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Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Emperor Has No Clothes; or, Payola in the Age of Blogging

This was originally supposed to be a straight-up screener review, but in the days since I've seen the movie, it's developed into something far different. There's an issue that's been weighing heavily on my mind, and it's about time I get it off my chest. Let me explain.

Recently, I was sent a screener DVD for a low-budget, independent horror/thriller called SERIAL: Amoral Uprising. It was sent to me personally by the filmmaker himself, who was looking for the movie to obviously be reviewed on The Vault of Horror. I was more than happy to do so, but after seeing it, I realized that I was faced with an interesting dilemma. Because the movie was not very good.

The acting, for the most part, was uninspired, with the exception of the female lead, who was awful. The editing and camerawork was sub-par, to the point of seriously detracting from the viewing experience. The script was amateur and forced. At just under an hour in length, it was still difficult to get through. Even the opening and closing theme music seemed entirely inappropriate to the material.

However, in researching the film, both before and after viewing, virtually all the reviews and feedback I found regarding it were resoundingly positive. And this has been a situation echoed many times since I began the Vault. This time, I was tired of saying nothing about it.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm far from an enemy of independent horror filmmaking. Just don't expect me to give you the slow, dramatic applause and gush enthusiastically just because you had the ingenuity and wherewithal to make a movie on your own. That doesn't necessarily mean your movie is good. I'm not going to judge it in the same way I would a big-budget mainstream Hollywood extranaganza, to be sure, but it still has to be good. Many are. But for every Zombie Girl and Chemical 12-D, there are unfortunately a dozen SERIAL: Amoral Uprisings.

Is it a bit awkward? You bet. After all, I was sent this film directly by the guy who made it--a man who obviously was hoping I would like it. And while I greatly appreciate being sent the movie for review, and don't wish ill to the filmmakers in their endeavors, the bottom line is that I didn't think they made a very good movie.

This is an issue faced by bloggers--and also other online writers--all the time. I have spoken to some fellow bloggers who outright refuse to review screeners on their blog because of it. A bizarre dynamic has been set up, which is unique in some ways, and sadly reminiscent of the past in others.

As a blogger, I consider myself a journalist--amateur, alas, but a journalist nonetheless. And maybe it's because I've also worked on the professional end as well that I have such a strong conviction on this matter. But there's something going on here that just doesn't sit right with me.

In the past two-plus years, I've had some DVD screeners sent to me that, quite frankly, would function better as coasters than as movies. And yet, time and again, I will find reviewers online almost unanimously raving about them. And I think there are a few reasons for this. There's issues on both sides here.

On the one hand, I think there are some bloggers and writers who are a bit unaware of how the setup is supposed to work. Some believe that they are somehow expected to write positive reviews, or want to do so in order to stay in the good graces of those who send them, and insure that they continue to receive them. Some have never been in a professional writing environment, and honestly don't, I believe, fully grasp the way it's should ethically work.

We are not beholden to these studios, filmmakers and marketers. When they send in a movie to be reviewed, they take a chance that it may get a good review and may get a bad review. That's the way the game works. There should be no expectation on their part of a good review--and this whole "you scratch my back, I scratch yours" scenario is part of the reason bloggers unfortunately get stigmatized by the mainstream media.

If you don't like a movie, say so. And don't go the route of only reviewing movies you like, either. Long-time followers of Ain't It Cool News know that that doesn't turn out very well. Your first responsibility is to your readers, and they will not respect or trust you if you only review movies you like, or give good reviews to movies they will obviously discover are not very good at all. As I said, bloggers are journalists, and if you're going to make the decision to review movies, you have to man up and review the bad with the good. In the end, your readers will respect and appreciate you for it. And yet, the only way to describe some of what's going on is to dredge up that old word, payola.

A studio or distributor has no right to complain or be upset about a negative review, as long as it is fair, rational and balanced, and not outright libelous or defaming. That's the way it's been done for generations, and there's nor reason that online media should be any different.

But unfortunately, that does happen, and that's the other side of this messy conundrum. It's my belief that some distributors--more so than the individual indie filmmakers--believe they can push around bloggers. They believe they can bully what they perceive as younger, perhaps inexperienced writers into giving them free publicity. I know, because it's happened to me.

I was once invited to a screening of a major horror release in New York City by the distribution studio for the film. I attended, and wrote up a draft review, only to find myself contacted by a marketing person inquiring as to what my review was going to be like. As a professional writer with a dozen years in magazines, I can tell you that this was a MAJOR no-no, and immediately raised a red flag.

When I informed said marketer that my review was going to be mixed, I was sent a strongly worded email letting me know that I may not be able to run the review, and that the marketer would have to inform the distributors and get back to me on the matter. Plain and simple, they were trying to bully me, and it wasn't going to fly.

I immediately fired off an indignant response, asking if it was their intention was to only allow me to run positive reviews as a condition of my being invited to screen their films--and informing them that I was aware of how unethical that was. The person immediately backed down, and explained that all they really meant was that maybe I should wait until the week of the movie's release to run my mixed review--a compromise to which I agreed, although in hindsight, I wish I hadn't. I was then informed point blank that the main reason online writers are invited to the screenings is so the studio can collect positive review blurbs to use on the movie posters and DVDs.

There you have it--the backwards, dysfunctional symbiosis that has arisen in the era of movie blogging. If I had to assign the most blame, it would be on the big-time distributors. After all, the smaller filmmakers who send their stuff out personally are only trying to market themselves when no other options are available to them, even if sending their films directly to critics without a press relations go-between is admittedly a small-time, unprofessional way to go about things. As far as the writers themselves, some seem to think this is what they're supposed to be doing; others feel legitimately intimidated, which is very unfortunate.

The last thing I'm trying to do is alienate indie filmmakers or studio distributors, but if the result is that I receive less screeners after this post, then so be it. I support what they do, particularly filmmakers, but the bottom line is that if I am sent a screener, I'm going to give it an honest review. If I love it, I will say so. If I think it's bad, I'm not going to pretend I like it, and I'm not going to just be silent--I'm going to say I don't like it. Bloggers and other online writers are part of the media--they should be treated as such, and they should also think of themselves that way.

This is not meant as an affront to the makers of SERIAL: Amoral Uprising, and I appreciate that they thought of me when sending out screeners. But this was a "straw that broke the camel's back" kind of thing. I'm tired of bloggers feeling pressured to write reviews a certain way (whether that pressure is intended or not, it's inherent in the system), and I'm tired of those who speak their mind in the negative being afraid of vilification from studio big-shots, and yes, even filmmakers on occasion.

Bottom line, I'm tired of seeing rave reviews for movies that, categories aside, we all know are not very good--independent, mainstream or otherwise. Oscar Wilde once said of books that there are really only two kinds--good and bad. The same can be said of movies.


Unknown said...

Good post!! I have received screeners before and have been totally honest as to the quality of them when I write my reviews. I will point out their strengths and weaknesses because I think it's important for film makers to know how good, or bad, they are doing so that they can learn from it. Without a dose of criticism how are they supposed to grow as film makers?

Bill said...

B-Sol, I want to thank you for posting this. I haven't been sent any screeners yet (though I would consider it an honor to be sent them) but I have reviewed micro-budget indie films only to find the creators reading my comments (and in one case, correcting a mistake I'd made) and I always feel a little funny reading their responses. Like yourself, I consider blogging to be journalism, and I pride myself on making the effort to be as fair and balanced as possible, looking at both the bad and the good in a film.

Haven't quite fully expurgated the tendency to get a little knot in the pit of my stomach reading a filmmaker's response to my reviews yet, though. Working on it.

Wings1295 said...

Chalk me up as another saying a big THANK YOU for posting this. All needed to be said, and needs to be heeded, by other bloggers out there.

Anything sent for review should be prepared for that review, good or bad, as long as it is fairly judged.

Great post!

BJ Colangelo said...

All I have to say is Bravo. BRAVISSIMO.

Alison said...

you make many excellent points and it's really nice to know that I'm not alone in how I feel about this. I'd rather save my reputation as an honest and dependable writer than worry about being mailed a free movie.

Unknown said...

As an outsider looking in to the world of horror blogging, I have to say that in light of the recent polls, contests and controversy that this is a very well written and timely piece.

Well done, and I hope that you don't get any shit for posting it - honesty should always be the best policy, and you and others need to continue displaying it in posts like this.

Corey said...

a great post about a topic i've also given a lot of thought to, but never been able to state my feelings on as well as you do here. i remember getting my first screener in the mail for my site (which, i believe, was also the first one you received for The Vault of Horror... the slasher crap-fest Somebody Help Me). i debated whether to review the film at all since my feelings were pretty negative, but ended up going with my gut and just reviewing it honestly. given your review, it seems you thought similarly. as you mention, it becomes even more difficult when the director of the film is communicating with you directly, as you run the risk of being rude and hurtful simply by being honest. i'm grateful to you for bringing this topic up since, even just for myself, i'm not sure what the best way is to handle it in every situation.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with you more. We receive screeners (some of the film companies even have banners on our site which we post for free) and the vast majority are terrible. We'd be doing a disservice to our readers and lose complete integrity if we were being perceived as placating someone's ego for the sake of doing so or were swayed to post a positive review if the movie was truly terrible.

When anyone reaches out to us, we let them know straight up that we will be absolutely brutal if the movie is bad but at the same time, we'll sing the highest praises if you truly have something unique. Thanks B-Sol for having the balls to say something most horror bloggers (or even bigger sites for that matter) won't.

Andre Dumas said...

Oh no I did say in my review I enjoyed this one to a point : ( - but did make the same discovery about the horribleness of the female lead, which I talked about with the director- and we shared at laugh at her expense : x

I think my thing with this was that it's a piece of a bigger, full length type of feature so I was looking at it in that way- and noticing some promise for the future. I don't think I have as an attuned sense of great movie making as you do, so I never really pay full attention to things like editing and what not though I probably should. I took it at face value as a screener and although I thought it bore an uncomfortable likeliness to RZ's Halloween, I did enjoy it because it took elements of real life serial killers and meshed them together, and who doesn't love serial killers?

My problem with screeners is that I am the type of person to find the positive in anything- and while I will point out the negatives I like to focus on what is good. I know that honest criticism is important but it is hard to build up a friendly relationship with somebody and then trash their movie. I guess I'm just too nice unless it comes to Brittany Murphy. I kind of am envious of those bloggers you speak of who refuse to review screeners- when you have conversations with them on that issue do you agree with that decision or not?

I definitely got a screener- my first one I believe- where I watched some of it and took it out and hid it. I was terrified (because it was so bad)! But I guess it just goes to show that I am new to the game and as you say I am not familiar with how everything works. Maybe someday I will grow some skin.

Dan said...

Kudos for writing this and bringing this topic up. As somebody who got their start publishing a drive-in movie zine back in the 80s, it saddens me to see so many reviews that are clearly written just to keep the steady stream of review discs coming in. I've been dropped from screener mailing lists simply because we've wrote negative, but honest, reviews of flicks we've received. While it's nice to get flicks for review, there's a part of me that's happy just reviewing the stuff I buy or rent. Keep fighting the good fight. Readers can figure out who to trust and believe.

Pax Romano said...

Unfortunately, we live in a world of pay for play...watch any so called "entertainment news" program and what do you see? Fluff, fluff and more fluff. No one cares to put down or criticize a star, film or a studio because they are terrified of the repercussions(also in today's day and age, most TV shows are owned by the studios)...this has reached over into the "legitimate" news shows as well. The bloggers are the last bastion of the independent voice, be it entertainment, politics or whatever. Funny thing is, watch as more and more blogs get more and more popular and gain revenue from what they are doing, then they will lose their edge as well for fear of losing all of their connections.

We need a union!!

Steve @ Horror Extreme said...

Firstly I must stress that I am passionate about the indie horror movie scene and I have sometimes highlighted the "potential" of a director rather than the quality of the movie that I watched... I don’t think I have ever been misleading but have stressed that maybe with a big budget this person could shine in the world of movie making. It is horrible to have to slag-off a disastrous indie movie and I try and understand the financial constraints that these people face making their dream come true and can see the passion that they have for the genre. I would never mislead my few readers but also feel proud that I have maybe inspired a filmmaker to continue perusing their love for horror and like to support them in their future ventures.

I also like make it clear that I have bad taste in movies (music, literature, women etc) and that no-one should listen to my opinion.

You have made a very good point with this post and am grateful that you have thrown it out into the world but you have also filled me with fear as I look at this pile of indie screeners that are sitting on my desk waiting for a review.

Keep up the good work sir!

Unknown said...

I've given up on screeners for the most part. I have a hard enough time upholding my end to review them. Frankly, there have been some films (one horror-"comedy" called The Cook comes to mind) that have been so awful that there was no way I was wasting my time reviewing it.

I've gotten into debates with directors about reviews over email, once tried to get negative reviews strongarmed off my website by a distributor that shall not be named (they threatened to pull their advertising off my site. I responded by pulling all advertising off my site).

I've worked as a professional film reviewer before, but my own ethical stance is less journalistic and more... quixotic? I think horror is important and I view tactics like these to be damaging to the fabric of the genre.

In any case, I very rarely request screeners when offered the opportunity anymore and I almost never respond to unsolicited screeners.

jmcozzoli said...

When I first started blogging I sought after screeners to help generate timely reviews. Unfortunately, within a year of receiving many movies that I was surprised made it to distribution, I realized much indie work is done by amateurs who've not paid their dues yet, or worse, don't plan to. But I also was pleasantly surprised (relieved) by sincere filmmakers who were good or working hard at it.

But now I rarely accept screeners. One of the major reasons, which you pointed out so well, is that I'd research reviews of the movie to determine if I should bother, and after every single time--EVERY SINGLE TIME--finding raves where hisses should have been heard--I gave up. No balanced reviews, just kudos for poor filmmaking.

It's a situation every movie blogger will eventually face, and one that test's your professionalism. Roger Ebert provides some very good guidelines as to dealing with things like this. It's recommended reading for any blogger who takes his or her writing seriously: http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2008/10/eberts_little_rule_book.html

Zachary Kelley said...

I've only been sent a handful of screeners, but I never compromise my integrity when it comes to saying a movie is good or bad. Some film makers actually appreciate the criticism, and one film I reviewed badly, which has many glowing reviews on the internet, actually added my link (along with Film Threat) to a Bad Reviews section.

With papers dying and entertainment magazines narrowing their focus, blogs and web sites are the new source for information on off bear films and such. I would never want to lead a reader astray, and I commend your whole article for saying the same.

Matt-suzaka said...

Fantastic post, B-Sol. I have done a few reviews for screener's received and luckily I have really enjoyed most. Though, like Andre, I am a forgiving fan who loves and can appreciate the value of pretty bad movies, but they have to at least be entertaining.

In one of my early reviews for an IFC film, I was a little kinder than I probably should have been. I did point out the negative aspects of the film and said it decent and it reminded me of a slightly better Lifetime movie. However, I still painted a overall positive picture for the film, more so than maybe I should have. I thought it was whatever, not terrible, but what you bring up in your post here was in the back of my mind when writing it.

Highly Caffeinated said...

Great Post!

As an indie horror filmmaker, I only want honest opinions, and while they can feel harsh at the time, when you look back at your product (down the track) and you can understand where they were coming from.
Yes, there is a lot of blood sweat and tears (and money) involved from the film maker, but perhaps they should be learning on short films.
I thought I'd learned my lesson from shorts and tried to make a feature, which now sits eating space on my hard drive, wondering if it can ever be saved.
It can't, and I'm glad I never thought (after filming) that it would be worth attempting to sell.
Most people don't want to criticize others, as they know how it feels. But in the end, if they are a strong enough person, they will take the criticism on board.
If only I'd been honest to my friend the first time he made his 'signature chicken dish', I wouldn't have been sick each and every other time he made it for me.

ÜberCow said...

Great piece, but one thing that seems to get lost in this, is the fact that within this sphere more than any other, people find themselves intimidated into loving or hating something because of fear of being an outcast, or being perceived as lacking historical knowledge. Much like the sci-fi genre the horror genre has it's cliques and does indulge in a lot of inward sneering and back slapping.

All bloggers whether experienced or not should just be free to say what they feel... because you hate a screener doesn't mean your opinion is right, and feel free to call out anyone you think is sucking up to the industry or an indie film maker. From someone who has been on the professional side of journalism (as I have too) you must have seen plenty of people who succumb to writing positive reviews regularly thanks to the lure of free drinks, paid press junkets and high priced review items... so why would bloggers be any different?

Anyone who looks to any one individual's taste to judge their buying decisions on should really not be allowed to partake in any kind of media at all, as these are the kind of people who made Sham-WOW so successful...

So end result... stop accepting free stuff and do what I do... put you money where your mouth is and go buy the stuff... means I have no-one to be grateful too for anything and allows me to enjoy or hate what ever I choose :)

B-Sol said...

I'm glad this post seems to have struck a chord with so many people.

Corey: Yes, I remember the Somebody Help Me debacle. That was my first as well. And it really is so awkward and inappropriate for filmmakers to directly contact and chide critics about negative reviews. This issue needs to be addressed, and I don't think some filmmakers even realize what they're doing is wrong.

Andre: I hear where you're coming from, and here's my take. Whether you liked SERIAL and I hated it doesn't matter, we're both entitled to an opinion, and entitled to make it known on our blogs. For me personally, and I know this goes against your intrinsically friendly nature, but I make it a point NOT to get too friendly with filmmakers. I keep them at arm's length, especially if they're brand new filmmakers, and especially if I haven't seen their movie yet. Cause otherwise, you kind of paint yourself into a corner. That's the plight of the movie critic. As for the bloggers who don't review screeners, I fully respect that decision, and understand why they make it. You open up a whole Pandora's box when you decide to review screeners, but I think if you open it, you have to be prepared to deal with the consequences.

Pax: If Vince McMahon heard you say that, you'd be planted at the bottom of Long Island Sound by now!

Steve: My thing is this. I appreciate and respect the work that goes into making an indie horror flick. I just don't think that entitles anyone to have writers go out of their way to pump it up. What matters still, is making a good movie. There's no such thing as an "E for Effort". The digital age has made it possible for every kid who loves horror movies and has a digi-cam to become a filmmaker. This is NOT always a good thing.

Highly Caffeinated: Thanks for reading, and for understanding. Truly passionate filmmakers want the criticism. They wanna learn and grow and improve, they don't want some kinda shady con game.

Pax Romano said...

This is for Vince! ;)


I Love Horror said...

I've been sent several screeners. One review (US SINNERS) was so negative it was pulled off the site I posted it on (HorrorNews.net) and replaced with a glowing positive. The director got royally pissed at me, and it was hilarious.

Another screener (THIICKER THAN WATER) was so laughable that again it received a horribly negative review. The director contacted me but did not flip out like the other guy, and for that reason alone I respect him.

The other screener I reviewed was EVIL THINGS, which received a mixed review that erred on the positive side. The review is linked on their Wikipedia page along with a dozen others.

I will in no way sacrifice my integrity to suck the cock of an indie filmmaker or distributor. If negative feedback is a concern, you're in the wrong industry.

B-Sol said...

This attitude bothers me, where some filmmakers flip out over negative reviews and get personal. I really think they get so used to reading their own press, with so many phony reviews, that they start to believe it. And freak out when someone is honest.

B-Movie Becky said...

Wow, it sure took a while to scroll down through the comments (that's a good thing). This is a great post about a well-stated dilemma. As a filmmaker and blogger myself, it makes it all the more difficult for me to post negative reviews of indie films. I can see myself making the same mistakes (and I have) and trying desperately to get my movie seen. If there is any connection to the actual filmmaker, this makes it even harder.

However, honesty is important. And believe me, filmmakers (even amateur ones) are used to negative feedback. They probably have received way more criticism than positive response, regardless of how good their movie is. Yeah, it stings when people don't like your movie and yeah, you want to jump to its defense, but it's probably all been said by somebody else. I mean, my own mother told me she didn't really like my thesis film because of the sad story. Haha.

RayRay said...

I applaud your professionalism and ethics. Such things were always a rare commodity, and are more rare than ever in our post-post modern world.

the jaded viewer said...

B-Sol - Awesome post.

I had the same conflict a couple months ago. I got a screener of an indie horror movie called Incest Death Squad (see review here)

I had posted the trailer and he took a quote from my trailer review and put it on the DVD cover! (with my permission of course)

After I reviewed the movie I told him it was a mixed review and he was ok with it but I did feel conflicted but I had to be honest and though the trailer looked good, the movie was average.

Good post...this conflict is a blogosphere problem that happens alot.

Marc said...

This article raises a lot of good points Brian. Some time ago when Gail Greene, the famed food critic of New York Magazine was let go I took the time to read a few good articles on her career. One thing that struck me, and stuck with me, was how in food criticism it is not ethical to accept any free meals. The second you do so you compromise your journalistic integrity. I remember we took on an ad campaign for Paranormal Activity, and in doing so it put us under fire. We were at the premiere, but our review was questioned because of the ad campaign. (I still maintain it was every bit as great as we posted it to be), but you can see what kind of situation this creates? (On the flip side you might see that Rob Zombie has an ad campaign on our site and I never hesitate to roast that guy.)

In the film and entertainment business press junkets, set visits, press day screenings, etc are designed less for news reporting than they are pre-release marketing, so the challenge to reporters, writers, and bloggers is that you want to be able to report on news, and cut honest reviews but avoid hype. It's great to get an early screener, but you have to maintain fair and honest criticism.

Ultimately the question you have to ask yourself is - who are you writing for? Are you writing for the studios? Or are you writing for the audience who's about to decide what film they want to spend their hard earned cash on?

The great news, and my takeaway, in all this is we don't need to take the Boy Scout (or Girl Scout) pledge. We all know what bullshit smells like and we should all know not to step in it.

Christopher Zenga said...

A fan told me at the the FanExpo last year that they prefer Blogs over any other media. He said the reviews and opinions he reads he believes wholeheartedly. That the blogger is not confined by rules, or an editor who has to keep a PC tone to maintain public approval. There palms aren't getting greased by a big studio for that "positive comment" or fears disapproval of his or her peers. When the blogger sits down at there computer to open his or her heart to the world, or to give his or her opinion on a book or DVD they are doing so under no contractual obligation and with no confirmed paycheck in sight. The blogger blogs because they are passionate about blogging!

"Bloggers are passionate about blogging!" There is not a more truer statement.

Later days,


Christopher Zenga said...

OK now I'm fired up on this! I just lent my Friend Zombie Diaries. I like this film, allot. It's not FANTASTIC but I had a good time with it, and have watched it multiple times. I also lent him Paranormal activity, I LOVE this film, and it is FANTASTIC. I haven't been that creeped out in years. Before he left he asked "are these any good" and what could I say, yes, there both great, you'll have a lot of fun with these. If he comes back with some bullshit comment like " you SAID these were good and I just wasted 4 hours of my life" I'll punch him in the aorta! I have said this before, Horror films are like wines, lots of different flavors and every one has there favorite, but weather a wine is "GOOD" is a matter of opinion, and no one is wrong. So my question to everyone, B, Zoc, BJ-C, EVERYONE. how do you know that the film you like is really that good at all? How can you say that a Film is "AWESOME" and not run the risk of someone disagreeing?

And why doe a waiter approach a table of people he has never met and recommend the Chardonnay?

Later days,

Christopher Zenga

Robert Ring said...

Very nice post, B-Sol. It's unfortunate that more bloggers don't show as much backbone. Then again, by not doing so, they inject the beginnings of their own demise anyway.

riesen2b said...

This is a great article. While I have never been offered DVD's for review on my blog, I have reviewed numerous games to review from one marketing company. Luckily for me, this company has encouraged me to post my reviews honestly and have not tried to interfere when I have posted criticisms about their game. Either I have lucked out in this regard or the film industry is more particular about what they wish to here. I have however, read reviews at other blogs that are way too positive for games that I found were mediocre at best.

Anonymous said...

This is something that's been on my mind of late. I don't get movies, but instead get books. Something that haunts me is when I get contacted and asked first if I want a review copy AND THEN in sucks. And then I feel obligated to read it because I asked for it. It's not worth it. I also hate it when I pan a book and the author thanks me for being "even-handed."
While we're all being honest with each other here, I have to tell you that the tiny white type on the stamped metal background you've got going on makes your blog nearly unreadable.

B-Sol said...

Dark, it might be a resolution issue on your monitor, or perhaps you have your text size setting too small. The page has always looked perfectly readable for me on any monitor on which I've read it.

BC said...

Great post, Brian. As a rule I no longer review screeners that do not have distribution in place. I had an instance where I did and then the producer accused me of hurting his film's chance for distribution. While I certainly doubt my site wields that much power, I did feel a bit guilty, and would rather just not get into that situation again.

For a film festival like Screamfest, however, where a lot of the films are indeed seeking distribution, I go on a case by case basis. Even if I'm there for free, they are still asking people to pay to see the film, which means it should be reviewed along the same criteria as anything else.

B-Sol said...

Brian, I'm sure you've faced this dilemma more than any of us! But that rule about not reviewing unless distribution is in place sounds like a very good idea to me. I just might adopt it as well.

The Film Reel said...

Guess I'm late to the show here but here's my two cents.

I've only been writing a blog for a little over a year now and have gotten a few screeners. Thankfully I enjoyed them all, except for one which was a little bland. Each flick got a completely honest review and if it meant that I would never get another screener, so be it.

I always try to keep my reviews personal and point out what I like and don't like about them. If I said I thought the film was too violent someone else might think 'Hey, I love a violent film!' so my opinion shouldn't stop them from seeing that film. The fact that I said it was too violent may only encourage them to see it. I know I've been that way before.

I always look at what the person says is good or bad about something to see if I agree with them on what is a good point or bad point of a movie. If a blogger says they enjoy a good romance movie, I usually know I'm not getting what I'm looking for.

That's no reason to stop them from posting a review unless it serves your purpose. Besides, isn't any publicity good publicity?

Anthony Hogg said...

Loved the post!

It certainly got me thinking about the whole "when is promotion ok" angle.

It inspired my own little rant on the subject!

Maybe not so articulate, but it's certainly an interesting issue.

B-Sol said...

Thanks, Anthony, glad I could inspire your ranting!!

Cory J Udler said...

I can honestly say that I for one appreciate the honesty in any reviewers take on my movie. I know Jeff spoke up earlier, and believe me, there was nothing in Jeff's review that I took offense to at all. It was Jeff's opinion on the film, and I appreciated everything that Jeff had done for me and for the film, including the honest review.
It's a bit naive, and quite honestly counterproductive, for a filmmaker to be upset at a reviewer for a negative or neutral review of their film. As a reviewer, you should feel NO pressure EVER to pull punches, regardless of how nice the filmmaker was, or whatever.
From every single review, from sites, blogs, whatever, I have learned something new each time about the film, what people want from the next one, etc.
Stay honest.

George said...

I made a micro-budget movie Us Sinners that has received two types of reviews "One of the best micro-budget horror movies they've seen" or "A piece of shit that so awful it can't even be called a movie". Who's correct? They all are. It depends on the viewer.

So while you hated Amoral Uprising, you assume that everyone else should also. That people who enjoy it, are either forced to see the best and trying to be nice or else they're flat out lying. No offense, but your word is not God. You're one blogger with one opinion.

I've personally never asked a reviewer to be anything but honest. The only time I'll ever bitch is when the reviewer puts in spoilers (especially ending spoilers) which have no place in any review, either professional or amateur.

B-Sol said...

Not at all, George--I just think any reviewer ought to feel no pressure to give a positive review if that's not their true opinion. Which I do believe happens, whether the pressure is real, or just the writer trying to be nice.
My word is definitely not God--although my last name is Solomon, and he was friends with God, or something like that.

George said...

Then maybe you are God... That was actually a poor word choice on my part. I guess it would have been better to say that you believe your opinion to be absolutely correct, and anyone who disagrees with you on Serial: Amoral Uprising is absolutely wrong. Whether or not this is what you meant, this is what you wrote. (PS: I know that this sounds like I'm being nasty. But, I'm not)

The problem is, you've written this post on the back of Serial: Amoral Uprising. Do they deserve that? Did the film maker or actors pressure you for a good review? No. At least you didn't say they did. But, you put the whole "Pressure from outsiders" on their film's name. It's the only movie mentioned in this post about blogger pressure from film makers and distributors.

I completely agree that writers should always write truthfully and without pressure from anyone on the subject they're undertaking. That marketer ass was completely out of line, and you as a writer should expose them. Why keep them anonymous? Name the names. The truth shall set you free. I'm guessing and I could be wrong (I am so much) that the reason you don't want to say is because you want to continue being invited to their screenings and keep a working relationship. Or maybe you did expose them in the original mixed review, and just don't want to repeat yourself. In this case you should have. Because this is the one case of pressure that you felt as a writer. Instead of writing a truthful scathing review of SERIAL: Amoral Uprising, you chose to condemn the unprofessional industry personnel of which this movie apparently has nothing to do with.

BTW: I'm not friends with Serial film makers. Never even heard of them before. I was doing a search of my movie to see if there's any new reviews, and this blog popped up. It seems I Love Horror commented on his review of Us Sinners at Horrornews.net being taken down, and a glowing review being put up. What he failed to mention was that his review was one huge spoiler (including ending spoilers), and littered with so many errors that the site voluntarily removed it. I only asked that the ending spoilers being removed. I think as an amateur or professional reviewer we can agree that those kind of spoilers have no place in any reviews.

Anyway: If you'd like, I'll send you a copy of Us Sinners and you can rip it to shreds. But, if you do... : )

B-Sol said...

Nah, I'd rather not expose them, as I feel that would be terribly unprofessional. And that ain't my bag. I'll leave that to someone else they may eventually bully.

As for Serial, I'm actually pretty friendly with Kevin Jamison, the filmmaker, and he had no issue with the post--in fact, he quite enjoyed it. In fact, we're planning to do a podcast soon discussing the whole Serial situation.

I didn't intend the post as an attack on that film, and he understands that. That was just the touchstone that started me off on the topic.

Dod said...

Thanks for this great post, my friend. The true opinion of a blogger should be aired without fear of "raising a stink." One of the best traits for anyone in the creative business - writer, director, painter, what have you - is to develop a thick skin and learn how to use criticism to make one's craft better.

Great article!

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