Friday, March 20, 2009

Lessons EVERY artist needs

I'm a reviewer.

Not really news, right? I've been reviewing things here for four years. I have a following and people even reach out to me to review or write about things they're very attached to. Before this blog, I had reviews published around, some on a popular site. I'm in the top ten at Netflix, etc. etc. etc.

Why do I review? Because I live love breathe shit movies and television. Because sometimes viewers need a little help deciphering the propaganda hidden in the art. Because sometimes artists need a little help deciphering the propaganda their subconcious minds hid in their art. Because thoughtful, responsible examination regulates society, and keeps artists honest and doing their best. Because filmmakers should be able to be critiqued by their peers, and other filmmakers don't put their subjective opinions and tastes out there like I do for fear of burning an industry bridge.

Why else do I do it? To have a more balanced and informed opinion than what will be floating around on the internet.

Have you SEEN what is out there? Comments sections, messasge boards, everyman reviews? What people write on IMDb?

Let me give you writers and filmmakers a hint about the public and indie movies.

CONVENTIONEERS has a Spirit Award.

A SPIRIT AWARD. The highest award below an Oscar that a low-budget film can receive.

It has a 5 out of 10 rating on IMDb.

An F.

Look what the general public says about it on Netflix, where it has a 2.6 star rating out of 5.

Okay? Are we all on the same page now?


All the great leaders from Jesus to MLK have spent the majority of their lives downtrodden by the outside world. Constant negative feedback from outer esteem. But they had rock solid self esteem and they believed in themselves. Even when people wanted to kill them.

How many artists clamoring to have their work in the public eye understand the maelstorm they are asking for?

Let's go back to the people who don't like CONVENTIONEERS. Do you think this bothers Mora Stephens? No. She made a fucking great movie and she knows it. She doesn't care what Joe Schmoe or Iowa or Pakistan says, she made the movie she wanted to make.

Self esteem versus outer esteem.

Let's add another layer to outer esteem.

For directing CONVENTIONEERS, Mora received a Spirit Award on her mantel, an agent at a top agency, and has her next project in the works with stars and a budget in the millions.

She's not focusing on the portion of people who didn't get her movie. She has successfuly discarded them and embraced her "true fans."

And if she reads this post she's going to see that I am praising her and her movie, not slamming it. Even though I'm not lying and saying it's beloved by all. Right? She's got her shit together and she's ready to have her art in the world.

I recently had someone blow up at me over one gently-worded sentence of criticism in an otherwise glowing 4 out of 5 star review. Angry about the review because it suggested one area of improvement in the movie. ONE POLITIC SENTENCE. Angry to the point he irrationally damaged our acquaintance and hasn't made ammends. Over a huge favor I did him for free to try to get his movie seen.

SERIOUSLY, all you artists out there who can't take feedback in a class or writer's group. All you artists who cling to the negative and discard the positive.

GOD FORBID your work ever make it into the public. God forbid. Please, before you show it to anyone you aren't bribing, memorize the following:

1) If you want your work to ever be seen anywhere by anybody, you have got to learn self esteem or the reaction will destroy you.

2) PEOPLE WILL HATE WHAT YOU HAVE MADE. If you are expecting and think you are entitled to 100% praise, the reaction will destroy you.

Learn to find your niche. CITIZEN KANE, the most celebrated movie all time, has an 8.6 out of 10 stars at IMDb. (CITIZEN FUCKING KANE. Who the fuck are you, really?? CITIZEN KANE.)

Are you going to choose to focus only on the people who don't like you? If 12 sentences say "excellent" and the 13th politely says "room to improve", don't throw a hissyfit and throw out the 12 sentences before it. Don't attack the person for respecting you enough to think you could maturely and professionally handle feedback.

3) You WILL read or hear something you don't agree with. Because it's a REVIEW, not PR fluff. Don't shut down and go the hurt feelings route. Learn to distinguish the difference between "room to grow" and getting "slammed".

4) Identify who your friends are and don't chase those people away. Don't make them lie to you like they were your mom. Your mom can love you unconditionally by lying to you. People who actually care about you and your art will tell you where you can get better if you let them. That's the kind of unconditional love an artist needs.

And you can always get better. It's your JOB as an artist. What happens when your self-esteem can't handle anything but nice lies? You surround yourself with Yes Men and end up with STAR WARS 1-3 and INDIANA JONES 4.

5) If someone isn't in your niche, disregard their opinion without lashing out. You need to responsibly learn who to listen to and who to be able to listen to and say thank you but not choose to act on it. The higher your self esteem, the easier this becomes to judge and the more polite you will become. Because a critique either isn't correct for your art, or is awesome food for thought. Either way, the response is Thank You.

6) You're emotionally attached to your art. We all are. But if you overreact and behave innappropriately man up and APOLOGIZE. The art of apology is completely underrated, and is a beautiful thing if you mean it (Nope. I haven't received one.).

7) Don't go out of your way to do awesome things for people who've never done anything for you. Because they will always take you for granted and treat you like trash.

Sometimes supporting actually makes people happy. And sometimes no good deed goes unpunished.

Am I going to let one person's icky behaviour affect the reviews I'm doing tomorrow night and the day after? Or keep me from doing something nice for another colleague?


Find your one thousand true fans (Kevin Kelly), and ignore the noise.

P.S. One of the great joys about receiving feedback on THE COMMUNE is how astonishingly diverse the reaction is to the actors. It always cracks me up. I have heard from multitudes of people who swear their opinion is absolutely right, and that x is the best actor and y is the worst in the movie.

Who are x and y?

Insert each of the top five names. They've all been both x and y.

Seriously chew on that.

Is that not a staggering comment on art and society and the subjectivity of opinions?

For every creation, there is an audience. Sort and discard. Find yours.


Todd Miro said...

Great insights Lis.
I think you've shown great courage and resilience during the whole process of finishing The Commune. You took a lot of blows and were able to keep going forward without getting too defensive. You kept your eyes on the ultimate goal of making the movie as good as it could be.
I think we both learned to pay close attention to comments that seemed to come up multiple times from different people at different screenings, and to filter out the rest as just noise.
Even people who I really admire could sometimes have a completely random reaction to some part of the film and I'd need to chalk it up to just personal quirks and not give it too much weight.

Kid Sis said...

Todd, you've been amazing too. It's been a privilege being in your foxhole.

Totally agree with you about paying attention only to multiple repeat comments, and how funny it is to find the quirks in people's pscyhes...why we make great partners!

For the rest of y'all, Todd Miro is the brilliant editor and co-producer of THE COMMUNE. He's done a fantastic job, shown the tenacity it takes to make it in this industry, and is a joy to work with.

Post is still my favorite part of making a movie. It's where you truly get to write it.

Hugo Fuchs said...

Good points, never defined it as Self-Esteem and Outer-Esteem myself, but I do understand the difference.

Many of the non-constructive criticism tends to be generated by people who don't have self-esteem and try to prop up their own outer-esteem by complaining about others.

Good Post.

Word Verification is Fiesi.

Rowan said...

Well written. It takes some punches to thicken the skin.

And remember: No good deed goes unpunished! Ugh.

Kid Sis said...

Hugo, NIIIICE word post.

Rowan, I know, right? UGH!