Sunday, February 17, 2013

Why I Don't Write Film/TV Critiques or Reviews

So why don’t you write film and TV critiques, Skye?  You’ve sold screenplays. You’ve sold TV scripts.  You’ve written documentaries and even a safe sex video game.

You teach writing for narrative film and TV series. You used to be a full time journalist and still write opinion pieces for various newspapers.   

You clearly have a journalistic voice, an audience, and newspaper friends in high and low places.

How can you stay silent on films such as Skyfall when the world is talking about the effects of media violence on viewers?  Why won’t you speak up on the subject of Django Unchained and the status of African Americans in this country?

And when it comes to the military, one would think you’d have reasoned opinions.  You lived in a military city for several years.  You learned how to parachute from retired Vietnam Vets .  And you know what it takes to produce a series like Homeland or a film like Zero Dark Thirty.

Does your tongue need to be unchained?

For me, the reason is simple.  It may not fit in with our new world view in which everyone feels free to be a pundit on every subject under the sun and some not.

But, for me, there are ethical lines that I do not cross.

Years ago, I interviewed Ben Affleck for a Boston Globe feature article I wrote on Greenlight.  Now, I was pitching and writing scripts at the time.  But, interviewing Ben as a journalist meant that I could not approach him as a screenwriter.

What if I had and he had purchased a script of mine?  A Boston Globe reader might complain that I only wrote the article to get in good with him and his partner. 

I honestly think Promised Land is the most overlooked film when it comes to the Oscars, Golden Globes, SAG awards.  But, if I wrote the whys and wherefores in a column, the administrators of those guilds or the producers of winning films might claim that I was biased.   

Not only had I interviewed Ben.  I once had a friendly exchange with Matt about Good Will Hunting on a balcony of a Hollywood hotel.  I grew up in Boston. And OMG, I once had a lengthy exchange about novel writing with Dennis Lehane and am part of the search for his lost dog Tessa.

There are all sorts of biases one can throw against me.

Just last week, I attended a conference on media images. Several people  immediately asked if I was writing an article on what the speakers said about particular films and their negative images.

No, No, and No. 

I’m a producer-writer-professor.   So, I teach and practice what I preach.

Yes, I believe that I can be objective if I were to write film critiques.  And if I did that for a living, I would take the proper safeguards to protect the media I wrote for from ever being accused of biases.

But, for now, I don’t cross the lines.  Producers and companies that I’m pitching my pilots and screenplays to should not have to worry that if they reject me, that I’m going to write a blistering article about their next production. 

I should not have to wonder whether a producer is meeting me because he or she truly liked my work or liked what I said about theirs.

There was a published article by me about the film The Help.  But, it was not a critique.  It was simply an opinion piece about the pride I felt in seeing a film about a person who reflected my mom, my aunts, and a generation of women who raised me.

Sometimes it does seem as if this is a user and abuser world.  “Friends” Facebook you to get to other Facebook friends that they really want to contact.

I’ve even been interviewed for jobs because one of my references is the famed filmmaker Charles Burnett and the potential employers really wanted an excuse to talk to Charles one-on-one.

But, I don’t have to buy into it.  And I’m not unique in that aspect. 

Hollywood has its problems.  Entertainment has its pitfalls.  But, there are some really great humanistic people in the world of entertainment.  I would not have achieved all that I had without them.

After I became a member of the WGA, I met Helen and Al Levitt.  They were in their elder years, but still on their feet and still fighting for the rights of writers.  In case their names don't ring a bell, they were two of many who stood up against McCarthyism...had to write under fake names to survive, and lost out on many rewards they deserved careers in the bloodbath.  

Helen ran a free writers workshop out of her home for minorities.  I, the late Daryl Nickens and Moesha creators Sara Finney and Vida Spears came out of that workshop.

There are so many other writers with hearts that cannot be dampened.  Craig Wright. Charles Burnett.  Kevin Droney.  Robert Townsend.  Bob Eisele.  Dennis Leoni. Neema Barnett. Coleman Luck. Carleton Eastlake.  The late T.S. Cook, whose film The China Syndrome deserves a second look in light of the fracking controversy.  People who I don't have time to name, people who stay true to similar beliefs and passed them onto me through mentorship, friendships and casual conversation.

Their characters count.  At least it did for me.

So, I choose to follow in their footsteps and maintain my humanistic and professional values, knowing that what I do choose to present of myself in the worlds of journalism and entertainment is more than enough.

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