Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles: The Cash-Strapped King of the Nerds Plots a Comeback

5:00 AM PST 03/28/2013 by Hal Espen, Borys Kit
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Wesley Mann
Harry Knowles

The founder of the once-renegade movie site, who earned the admiration of Peter Jackson and Steve Jobs, is struggling for money and relevance in the wild media landscape he helped to create.

In 2006, he met a fan on MySpace, Patricia Cho. For their first date, she came to Knowles' place, and they watched Live Freaky, Die Freaky, a stop-motion musical retelling of the Charles Manson story. They married in July 2007 with Auric Goldfinger (pop culture's most notorious redhead) and Pussy Galore as the bride-and-groom figures atop the cake.

But four months before their nuptials, Knowles was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes exacerbated by his obesity, which gradually had overtaken him again, and he decided to get a gastric band surgically implanted. "At the start of all of this, I was 417 pounds," he wrote. "I wore 7XL shirts and size 62 pants. I was a very fat fat-ass. Technically, I still am. And I've been a happy fat man, but when diabetes came into the equation -- which has a possibility of blindness, which would really f--- up my favorite passion in life, film -- I decided to take the steps necessary to defeat it." Two-and-a-half years later came his collapse, spinal operation and the start of a three-day-a-week physical therapy regimen focused on strengthening leg muscles atrophied from his years in a wheelchair. Today, he can trek 600 feet using a walker before his legs give out. After cutting back on temptations like "my Kryptonite" -- Austin's Tex-Mex cuisine -- he's back down to 305 pounds.

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But if Knowles used to be bigger, the same can be said of the Ain't It Cool News' audience. ComScore doesn't document online traffic from the site's heyday, but it's safe to say that it was an order of magnitude larger than the current 300,000 unique monthly visitors. In a sense, Knowles is a victim of his own pioneering success in reinventing the way movies are covered. Writers and editors who grew up reading Ain't It Cool News now are competing with him not only on a dizzying number of geek sites such as Slashfilm, Collider and Latino Review but on legacy-media sites including EW.com, New York magazine's Vulture and THR.com.

The site continues to fight its way back to profitability; earlier in March, Knowles was able to pay himself for the first time since last summer. He also is trying to diversify. After shooting 30 episodes of an online TV show for Nerdist's YouTube channel in 2012, he's pitching a new series of Ain't It Cool TV shows. And at the end of 2012, he released an Ain't It Cool movie app.

Whatever the future holds, Knowles is looking out on a world he helped to create, legitimize and evangelize. "The current state is quasi-orgasmic," he says. "Between Disney going into the Star Wars-making business, Marvel having a slate that includes Guardians of the Galaxy and Sam Raimi just saying that he and Ivan Raimi are going to sit down to write Evil Dead 4 -- the enormity of the good news happening in the geek nation after the Mayan apocalypse has been just stunning." Abrams directing the next Star Wars film leaves Knowles giddy: "I like his desire to keep things secret," he says. "Whoever is developing Star Wars should be devilishly playful with the audience. This is exactly the sort of magician you need."

In February, as if to signal it was too soon to write off Ain't It Cool News, Knowles had two killer scoops: The casting of the villain of 2014's Fast and Furious 7 (spoiler alert: Jason Statham) and that Disney and Lucasfilm are planning a series of stand-alone Star Wars films, the first centered on Yoda. The Internet exploded, much like it did over his Star Wars coverage nearly 20 years ago, and Knowles was holding the match.

On any given day, Harry still has the power to be Harry.

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