Every month, I get emails from filmmakers. Many want advice, while some just want to thank us for offering the services we do. Of course, for folks who’ve recently had their films critiqued, I often get emails that fall into three categories:
Thanks and appreciation – by far the largest category, these are filmmakers who are trying to become better and really appreciate an additional objective eye looking at their piece.
Thanks and clarification – These are filmmakers who appreciate the review we did, but want to extend additional information about what their intent for the plot was. By and large, these are very gracious filmmakers who understand that their film didn’t show enough of this information for us to be aware of, but want to extend to us their intentions.
Thanks and complaint – while in the minority, we definitely get our share of this dichotomous group. I say dichotomous because, although they are essentially writing to complain, they, nevertheless, end their emails with something like, “But thanks” or “Anyway, thanks for the review”. Nevermind that the first page and a half of their email was how unkind, ignorant, or just plain out of touch with their audience we were. This group seems to be made up of people who either believe they have all there is to know about filmmaking down pat or they were hoping that our site was a place where they could come to get their ego stroked.
The latter group never fails to amaze me.
As a low-budget filmmaker, I understand the emotions attached to filmmaking and I understand how protective you can be of a film that is “your baby”. In that regard, filmmaking is sort of like parenting. You conceive a story, you help it grow in preproduction, and fully develop and mature in production and post. For most of us, although our hearts are tied up completely in our films, we still want to make our film the best film it can be. To use the parenting analogy, we want our kids to be able to survive in the real world as competent adults. The problem is that, while parenting provides lots of input devices like Parent/Teacher Conferences, grades, progress reports, and the like, low budget filmmaking provides very few of these input/evaluation devices. Then, by the time you finish a film, you are a bit hazy on how exactly you wanted your film to progress and, if it didn’t get to the end you wanted, you’ve lost all perspective on how to fix the problem.
When we started this magazine, this was an issue we wanted to address, because we stumbled through two feature length films in much the same way. We had no interest in arrogantly implying that we had all the answers, but wanted to share solutions with filmmakers that we had learned through all of our mistakes. As such, we could help filmmakers who had lost perspective to understand issues with their films and to improve them. Never did we try to imply to anyone that our site was the place to come to get cheap praise dumped upon your film. Never did we imply to anyone that we were the site to come get some quick review done. Average reviews in most magazines for films are usually ¼ to ½ a page. Ours range from two to six pages, with an average length of four pages. They are this long because we critique films, a service that I’ve seen in no other film publication in existence. We use a critical eye to show you what’s good and what really needs to be changed about a film, providing tips when possible. Some films can be fixed, while others are too far gone, but the goal is to provide a community of learning by which we can all learn to be better filmmakers.
In this regard, I’m reminded of the passage from Proverbs which says:
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Because our critiques come from one filmmaker to another, we want to help our submitters to become better filmmakers, which usually doesn’t involve us telling them what they want to hear. They all have family and buddies to tell them that their film is the “greatest film since Rocky.” We’re here to help you tweak things and inspire folks to become better at the craft of filmmaking.
Sometimes this means that a critique hurts because so much of oneself is in it. Most of the time, it is the first film that hurts the most, because all of us tend to believe that our first film will be the one that will “put us on the map.” For a very few folks, that instant success occurs, but, for most, our first film is our first step on the journey to becoming a real filmmaker. The “wounds” inflicted through a first film’s critique sting, but, if you listen to what’s being brought up, a lot of times you see something that you had missed due to your perspective. This helps a filmmaker grow stronger and look toward future projects with a more discerning eye.
This brings us back to the folks I mentioned in the third category, who wail and moan when they get a lower score because we don’t understand their audience or that we should’ve watched the film a couple more times or that their friends and family said it “was really, really good.” Aside from completely missing the point that critiques are designed to help filmmakers improve, these folks fail to understand how much more brutal normal film reviewers actually are. And, more brutal than the reviewers, are the agents, studios, and distributors that most filmmakers want to impress.
As a country, Americans are mesmerized by American Idol, because it represents the real world—the place where all the people who’ve had their friends tell them they can really sing get crushed by the reality of Simon Cowell. (Make no mistake, although Paula and Randy provide some diversionary commentary, Cowell is the creator of the show and the one with all the industry muscle.) Call me crazy, but I would rather provide filmmakers with the wounds that strengthen them enough for their work to be able to stand up to the film equivalents of Simon Cowell.
Wise filmmakers realize that, unless they’re filmmakers with 30 years of experience, they’re probably not yet masters of the craft of filmmaking. As such, most films will have things that can be improved about them. But as we keep the perspective that we’re all trying to grow together and that any form of growth involves pain, we can more fully embrace the wounds of a friend.