The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Sean Hood’s challenge to the film loving community

with 24 comments

Do you remember Sean Hood? Maybe not.

I’ll give you a clue: This summer his star meter rank at IMDb  plummeted from 4 391 to 52 709. He took it like a man. You’ve got it now?

Yeah. Sean was the guy who wrote the script to Conan, got a lot of beating for it and then shared what it felt like to be in that situation.

He didn’t just write a great, honest and in many ways inspiring post; he also was kind enough to comment here at The Velvet Café as I referred to it. That’s the kind of person he is. He interacts with the community of people who love films – either they’re creators of them or consumers.

I’ve been following his blog ever since I found it. The other day he gave me and everyone else who reads him an assignment.  He wrote the following lines and asked us to quote them and spread them as much as possible:

“”Hollywood was once a dream factory, but it has become a recycling center.
– Sean Hood

I replied to this post and reminded Sean that while Hollywood might be recycling a lot, there are still many great movies done outside of Hollywood. The question is how to make people find them as long as Hollywood is so dominating.

He wrote back quickly:

“Film lovers must become curators and drive people to put World Cinema at the top of their Netflix cues (or whatever service they left Netflix for.)

Not only are good movies still done. There are THOUSANDS of them out there. They just don’t have stars and 100million dollar SFX budgets.”

 Me – a curator?
So what to make of this? I’m a film lover for sure, so I supposed this meant that he wanted me to become a Curator. I didn’t even know what it meant.

The first thought that crossed my mind was the image of the curator I probably know best: a certain raid boss in the online game World of Warcraft. But it didn’t quite make sense that we should all become like him – a big, stupid guy who guards a castle, one of the bad guys, whose only reason to exist is to get killed by bloodthirsty gamers. Would someone like him really drive people to watch better movies?

Next I went to Wikipedia to enlighten myself and found the following explanation:

“A curator (from Latin: cura meaning “care”) is a manager or overseer. Traditionally, a curator or keeper of a cultural heritage institution (e.g. gallery, museum, library or archive), is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections and involved with the interpretation of heritage material.”

That sounds like serious business! Did Sean actually claim that my little café was as a part of a cultural heritage institution?  I always imagined it as if I was just talking to myself, writing down whatever was on my mind and talking a little bit with people who pass by for a drink of some sort before or after their movie watching. A room for thoughts about movies – definitely. But not a control room where decisions are made about what movies will come up in the theatres.

Let’s assume that I’d write  my posts in such a convincing way that my about 20 subscribers run straight to the cinema to get a ticket whenever I shared my love for a certain movie. Even in that case it wouldn’t be noticeable.

It’s not because I’m humble that I say this. It’s because I’m a realist.

Affecting the tail
However – I didn’t stop at my instinct reaction. I thought it over again. What if Sean is right?

After all – Marketing isn’t what it used to be. There’s this long tail everyone is talking about these days. Who knows, perhaps I can have an influence on it? After all: sometimes things go viral. Friends tell friends. I link to someone who tells someone who whispers in someone else’s ear, who tweets it… As far as I understand it, that’s how The Shawshank Redemption became so successful.

I think it’s time that we face it – we who are bloggers, twitterati, forum junkies or just film nerds who love to talk aloud about movies. It’s time that we realize that it matters what we say. It matters what we write. We may not be famous like Roger Ebert or Mark Kermode. But we too are overseers.

Some of are like owls – knowledgeable, trustworthy, sharp-eyed. People come to them when they need advice on what to watch. Others are path finders and tree climbers. They break new ground, they venture boldly into unknown territories, willingly watching completely unheard of movies, cutting their way through the bush, clearing the way for everyone else, pointing out those rare species, helping us discover those rare beautiful movies we’d otherwise have passed, not noticing.

Our responsibility
We have a mission. Sean expanded a bit further about what this mission looks like as he answered a question at Quora:  “How do screenwriters feel about bad reviews – in particular claims of formulaic writing?”

In the post he’s targeting Anthony Lane, a critic at The New Yorker, which Sean finds annoying. I’ll quote a fairly big chunk of the post here and I hope Sean will forgive me. I’m just trying to spread the word, because I think it makes sense:

“Every review of a Hollywood film he writes can be summarized as follows: Here are all the numerous ways that I, Anthony Lane, am so, so, SO much more clever and sophisticated than the movie I am reviewing and the people who made it.

What is frustrating for screenwriters and movie fans is not that this isn’t true. Anthony Lane IS far more clever and sophisticated than the movies he reviews. But, why the hell is he reviewing “Bad Teacher” in the first place? Is it any surprise that “Bad Teacher” doesn’t have a title worthy of Raymond Chandler? Or that some of the scenes are derivative and that these scenes are not as well executed as those in classics like “Cool Hand Luke?”

From a screenwriter and filmmaker’s perspective this kind of review is lazy and self indulgent. “Bad Teacher” will be reviewed by tens of thousands of people on the internet, and no reader of the New Yorker needs Mr. Lane to trash it; except to participate in intellectual and cinematic snobbery.

What Anthony Lane does well is find smaller films, independent and foreign films, like “The Names of Love,” which he buries later in the article. This is the kind of movie that has no advertising budget, but is perfect for readers of the New Yorker, who may be interested in seeing a film with higher creative ambitions than “Bad Teacher.” I think most screenwriters wish that professional critics would focus on finding these hidden gems, and use their platform to help them get seen. By highlighting mainstream films in reviews that do little more than state the obvious and blame the screenwriter, critics like Anthony Lane only make it harder for filmmakers and screenwriters to get quality scripts made.

[…]

Ultimately, I get hired again and again to write movies based on the screenplays I’ve written that have gone unproduced. These scripts often get rave “reviews” from the executives and producers who read them, along with condolences, “too bad that didn’t get made. It’s just fantastic, but female leads, dramas and period films are just hard. They don’t make their money back. But, we love your writing and we’d like to hire you to write Children of The Corn Part 36

I have no delusions that I’m a screenwriting genius. I’m a “genre hack” (as chronicled in my blog genrehacks.com) and I’m an artsy, eccentric indie filmmaker. But when given the opportunity, I write well structured stories with complex characters who make surprising choices. What “bad reviews” remind me of, is that in Hollywood, I rarely get the opportunity.

To snarky and clever professional reviews, I say stop shooting fish in a barrel, and go find well written, but smaller, films and direct people to see them. To jaded, cynical fan boys, I say stop rewarding “formulaic” films by buying tickets to see them, and ignoring films that are far better. Search out and find those ambitious and well-written movies that may not have a big star or swollen digital effects budget.

Screenwriters want to get original, ambitious, and entertaining movies up on the screen. Help us do that! ”

Sean’s challenge to us
Sean Hood has given us a challenge. We can turn Hollywood into being the dream factory it once was rather than a recycling centre.

It’s all about the choices we make. It’s about the movies we pay for, the movies we talk about, the movies we blog about. We are the ones who spread the words that will decide the future for the film industry.  And we probably make better use of our influence by helping people to find the rare flowers than by yelling and complaining about the weed.

We are the curators.

But it’s Friday night and for now I’m off duty.  I have a cup of coffee. I have a new movie to explore, for my own enjoyment and nothing else.

What more could you possibly ask for?

Written by Jessica

October 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

24 Responses

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  1. I think it would be a blast to run programming for a film series or a theatre. More practically speaking, there are some films that I’ve really been hounding people to check out in my own little neck of the woods. Even if most people don’t end up watching the film and if they do they may not like it as much, just having it out there repeatedly hopefully just helps people be aware of these things. Anyway, it is usually when I least expect it that I find an absolute charmer.

    Bondo

    October 14, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    • It sounds to me as if you’re a born curator Bondor. Either you decide the programme at a theatre or just whisper in the ears of people you encounter.

      Jessica

      October 15, 2011 at 12:43 am

  2. I’ve seen this very thing develop on my own blog in the past year or so as more and more people have started telling me they check out films based upon my recommendations. On some level, it’s the most frightening thing I can imagine, the thought that my opinion actually drives people to action. Granted, they’re only watching a film, but still, it’s somewhat of a scary thought.

    One of the very few things I take pride in on my blog is the diversity of what I cover and the fact that I’ve helped expose a small group of people to films they’ve never heard of that are off the beaten track. Sure, alone, a blog or two may not have a big impact, but think about the fact there are hundreds of active film blogs, most of which at least have a handful of people following them. If each of them could help expose their readers to great hidden gems, I think the film blogging world could make a significant difference in people’s movie watching habits.

    James Blake Ewing

    October 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    • I feel like that too! It happens that people actually tell me – or write in comments – that they plan to watch movies based on my recommendation. It always freaks me out a little. What if they HATE it and think I’m an idiot for writing so enthusiastically about it? They might feel cheated. On the other hand – I’m also pleased and a little flattered that they trust on me like that.

      Jessica

      October 15, 2011 at 12:53 am

  3. Jessica, this might be your best blog post yet. I love it. So inspirational. And I think I will keep this challenge in mind whenever I talk or write about films.

    Corey Atad

    October 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm

    • Thank you so much for your kind words Corey! It means a lot to me. I’ll keep them in mind when blogging feels tough.

      Jessica

      October 15, 2011 at 12:44 am

  4. Another jawesome article, Jessica. On my own blog I’ve avoided writing about movies that are just those big spectacles. I watched Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the world doesn’t need me telling it how bad that movie is. And I don’t need to dedicate my time to it. However, for movies like Submarine or Midnight in Paris or even Rise of the Planet of the Apes, there’s something special that needs to be pointed out. It’s a little self-important of us to consider ourselves masters of film history, but it’s also kind of true in a way. These writings will never disappear. They’ll be around when our great-great-great-great grandchildren watch Drive on Ultra-Violet-Ray.

    Alex Thompson

    October 14, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    • Thank you! To be honest I’ve been picking a bit on blockbuster movies such as Thor and X-men. But I think Sean has a point and I’m really trying to got that way as much as possible. I’ll rather point out good movies than pick on bad ones. The thing is though that I currently want to write about every movie I watch because I’ve got such a horrible memeory for movies. I forget about them otherwise.
      Sometimes I end up watching movies that aren’t that good, for various reasons (often involving family…)
      But I still want to write about them.
      Nevertheless I think we should put our biggest effort into sharing discoveries.

      Jessica

      October 15, 2011 at 12:46 am

  5. Wow. What a great article you’ve written. And Sean’s article too. Very precise and truthful. I cannot agree more with the statement about Hollywood generally being a recycling centre. So true. I stick to indie and foreign films these days. They make up about 80% of all the films I watch. And goddamnit, I’m proud to prefer foreign cinema to Hollywood. Screw Hollywood! They’ve done comparatively little of actual benefit to cinema than any other country, and yet they get so much undeserved attention. I admit that they’re not wholly at fault, and they do produce a nice handful of decent movies each year, but they’re few and far between and they’re simply not enough to make up for the terrible trash they also continuously churn out each year.

    Tyler

    October 15, 2011 at 6:21 am

    • Thank you Tyler!
      To be fair: I’m a little hesitating about bashing Hollywood all over. What is the definition of a Hollywood movie? Is it that it’s produced by companies within a certain area of LA? Where goes the line between a “Hollywood” movie and a general indie movie? There are movies produced in US outside of Hollywood, right? Maybe I should kow this, but this is all a blur to me. Still… I think I know what Sean is getting at, hence this post. Like Sean I think that blaming and accusations isn’t the right way to go to get a change though. We need to keep giving attention to the good movies and never give up about it. And in the long run it will make a difference.

      Jessica

      October 15, 2011 at 9:29 am

  6. I’m not sure what is the definition of a Hollywood movie. But I remember that in the blogosphere of the game you refer to, comparisions were made between eating at McDonalds and eating at a fine restaurant, with mass culture/WoW(/Hollywood?) being implied as the McDonald’s option. I have no idea where the line on “Hollywood” movie is, but I know it when I go seeing a “fastfood movie”. It’s those movies that are, when they work, entertainment in the most delicious, forgettable sense. To stay with the dietary metaphor, I think the problem isn’t if people eat candy from time to time, but rather if that is all they eat? Although I personally have a guilty conscience for both my literal and metaphorical chocolate consumption 😉

    Syrien

    October 15, 2011 at 9:02 pm

  7. *sips coffee* One more thing I’d like to say – owls remind me a little of librarians. And what a librarian do for you is partly to tell you about the good books – not always the new ones. One thing I love about a personal movie blog like yours is how it is a mix of current and older movies. A good librarian/curator/owl is a kind of collective memory. It gives a feeling of this vast world of possibilities, the (to me very encouraging) feel that I will not in my lifetime be able to read all the good books or see all the good movies, there are so many out there yet to enjoy.

    Syrien

    October 15, 2011 at 9:07 pm

    • Oh yes! Variation in the diet. I’m all for that. I consider my own taste fairly broad. I go to gourmet restaurants but sometimes I just need a burger and then I’ll have that. It’s the same with movies, as I hope is reflected in my blog.

      I loved your description of the librarian’s role. Yes, sadly enough life is too short for you to watch all you’d like to and I’m realizing more and more how hopeless this fight is. I’ll have to trust on others and on my own intuition to make the best choices. Choices that consist both of chocolate and of delicious AND healthy meals. Based on my own taste rather than a result of falling for heavy marketing.

      Jessica

      October 16, 2011 at 8:40 pm

  8. I disagree, there are a lot of good Hollywood movies besides indie or foreign gems. As such, a reviewer should watch both mainstream movies and indie gems. Case in point, seen Flipped this week by Rob Reiner which I thought was a lovely, Hollywood movie. On the other hand, I also saw Transformers Part 3 which had a script that had me laughing out loud at moments where it didn’t expect a laugh (you’re really telling me we went to the moon because there was an alien artifact there and you’re your script 100% seriously?).

    Now, I’ll just tell people to watch Flipped as it’s a lovely movie and to to expect a silly action movie of Transformers 3. And that’s what reviewers are there to do: watch all kinds of movies and tell me which ones I have to watch. They watch the bad movies so I don’t have to. Sometimes that’s a blockbuster movie, sometimes it’s a foreign movie. Putting all Hollywood movies in one, big heap is just elitist.

    Carra

    October 16, 2011 at 12:04 am

    • I have a hard time to pull the line between what is a Hollywood movie and what isn’t. It’s blurred to me to be honest. Just like Syrien I don’t look down on movies – not on any movies, not on the commercially successful either. But the good indie ones perhaps need a bit of extra mentioning because otherwise people won’t even know about their existense, which would be a pity. There’s no risk for such a thing to happen for the movies that come with a huge marketing budget.
      I share the philosophy Sean Hood has expressed in several posts. And actually elitist the last thing I’d call him. He if anyone – writing scripts like Conan for a living – has a very down-to-earth attitude, trying to educate those super elitist film buffs to get real about things.

      Jessica

      October 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

  9. I just don’t have time to review all the movies I see. And so many movies I don’t have a lot of comments to make. Frankly, I have no interest in crushing a movie with my keyboard that might be of interest to others. Sure, T3 may have had a lot of bad parts to it (I don’t know, as I took my co-film reviewers advice and didn’t watch it), but clearly it was entertaining to a LOT of people. More power to ’em.

    I review films that are meaningful to me, or that I have something interesting to say about. Sometimes that’s a foreign film, sometimes a Hollywood, whatever. The point is, to me, that us bloggers are also in the entertainment industry. We write to be read, and if we want to be read we need to say something interesting or unique or provocative. As film reviewers we need to remember that if anyone reads our posts, it isn’t because they like us as much as they are interested in the film we are reviewing. Our entertainment is strictly derivative.

    We should show a certain amount of respect for the film we are reviewing, because without them we have nothing of interest to write about, no audience– or at least a greatly reduced audience. We should show some respect to those who work hard in the industry that we depend on.

    Steve Kimes

    October 16, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    • Very wise words Steve. I can only nod approvingly. I try to keep up, writing about all the movies I watch, but it’s basically because I’m so much into writing that I can’t shut up. Perpetual blogger…;)
      I too think we should bare in mind that no one makes a bad movie deliberately. There are real people behind all movies and they deserve our respect. This doesn’t take away that a real rant about a terribad movie can be quite an entertaining read from time to time. When it’s really justified.
      But for the most time it’s better to talk about the movies we like and keep quiet about blockbusters that we don’t like and that will get a big audience regardless of what we say.

      Jessica

      October 16, 2011 at 8:48 pm

  10. Excellent post, Jessica, it has certainly got me thinking.

    Whenever I see a new film, when writing it up I try to bear in mind that film, like art or music, is subjective. ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’ and all that.

    While I do see the films that appeal to me the most at the cinema – they normally fall into the fantasy, adventure and action genres – I have over 300 films on my rental list, the majority of which I haven’t seen before. If I enjoy it, or have a particular point to make about it, I’ll write a review on it.

    Claire Packer

    October 17, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    • Oh thank you. Sean’s writings got me thinking and I’m just glad to spread the word.

      I’m still stuck in the idea that I want to write a review of every movie I watch. Mostly of egotistical reasons, since I have such a crappy memory. I have this idea that if I write about the movies I watch I might remember them for a bit longer. But perhaps it would be better to just pass on the movies I don’t like very much rather than rage about how bad they are. On the other hand rants about terribad movies CAN make for pretty fun reads. 😉

      Jessica

      October 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm

      • I know what you mean, Jessica. I use my blog as a way of cataloguing what I have seen – it’s nice to keep track of what I saw at the cinema, for instance.

        On my journalism course we were taught this about writing a review: have an opinion, and have a strong one. I haven’t always stuck to that because sometimes a film is just ‘okay’. When I write a review I do try to focus on one thing in particular.

        Claire Packer

        October 18, 2011 at 10:48 pm

        • Yes, the movies I have a strong opinion about are definitely easier and more inspiring to write about and they also makes for better reads. But unfortunately the distribution curve follows pretty much the same as everything else in life: the bulk isn’t super good or super bad, just average. I wouldn’t go as far as lying though just to get a better read.

          Jessica

          October 19, 2011 at 7:28 am

  11. I think a lot of people miss some awesome films because Hollywood’s output is so all pervasive. That said, the film critic in me might be hard pressed to admit it, but often, friendly word of mouth is a much better advertising campaign than a multi-million dollar super-slick Hollywood one. Films that I’ve seen, and gone bonkers for, due to somebody recommending it, include Equilibrium, The Boondock Saints, and most recently, Attack The Block. All massively entertaining films in their own way, and yet completely devoid of mainstream advertising from the major players in Hollywood.

    As a critic, I like to think I’m that friendly recommendation. Even if being a critic puts me at odds with the way good films are often found.

    Nothing beats a good surprise discovery.

    On the flip side, however, I think a lot of the “rubbish” put out by Hollywood (per se) is a lot like the Fast Food industry. I think of Hollywood as the McDonald’s of the film industry: they put out lots of stuff with no nutritional value whatsoever, even though they often try and market it as such. So you can either choose to dine at the Hollywood restaurant, or find an alternative (like fine dining) and appreciate a good meal (film) without the paraphernalia of having to but the associated labelled lunchboxes.

    Not everyone likes McDonalds, but they still make plenty of money…..

    Rodney Twelftree

    October 26, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    • The good thing about blockbusters is when they make money for the theatres, which hopefully might mean that they also can afford to show some movies that attract smaller audiences. One branch can cover the losses of another. At least that’s what I hope.

      Jessica

      October 27, 2011 at 12:12 am

  12. […] Sean Hood’s challenge to the film loving community […]


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