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Critics Watch: Paying for Opinions

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 9, 2009 at 5:22AM

It's not news that film critics are under assault as print publishing struggles to survive. (Here's Sean Means' updated list of 60 "departed" critics since January 2006.) When faced with the harsh reality of future prospects, heavy workload or the low wages of freelance journalism, some are getting out of the profession altogether.
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Thompson on Hollywood

It's not news that film critics are under assault as print publishing struggles to survive. (Here's Sean Means' updated list of 60 "departed" critics since January 2006.) When faced with the harsh reality of future prospects, heavy workload or the low wages of freelance journalism, some are getting out of the profession altogether.

Here in L.A. some critics are participating in OTX market research guru Kevin Goetz's new project (dreamed up by MPRM PR man Mark Pogachefsky) which pays $100 for a critic to attend a screening and provide feedback. I was offered this opportunity (which I was not free to disclose), but felt uncomfortable with being paid by marketers for my opinions. Any movie good enough to be picked up for release would lose me as a potential champion, as I would not be able to write about it. And watching the rest of the films would probably be a waste of my time.

While I want critics to be able to practice their avocation and support themselves, being paid for market research feels like a slippery conflict of interest. Some critics also moonlight on the side writing press kits, but again, when the film comes out, they can't write about it.

For a tragic celebration of the golden era of film criticism as practiced by the likes of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris (pictured), check out critic/filmmaker Gerald Peary's documentary For the Love of Movies: the Story of American Film Criticism, which I screened for my film criticism class at USC last year. The DVD is for sale here and for classroom and university library purchase here.

This article is related to: Stuck In Love, Reviews, Critics


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.