PULL THE STRINGS
“Pull the strings, Eddie! Pull the strings!”
- Bela Lugosi, ED WOOD
Can we be blunt for a moment?
After all, we’re friends. Or at least, that’s how I like to think of it. I’ve been writing online for over two decades now, and in that time, I’ve met thousands of you face to face and many more beyond that online, and it has become clear that the relationship between critic and reader is one that, over time, becomes very intimate. People who just want a consumer report, a yes-or-no binary thing telling them whether or not to see a film, probably don’t find much to like about what I write. I view criticism as a mirror you hold up to movies, and for each person, what reflects back is different.
I am embarking on a new creative adventure as we speak, working with someone who I have admired for twenty years, and it’s exciting. It’s also a ton of work, and so far, much of it is speculative. As in, “No paycheck attached.” That might change, and I hope it does, but like Pulp & Popcorn, and like ‘80s All Over, the reason I’m doing this thing isn’t because it’s going to make me rich, but because it’s work that I feel good about, and after the way things ended with HitFix, that is important.
The Film Nerd 2.0 book finally has an ending, something that most decent books require. It did not for a long time, but Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One has brought some things into focus for me and for my little film nerds, and I think we’re wrapping up the thing that you guys have thought of as Film Nerd 2.0 up till now. I’ve been sharing Toshi’s words with you for the past 12 years, but I think as he steps into adolescence, it’s time for his words to belong to him exclusively.
As I work to take the hard-won manuscript for that book and turn it into the actual physical object that many of you were good enough to pre-order this time last year, I am going to be trying something new here on this site, something that I want to use as a form of digital tip jar. Things have been tight since the day I lost that HitFix job in 2016, and I’ve made some hard choices about money versus peace of mind. I don’t think the online film press is healthy right now, even though there are tons and tons of talented people working in the field. There are voices, both seasoned and new, that are valuable additions to the ongoing conversation about film, but there are increasingly few places for you to read those voices, and for the most part, the kind of things people are allowed to write and publish are depressingly limited. I don’t care for the way everything exists on the timetable established by the studios, the people we are writing about. It’s the horse driving the cart, and while I understand how we got here, it’s a treadmill I personally couldn’t walk any further. That wasn’t why I started writing about film at all. And, honestly, it’s not writing about film. It’s writing about film ephemera. And so much of it is about shifting time from the future to the present that it’s exhausting. You end up writing the same “Boy, I can’t wait to see that!” thoughts about a film for a year and a half, and then you end up with three hours to try to compose your actual review because of the way studios handle screenings and review embargoes. It’s kind of crazy, and it just isn’t conducive to the best work people can do.
So let’s try this.
I’m going to give you a list of movies. These are all movies that I have right here on my hard drive, right now, and that I would be willing to watch and review. If you want to read one of those reviews, all you do is go to the order form at the bottom of this piece. Click the button and buy yourself a review. I will write a minimum of 2000 words on the film, and I will send it to you. For 48 hours, that review will belong to you and you alone, and then I’ll publish them here in an archive that everyone can read. Considering I’ve got about 4000 movies on this hard drive, there’s a book in there eventually, and you guys can crowd-fund it on its way, one film at a time. Basically, it's time for critics to consider the idea that commissions might be a great way to give real value directly to the reader.
The price? $125. And here’s how I arrived at that price. Each review takes the screening time plus about four hours of thinking/writing/rewriting. Six hours of work for $125 is not a ton of money. However, I can potentially use this review again later, so it’s got some added value for me. On your end, you’re getting to pick and choose the conversation we’re having about movies, because the list of titles you can pull from is going to be pretty diverse and deep. You want something obscure like the Alan Arkin film where he played Inspector Clouseau? I’ll do that. You want to know what I thought of the work of Brett Leonard in the ‘90s? God help you, I’ll rewatch it, and I’ll tell you. I’m going to try not to cover ground I’ve already covered, so you won’t see the Star Wars movies or the Lord of the Rings films or most of the major milestones from the time I’ve been publishing at Ain’t It Cool and HitFix over the last 20 years. But what you will see is a list that covers classics, obscurities, trash, and masterpieces alike.
Maybe no one will take me up on this and I’ll take it down and I’ll just pretend it didn’t happen. Or maybe you guys will want to try this and play the game for a while. If you do buy a review, you’ll receive it within ten days of the purchase. If I don’t have time to write reviews, I’ll take the link down for a few days, and I’ll post a notice to that effect. But you can count on “within ten days” and “2000 words minimum” as your two set-in-stone conditions here, and you will always be given an exclusive window to enjoy the review for yourself. I can’t guarantee I’ll like the film you ask me to review, or that my opinion and yours will line up. You may end up mad that I didn’t love your favorite movie, and I hope you know that I will never set out to upset you. That’s just the truth of how these conversations sometimes go.
But since we’re friends, we’ll get through it.
So whattaya say? Anyone want to give it a try?
UPDATE: Our first review has been commissioned! So this week, you'll get a chance to read my take on Ken Shapiro's sketch comedy, The Groove Tube.