Want A Better Review? Make A Better Product.

You filmmakers are a pain in my dick. Yes, I am speaking directly to you. Some of you are lovely people, and some of you are my friends, but you are assholes. You’re delusional, infantile, and lack integrity. You’re making me mental.

Do you think I like getting a tearful call at two in the morning from an actor that got a bad review on her/his performance in some shit-water indie short that has been rejected from every self-respecting film festival on the west coast? Like it’s my fault you can’t act. Get some fucking lessons. You’re lucky anyone is talking about you.

So why do I review, when sometimes I’d rather walk into the badger cage at Woodland Park wearing a lunchmeat leisure suit? It’s because I care.

No, it’s because I care and you suck.

What is a review, anyway? A review is simply someone’s opinion of a thing. That’s it. And traditionally, film reviews have been a means for audiences to decide whether they want to spend their hard-earned cash and an evening of their time on a film. Reviews were done by professional writers and published in newspapers, appeared on television, etc. Some people still make a living as reviewers, but it is increasingly rare.

With the advent of the crowd sourcing of social commentary, now anyone can review a film (or any other product or service), and they do so in droves. Actually, people are much more likely to give credence to reviews produced by their peers and will examine the data in detail. They are doing research, and many people (myself included) will not give a lot of weight to a data set that is very small, because there is not enough statistical significance from which to draw anything meaningful. The exception to this is if the consumer knows the reviewer and respects their opinion and veracity.

If there are only three reviews of something, they are all glowingly positive, and are not from a trusted source, then we assume they were probably seeded directly by the seller of the product, or their partners or friends. Consumers have gotten pretty savvy at sniffing out promotion disguised as review. And what is increasingly looked for by consumers in products and companies are transparency, honesty, and human connection. If you are not transparent, consumers will be turned off, and may actively work against you.

Look at what happened to Chick-fil-A recently. A young girl came to their defense on facebook for their removal of Muppet toys from their stores. This young girl was Abby Farle–and she does not exist. Her facebook profile had been set up a mere 8 hours before her comment, and her profile was a stock photo that still had the watermark on it. Here’s the full story on the UW’s MCDM blog: The story of Abby Farle – a Chick-Fil-A fail or an innocent girl besmirched? There is some question as to whether this is a legitimate mistake, or even sabotage perpetrated by an enemy of Chick-fil-A, but one thing is certain: there is blood in the water, and consumers are like a school of ravenous piranhas when they feel they have been lied to.

And this is why you filmmakers make me want to pound a bottle of absinthe and smoke cloves until my lungs bleed and my liver explodes. You think your audiences and consumers are stupid, but they are not. And you are alienating them.

Do you think they don’t know that the (one) glowingly positive review you are flaunting on IMDb and every social media outlet was written by your BFF? (Or your mom, or sister-in-law, or fellow producer, or dentist…)

Do you think they don’t know that the “anonymous”, glowingly positive review that came from a website that produces exclusively glowingly positive reviews exclusively for a small set of local productions was actually written by an acquaintance of yours? (I’m fucking looking at you, Doomcheez.com.)

Those are not reviews. Those are promotional materials. 

Just to set things straight: there’s nothing wrong with promotion. I’m all for it, I employ it, and I enjoy being promoted to in a transparent and engaging fashion. (Pemco, with the “We’re a lot like you, a little different” campaign? I love that shit.) But when you try to disguise promotion as review, not only will you not succeed in fooling anyone, you will turn your audience off–they know it’s unethical to pretend that promotional materials are legitimate reviews. And so do you.

What the hell are you trying to accomplish anyway? Are you trying to get over some imaginary hump of exposure so that your product can “go viral”? Do you even know how and why videos actually go viral? No, you don’t. Here’s a TED talk on it, dumbass: Kevin Alocca–Why videos go viral. Apparently, you are laboring under the delusion that if you build up enough fake positive reviews, and bury the negative ones long enough then the product can “catch on.” That doesn’t even make any sense! Your product is either good, or it is not. A review, positive or negative, cannot change the nature of your product. And nobody is learning this lesson the hard way more than Hollywood.

It used to be that Hollywood could power through the first weekend of a shitty film simply on the strength of their promotional campaign and at least get their money back. This is no longer the case. It also used to be that if they knew a film was a stinker they could refuse to have it reviewed prior to the premiere. Now people are tweeting live at film premiers and screenings, and posting reviews of bootleg copies. If a movie sucks, sometimes it won’t make it through the opening weekend to be reviewed by a professional reviewer on Monday. People will abandon the film mid-premiere based on the reviews of their peers.

How long do you think it will take consumers–not your friends, your mom, or your fellow filmmakers, but actual consumers–to figure out precisely what the true substance of your product is and whether they like it? Let’s say you actually pull one over on them (realistically though?–never gonna happen…) and convince them that your brother-in-law-generated review was legit? How annoyed do you think they will be when they realized that not only was the review a sham, but they were stupid enough to believe it? Will that cause them to want to create a connection with you? Yeah, let me know how that works out for you.

So when someone gets angry with me that I did not vomit rainbows and shoot unicorns out of my ass over their product, all I can say is, “You should have made something better.”

Do you think I want you to fail? Do you think I have some kind of sick, Ahab-like obsession with thwarting you personally so that I am willing to ‘burn this bitch to the ground,’ kind of like the Republican party with Obama? Get the fuck over yourself. You’re not that interesting to me. Look, I love some of the story worlds that you create, you get me hooked, and then you shit all over the whole thing with absurd, avoidable mistakes. Not beginner mistakes, but mistakes based entirely on your inexplicably enormous ego. The minute you put it out there, it isn’t just your story any more, it’s mine too, and I don’t need you going Jar Jar Binks on the deal, motherfucker.

So, what does this all boil down to?

“There does not exist a culture of criticism within the independent film community.”

I did not say that, Amy Lillard did. Amy Lillard is the Executive Director of Washington Film Works, the organization that works to distribute the tax incentives for Washington State. They have money they want to give to independent filmmakers, and even webseries creators (through Innovation Lab), but frankly, the majority of the projects they see pass through their office are simply not good enough to be viable business products. They want to give you MONEY, people. But they are not going to give it to merit-less hobby or passion projects.

Now, I have nothing against hobby projects. They are a blast! And there is nothing wrong in the world with doing a hobby project. But if you want to be in the business of film, you have to lose the delusions of grandeur and raise your level of professionalism. So, how do you get better?

For one thing, you need to stop hiring people for critical jobs or roles within you production simply because they are your friends, on the production team, or–worst of all–because you want to have sex with them. This is the number one problem I see within the indie film community. It is a real issue that pervades indie film, a blight, and in the case of hiring people based on the potential for sexual favors, it is an enforcing of certain aspects of the rape culture.

Yeah, rape culture. I am not making this up, and I am not trying to be funny. Seriously, stop hiring people because you want to have sex with them, you creepy-ass hacks. You’re fucking things up for the rest of us. I need a separate post for this. And a drink.

Now back to the main point: stop whining about getting a bad review, take a moment away from pestering the actresses, and actually make something good. You fucking toddlers.

Often, all it would take for you, the independent filmmaker, to make a wonderful product, rather than a bad one, is to step back from your ego for one minute and look at things from the perspective of your audience. The audience does not care that you got sex out of the deal, or that you gave your brother-in-law a role because he contributed a couple grand out of his IRA. They only care if they liked it.

Let me tell you a secret: if you make a good product, then the good reviews will naturally follow. Don’t try to polish a turd after the fact with damage control, spin, and shoddy public relations strategy (because the first rule of real public relations?–”don’t lie”). So, until we all allow for a culture of criticism to develop in indie world and honestly tell each other what we think of the quality of our projects, you are stuck with me.

You think I’m tough? Try giving your film to a professional reviewer and see what happens, if you can actually get one to do it. Why would they bother? They won’t even know what to do with your film; it has no audience, no distribution, and no box office. My rating system is designed for indie, student, and first time filmmakers. Even if you got a perfect score, the top of my scale starts out at the bottom of a professional film rating system. If you can’t hack my rating system, how are you going to handle the big leagues? This is the big bad world I am trying to prepare you for.

And what I do here can’t even be called reviews in the traditional sense, because no one is looking at my site to determine whether they want to see the film and spend money on it. Often they read my review after they have seen the film, because my review is linked on IMDb or the site that displays the video–if the producer hasn’t taken it down. (Believe me, that happens frequently, even from productions that asked for them.) Most often, people read my reviews because they were a part of the production. So what I’m doing here is more like criticism, or analysis.

You don’t need me after you make your film, you need me before.

Seriously, here’s my email: ben@dilettantedouchebag.com. Contact me before you start your film, or during production, and I will tell you honestly what I think of it. Maybe an honest take by someone with nothing invested in the project will give you the clarity you need to fix the stuff that doesn’t work for you.

And then maybe you can get a good review from real reviewers. Your brother-in-law has better things to do.










  1. Great post…well said. I’ve done a few projects here and there, and of course seen a few as well. What I’ve noticed, and what filmmakers don’t realize is that the over-the-top quirkiness and/or pretentious dialogue don’t hide crappy writing or lack of a budget. In fact, it makes it even more apparent. I don’t really care about a film being made for cheap; just give me good, creative writing and competent acting. Honestly, I’m even MORE fascinated when you can make a good product with no money. That’s where the true creativity comes in.

    • dilettante douchebag

      I’m with you! Doesn’t matter what the budget is. Just give me something that makes me care, engages me, entertains me, makes me laugh, cry, whatever. If it’s good, it’s good.

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