent or manager, you have to be a social butterfly. It’s really about going out to breakfasts and to drinks after work and networking, because it’s really a small town. It’s a smaller town than you think, and it is about who you know. I benefitted from having the clarity that I wanted to be a reporter. When you’re 22 and you’re out there, you don’t know what you’re going to end up being. But I was meeting everyone as the reporter, and the reporter is a good guy to know, because everybody wants press in LA. If they sneeze, they want an article about it, so I was just the guy who was doing everybody favors. And those lower level people, whether they were interns or assistants, eventually get hired to become executives, and they move up the food chain and information trickles uphill. It’s really about developing that network of executives, producers, publicists, agents, managers, and getting them to trust you, making them feel comfortable - and you also have to have something to offer. Being at Variety and The Wrap, I was a member of the trade and had a large industry readership. Being at Collider, the readership is much different, and it is more challenging to break news, although I am still able to do it, from time to time.”
One of those times was very recently, when Sneider broke that Sacha Baron Cohen had made a second Borat movie. “Borat 2” was a major scoop for Sneider, who learned of the film’s existence from an exhibition source who said that they were test-screening it in one of the theaters currently open (though the film would ultimately never see theaters, releasing straight to Amazon Prime Video). People had seen Sacha Baron Cohen dressed as Borat filming skits - Rudy Giuliani had already called the police on him, and he’d been kicked out of a Washington gun rally. Until Sneider published the scoop, though, there was only speculation as to whether he was filming a commercial, a viral video, or, as most people assumed, another season of his Showtime comedy, “Who is America?”
Currently, Sneider is living in Needham, not in LA, a luxury afforded to him because of COVID-19. He explained that while his life usually revolves around going to premieres, taking sources to lunch, and seeing movies (Sneider noted he sees around 200 movies a year but wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a theater now, as concessions offer an excuse to go maskless), there’s nothing happening in LA for him to be missing.
“That’s been the gift of the pandemic. You can work from anywhere and the playing field is really equal. You don’t need to be in LA anymore, because there’s nothing happening there. There are no screenings or premieres or events. I can’t take sources out to lunch. I could still work the phones, though - that’s the beauty of being a reporter - so I’ve been living with dear old dad back here. I am somewhere between East Coast hours and West Coast hours. I’m not a morning person, but it allows me to work a bit later because the news is still emanating out of the West Coast. The news is still on West Coast hours. But fortunately, my sources haven’t forgotten about me, even though I’m freezing my butt off here in Needham.” He later added, “I would say, normally, I have a lot of FOMO [fear of missing out] because I’m not invited to everything - I’m not in that top tier of invites - but right now, the great thing of this pandemic is I have no FOMO. I’m not missing anything. My life is dictated by the industry's calendar. To me, January is Sundance and September is Toronto, and my whole life is defined by the industry’s calendar, and for once it’s nice to have a break from that.”
Sneider said that while movies are being filmed in Boston, he doesn’t have much of a desire to do a set visit while here, since he finds movie sets boring (he said there’s too much waiting and that he lasted only one day as a PA on "The Departed" before falling asleep). But having gone to NYU to write movies, the question arose as to whether being so deeply immersed in them and getting such an intimate look at how and why they are made killed off any love of movies Jeff had.
“It didn’t stem my love of movies. My whole life is movies. I see probably 200 or so new movies a year, which is about a new movie every other day. But as a writer, it definitely felt discouraging getting a peek behind the curtain, seeing how the sausage is made and how poorly the industry treats writers. That’s the sort of one regret I have, is that I never went for it. I guess I was afraid to put myself out there as a writer, or maybe I was just too comfortable doing what I was doing, but just seeing that even the top, top screenwriters get rewritten and something that someone’s been working on for years goes through so many hands, it was like, 'What am I killing myself for?' Selling a script is like winning the lottery. I don’t understand why certain things sell or why things get made. That’s what I’ve been trying to understand for the last fifteen years: why this and not this?”
Jeff noted that he is a competitive person, liking to beat bigger publications to scoops and competing in a WWE-style movie trivia competition called the “Movie Trivia Schmoedown.” It was a loss in a boxing match, though, that made Jeff a “footnote in pop culture history.”
Director Uwe Boll, known for his famously terrible video-game-based movies like “Postal” and “House of the Dead,” challenged any movie critic to fight him in an exhibition boxing match. While at Aintitcoolnews, Jeff (who actually hadn’t seen, never mind written about any of Boll’s movies) was the only writer in the right size bracket to take up the challenge, so he did - and was stopped in the second round.
In terms of Hollywood connections, unless Sneider feels like dusting off his Tisch degree and giving screenwriting one more shot, Needham can now lay claim to the scene in “Mermaids,” the dad from “Even Stevens,” and the guy who broke the Jared Leto Joker story - and got beat up by the director of “Bloodrayne.”