Every week, IndieWire asks a select handful of film and TV critics two questions and publishes the results on Monday. (The answer to the second, “What is the best film in theaters right now?”, can be found at the end of this post.)
Last week, in the lead-up to the release of the new Zach Braff film “Going in Style,” a number of film critics were surprised to discover that the director had blocked them on Twitter. Some had exchanged tweets with him in the past, while others had never directly interacted with him before. Braff’s aggressively pro-active social media practices stand in stark contrast with how some other filmmakers choose to comport themselves on social media — from budding directors who are desperate for people to see their work, to the guy who’s directing the new “Star Wars” movie, many of Braff’s contemporaries are as accessible to critics as they are to anyone else, and often even more communicative.
Which leads us to this week’s question: Is it okay for critics and filmmakers to interact on social media, or does that transparent degree of familiarity damage the integrity of our work?
Calum Marsh (@CalumMarsh), National Post
A cautionary tale: several years ago I became friendly on Twitter with the outspoken director of many popular, divisive films. From time to time we would message one another in private — to share gossip, playfully disparage hacks, and occasionally discuss his prolific, often very good work. I had written positively about his movies before and, thankfully, continued to admire what he was doing. It seemed a fine acquaintance.
But then the director made a film that everybody loathed. It premiered at a major festival and was lambasted viciously, and the director confided in me over Twitter that he was eager for me to see the film because he thought I might understand. I hoped I would. Alas, I did not. Now I don’t need to tell you how difficult it can be to tell somebody who very much wants you to like something they’ve made that you didn’t particularly care for it. And I hardly need to mention that after seeing the film at last I began to dread the next DM.
The director didn’t even ask me what I thought, in the end — I suppose my silence said enough. He just sent me a gif:
Kyle Turner (@TyleKurner), Freelance for Brooklyn Magazine, Paste Magazine
It’s hard not to interact with people who are in adjacent field. Twitter, for instance, tends to function as little more than a tool for selling yourself, regardless if you’re doing it for actual money. As Greta Gerwig said in “Mistress America,” “If you don’t know what you’re selling, how will people know to buy it?” So there’s a kind of transactional nature when it comes to the interactions between filmmakers and critics. And it’s up to both to not let those dynamics, however intimate they may or may not become, jeopardize the “integrity” of their work.
Charles Bramesco (@intothecrevasse), Freelance with the Guardian, Vulture, Nylon
Critics and filmmakers should interact on social media, so long as those interactions take the form of directors I admire faving and RTing all of my hilarious missives and providing me with sweet, precious affirmation. (Jodorowsky, why won’t you follow back? I’ll start tweeting en español, if that’s what it takes!) But in all seriousness, this is something I’ve had to start thinking about as I’ve made the personal acquaintance of more actors and filmmakers, sometimes via Twitter and sometimes through mouth-talking in our flesh dimension.
Making the distinction between actual pal-hood and passing online familiarity is key, for one — while a colleague of mine has recused himself from reviewing the films of a certain director with whom he shares a fantasy basketball league, which definitely seems scrupulous to me, I’d say mutual Twitter following doesn’t constitute a conflict of interest. For the most part, I consider the occasional tweet to a notable actor or filmmaker to be no more compromising than saying hello or sharing some smalltalk at a film festival. But then there’s a fuzzy line of excessive chumminess that I’ve seen crossed online, where the odd message grows in frequency to an unsavory sort of fawning and I start to cast a suspicious side-eye at the unflaggingly positive reviews for so-and-so’s movies from such-and-such a critic.
It’s an unsexy answer, but this looks to me like the sort of thing best resolved on a case-by-case basis. So if it’s a hardline, hackle-raising opinion you’re looking for, try this on for size: those studio-sponsored set visits for franchise tentpoles a year away from release should be banned by an act of Congress.
Jordan Hoffman (@JHoffman), Guardian, Vanity Fair
As I get older I realize having set rules for just about anything in life is a big goddamn waste of time. I say: do what you know is right. If a critic is making the scene using their position for the sake of selfies, dinner invites or meaningless RTs, eventually their work will suffer and readers will recognize it. If not, they’ll spend eternity in the reddest, hottest screening room imaginable.
Once in a blue moon I hear from a filmmaker who “thanks me” for championing their film. (It is always a New York filmmaker. The Hollywood types are too intimidated by the might of my intellect, which I can totally understand.) My response is always the same: “I loved your movie, but if the next one stinks, look out!”
I can tell you that after all the copy I’ve filed there has been precisely one (1) filmmaker that I’ve bonded with to the point that we occasionally socialize outside of the context of a film festival or industry event. We like each other because we have an alarming amount of common interests. Those common interests are reflected in his work and in my writing. He has a new movie coming out in June. I’ve seen it and it is great. I don’t feel compromised in praising it, because I know that I would have liked it even if we’d never communicated.
But if you boost a grade or dull the edges of a pan because, hey, that’s the fella that once-in-a-while hits “like” on a tweet, you are a putz.
David Ehrlich (@davidehrlich), IndieWire
Yes. It’s totally fine so long as it doesn’t compromise our work, and we know in our heart of hearts if and when it does (in which case, readers will be smart enough to sniff that out and come to their own conclusions).
Manuela Lazic (@ManiLazic), Freelance for Little White Lies, The Film Stage
Can my answer just be “No one should interact on social media” ?
Richard Brody (@tnyfrontrow), The New Yorker
My friend and colleague David Denby wrote of his disastrous lunch with Nicholas Ray and Pauline Kael: “…Pauline, vexed by his recent critical deification, went through his films one by one — this movie twenty years earlier had a few good shots, another one had been overpraised, a third was terrible, and so on — and Ray, his face cast down into his shrimp and rice, said hardly a word.” I never want to be that critic — and since criticism involves frank judgments, and since social media, if it’s of any use at all, is a place to share them, I’d be fine with knowing that filmmakers whose films I might write about prefer not to read what I might say there; block away.
Acquaintance is inevitable, though, as it is in all areas of journalism; critics are likely to share certain fundamental ideas, as well as a relative ease of conversation, with filmmakers whose work they admire, and journalistic circumstances are likelier to put them together (which critics would prefer to profile or interview someone whose work leaves them cold?). Writers should consult their conscience — and their editors — to set the lines not to be crossed. One thing I’m particularly conscious of is not tagging filmmakers in negative tweets about their work. (Actually, I think I try to remember not to tag in favorable ones, either.)
Also, when I do interact with filmmakers on Twitter or elsewhere, it’s always without direct criticism, regardless of my actual feelings about their films; even a strong, however friendly, disagreement about some theoretical or historical point is less important than maintaining the awareness that the filmmaker is first and I, the critic, am secondary. That’s as important a guideline for criticism overall as it is for social-media ethics. (It’s also why I don’t think of criticism the way that Kael did, as protection of readers, but that’s a much longer story.)
Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic), Nonfics and Film School Rejects
Interaction on social media is just fine, but that’s about as friendly as filmmakers and film critics should get. It can carry over into professional in-person situations like interviews and things like that. But attempts to be actual friends with filmmakers is unacceptable. And it’s always bad form when someone tags a filmmaker or celebrity in a positive tweet they want seen, for the attention, like one promoting their opinion or review, but never would for a negative one. There’s a lot of dishonesty and desperation out there that clouds the integrity of many film critics. If you truly are good acquaintances with a filmmaker, if you know a screenwriter from before he started writing blockbusters or you’ve encountered someone on the festival circuit over the years and maybe supported their career with great enthusiasm, and that filmmaker would still respect you if you give them a negative review down the line (and maybe even keeps saying he can’t wait for you to), that’s something else. But if it gets too friendly and you invite them to your birthday party and your kids play together, then it can get to be a conflict of interest.
As for Zach Braff, I don’t know why he blocked me on Twitter since I don’t think I’ve ever reviewed one of his movies or tried to interact with him, but that’s his prerogative. And I wasn’t following him or trying to read what he has to tweet anyway.