Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Is Watching the Oscars Pointless?

I read all the time that the Oscars are pointless.  That all award shows are pointless.  That no group can safely tell people what is and isn’t the best film of the year (that’s certainly true; one year one of my cousins felt “Joe Dirt” was the best film he saw that year).  They wonder why people watch a show that is boring on so many different levels (and more often than not nominate films you have never even heard of [much less seen]).  I understand where these people are coming from on some level, but not completely.  I understand that the show is a little tedious and rarely does it make for great entertainment.  On the other hand, aren’t there other events that are just as pointless?  Events that, despite not amounting to much of anything in the long term of things, get just as much (if not more) attention as the Oscars do?  I believe there is.
It’s called the Super Bowl.
I know, I know, many of you are screaming at you’re screens right now, ready to tear me a new one and tell me why the Super Bowl matters.  I’m sure you are all thinking of making points like football is fun to watch, it’s the most important sporting event of the year (except during years where the Olympics take over the tube), and that it gets far more viewers to tune in.  I understand all of these points…and yet I don’t understand any of them at the same time.  I want to say upfront that I find no fault in you if you like sports.  At the end of the day we all have passions that are little more than glorious time wasters, and in that regard there is really no difference from movies, to sports, to video games, to sewing.  We just pick what we enjoy most and run with it.
For me, the Super Bowl is no big deal.  I don’t see how a sports team winning contributes to the world’s problems.  It certainly won’t solve any major humanity problem if your favorite team wins.  It doesn’t help you to see year favorite team winning a statue that you will likely never win yourself.  In fact, just like the Oscars, the Super Bowl isn’t important one bit when you put them up to your life.  Your marriage, religion, and career choices will affect your life much more than either of these two television events ever will.  I know it, you know it, and I’m sure deep down the people who sell the shows know it.  The only people who walk away with their life changed are the people who win, and even then they just gain some additional financial support.

In the end all games and trophies are self-worshiping things made by man.  They won’t do any good to you.  Yet people watch football because they find it fun.  I watch the Oscars because I find them fun.  Alright, the show itself is kind of boring, but it is exciting to see a movie you think genuinely deserves to be honored win an award.  The Oscars have never changed my life any more than the Super Bowl has changed yours.  Life isn’t simple enough for that to happen.  I will watch the shows that entertain me just like you will watch the shows that entertain you.  I think that is once stance we can all agree on in this crazy world.  Personally, I’m glad these things don’t depress me, as I met a Panthers fan shortly after the Big Game ended, and it didn’t look like taking these things so seriously was any fun.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

What's the Deal with Shorts in Theaters?

I have had yet another sleepiness night.  I should be trying to at least sleep during the day, but the last round of Oscar nominated shorts are showing today, and I need to do my civic duty as a critic to go see them.  I was in this situation last week when my mom pointed out that many of the shorts could be streamed online for free, so why bother going to the theaters to see them.  My response is the same one I have for feature length films: Because they look better in theaters.  Look, I know shorts aren't the big deal they used to be, so let me clue you all in on why they were a mainstay in cinemas in the Golden Age of Hollywood.  See, shorts, despite their lack of big budgets, served several very practical functions.  It was a good way to discover potential stars in the making.  You could test out new directors and get an idea of how they managed a small project before putting them to work on a bigger project (AKA: Movie).

They were a great way to test new visual techniques and figure out how they could work before using them in a feature film.  In the case of animation, shorts was a way to create new cartoon characters that could be spun off into TV and merchandise later on down the road.  In some cases, certain characters were so poplar, that putting the right short before an uncertain movie could help raise the interest of it to millions of people who otherwise wouldn't have paid to see it.  There are probably a few other advantages to shorts, but I think you get my point.  So the first question that is raised is why discontinue the shorts?  Well, shorts have never had a way to be financially successful on their own terms, so there was always a question mark attached to whether or not these things were financially stable.  Also the more popular TV got, the more companies realized that making shorts for compilation programs would be much cheaper on a TV budget than a theater budget.

So then the second question that this brings up is why do you need to see them in theaters?  Again, I like to point to theatrical movies as a prime example.  You can see "The Departed," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," "Frozen," and... alright, to be frank you can see anything that comes to theaters on home video (with the exception of "Song of the South").  Yes, these movies can be entertaining on a small screen, but they were made for the big screen and lose something when you take that away.  The same can be said for shorts.  While some are being made for the internet, the vast majority of them are still made with a big screen in mind.  The creators know that they won't spread very far in terms of how many people they will reach, but for the people who do see them they want an impression to be made.

Again, shorts are largely elaborate resumes for studios.  They are being made to prove that they have visual, acting, or writing talents to offer the big studios.  They may not be able to afford a feature film, but they may just be able to make a short.  Studio executives screen everything on a theater screen.  EVERYTHING!  If the short looks terrible on a blown up screen, the purpose behind it is completely meaningless.  So they make them with the big screen in mind.  Now that they are making these for a big screen, they figure they may as well go all out with them.  So they start to film/animate the short to be most effective when seen on the big screen.  Soon little details that are difficult to spot on a regular TV get put into the picture.  There may not be any money to be had in these things, but they are given the same amount of care and attention that the more profitable feature films receive.

For these reasons I am going to take every chance I get to see shorts on the big screen.  I would much rather lose half the previews we get for a short before every movie.  I think studios do themselves no favors by largely ignoring these (you'd think the success Pixar has had with shorts would prove just how valuable they can be).  And in a way, shorts CAN make big money!  In 1990 Disney released a movie called "Dick Tracy," which become a $100 million dollar grossing film (a much more impressive cum in those days).  The movie (which I want to mention I like) fell out of peoples memories pretty fast.  With mixed reviews the movie was targeted to lose a lot of money.  However...

...thanks to a Roger Rabbit short that was placed before the film, some industry experts believed a lot of people went to see the movie just because of the short before the feature film, and without it the movie might have struggled much more at the box office.  There are other examples like this.  Maybe we'll discuss them in a future article.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

How MoviePass Can Help the Aspiring Film Critic

A note about the following post before we being: This is a post where I will be extensively discussing a product/service.  While at times it may seem like a paid advertisement, I don't believe in writing articles that are bought and paid for.  If you are a film critic for a living it is against your interest to do commercials, shopping network programs, or paid advertisements,  I may elaborate more in a future post, but the key thing to take away from this is that by doing this it undermines not only the reviews you write, but of any recommendation you might have for anything.  So while a post of the ethics of writing articles that are really product placement is likely needed somewhere down the line, I wanted to write about this product first, so just be assured that I'm writing this of my own free will and not being paid by the company who makes the product/service in any way.

Alright, let's get on with the show.

One of the questions I get a lot is how does one become a film critic.  Honestly, the answer is WAY too complex for just one post (that's why we have this blog here)!  Obviously to become one involves lots of writing, time, and usually more than one rejection letter to join the Online Film Critics Association (or whatever guild you attempt to join).  Graduating from college is a bonus, but speaking as a college dropout I can assure you it's not the end of the world if you don't.  One thing that is pretty obvious though is that if you are going to do this job you need to see a LOT of movie!  Not only that, you have to see as much as you can.  There is no picking and choosing specific genres to only review (unless your site is dedicated to that genre), you have to see a little bit of everything.  Another thing that is pretty obvious is that this is going to cost money, as you don't just break onto the movie scene being invited to critics screenings.

No, you have to pay for the movies yourselves.  This is where the whole "self made writer" thing becomes tricky, as it becomes much harder to justify paying for bad movies when you are doing this for free and trying to make a name for yourself.  Tickets are expensive and there are more movies than ever being released each week.  What is the solution?  Well aspiring critics, I have found a service that may not solve all your problems, but it will help with this dilemma a lot.  It's called MoviePass, and it is pretty much the Netflix for movie theaters.  It's not available everywhere, but for those who live in areas it is I can assure you it is will worth the investment.  The cost of the monthly membership varies from city to city, so we're going to use my $45 a month cost as the starting point.

While have been gifted in the sense that I do get invited to many critics screenings, there are times movies aren't screened, or I simply want to see the movie again with some friends, and thus buying a movie ticket in both these situations becomes a requirement.  In the past month I had to actually buy tickets for the following films for one of these two reasons:

Kung fu Panda 3 - $11.99
Youth - $7.50
Son of Saul - $12.99
Norm of the North - $12.99
The Forest - $6.50
45 Years - $7.99
The Hateful Eight - $13.99
The Repentant - $12.99
The Danish Girl - $7.50

Altogether it would have cost me $94.44 to see all these movies, but thanks to MoviePass it only cost me $45 to see them and I saved $49.44.  Some months I save more, others I save less.  Some months all the movies are free for me through screenings, and MoviePass finally makes some money off me. It should be noted the service does not grant you access to 3D, IMAX, XD, RPX, or D-BOX screenings, so for those you are on your own.  As you can see, if you want to be a film critic this is a logical service to sign up for.  You will need to see lots of movies.  You will have to see movies you don't want to see.  You have to put yourself in front of things you never dreamed you would ever watch, and while you can't be expected to see everything at first, eventually the public will expect that of you if you are to make a dent in this business.

I get invited to so many free screenings that sometimes I can't even remember when the last time I paid for a ticket was.  I hold onto my MoviePass though because it provides a great service for me, and if you are just getting started this is a great idea for you too.  Now, that said, I do want to mention that if you do decide to get it, you are hooked for the long term.  While I haven't heard of too many people canceling their subscription due to dissatisfaction, it should be noted that once you've been subscribed for a couple of months, you are on the hook for a whole year whether you realize it or not.  In the user agreement you will find that if you terminate the subscription before the year is up, you will pay some hearty cancellation fees, so find out what those fees are before you sign up and decide if this is something you really want to be committing to for the next year.

Even so, for me this would be a pretty easy choice if given the option years ago.  If you want to do this for a living its most likely because you love movies.  You'd probably be going to the movies once or twice a week even if you weren't thinking of getting into this business.  So on a personal level this would be a great deal since you only need to see four prime time films to break even.  If you want to do this professionally and are starting out with a personal blog or website (ha!), this may be one of the most important tools you'll have to getting your career off the ground in a stress free way!