Sunday, July 11, 2010

Eating Cheese on Hollywood

The following short piece was found in my drafts folder. It was commissioned by filmmaker Amy Lynn Best for publication (either in Femme Fatales magazine or on or perhaps something else I'm forgetting) years ago. I have no idea if it ever made it out into the world, or if this is even the finished version. I just thought it would be a neat look back on my transition from movie reviewer to movie maker.

by Andrew Shearer

There's a Buddhist proverb that states: "Do not speak- unless it improves on silence."

When I started using the internet on a regular basis, the first thing I sought was information on the weird, obscure, bizarre kinds of films I'd grown to cherish as a movie fan over the years. You know, the kind of stuff you'd see on late-night cable television, or the videos that line the "used" bins and go for $2. The kind of thing people of my dad's generation could go see at a drive-in theater, or some low-rent grindhouse downtown. B-movies. The opposite of Hollywood.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find very much at all about my beloved no-budget gems. Searches for GEEK MAGGOT BINGO, FIVE LOOSE WOMEN and FRANKENHOOKER came up disappointingly empty. So I decided to improve on the silence. I started my own movie review website.

Because I really detest critics, and find no particular joy in picking someone's art into tiny pieces, my reviews served more to shed light on movies that I deemed worthy of attention. I thought of myself as a reporter on exciting events, kinda like when you see something unique or wild and you can't wait to run and tell your buddies, "Hey! You're not gonna believe this! Check it out!"

When I began to get e-mails from the people who were making these movies was when I realized just how much weight my words could carry. People actually thanked me for laughing at the jokes in BIKINI HOE DOWN (which, by the way, plays like THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and SCOOBY-DOO put together, only with lots of naked girls). I couldn't believe filmmakers would care that much about something a nobody in cyberspace said about their work. Then, my initial feelings of imortance lead to panic as I realized that anything negative I might have said about a movie could possibly have also been read by someone who put their hard work into making it!

I quickly began reading through all my reviews, and sure enough, here and there I found some not-so-positive things I'd said about a couple films. Granted, my observations were nowhere near the kind of childish bile that's commonly passed off as a "movie review" on the internet these days, but it did cause me to put myself in check: Was I still improving on the silence?

The next question I asked myself was, could I do better? If not, what gave me the right to say anything bad about a movie? And if so, why wasn't I making movies of my own? After all, I had seen many films that made me think, "You know, maybe I could do this too." So I wrote a script, borrowed a camcorder, got my friends together, and off I went.

So here I am, one year after my decision to venture into the wonderful world of independent filmmaking. I continue to write reviews, and continue to make films. What did I learn?

As a reviewer, if I expect anyone to listen to what I have to say and take my words seriously, I have got to conduct myself in a professional manner. While the big shots in Hollywood could care less about what people on the internet say about their work, independent filmmakers have built a strong community online that has helped connect them directly with fans and with others struggling as they are. To tear down their art is not only pointless, but ultimately working against the whole ethic of doing one's own thing outside the system.

That's not to say every indie film I see is fantastic. I've been bored by several, found many to be uninspired rip-offs, and I swear if I see one more flick that has lesbian vampires, I just might vomit. But if there's one thing I've noticed about the negative movie reviews that pop up online, they all seem to have the same point: Don't waste your time/money on this film.

My thinking on that is, if I've already wasted 90 minutes of my life watching a movie that was no more than someone's attempt to cash in on naked strippers covered in blood, why waste MORE time by writing about it online? I don't know about you, but I pay a high monthly fee for my internet service, and I would rather spend that time reading about the history of PEZ. Put simply, I don't bother reviewing a movie I don't like. I only make an exception if I know the parties in question can do better, or if I feel the advertising completely misleads the viewer (ex: covers featuring actors that aren't in the movie, older films re-titled to appear new).

Constructive criticism is one thing, but an outright attack is another. Some people's attitude is, the filmmakers put themselves out there for display. They are fair game, they should be able to take it. I don't believe in that. It's hard to make a movie, and while we like to know what we can do to improve our work just as much as we like to know what we did well, telling a filmmaker he/she has no talent is completely wrong. Saying an actor is ugly is even worse. Imagine how you'd feel if such things were said about you.

March 24, 2004


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