Despite our industry’s accountability for swathing Donald Trump in the vestments of television celebrity, despite the recent commencement of Harvey Weinstein’s necessary and historic criminal court proceedings... the biggest news coming out of Hollywood today has involved a handful of celebrated filmmakers and their very public commentary on the value of comic book movies, the social ethics of their contemporaries, and the overall state of cinematic craft. To be absolutely clear, I believe in the vital necessity of cultural leaders standing up for the needs, rights, and well-being of those we serve. Moreover, publicizing and politicizing the discussion of safety risks such as the behavior of reckless or abusive individuals is of necessary importance when dealing with institutionally protected threats to ourselves, our colleagues, and the integrity of our industry.
By no means am I telling my fellow performers and creators to “shut up and dance for your dinner.”Instead, I’m here to discuss the pain-inducing stupidity of sharing our opinions and observations on the work of our fellow actors and filmmakers. Making these opinions public reduces our role in society from that of a professional storyteller to, at best, that of an amateur media critic. Sadly, this article comes a moment too late to save those luminaries who have been duped by the accessibility of internet media into making such a wasteful and pointless career transition. Obviously, those filmmakers were probably never going to read this article to begin with. Dear reader, I do still have a chance to save you. Once I finish slamming my head into the table, I’ll be ready for a friendly and reasoned discussion on the subject. Fellow mansplainers and white people, this one may sting a bit:
Much as this idea may feel counterintuitive, filmmaking and film scholarship are two completely different disciplines. For the most part, filmmaking is a practice. Building up the habits that keep us successful and honest, we engage the creative process to tackle those challenges that feel most interesting or unique about a project while our subconscious minds and rote practices address most of the problems that threaten our film’s success. Most of the habits that make a filmmaker successful were learned a very long time ago. Even among filmmakers, most of them get taken for granted. On a good day, film critics never even realize they’re there.
What makes film critics successful are their powers of observational insight, their learned discernment as curators, and their craft as writers and orators. Just like filmmakers, the best film critics spend years or decades developing those habits into marketable, useful tools by which to shape our culture. Proper film criticism brings psychology, sociology, the history of film and a critic’s own sense of excellence and fun together through a process of academic rigor. Chasing down some educated assumptions about a given filmmaker’s creative intention, a critic’s job is to observe how completely that intention is manifesting in the lives of the audience for which it is intended. By sharing those observations in a public forum, film critics help storytellers to find their role in society - and at the same time, they help audiences find the stories they need most in their lives.
For the last hundred years, scholars from among the world’s academic elite and from the cultural underground of just about every nation on the planet have dedicated their lives to doing this job as well as possible. Literally everything we could possibly have to say about the flaws of any given film or filmmaker has already been said, more artfully and more objectively, by someone more qualified than us to say it. While it is a practical impossibility for us to offer something useful to the ever-growing body of film criticism that’s out there in our culture, it is definitely within our means to damage the success of other films and other filmmakers.
Putting a focus on the flaws of a particular film, body of work, or creator obviously represents an attempt to dissuade people from paying to see those movies. Generally speaking, getting people out to the movies is a good thing for filmmakers. Building stronger relationships between the film industry and other industries, through the success of our merchandising and other ancillary markets, is good for filmmakers. If someone is commercially successful, celebrating that success is almost always in our self-interest. Just on a financial basis alone, using our words to challenge the success of other productions is almost universally idiotic.
Under the best conditions, making movies is ridiculously hard. Even if we find ourselves finding critique in every aspect of a given film, and even if we find the practices that went into making that movie deplorable, some line producer had to go out there and find the gaff tape that made that fucking thing possible. Someone on that production did an amazing job, because there’s no way the film could exist otherwise. Maybe that person feels proud of their work. As our own careers break free from the clutches of obscurity, maybe that person even knows who we are. Maybe that person looks up to us, or maybe they’re a colleague we didn’t know was working on that production. Where is the benefit in voicing an opinion that publicly, carelessly degrades and disregards that person’s work? Unless we’re voicing our praise of a person or production, which is always something worth sharing with anyone who will listen, the value of getting our opinions out there is inevitably a net loss. All we can promise society by sharing this garbage is the possibility that somewhere out there, someone will stop going to the movies. Maybe we’ll make an utterly noteworthy showperson feel like total shit in the process.
Sit back down, drama. I’m not done with you.
In theater, the space in which we work is very clearly divided into two separate areas. Backstage, behind the proscenium, the performers and crew of a show can interact as colleagues and fellow showpeople… because the audience is not allowed back there. Most of that space is defined by work. Just because we love our banter doesn’t mean anyone wants to piss off the propmaster by playing with the swords. For the sake of the show, our tendency backstage is to be highly respectful of one another’s work and one another’s space. Specifically, because a cast and crew needs space for socializing, roughhousing, or whatever dumb shit they find the urge to do, most theaters have a room with some tables, chairs, a coffeemaker, and a couch soiled by years of on-the-clock drinking and more than a few “showmance” trysts called the Green Room. In the Green Room, you can talk all the shit you want. Because the Green Room is a backstage space, nobody in the audience will ever know the stupid crap you said in there. So long as we all respect one another’s boundaries, and so long as we always respect the need for consent, literally, anything goes in the Green Room.
We all need a space where we can talk through our ideas and concerns about the industry. Sitting down with our colleagues and talking shit is how we figure out what to do with our careers. Once we step across that proscenium, however, we are among the audience. In that space, which we call the “front of house,” we exist to make people feel good about coming to the theater.
Most of the time, the only place in front of house where people stop for chit-chat and conversation is in the lobby. In the lobby, we talk only about those details of a production that cast a favorable light on the people involved. Our goal is to make the audience feel welcome, to educate them and excite them about the magic of theater, and to KEEP PEOPLE COMING BACK. If you have some nasty shit to say about a production, you keep that conversation as far away from the front of house as possible.
In the world of film, our front of house is much more vaguely defined. Making sure our runaway mouths don’t get the better of ourselves and our productions can be a lot harder, when we’re interacting with audience members and colleagues on the internet simultaneously. Want an easy place to start? If you see a camera, or a microphone, or a member of the press, you are not in the Green Room. If your words are being published in any way, YOU ARE NOT IN THE GREEN ROOM.
As a rule of thumb, I consider myself to be “FOH” anytime there’s the slightest chance of an audience member gaining firsthand knowledge of anything I’ve said or done. Here on Stage 32, I am front of house. While this is very much a website built in the spirit of collaboration, some of us take our craft more seriously than others. Some of us are pursuing film as a hobby, which is excellent. Not all of us are colleagues in the most strict and trusted sense. My blogging voice may seem a tad bit harsh for the consumption of hobbyists and general audiences at first glance, but I think the careful reader sees my effort to push “the Boston” just hard enough that it becomes as entertaining for laypeople as it is challenging for die-hard filmmakers who might be genuinely invested in what I have to say. If you ask me what I thought of this or that movie in the comments, I will find something positive to say or I will dodge your question. As much as I believe in every word I write for you people, as much as I want you all to feel like you know me, you’d better believe this blog is edited for public consumption.
Why? Because I’m a professional showperson. Because I’m not an amateur media critic, and I never will be. All my energy here is spent on defeating the practices and the misconceptions that hold our industry back. Do I have negative things to say about specific films getting made, and about the people making them? Of course! My show family is getting a more or less perpetual earful of rants on the subject. Back in January, I was at the New Year’s party with Amanda and RB… and they got the unedited, unfiltered, extended version of this very blog out of my filthy facehole in the back of a loud bar over beer and some very fancy pretzels. Don’t ask me to repeat anything that was said to me in that bar, and don’t run off and ask them to tell you whether this blog is about this or that misbehaving filmmaker. In that space, we were a group of showbusiness colleagues discussing the problems and the future of our industry. Here, we are presenting content. That was a green room conversation, and this is front of house.
Besides, this blog is about all the misbehaving filmmakers. None of us need another critic out there, looking for a reason to take our films apart so they can feel just a little less vulnerable themselves. If you’re beginning to suspect that this blog might be about you, then it’s time to work on your front of house game.
Like my Granny always said, free advice is worth every penny. Nothing about this job is easy. None of us need the opinion of some asshole who thinks they know more about our careers than we do. If and when we do need help in the form of advice, we’re all more than capable of asking for it. Unless someone has specifically asked me to lend a critical eye, I try to offer people the kind of positive, affirming observations that make it easier for them to recommit to their own, personal grind. If all I have is a moment of interaction with which to help someone improve their lives, then helping them find the strength to overcome whatever challenges they might be facing will give them an opportunity to grow.
Keep doing something long enough, and a person becomes great at it. If my words can buy someone another day, or another hour, or another moment of fight, then that’s one more moment in which they can prevail and achieve their potential. Consider that principle when applied to published words and social media. If I’m talking about someone’s show to the press, why would I use that moment for anything other than selling tickets? No valid reason exists to discuss someone’s work in a front of house environment, other than to support them. All of us need that support. All of us need a stronger, more caring, more forgiving film community in which to pursue our dreams and goals. Be the change you want to see. If you should find yourself in front of house, please put your hustle to work on behalf of the people working backstage. Otherwise, please see yourself to the Green Room before you say something about someone else’s work.
So here I am, front of house. Here you are, reading what I have to say. Whatever shall we talk about?
What I love about the script services offered by Stage 32, and what I love about the business model RB has built for this website, is that everything you find here works in precisely the manner in which it is advertised. As a rule, businesses that make their money in support of writers and filmmakers do so by selling “the possibility” of success. “Hey, maybe winning this contest will get you a meeting!” “Bro, posting your logline COULD MAYBE get you some reads! Gotta spend money to make money! That’ll be $60, please!”Here, all those “might be helpful” services are offered for free.
My blog is published on this site, for free, because RB and the other admins of Stage 32 want your career to be supported by Stage 32 whether or not you buy your way through a paywall. When you do buy services from Stage 32, you’re buying a specific and tangible resource that you can use to further your career. On Stage 32, you can pay for an executive’s time. You can pay for script coverage, or notes with which to improve your writing. Sometimes RB and the admins will bring in an expert to give a virtual seminar on something of particular interest to the community, like finding film finance or representation. That’s the stuff you pay for. Taking advantage of aspiring actors and writers is a very easy thing to do. Desperation is everywhere, in this industry. Instead of grabbing that easy money with a cackle and a carefree heart, RB and the Stage 32 team are leveraging their relationships and the status this website has earned to empower new creative voices. Running this site in this particular format takes more work than you or I will ever know, but every other path towards the success of Stage 32 is inherently more exploitative and short-sighted.
If we all agree that this community is something special, that's first and foremost because of the work RB and the admins are putting in every day. Checking out those services and putting a little thought towards whether they can benefit you is all it takes to help keep this community growing. My work on this website is provided to Stage 32 free of charge, and it’s provided because I believe in what RB, Amanda, Jason, and Taylor are doing. Take a look at what they have to offer through Stage 32 Script Services, and through the other paid services of Stage 32. If you think any of those services might help you take your next professional leap forward, these people are legitimately here to help you.
See how that works, people? Selling someone else’s work feels a lot more productive and a lot more valuable - to you and me both - than sharing my opinion on the state of comic books movies… or even my opinions on the people who are sharing their opinions on the state of comic book movies. Anyone who needs to hear an opinion of mine has already heard it, I promise you. Spending your Stage 32 time on the glorification of my ego would take attention away from the significant, extremely relevant fact that RB Botto, Amanda Toney, Jason Mirch, and Taylor Baker actually do give a whopping, honest-to-goodness shit about helping you fulfill your Hollywood dreams. Literally, that’s all this website is for.
Thank you for the New Year’s party, you beautiful and excellent Stage 32 admins. Thank you for valuing the voice I bring to this website. Thank you, dear readers, of the here and now, for showing up and seeing what I have to say. Be sure to check out the rest of the site while you’re here. If you want to know where the concessions or the bathrooms are, I can help you find those as well. Why? BECAUSE WE ARE IN THE FRONT OF HOUSE! Please conduct yourselves accordingly. My poor table can’t take much more of this. Thank you.
Writer, director, and producer Tennyson E. Stead is an emerging leader in New Hollywood with a lifetime of stagework, a successful film development and finance career, and a body of screenwriting encompassing more than 30 projects - recently including the upcoming Emagine Content sci-fi tentpole Atlas Uprising, as well as a scathing film industry satire called Making the GAMP with director and newfound colleague Michael Wohl. In collaboration with producer Lucinda Bruce, Stead is writing and directing a sci-fi heist feature with his company 8 Sided Films entitled Quantum Theory. When Stead is not writing and directing feature films, he’s working in the theater, he’s developing content for gaming and transmedia, or he’s volunteering work and experience to help strengthen the content and community defining indie Hollywood.
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