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Critics Watch: Paying for Opinions

by Anne Thompson
December 9, 2009 5:22 AM
6 Comments
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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.

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More: Stuck In Love, Reviews, Critics

6 Comments

  • Terry S. | December 14, 2009 8:34 AMReply

    In my humble opinion critics are a poor judge of many of the releases and are overpaid for absolutely NOTHING.

  • Ann W | December 10, 2009 1:21 AMReply

    Definitely a slippery slope. I still read some of the classic reviews from the likes of Kael, Sarris, and even Graham Greene, who was writing back in the day, because they really deepened my appreciation of film and the people who make them. It seems less and less likely the luxury of time and venue will be offered any more. Thank you for the rec re the doc as I hadn't seen it.

  • mitkid | December 9, 2009 11:26 AMReply

    Critics being paid for market research feels like a conflict of interest because it is a conflict of interest. In my company I'm not allowed to accept a lunch (much less something of real value) from a vendor or business partner which although inconvenient and perhaps excessive eliminates any questions about where to draw the line. That said, it would not be a conflict of interest for me to accept $100 to give my feedback about a movie and I'd be happy to volunteer.

  • Tricia | December 9, 2009 10:34 AMReply

    It's easier to be objective sitting at home than in a packed theater with people talking and kicking your chair after battling rush hour. Or, if it's a comedy, having audience members guffaw anytime a character says something or moves because they're so darn giddy to be seeing a free movie.

  • jl | December 9, 2009 10:24 AMReply

    The only "good" effect this might have is that critics will go to screenings. I know of one unnamed film critic (for a newspaper, possibly now defunct) who used to "review" films only by screener sitting on his couch eating takeout with his girlfriend. Not to be "critical" but it seems like that's just not the best way to offer objective criticism.

  • Chris | December 9, 2009 10:14 AMReply

    In addition to your observations, it seems to me that this process will simply end up creating movies that are tailored to critics' perspectives. Isn't that one of the things people criticize Oscar campaigns for - making movies for critics instead of for audiences?

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