I became a former film critic in 2009 because I was tired of the hamster-wheel feeling, such as Hollywood's release schedule, reliably awards contention-heavy at the end of the year, and the summer movie season having a lot of loud noise and empty vessels. That was only part of it, the other part being that as a member of the Online Film Critics Society, I had to participate in the year-end voting of which movies and actors and others we deemed to be the best of the year. We received awards screeners in the mail, and I always felt compelled to watch everything I got because I wanted to feel at least 10% well-informed, and I didn't review mainstream releases like other critics do, including attending press screenings. I did when I wrote for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's now-defunct Teentime pages, but it was a novelty to me back then, just like receiving awards screeners were in my first and second years as a member of the OFCS. Back then, writing for Teentime, I wanted to be a full-time film critic some day.
In my third year of receiving awards screeners, I began to feel like I was on a hamster wheel. The same activities the same time every year. I was having some fun with it, but not as much as I should have if I was really into it. And there was no way to become a full-time film critic like Ebert or Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, or Josh Bell of Las Vegas Weekly, because those jobs weren't there anymore. Journalism had caved in on itself. There was no way to receive a paycheck and medical benefits for writing movie reviews. I didn't want it anymore anyway. I wanted to write books, to explore other topics that fascinate me, and then came What If They Lived?, with its crash course in research. And here I am now, working on my second book, and thinking of the books and novels and plays to come. This is what I want to do. This is where I belong. But what if I could review movies as I probably should have during those 10 years, not taking it as deadly serious as I did, and having more fun with it?
On Saturday, I received a message on Facebook from Rebecca Wright, who I talk with occasionally. She runs a DVD and Blu-Ray review site called Movie Gazette Online, posting links to her reviews on her Facebook account, which I see. I don't think a great deal about it because I've got my own work to do and I'm more deeply into books nowadays.
She asked if I wanted to contribute the occasional DVD review to her site, being that she gets a lot of DVDs and Blu-Rays now, and is adding more writers. She's read my past reviews, which I assume is why she contacted me.
I thought about it for a bit. I didn't want to get tied up in reviewing again. There was a lot of work to do for Film Threat, and I wasn't even getting paid for that. I wanted the experience and the clips so I could possibly parlay that into finding a full-time position as a film critic, which never happened. I'm not disappointed about that, since it led to What If They Lived?. But now, I'm busy writing books.
It might be good, though. Rebecca's site reminds me of the five reviews I wrote in 2005 for a site called The DVD Insider. I decided to be totally uninhibited in those reviews because I had nothing at stake. I looked at those reviews while I considered Rebecca's offer, and while the writing is embarassingly rough in spots, I clearly had fun writing those. That's what I should have been doing all 10 years, and also not putting all of my energy in those reviews like I did, because eventually, no one at Film Threat really did anything for me like I did for them, save for Phil Hall and my first book. That's what made it worth it.
Despite the Movie Gazette Online writer's agreement stating a requirement of 4-6 reviews per month, Rebecca told me that I could contribute as much or as little as I wanted. The number didn't matter, but she hoped I would feel comfortable enough to contribute something on a monthly basis. That's markedly different from the pressure I felt throughout those 10 years, pressure that I should have realized I was bringing on myself, but was too ambitious to notice.
There was another difference between this offer and my 10 years' worth of work: I'm not greedy anymore about DVDs. When I began writing for Film Threat, and requested DVDs from various PR firms while writing reviews of totally independent movies (Movies that not even the smallest label in Hollywood knew about), I was so impressed at just being able to get any DVD so easily. I overused this benefit with such zeal, that I got many DVDs every single day from UPS and FedEx and in the mail. The house filled up with them. Of course, where the DVDs used to be, books now reside, but I'm happier with the books.
I don't want DVDs anymore like I used to, so there's that benefit of writing for Movie Gazette Online. Plus, the site feels as comfortable as The DVD Insider was to me, and as if Rebecca wasn't already doing her best to try to reel me in, the writer's agreement states that "submissions must be 500-1,000 words." Oh god, what a relief! For me, it's like the hour or two I spent writing guest posts for Janie Junebug and Bloggerati, followed by careful, focused editing. Not only can I do this, I can use it as relaxation while working on my books! I can finally relax while writing reviews!
I accepted Rebecca's offer, promising her an up-to-150-word biography for my staff page, as well as signing up for an account on Gravatar, in order to produce a photo that can accompany my reviews. She then sent me press releases announcing forthcoming DVDs from Lionsgate and A&E, and told me to let her know if I wanted to review any of them.
The first press release announced Lionsgate's release of Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger 4-Film Collections, coming out April 3. Re-releases of movies previously released on DVD, this time under the Lionsgate banner. I immediately scrolled down to the listing for the Renee Zellweger Collection, since she's one of my favorite actresses for various reasons (including being one of the leggiest actresses in Hollywood), and I had seen Bridget Jones's Diary and Chicago, both of which are included in this collection. Cold Mountain and New in Town are also here, neither of which I've seen, but I was already forming a review in my head, analyzing Zellweger's career choices, not how good or bad they are, but how she seems willing to do what other Hollywood actresses would probably be horrified about, such as the granny panties bit in Bridget Jones's Diary. She's adventurous, and willing to explore. I e-mailed Rebecca with my request, and it was done. This one's mine to review. And I think I want Chicago in my DVD collection again.
Next, a press release from A&E announcing its April releases. Rebecca sent me a separate e-mail with a list of DVDs she has right now, and not even Titanic: The Complete Story interested me. Quite different from when I also wrote reviews for NP2K, and was maniacally excited about the DVDs to be split up amongst us three reviewers. That was how I got the Clerks X DVD set that's in my collection next to Clerks II.
I scrolled through the A&E press release, stopping dead at The Presidents DVD set, which is merely being re-released in thinner packaging, but is still available for review. With my passion for the history of the presidency, this one's MINE! And Rebecca acknowledged it.
When I wrote for Screen It, Jim Judy, the owner, lived, and still does, in Germantown, Maryland. Rebecca lives in Vermont. I seem to have a great deal of luck with movie reviewers on the east coast from all the way over here. It's even more fortunate that I can write about what interests me, since I don't see movie reviewing as a potential future anymore. Renee Zellweger movies and an eight-part documentary about the presidents is an auspicious start. Plus, since I've ended my obsession with free DVDs, I have far less work to do now! I can finally have fun with this.