Why the film critics were wrong to dismiss movie blogs
In the audience you would find people from all areas of the film business – critics, distributors, filmmakers, representatives for various organisations. The setup on the stage was dominated by film critics from the established traditional morning papers with one exception: a young man from a web publication who I figure was there to represent the future.
It looked like a good idea to bring him on. He if anyone, with a large and growing audience of 15-35 year old readers, should be able to give a picture of where things are heading. What do people want from film criticism? How is it challenged by the growth of social media? What would it take to make people willing to pay for film criticism in a tie when so much is available for free on internet?
But sadly it didn’t turn out that way. It was clear from the beginning that the film critics were utterly uninterested in anything related to social media or online publications like the one the guy in the panel represented.
“What ordinary people write about a movie is of very little importance” said one.
Another one told us that the morning paper he worked for had shut down the possibility for readers to comment on reviews, since there would be too much discussion. He didn’t seem to mind.
Lack of audience
And the critics representing traditional media went on to discuss what they thought was the most important change in film criticism during the last five years, namely the fact that they had been “forced” to rate movies. Apparently the pressure from the marketing department became too large. If you don’t have star ratings, you won’t get quotes in the ads and posters for the movie, missing an opportunity for your publication to get visible. So they rated the movies and if I got them right it had turned out that it wasn’t as bad as they had thought it would be. It could even be helpful, forcing them to be clearer in their reviews, giving reasons for why a movie got a certain grade.
But then there was this little thing that kept bothering them. The audience. Or rather: the lack of it. They had 1 realised that the reading habits of the upcoming generations are a subject to change. It doesn’t occur to 20-25 year olds who are about to movie away from their parents to start subscribing for a newspaper. They know that they can get their news – including film reviews – quicker and cheaper online.
“We don’t have any readers that are born after 1965”, said one of the film critics, the one who ten minutes earlier had dismissed film discussions over blogs and twitter as having no relevance.
And I thought to myself: that it didn’t surprise me the slightest. With an attitude like that, how could you possibly attract a younger audience?
The “critic” label
I don’t claim that movie blogging, tweeting and podcasting necessarily replace what the traditional film critics do. I even think very few of us who engage in this would label ourselves “critics”. We’re just people who watch a lot of movies who enjoy talking about it with other people who do the same. We write reviews, we write columns, rants, raves and comments. Some of us are aspiring writers – pretty knowledgeable and insightful such. Others write just “for fun”, far from the academic level you may expect from “film criticism”. Nevertheless I think it’s rather stupid to just dismiss the whole thing about blogging altogether, either it’s out of fear (“they’re stealing our jobs”) or out of ignorance, which I honestly think is the more probably cause here.
I think there’s a place for paid film critics in the future. But they need to start paying a bit of attention to the expectations of the audience of today. If they stopped being so sniffy about social media they might actually learn a few things. For instance it isn’t a bad thing to interact with your readers. The days are gone when the readers happily listened to what the “expert” had to say without questioning anything. Today we want to form our own opinions and be vocal about them. Those arguments we’re having online is a part of the movie experience: the post watching processing. The critics can have a place in this as a take-off point for discussions, provided that they’re open for it and encourage it. If you manage to work up a good discussion climate with your audience it adds something to your own material – a sense of participation, of sharing, of a being a part of something.
A shining example of this is Mark Kermode who, apart from encouraging listeners to share their views using twitter, facebook and by other means, also runs his own video blog on the side. Apart from this he’s a frequent Twitter user and, while not advocating every blog there is out there, he has given out recommendations for various film websites once in a while. He doesn’t fear social media and online communication. He embraces it, knowing his own value and that very few out there can compete with him in knowledge and skill with the words. With this strategy he will survive in the new media situation that film critics all over the world are facing.
Sadly I can’t think of any Swedish film critic who has reached the same level of insight. The panel discussion about film criticism indicates that many of them still are in a state of denial.
Meanwhile the online film community keeps evolving. What I’ve seen over the last year is that more and more individual blogs merge together into movie sites, with a more professional look and approach. There also appears to be more movie podcasts around but we don’t know how many of those that will find an audience and survive in the long run. Quotes from movie blogs have become more common in the marketing of movies.
If the film critics want to find a future for themselves I think they’d do wise to stop dismissing social media, asking what they can learn from them and what they can do to become a part of it and still earn a living.
They had the chance to learn something. There was a whole bunch of movie bloggers in the audience who they indirectly dismissed. They didn’t ask us anything. And you know what? The loss is theirs.