I spent the bulk of yesterday writing movie reviews for various publications. I personally hate writing reviews. I used to enjoy it, taking a bit of journalistic pride in my integrity at writing honest critiques of the various films I've been sent. I still write the same way, but I don't enjoy it as much.
I've written a number of reviews in the past that are generally glowing, but contain a couple of nitpicking little "yes, but" things to ensure my street cred and ensure the article isn't just one giant ass-kiss. And wouldn't you know, those are the things I'll get called on and folks will whine at me. 99% positive, and they chose to focus on the two or three things I didn't like. Fine.
The one of the bigger problems is that, outside of the latest Hollywood nonsense, most of the screeners I get are either from people I know, or indie filmmakers who have sought me out for one reason or another. If they're from people I know, usually they're friends of mine, and I'd like to keep them as such.
But that's not the biggest problem. (If you know me even marginally, you know what great pleasure I take at being a bastard, so if you've stuck around this long, it means you have a high tolerance for me)
The biggest problem with me seems to be my empathy. Even for folks I don't know. I'm a filmmaker myself. I toiled through years of self-doubt and low self-esteem in film school, trying to decide if I'd chosen the right path. Ultimately, I came to the unmistakable conclusion that filmmaking is hard. I know, big revelation.
Even with the ease that movies can be made today, with digital video and a cracked download of Premiere Pro, it seems like anyone can make a movie. And, unfortunately, anyone generally does. Lock the camera down, get your neighbor to run by waving his arms. Slap it on DVD, sell it for $10. Voila! You're a filmmaker.
Okay, those people aside, I get screeners from all over the place where real effort can be seen throughout the entire process. Some of these guys have the mechanics down, but don't have the talent. Most of the time, it's vice-versa, and the latest offering is just too early in their career. It's not bad (or it is, but not awful), but they're not there yet. But I can see what they went through to make it. You can tell when someone busted their ass to make a movie and when they just plunked their family down in front of a GL-1.
You want to encourage the folks who are really trying, but let them know, constructively, what they might want to improve upon. And most filmmakers will take your comments for what they're worth and move on. Some will bad-mouth you after the fact, to which I usually reply, 'hey, you sent that thing to me'.
I've gotten ripped apart in reviews. And even if you're a veteran in the game, the negative review still hurts. In this era of anonymity of the screen name, most people take great pleasure in seeing how cruel they can be with the editorial adjectives. I'm not one of those guys. For one thing, I always use my own name as my screen name. You know who you're talking to when you see a post from me.
So if I don't dig a movie, if I can't find something to point at and say, 'This is really good', then I don't review it. If you're a cool guy and deserve the attention, or at least the encouragement to move forward, I'll likely do an interview with you instead. (Hey, it could just be me. Maybe it just wasn't my thing, but that doesn't mean other folks won't like it) The way I look at it, if I didn't like it, what good is it going to do you if I write a negative review? At this level, everyone needs the good press so they can move onto the next thing. And chances are, there's a guy right around the corner who's more than willing to tear you a new one out of fun. I don't need to be that guy. I like to sleep at night.
"But you owe it to your readers!" I've heard. "What about journalistic integrity??" What about "buyer fucking beware"? is my response.
Look, I'm trying to make a living as a filmmaker. It's not going to happen any time soon for the same reasons everyone else has: lack of time, lack of money and, the real kicker, the competition out there is staggering! And since Digital Video became affordable, those few distributors out there who will even look at an indie movie have their desks topped with a Close Encounters-sized mountain of shitty video movies they have to wade through, and if my movie is at the bottom of the pile, they might be too weary to even look at the friggin' thing. Or they watch it and it isn't their thing. Or they watch it and all they can think of is all the backyard movies they've just sat through and they can't bear to watch one more epic filled with people they've never heard of.
It's a tough business. I'm not out there to make it tougher for anyone. So every time I pop a movie into my DVD player, or have to dust off my VCR for the odd VHS that comes through, I sit there waiting and praying that the movie is good, so I'll have something positive to write. Trust me, it's as tough on me as it is on you.
Monday, April 18, 2005