SXSW 2013: Peter Hall and John Gholson, Critics Being Critiqued (Part Two)
By John Gholson
[Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part conversation between Austin film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking. Please read part one if you haven't already.]
John Gholson: My thing is if you like movies, I don't know why there has to be a line in the sand. I understand it from some degree, because it has to do with perceived professionalism, etc, but again, if you're interested in it, why wouldn't you want to be writing about films and producing films or acting in films?
Peter Hall: Biggest example that I've been studying is Todd Brown. Todd runs Twitch and is also a partner in a company called XYZ Films, which produces and puts together sales. They do a lot, globally, for cinema, and Twitch still covers the films Todd's involved with. They always put a disclaimer that XYZ is involved with the film. What they do is throw a thing in there that says "Twitch has a tie to this because of Todd Brown but Todd Brown had no editorial involvement in this piece" -- to me, that's fine. That gets them off the hook, because I know some of those guys and I know Todd, and even the ones I don't know, I know how Twitch operates. I know that they're above the board. There's really not anyone in this industry who I don't think isn't above the board.
Gholson: There are some of the readers -- and I wouldn't say it's a majority, but it's a very vocal minority -- and for them, that's the minute they check out. That's the minute they go "No, I'm not reading this because it's bought and paid for." Is there any argument that you could make to those readers that would see a disclaimer like that and assume everything after that point is suspect?
Hall: To me, I don't think there's any convincing them, but the flipside is -- does it ultimately matter if this one person tuned out? They can go get an opinion from someone else. It really only matters if they're interested in your opinion already. Then, they should be able to trust your objectivity, whether it's disclosed or not. It reaches this point where it's like, what kind of stuff do you need to disclose? I did a set visit for Zero Charisma. You weren't on set that day, though -- should I have not posted that set visit? They were new filmmakers in town, I was invited to the set for a piece, and I did it.
Gholson: For those readers, if I wasn't in it, if it were any other production, you would say yes. So why say no to this? What's the difference? You know a couple of the actors that are in it. How does that influence a set visit? And why are people looking at set visits and things like that -- pieces on a trailer, pieces on new movies coming out -- why are people looking at that as if we're reporting about hard news?
At the end of the day, I love movies, but I also understand that in the grand scheme of life, they're just movies. There are some people who take it too seriously. There's new movies coming out all the time; the coverage changes all the time. We're not whistleblowers; we're not sharing government secrets. We're talking about movies we're interested in. That's the thing -- I feel like when some of the integrity of that stuff gets called into question, people should relax. Because what's the big deal?
Look at someone like Harry Knowles [Ain't It Cool News founder]. There are a lot of people who assume his opinions are bought and paid for, which I find really strange because if you've read him for any length of time, there've been filmmakers who have "wined and dined" him, and he's trashed their films. A recent example was with McG and Terminator Salvation. McG gave him an endoskeleton head as a birthday present, and Harry was excited for the movie, and had written about the movie, and when the movie came out he didn't like it and he savaged it. McG was furious because I guess McG assumed he had Harry in his pocket. Or famously, Harry's first time on a set, with John McTiernan and the Rollerball remake. McTiernan flew him out to set and treated him like a king, and Harry saw Rollerball and didn't like it and gave it a negative review. People give Harry a lot of grief about his opinions being bought, and it's just not the case.
Hall: I think the one thing I would try to communicate to anyone who thinks that's going on is, what's to gain? There's no advancement there for promoting a friend's film. It's not like they give you a cut of the check. There's no end game other than being in love with a film.
Gholson: People always think that their experiences are not the same as everyone else's. There've been things that, as a writer, people have asked me to promote that I haven't. That's like any other time in life when a friend asks you for a favor. You have the right to say yes or no, and it doesn't matter what your job is -- whether you're a movie blogger or not -- you still say yes or no. Even though people do that in their day-to-day life, on our end, if it's a job that's more public, like being a movie blogger, it automatically becomes, "Oh, you'd say yes to any friend!" Well, you don't do that in life. You don't say yes to every single friend that comes along.
Hall: I saw that in practice when we started to do the Kickstarter [crowdfunding campaign for Grow Up, Tony Phillips]. I assumed that all the bloggers I knew would be like, "Hey, let's support Peter!" and write about the film and that didn't happen. The amount of people who covered the initial Kickstarter campaign was very, very tiny and, to my surprise, the first outlet that picked it up was someone I didn't know. I thought that more people would pick it up and my sobering lesson was that people didn't do that.
It wasn't until we announced the cast that it became something worth writing about and people started to cover the movie. "This isn't some pet project; this is a legitimate movie!" That's when people started to cover it. So, that was my lesson -- people won't just write about your stuff because its you.
[Now go to part three.]
[Photo credit: Grow Up, Tony Phillips cast and crew (Peter Hall on far right) at SXSW, by John Pesina of Live Box Photography, courtesy of Peter Hall. Todd Brown of Twitch at Fantastic Fest 2011 with Ant Timpson (producer with Brown on The ABCs of Death) and filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Brown produced his Timecrimes), by David Hill, used courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse. Comic-Con premiere at Fantastic Fest 2011, with the film's producer and AICN founder Harry Knowles, by Jack Plunkett, used courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse.]