To mark the launch of Moviefone's new blog, my editor asked me to submit a post about what it's like to write about movies. I told him I would much rather write about my favorite movie, The Empire Strikes Back, but he insisted. Seems I'll have to save that post for the launch of HuffPost Star Wars (and yes, I did just check to see if that site already exists).
Trouble is, explaining what I do is harder than you might expect. I do a lot of writing at a local Irish pub called Genesis on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and occasionally someone will spot me pecking away on a laptop and ask, "Are you a writer?" When I say yes and tell them I write about movies, they assume that I write movie reviews -- but I don't. Not usually, anyway. I sometimes answer every question you could have about a movie, which is kind of like reviewing them, and I interview a lot of movie actors -- stars, even -- but much of what I write is stranger than any of that. The MSN writer James Rocchi's Twitter bio reads, "I write about movies. Which means, really, I get to write about everything." That sounds about right to me.
Obviously, there is a lot to recommend this career. I mean, any job that puts you in a room with Charlize Theron as she shouts the F-word at her publicist (but in a funny, cool way) has to be considered "desirable." But there are trade offs, as you can imagine. No matter how much you like watching movies, it's impossible to like watching every movie. And watching every movie is really, really time-consuming. To write about movies -- to write about everything -- you kind of have to give up your life.
Which, in the end, is fine with me.
The first movie I ever saw in a theater was The Empire Strikes Back. It is still my favorite movie of all time. In 2010, I was given the opportunity to interview Irvin Kershner, the director of The Empire Strikes Back, for vanityfair.com. I got to ask him about Carrie Fischer, Harrison Ford even the Dagobah Freeze Scene! The whole time, I couldn't stop thinking about how lucky I was, getting to talk to the 87-year-old director of the movie that changed my life when I was just five years old.
Six weeks later, Kershner died. That day, Lucasfilm emailed me to say that I had conducted his last interview. I know it was a coincidence, but the timing made me realize something: writing about movies is a privilege, yes, but it's also a responsibility. And I'm really glad that, if someone had to interview Kershner for the last time, it was me and not some schmuck who half-remembered the movie from basic cable. Because I'm willing to concede that others may love The Empire Strikes Back as much as I do, but no one loves that movie more than I do.
The other night, someone Tweeted at me, "Why would you assume that anyone cares about your opinion?" Believe me, I don't assume that. The truth is, I have to write about something -- this is the Internet, after all -- and on slow news days all I have are my opinions!
But here's why I think my opinions about movies are worth sharing: I care. A lot. I want movies to be good. I want them to entertain and enlighten and delight. I want them to live up to the promise I experienced when I was five years old watching Luke Skywalker try to lift his X-wing Fighter out of the swamp with his mind. When movies don't live up to their promise, it makes me sad -- or even mad. And since that feels genuine, and since I know I'm not the only one, I feel entitled to share that with you.
My friend and former editor Stu VanAirsdale bought me a collection of essays written by Lester Bangs. It depresses me to read Lester Bangs because (A) he's no longer with us and (B) I know that I will never be that good. But, boy, there's a guy who didn't hold back. He was absolutely relentless. But reading those essays taught me two lessons: The first, don't be afraid to be brutally honest, if that's how you truly feel -- but, more importantly, don't be afraid to show that same passion toward something that you like. And I like writing about good movies.
And I also like that, even though I was assigned to write a post about "being a movie writer," I still got to write about Star Wars. (Sorry, boss. Please do not bring this up at my review.)
Mike Ryan is the senior writer for Moviefone. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com, GQ.com, New York Magazine and Movieline. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.