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Bad reviews and Other Delicacies

Bad reviews, trolling, comments on social media about your work, mean comments, comments from people expressing their personal opinions, comments to let you know how they could have done it better, or how you can improve it... sure! I'll re-edit my whole feature film that's already been released because user smasher1998 thinks you can soften the light on the actor's face and maybe while at it, re-do the sound on location, which is obviously waaaaayyyyy better than ADR.

To prove my point, just visit the YouTube or Facebook comment section of any worthwhile project: a trailer, short film, or a piece of art; anything that the person took their time, experience, creativity and most important of all, their bravery and will, to put out into the world.

Actually, an even more fun and interesting experiment: go to a music video of a song you think is near perfection, that if it is obviously not to everyone's taste, at least they would recognise the craft and talent of the artist...

See what I mean!? It's crazy to see that even the Beatles' Hey Jude music video has some 'thumbs down'... what a way to identify psychopaths, I say.

But the saddest part of all of this: it's not those silly comments, it's the fact that the prospect of experiencing this has stopped so many people, in fact, the most talented people I have met, from creating anything for fear of how they will be viewed, received and criticised.

The internet has created an open platform, so anyone can have any opinion on anything, at any time and any place. Which is good I guess, but then again, there are a lot of people out there; lots and lots. So many, it has transformed into 'noise'. You don't want your creative endeavours to be dependent on that noise.

Also, it's about perspective! Seriously, I know so many people say this especially when confronted with harsh criticism, but it has happened to me. I'll give you an example. In November 2020, I released my directorial debut feature “Clay's Redemption”, needless to say, I loved the whole experience of making that film and loved the results, with all the inherent limitations and obstacles; I'm so proud of what we achieved with that film. So, it's out there, people are watching it all over the world, and then I start getting 'reviews' and 'ratings'. Basically people watching the film, and based on their opinion letting the world know if it's worth their time or not.

Here's an excerpt of one of them. It’s on the film's IMDb page, read it carefully (I'm keeping their bad grammar because fuck'em right?):

"Who ever rated this anything higher than 6 is absolutely connected to the production or was locked up for 45years, unaware what modern TV standards are and spent 45 yrs deliriously dreaming to watch a program, of any kind"

Now, I guess it means to be a negative review, but... I love it! I seriously do, this person literally says I have made something that ignored the last 45 years of modern TV standards... which I did, very consciously, and I tell you, it's a bloody hard thing to do. I mean, this person clearly hated my film but he totally got it.

There is another type of critic, more subtle and probably more insidious: the technically opinionated. Now I have to admit, this one can get on my nerves a bit. The reason being that they normally do know their stuff; whatever their area of expertise may be, they can tell you in technical, specific and rich detail how to accomplish it, or even how to make it 'better’. And you know, they are probably right.

When I was creating a moodboard for the look of Clay's Redemption, I used a lot of Mike Mignola's drawings of Hellboy (I love that comic!). In a way, I wanted to show on screen those really hard and sharp black shadows. When I shot and then edited the film, I was happy with the results. I remember posting some stills in a cinematography forum (boy I should have known better) and although I got some nice comments, I got some 'essays' on how I crushed the blacks, how there is no detail in the shadows.. etc, etc. Sure, that can be useful for a Pepsi commercial, but tell David Lynch he can't use a home camera to shoot his film Inland Empire (and I’m not personally keen on that style) but he is David fucking Lynch, and not 'cameraexpert2001'.

Left: Akie Kotabe as Clay (Clay's Redemption ). Right: Mike Mignola's creation, Hellboy.

However.. these kinds of critics are hardly artists. They have probably done something before, but I'd bet it's pretty much standard. It probably looks pretty, polished and perfect, but very likely is perfectly boring. The most memorable creations, music, films, books and art in general, are far from perfect. Some of them are rough at the edges, or rough all over, some of them are unfinished, some roughly put together, and all of them are so memorable they will pass the test of time. Something standard will vanish and get lost in the sea of, well, forgettable 'standardness'.

Saying that, some of these technical critics are good people, and although it can be difficult to 'shake' their knowledge and predisposition for certain things, they can help you achieve great things if they are on board with your vision. I remember I worked with this excellent Director of Photography while making a short film. This was a psychological short, inspired by the classic Twilight Zones with some Lynchian influence. For the main character, it needed to feel claustrophobic, like a dream turning into a nightmare that he couldn't get out of. So I knew I wasn't going to use any establishing shots. (To explain briefly what an establishing shot is: a shot usually used at the beginning of a scene to show where the action takes place, ie. if the scene happens in an office, we'll see a shot of the building exterior, and normally we see the main character enter the building.) Now, my DoP at the time was mortified that we hadn't done any establishing shots, and I kept telling him: we don't really need em, if we see the actual space where everything is taking place, we'll break the nightmarish tension.

The reason I'm mentioning all this is that it really does not matter what other people think. The cliches of cliches, but it's so true. You can tell the people that get their hands dirty and go out there and make stuff happen (be they camera operators or executive producers) because they are more forgiving, as they know how hard it can be; they carry with them a battle-hardened note of humility. People that hardly do anything, or do fuck-all, are the ones that find it easier to criticise others; it's really that simple.

I know of someone who completed a whole feature film, and for fear of criticism, they shelved it. I know that person went through so many hardships to create that film, as well as personal difficulties in their life while making it, and with good reason it may be too much for them to read this kind of review (by mikemckenna-36483):

"This is Soo bad I don't know where to begin. Do not watch. It's that bad. Honestly, I have never ever seen a film as bad as this. Turned it off after 15 minutes. Everyone involved should be ashamed."

By the way, that's a real review for Clay's Redemption on its IMDb page, someone claiming the WHOLE film is sooooo bad they only watched 15 minutes of it (see what I mean?). Also, that user (I changed the username just slightly) has only 4 reviews on his profile, all of them negative towards other films (what a miserable little existence).

Conclusion: don't let the noise from other people stop you putting your work out there. Ignore the fuckers and create art, they don't know it (and probably never will) but they need you to do it too.

I know I do.


By way of balance, Clay’s "worst" review on Rotten Tomatoes is also my favourite; here’s an excerpt:

“...we drop into what seems to be a gorgeously shot, lo-fi underworld noir with Clay (Akie Kotabe) doing the bidding of handlers to bring in an asset (Nuuxs as Maya, clad in the kind of see-through plastic garb Joanna Cassidy wore in “Blade Runner”). On the surface it plays like “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) by way of “Alphaville” (1965).”

(my regards and thanks to Tom Meek at Cambridge Day, Cambridge Massachusetts)

Clay’s Redemption is now available on Amazon Prime. 

#claysredemption #indiefilmmaking

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