So first I'll point you towards Devin Faraci's take on the whole mess, because he's encapsulated the tempest quite well, and I happen to think that several of his opinions are right on the money. (Also because he scares me.) Done? Good. So now that you're all caught up on the fan-friendly filmmaker's tirade, I'll break some of Mr. Smith's complaints down individually, and then I'll turn you over to some of the Cinematical film critics to see what they think of this outrageously geeky confrontation.
My first problem is with this: "You wanna enjoy movies again? Stop reading about them & just go to the movies." Yes, that's right. A man who makes movies for a living wants you to avoid reading about films (including negative reviews, I assume) and "just go to the movies." Sort of like a salesman would say "just buy the car." And I know this sounds like public television, but I've learned almost as much about film by reading as I have by watching. It seems goofy to even tell people this, it seems so obvious.
"It's called COP OUT? That sound ambitious to you?"
Yee-ikes, I don't even know where to begin on this one. First off, Smith sort of insults everyone who worked on the flick with this line of reasoning, plus he falls into the oldest trap in the "see my movie!" book. He invokes the "leave your brain at the door" argument. As if Cop Out should be immune to any criticism whatsoever simply because it was MEANT to be a light, innocuous action comedy. The problem here is that, even on a scale of "light, innocuous action comedies," there's an obvious difference between GOOD and NOT GOOD. Examples? Stakeout: good. Another Stakeout: not good. Beverly Hills Cop: good. Metro: not good. A filmmaker who wants to make a light diversion is fine by me; a filmmaker who wants to excuse shoddy filmmaking by calling it "a light diversion" is mistaken.
"We let a bunch of people see it for free and they shit all over it?"
No, Mr. Smith, they let a bunch of film critics see it for free. And they shit all over it. The fact that you cannot (or will not) see the difference between 500 film critics and 500 random twitterers is rather alarming. If you came across a review that was full of personal attacks, spelling mistakes, and various "unprofessional" components, then why not single the guy out for being an impostor? And if your gripe is with the unflattering overall ratings for Cop Out over at Rotten Tomatoes, then maybe just chalk it up to a bad day at the office and move on. You must get this "for free" mentality out of your brain. Film critics are afforded screenings the same way a director is afforded that nifty little chair: they need them to get their work done.
"I conduct critics screenings thusly: you wanna see it early to review it? Fine: pay like you would if you saw it next week."
Again with the nine freaking dollars. Aside from sounding really greedy, what you're saying here, Mr. Smith, is that film critics cannot be trusted if they don't PAY for the film. Really, sir? Not just a slap in the face to many fine writers, but patently absurd. Plus your logic is entirely backwards: if I hated a film I saw for free, how would I like it more if I'd just dropped ten bucks on it? By your line of reasoning, I'd hate most movies I saw for free (bye bye, film festivals!) and I'd love every flick I paid for ... like when I bought that ticket to the Prom Night remake and wanted to claw my freaking eyes out.
"Why am I giving an arbitrary 500 people power over what I do at all, let alone for free?"
First off, I've seen your verbose films and I know you're an erudite man, so I'm sure you know what "arbitrary" means, and therefore I must assume this is also meant as an insult. Publicists around the country are paid to ensure the opposite of arbitrary: they vet, scan, and follow up on every outlet under their location's umbrella. If you find a reviewer whom you honestly believe is petty or vindictive or unprofessional, then those publicity representatives should be made aware of your concerns. A bad review does not automatically qualify as "unprofessional."
Second, I hereby swear to never again see one of your films at an advance screening. Like the one you hosted here in Philly for Jersey Girl. Since I've never actually written a negative review of any of your films, I don't exactly see how this helps your cause, but there it is.
"I'd rather pick 500 randoms from Twitter feed & let THEM see it for free in advance, then post THEIR opinions, good AND bad. Same difference. Why's their opinion more valid?"
Well, first off, why is it OK to give "500 randoms" a free pass? Are "randoms" less likely than professional film critics to squeal "oooh, a freebie!"? Secondly, feel free to ask 500 "random" twitterers to bang out a professional-style 900-word film review and see what you get. Frankly I'm stunned to hear a professional writer (of movies) fling so much crap on other professional writers (of film reviews), or maybe I shouldn't be at this point. And to answer the last question, that's easy. My opinion as a film critic is NOT more valid than that of a "random" person. But I sure as hell hope it's a little more informed, a little more refined, and a little more entertaining to read. Know why? Because I (like many film critics) studied little besides journalism and film in college, and I've been improving my craft every year since then.
But ultimately what bugs me (and fine, hurts just a bit) is the seeming hypocrisy of Kevin Smith's outburst. He'll be the first to tell you that Harvey Weinstein bought Clerks based on positive audience reaction, not film reviews -- and I absolutely believe that that's the truth. But I see tons of solid indie comedies every year at several film festivals, and some of 'em even get picked up for distribution. Kevin Smith has a career because of his own talent and the foresight of Harvey Weinstein, but if it wasn't for the festival press on Clerks, the internet press on Mallrats, and both on Chasing Amy, I doubt the filmmaker would be successful enough to have the balls to insult so many great writers with one spiteful click of the Twitter.
And let's not forget: A large percentage of the people who trashed Cop Out last week are the exact same critics who poured (well-deserved) praise on Clerks and Chasing Amy several years ago. How all those writers suddenly became morons as of March 2010 I'll never know. And to think, all this for a "job for hire" gig. Not a flick close to Smith's heart or a passion project he's desperately in love with or even a script he wrote himself. Freakin' Cop Out. A flick Kevin Smith would probably trash to his friends if he caught it on cable one night and it bore the name of Walt Becker or Todd Phillips instead of his own on the opening credits.
And that's that. I'm done. (Sorry for ranting and raving.) I'll gladly get in line for Smith's next film, and if he thinks I'll be spiteful and nasty about it, then I guess he missed my point: That's not how professionals are supposed to behave.
And now, over to my colleagues:
Quite frankly, Kevin Smith's outrage is not worth taking seriously, since it recesses almost as quickly as it flares, but I respectfully take issue with a few of the things he said, the first of which being his description of his own film as a "retarded child trying to get a couple chuckles singing 'Afternoon Delight'." It seems disrespectful of the effort he and others put into the movie, no matter what its intent was.
Meanwhile, I'm curious to know – what is his point about critics? Are they relevant because they criticized his film and thereby limited its box office potential? Or are they totally irrelevant because their insights don't mean anything, and as he put it, anyone can be one? Whether or not he insists that Harvey Weinstein bought Clerks because "he heard the laughter in the room," it's undeniable that given the limited distribution and marketing of that film, critics played a considerable part in introducing his voice to the world. In which case, I don't think any of us expect gratitude (certainly I don't), but is his problem that we don't like his movies more, or that we don't like them more even though we got to see them for free?
Oh, and unless his "singing retard" analogy means something different than he suggests, I was one of the folks who evidently saw it for exactly what Smith intended, and actually enjoyed it. -- Todd Gilchrist
"Let's say I'm going to review Cop Out for a website like Cinematical. In order to have the review ready for opening morning, which is what I want, I have to either drive into New York City on a Wednesday night and pay to park (that's about $30), or take the Long Island Railroad (that's about $20). If I drive, of course, there's gas money to factor in, too (that's about $25). Also, between the trip in, trip back and running time, I'm losing roughly five or so hours of my day for one movie. So, yeah, the free critics screenings help for the folks who, like me, don't make a lot of money doing this and kinda need to support their family at the same time.
Or I could see it after it opens and that costs me only $10. But now the publication I oversee has no review for opening day. So I spend triple to do my job correctly. And on top of that, you think I WANT to hate the film? All due respect but it makes no sense." -- Erik Davis
Kevin, this is not a matter of jealousy or fear that a new generation is coming for my job. I am speaking to you, sir, as someone who has enjoyed the bulk of your work. And when I say bulk, I mean I have all the DVDs bunched together on a bookshelf organized by directors and writers alike. Your films rest on the same shelf level as James L. Brooks, Cameron Crowe, Albert Brooks, Steve Martin, Harold Ramis and Ivan Reitman. Others might criticize me for that, but unlike the bulk of us whom you think can't take criticism, I welcome it because it gives me the opportunity to defend with some modicum of intelligence what I think can be great about cinema. I'm sorry that I didn't like Cop Out, but you should be sorry that you decided to paint so many of us with the same brush. -- Erik Childress
Kevin Smith's position, if I understand it correctly from skimming the 5,832,326 tweets he posted on Wednesday, is that movie critics' opinions of his movies shouldn't count because the critics are not paying customers. The people who pay to see the films, those are the ones whose reactions matter. There are two obvious responses to this. One, it's stupid. Whether you saw a movie for free or paid full price doesn't have any bearing on whether it's any good. If anything, I'd think paying for it would make you MORE critical, since you've more invested. And what if you saw it during the day, when tickets are cheaper? Does your opinion only half-count?
The second response is that if Kevin Smith doesn't want to screen his movies for critics before they open, that's fine. If he means to suggest that negative opening-day reviews hurt his box office, he should do an experiment and not pre-screen the next one and see if it does better. (As it happens, "Cop Out" wasn't pre-screened in several large U.S. markets, and guess what? It still didn't make much money.) But if he really wants to avoid bad reviews, what he ought to do is stop making bad movies. At any rate, why should we care what Kevin Smith thinks about movie reviews if he didn't pay to read them? -- Eric D. Snider