Monday Prescriptions – Stop Press: The Importance of the Film Critic – A Tribute to Roger Ebert

Hi Film Folk,

In memory of renowned film critic, Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away last week, The Film Doctor Team have decided that this week’s Monday Prescription will be a loving tribute to one of the world’s great film champions.

Ebert worked as a film critic and University lecturer for over 4 decades and was famed as the founder of the “thumbs up/thumbs down” review on legendary Film review show ‘Siskel & Ebert & The Movies’.






He donated his entire life to film and the industry mourns this iconic film-loving gent.

 
Roger Ebert - film doctor
Roger Ebert 1942-2013

MONDAY PRESCRIPTION – THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FILM CRITIC

The Film Critic can be one of the most influential and yet least acknowedged/most despised members of the industry.

Influential?

Yes, for it is your Kaels and Eberts and Kermodes (along with advertising and word of mouth) that steer an audience towards, or away, from the next ‘studio supersmash megahit’ or ‘an unknown first-time director’s indie hidden gem’. They can take a nobody, write about his/her film and have filmgoers, influential directors/producers/studio heads/A-list actors read about it the very next day. They often begin the snowball that can build and launch careers.



Least Acknowledged?

Yes, because success or buzz is often attributed to a studio or a producer or the innate talent of a writer/director. Credit given, these aforementioned businessmen and creatives ARE responsible for the film. They made it. But, like many industries and particularly the entertainment industries, it is the press and the broadcasters that fan the flames of stardom and place/keep a film in the public eye…and of course are rarely, if ever, credited.

Most Despised?

Yes, because of course when a film is reviewed badly, the critic is ‘harsh’ or ‘unfair’ to a filmmaker in a filmmaker’s/studio’s eyes.

And we come back to the first one, influential, because these reviews ARE read and DO affect who will and won’t attend the opening weekend. Cinema is not a cheap experience. People do NOT want to waste money.

Perfect?

Of course not. Some of the best films of all time have received a poor critical reception on release only to be hailed as a work of genius later down the line. 2001: A Space Odyssey was labelled “a monumentally unimaginative movie” by critical legend Pauline Kael. Some critics review to their tastes alone, some to the intended audience/market for the film. Obviously the readership of a tabloid, a broadsheet, a fanboy magazine and a culture supplement are going to vary and therefore be catered for differently.

 
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MAKE THAT FILM EXCITING!

So before we go on, we better state the obvious: make your film exciting. The days of humdrum, sitting-around-the-kitchen-table films being new to cinema are over. So are the days where a man pointing a gun in another man’s face every five seconds and shouting expletives is ground-breaking. Of course fashions are cyclical but study the talked-about films along with the thousands that slip through the cracks and work out what it is that sets them apart. You will find that what makes classics classics is hard to articulate, but that the commonalities amongst the ignored thousands are startingly obvious. See how your filmic hopes and aspirations, how your stories, can be exciting and different. See how you can make them a ‘talking point’.

 
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IMPORTANT NOTE!

A film critic is not a conduit for kudos. He or she does NOT exist to provide you with a nice quotation for your poster or DVD or press release. They are people that watch THOUSANDS of films and care considerably about the art/entertainment form. They want to watch fantastic cinema but they will not be blackmailed or begged to write kindly about your film even if you did spend the best part of a decade making it. Not unless it is spectacular or has a very interesting story behind it and even then, they do not owe you anything.

 
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GET REVIEWED

Many critics, the cream of the crop if you will, will simply not have a second in the day to watch your film. They are too busy. They are not rude or think they’re ‘it’. They have a job to do, watching the dozens of high-profile releases every month, often flying around the world and trying to squeeze in family and downtime. Don’t take it personally.

Some critics, if you ask nicely, may review your work but remember you are asking them to review it. Do not think you are entitled to 5 stars. They are not being rude. It is their opinion! And you asked for it!

You may contact them online (although don’t always expect a response and don’t hassle them). Enter your film into renowned film festivals where your chances of having your work seen are much, much higher.

 
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MAKE THAT FILM PROFESSIONALLY

If you’re still learning, don’t bother. Or at least say you’re learning and would like advice. Bad camera work, lighting and sound will distract and it will be impossible to decipher whether you can tell a decent story through these naughty no-nos.

 

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WRITERS? DIRECTORS? PRODUCERS?  STRATEGISE

Perhaps you don’t want to leave it to fate, don’t want to SEE if your film ‘happens to be good enough’ to get talked about. Then start THINKING about what can make your film shine from the pile. Is it told in reverse like Memento? Or was it the first musical to have live singing recorded like Les Miserables? Or did the director go mad while filming it like Apocalypse Now (as shown in documentary ‘Heart of Darkness’)? Or filmed all in one take like Rope?

These were all fantastic attention-seeking strategies that were planned out during the writing, directing, producing or were accidental and were capitalised on later by the sales/distribution teams. Think ahead and you might be a few steps closer to gaining some film journo followers. Remember though, the films above were all considered very good by a large/supportive audience, so the gimmicks will not work without the qulaity.

 
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SOME INTERESTING STORIES:

Here are some examples of films/directors whose press coverage helped catapult their films into the public eye:

 

HITCHCOCK – “make pictures for the press”

“With The Lodger, Hitchcock demonstrated that he was a master of the press

as well as of suspense. He began to build some relationships with journalists and

film critics alike. Until 1939 the bulk of Hitchcock’s press coverage was primarily

focused on just his work and films, unlike later on in his career which would be more

centred on Hitchcock himself. Before he had moved on to Hollywood, before all the

publicity lessons he would learn from his first American producer David O’ Selznick

and before his celebrated television series, there was no real Hitchcock famed

persona. In England, all the publicity that he received was completely normal for a

director of his standard.

 

Around the time of the release of The Lodger, the Film Society met up British

director Adrian Brunel’s house, Hitchcock was a member of the society and went

along. During the meeting, one of the members raised the question for whom do we

make pictures? To which, after hearing many other peoples’ differing responses,

Hitchcock replied that a director should “make pictures for the press”. He then

went on to explain that a director can only make himself publicly known by getting

mentioned in the press. Ultimately, being known is the only way they can then become

a free agent and have complete say over cast, stories and other such elements. He

said any production company or studio would just be glad to have your famous name.”

 
Taken from ‘Establishing the Hitchcock Brand’ by Catherine Wooding
 
 

ROCKY – ‘The Story behind the Story’

Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky is legendary for its underdog tale and further popular for its ‘making of’ story which expressed that Stallone wrote the script and had to fight tooth and nail with the studio to be able to play the lead character.

It later emerged that this was one huge marketing myth to draw in a crowd and support the film itself as an underdog. Stallone’s team deny this (they would as not to upset fans) and perhaps the truth will never be known but here’s an article with the film’s key figures interviewed.

 
 

QUENTIN TARANTINO – ‘The Tennessee White-Trash Hillbilly’

Mr. Tarantino’s years of movie store working is true but another part of his story at the time was that he was came from poverty, dropped out of high school and worked himself up from nothing. According to Sharon Waxman’s Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How they Conquered the Hollywood Studio System “the reality was far more subtle and complicated.” She goes on to mention that his mother was “unusually intelligent and ambitious”, paid for him to go to private school and then supported his movie-watching and screenwriting when he refused to go to high school. His time in Tennessee is limited to one year he spent with an aunt at the age of 8, says Waxman.

 
 

COLIN – ‘The £45 Movie’

Marc Price’s Zombie flick ‘Colin’ caused a storm at Cannes when his Sales Agent caught onto an exciting line for the film – that it had only cost him £45 to make. The British media went into a frenzy and he became the hot topic for a while that year. This was a fantastic concotion to attract attention.

 
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WHAT CAN BE DONE?

The list of publicity tactics and accidents are endless and, of course, there are no guarantees. Some great films are underrated and fall by the wayside. That’s film. That’s life. But here are some possibilities:

  • Watching as many films as possible and studying their quality and their publicity campaigns will improve your ability to recognise the key ingredients to both excellent filmmaking and excellent publicity.
  • Attaching a named actor to your project will stimulate some interest, even if it is just that a publication must cover any project that your name appears in.
  • Think of attention-grabbing concepts (writers) or acquire attention-grabbing scripts (producers). Sometimes ‘classic’ stories are just dull, tired or cliched ones hidden under a pretty title.
  • Hire a publicicst (if you’ve budgeted for it!)
  • Submit your film to renowned festivals.
  • Write to critics yourself.
 

‘Monday Prescription’ No.58 – Consider what makes your film STAND OUT. Whether in conceptualising, screenplay structuring, storytelling, the production process or even the edit, you must have something that raises your film’s profile above the rest and grabs the attention of the world’s most watchful men and women.

 

RIP ROGER EBERT.

 
Think that Film Reviewing could be for you?? Read this article by The New York Times about what set Roger apart from the rest.
 
 
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Any questions/thoughts/experiences of your own??? Leave a comment below!
 
Have a great week!
 
The Film Doctor Team
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