One Long Interview

December 16, 2008
A thought by James Berardinelli

It seemed like a good idea at the time… Dan Schneider contacted me and asked me if I would be interested being the subject of an upcoming interview at his website, Cosmoetica, and I said "sure." Little did I know the extent of the questions he would be asking, or the depth to which I would have to go to answer them. Most interviews, even the best of them, tend to scrape along the surface, occasionally touching on substantive issues. This interview is quite different - exhausting to prepare on Dan's part and exhausting to answer on mine. How long did it take? Months.

If you think you know me, or are interested in finding out more, I encourage you to read the entire interview (or at least skimming through it), which can be found AT THIS LINK. As a sample of what you're in for, here's the first question and response:

DS: This DSI is with a writer best known for his presence online, rather than for any book he has written, although he has published some works. That writer is film critic James Berardinelli, whose website is called Reel Views, Berardinelli Sees Film. Excluding myself, and even if I disagree with an opinion on a certain film or director, I think you are the only online reviewer that I am aware of who is worth reading on a consistent basis. Again, even if I disagree with the judgment, I can appreciate that you provide more cogitation as to your opinion than the usual, 'Dude, that movie sucked ass!' sort of review. Your success is something I find interesting, for a number of reasons, which I shall query you on in depth. First, you are a writer, and we'll talk of how you go about writing a typical 1000 word or so essay; i.e.- the craft of writing (even if it is not called 'creative writing). Second, there is cinema, and I want to talk of that art form, which I think is even closer to poetry than prose writing is, as well as its criticism. Then, the third and final aspect of your success, that I want to delve in to, is your website, and how you, unaffiliated with a tv station or major newspaper, have 'branded' yourself and make a living. I ask not out of voyeurism, but because, as Cosmoetica is basically a multipurpose arts site, it's simply not economically worth the pittance I could make from ads to do so, despite its popularity- given that my audience consists mostly of older Bohemians and artsy college aged kids- both groups seen as without a pot to piss in. I've also known political bloggers who have websites that draw greater traffic than your or my sites, and even they complain of not being able to make a real living from it (despite a more affluent audience). Anyway, enough preamble, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Let's not assume that everyone has stopped by at Reel Views, so please, for those readers to whom your site and your name are unfamiliar, could you please give a précis for the uninitiated, on who you are: what you do, what your aims in your career are, major achievements, and your general philosophy, etc.?

JB: I don't have much of a life, primarily because I spend about 40 hours a week on ReelViews and 40 hours a week as an engineering project manager. The latter pays the bills but doesn't do much to satisfy the creative impulse. The former does the opposite. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I tailor my answer to the questioner. Since you're interviewing me as a "film critic," we'll stick to that half of my life. I started reviewing films on small scale in 1992, began posting the reviews to Usenet newsgroups (rec.arts.movies and in 1993. Since then, my on-line presence has expanded at irregular rates. The website was "born" in 1996 and became the primary repository for my reviews. At the time it came into being, I had written 800 reviews. I'm now up to 3700. I have published two books, both of which are edited collections of "positive" reviews from the website with a little bit of original content. While I'm happy enough with them, I wish the publisher had been more open to my suggestion of "beefing up" the original content. Sales would have been better, I think, if 95% of what's in the book wasn't available for free at my website.
  When I first started reviewing in 1992, I rigorously avoided the term "film critic" because it was a label I didn't feel I had earned. I referred to myself as a "film reviewer." It wasn't until the late '90s, after the website was on-line and I had 1000 reviews to my name, that I became comfortable with the "film critic" label. I am a populist critic, which means I write for the masses. That's not to say I am incapable of writing deeper, more literate essays, but the general purpose of a 700-to-1000 word review is to provide an informed opinion about a movie. My goal with a review is threefold: provide my opinion and explain it, present enough information so that someone reading the review will be able to make a determination about whether they might like it (irrespective of whether or not I did), and offer some insight that those who have seen the movie may find interesting. I have some longer pieces on the website for older movies that can run up to 2000 words. Those typically contain more critical analysis than the "regular" reviews....

Hope you stop by Dan's site to read it. When I say it's long, I mean it's really long.