Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Why we need to stop asking filmmakers "How do you respond to critics?"


Journalists are always looking for a story when they interview a filmmaker or film star. That's understandable...we all have to make a living somehow. Regardless, there is one question they all really HAVE to stop asking.

And that is "How do you respond to your film's negative reviews by critics?"

Absolutely nothing good can come from this question. Sure, this may provoke a story that demands to be shared on every film website around the world so it's a win for the reporter. Yet for the interviewee, any answer is the wrong answer.

Last month, director Alex Kurtzman was interviewed by Business Insider regarding the release of his latest film, The Mummy and commented on the savage reviews the film had received. The following quote by Kurtzman has stirred up conversation among film circles:

"The only gauge that I really use to judge it is having just travelled around the world and hearing the audiences in the theaters. This is a movie that I think is made for audiences and in my experience, critics and audiences don't always sing the same song."

He then went on to say:

"It is the thing that kills your soul when you have just gone through an experience like this one we just went through. I'm not making movies for them," he said of critics. "Would I love them to love it? Of course, everybody would, but that's not really the endgame. We made a film for audiences and not critics so my great hope is they will find it and they will appreciate it."

Alright, so many people have had their say about Kurtzman's comments and opinions are absolutely divided. Honestly though, the problem lies in the fact that he was even asked to comment on the reviews his film has received. Regardless of whether The Mummy was critically well received or not (we all know it wasn't), the question being asked has done nothing to help Kurtzman's case for he or his film.

Filmmakers and actors have been asked countless times in the past about their reactions to negative reviews and this is always met with the standard "It's a film for the fans, not the critics" response. It's an awful response to have to give, but it is the only response you could give without saying "No comment".....which says a lot without saying anything really.

By saying that your film is for the fans and not the critics, it is a way of protecting your film and your ego. This is a completely understandable response to give. Nobody wants to receive bad criticism when you have poured your heart and soul into a project, it is hard not to take it personally. However, for publicity sake and to keep audiences going to the film regardless of reviews, a filmmaker such as Kurtzman needs to say something to protect it.


So here's why the response doesn't work.

It damages your credibility as a filmmaker. You are technically saying "I am making this film for money, not to make a good film", which is especially true here. In other words, you have sold out. This means you have resorted to making a film based on what the studio knows will bring in cash. In this case, as many explosions as possible. People still go to the movies for that, right? Giving the mass public what they want should also mean a good film. Nobody wants to go to the cinema just to see explosions.

It is important to remember that this is not always the case. You can have a film made for fans of the franchise as well as have it critically well received. We have seen this so much lately with Wonder Woman and Spider-Man: Homecoming. These films are being praised by critics and fans alike. Fans of these franchises still expect a good film. Saying a film is for audiences and not critics does not give fans much hope that they are going to be left in awe by the film.

Not only this, filmmakers who say this tend to forget that film critics are also audience members. Filmmakers will always have a love/hate relationship with film critics, as there are some reviewers out there who are just brutal. This quote by Kurtzman and others alike add fuel to the fire. The beginning and the end is that film critics are still a segment of the audience. Their opinions just reach further than your average audience member. Of course, there are some film critics who give so many savage reviews that you wonder whether they do actually like film at all. Yet the large majority of reviewers try to see a film through the eyes of the everyday cinema goer.

Not only this, reviewers want your film to do well. They want to encourage people to go to the cinemas to see a film, not to make people stay away. They are in your corner, but it is their job to tell it how it is.

Kurtzman should be commended for being honest and stating that he is hurt by the reviews, but his response doesn't help his film's cause. It doesn't make people change their minds and want to run out and see the film.

However, what response could have been better? He cannot admit the faults of the film while it is in distribution for publicity reasons. He also can't make it too personal as it reflects badly on him. And as said before, "No comment" is never well received.

So the bottom line is, for the sake of the filmmakers, the media needs to stop asking them to comment on reviews. In any profession, you have to develop a thick skin to cope with negative criticism and negative people. Nobody needs to talk about it. Journalists are obviously asking the question to build a story for themselves, but let's be fair. Don't ask your interviewee a question with an answer that no good can come out of. Also, we don't need more fuel added to the "filmmaker vs. film critic" debate. It's already an icy enough relationship.

This just needs to stop.

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