Sean Hood’s challenge to the film loving community
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.
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?