Reviewers Are People Too – By Duane L. Martin

I’ve been a film reviewer for over eight years now, and Rogue Cinema’s been in existence for over six of those years. I see more films in a year than your average person probably sees in three or four, and compared to some of my fellow reviewers here on Rogue Cinema, that’s nothing. I know Brian and Cary’s viewing habits probably make mine look below average. The point is, because of what we do, we’re constantly watching a variety of different films, and because we write for Rogue Cinema, a large number of those films are independent. What makes us different from other people though, is that we’ve taken on the mantle of the reviewer, and along with it, a responsibility to our readers.

Now, independent film makers put a lot of heart and soul into their films. The common thread that runs between them is that for them, it’s not a job, it’s their passion. They know they’re not going to make much, if any money with their films, but they do it anyway because they love what they do and there’s something about making a film that leaves a legacy behind you that you may or may not be remembered for after you’re gone. The passion that these people put into their films is something that we, as reviewers, are well aware of and something that we genuinely understand after being in the scene for so long.

Something else that comes from being in the scene for so long is that we’ve interacted with a large number of these folks. Some have become friends, many others have become acquaintances. That may seem like a cool thing, but in reality, it really only serves to make what we do that much more difficult when it comes time to review their films. It’s hard to be impartial and to give an objective opinion of a film when you’re either friends, or on friendly terms with the person who made it. How do you tell someone you like that the film they put so much heart and soul into making just isn’t good? Do you know how hard that is? I do, because I’ve had to do it many times, and unfortunately, I know I’ll have to do it many more. It’s part of the job. Honesty and integrity in our writing absolutely has to take precedence over all other considerations, including hurt feelings on the part of the film makers, otherwise we lose all credibility. Not just credibility with our readers, but our own personal sense of credibility as well.

There are a few things I’d like every film maker to try to understand. First, we’re human, just like you. We understand what you’ve put into making your films, but if we genuinely don’t like it, or don’t like various aspects of it, we have no choice but to point that out in our reviews. We take less than no pleasure in giving films bad reviews, and it’s always a really downer for us personally to have to do it. There’s nothing personal behind it. There’s no latent animosity there or anything else. We’re simply being honest.

When you send a film out to be reviewed, you can’t always expect to get glowing reviews. Because you made your film, it’s like your baby, and having someone criticize that is like someone talking bad about your child. We understand this, but if your film has problems, it’s our job as reviewers to point them out.  Conversely, it’s also our job to point out what did work with the film and what was done well. That’s called balance, and it’s something we here at Rogue Cinema always strive for in our reviews.

For many independent film makers, the whole film making experience is a learning process, and there’s much to be learned in reviews, especially the bad ones. We’re not criticizing your work because we get off on upsetting people. We’re criticizing it so that you can take that criticism and learn from it. If something didn’t work in your film and the reviewer has made a valid point about it, or if it’s something that you keep seeing mentioned over and over in a variety of different reviews, then you can go into your next film project with that in mind and try not to make the same mistakes again. Or… You can ignore the reviewers, get upset about getting a bad review and keep making the same mistakes over and over again because your ego can’t handle constructive criticism. What does that really get you though?

No one benefits when you get upset with the reviewer over a bad review of your film. The large majority of film makers I’ve had to give bad reviews to understand this and are very gracious, even thanking me for taking the time to review it. They may be hurt by the review, but hopefully they’ve taken some valid points from it and learned something they can use in making their future films. Responding graciously to a bad review also keeps you on good terms with the reviewer, and it gives you a good reputation, not only among reviewers, but among your peers in the indie community as well. If you take the review personally and react badly to it, it’s likely the reviewer won’t want anything more to do with you. You’ve just closed a door, not only on a relationship you could have had that would have potentially benefited you in the long run, but you’ve also cost yourself an outlet you could have had access to for getting the word out about your films in the future.

For us here at Rogue Cinema, we make no money from what we do, though I wish we did. So why do we do it? Well, I can’t really speak for everyone, but personally, I do it because I like being a part of the indie community, and I get a sense of satisfaction that what we’re doing is not only helping film makers to get the word out about their films, but also perhaps educating them as to how to make their films better in the future. I also have had the good fortune to have dealt with a lot of wonderful people over the years. Unfortunately, there does have to be a separation there. We can’t hand out good reviews to bad films just because we happen to like the person who made it. We can’t sugar coat the bad elements of a film just to stroke someone’s ego. Our readers come to Rogue Cinema for honest and balanced reviews, and that’s what we give them, no matter how painful it may be to us on a personal level at times to have to do that.

One last thing. I know there are reviewers out there who purposely slam movies to try to make themselves look cool, and in my opinion, you’re more than welcome to tell these types of people just where they can stick their reviews. They’re not only a disgrace to the profession, but they create this latent sense of animosity in the film makers when they have to deal with other reviewers. To all you film makers who’ve had to deal with these types of people, I’m sorry. I know what a horrible experience that can be, because I’ve seen how these people operate. Just keep in mind though that we’re not all like that, and you definitely won’t find anyone like that here on Rogue Cinema, because as the editor, I won’t allow it. Our writing staff is comprised of top notch, honest and hard working people, and everything we write is nothing more or less than our genuine opinion about your film, so you can take it for what it’s worth.

Reviewers are people, just like you. We have feelings, likes, dislikes, hobbies, lives, families and everything else you guys do. Understand that we, because of what we do, have to maintain that separation between our own personal feelings toward you and our responsibility as reviewers to be fair and honest about what we saw. If that causes hurt feelings or a loss of friendships, I’m genuinely sorry about that, but as I’ve said many times before, honesty and integrity are more important than hurt feelings.

There’s a person behind the writing, and we take no pleasure whatsoever in having to tell you that your film wasn’t good, so keep that in mind when dealing with us, and take what we have to say to heart. You’ll end up with better films, and better relationships in the long run.