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the film criticism aspect of cyber | by maryann johanson

frequently asked questions: “Do you make a living from this site?”

Variations on this question include:

• “How do you make a living?”
• “Why do your bosses let you get away with the shit you pull?”
• “How can you afford to live in New York? You must have a rich husband.”
• “Why can’t your staff handle [insert whatever strange request the emailer needs answered]?”

Here’s my deal: I do not have a trust fund, or a rich husband, or a sugar daddy, and I have not won a Powerball or Megaball or any kind of lotto game. I am my own sole support.

I do not have a staff, or bosses, at FlickFilosopher.com. It’s all me. I do it all: design, Web coding, promotion, advertising sales, reader relations, and — oh yeah — occasionally writing reviews and other pop culture commentary.

I am a professional writer and editor, which is all I have ever been in my professional life, which began when I was 19 years old and had just dropped out of New York University’s film school. With the extremely rare exceptions of folks like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King and Tina Brown and Jann Wenner, professional writers and editors do not make very much money at all. Forget everything you’ve seen in the movies and on TV. Publishing is not glamorous, and it’s not lucrative.
I live modestly in the Bronx, a 35-minute subway ride from midtown Manhattan (and that’s after a 15-minute walk to get to the subway, or a 20-minute wait for a bus to transport one to the subway). Kindly forget any depiction of middle-class NYC life you have seen on TV or in the movies. The fabulous 20somethings who live fabulously in Soho or Chelsea or the Upper East Side are doing so thanks to five- or six-figure infusions of cash from Mom and Dad in Greenwich or Chappaqua (ie, the ritzy bedroom communities in the well-off burbs). Everyone else lives outside the fabulous neighborhoods, a goodly commute away, even if one is technically within the confines of the five boroughs.

I don’t own a car. I don’t buy designer clothes — a $100 trip to H&M is a treat, and I haven’t done that in a year or more. I don’t spend $50K a year on shoes, like Carrie Bradshaw. The most expensive thing I own is my widescreen HDTV (now that my laptop computer is more than three years old), which I’ve been paying off at 50 bucks a months at zero-percent interest, and my next big indulgence will probably be upgrading to a MacBook Air, pehaps next year, if I can swing it. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I will enjoy my second trip to Europe this year later this month, when I travel to England after also having traveled to Paris in the spring. But since I haven’t had a real vacation, before these, since 1996, I probably shouldn’t feel too bad. And they’re both working vacations anyway: I can’t even conceive of a vacation where I do nothing but lie on a beach and drink fruity drinks for two weeks.

I’m not complaining. Plenty people are worse off than me. But plenty people are better off, too, including many of those whose names you would recognize as well-known film critics (which I gather from overhearing their conversations, at press screenings and other press events, about their apartments in Manhattan, their weekends in the Hamptons, and so on). I’m not some out-of-touch ivory-tower intellectual. I live in the same workaday world that most people live in. (Accusations and assumptions that I’m not tend to make up the bulk of questions along these lines.)

My movie-reviewing activities make up about half my pretty humble living. That includes advertising and affiliate-program revenue associated with FlickFilosopher.com; reprint fees from the handful of alternative weekly newspapers that run some of my reviews; blogging for Film.com (half of those postings also appear at FlickFilosopher.com, and I post links to the rest); reviewing DVDs for VideoLibrarian.com (all which are also posted at FlickFilosopher.com); and sales of my Princess Bride book. The other half comes in from writing and editing work I do for a variety of freelance clients, including, at the moment, Cosimo, a boutique print-on-demand publisher (I also maintain Cosimo’s blog), and Baen Books and St. Martin’s/Tor Books, both publishers of genre fiction.

In my wildest dreams, I will be able to make a living solely from writing about movies, and from writing screenplays for TV and movies and/or writing fiction. My wildest dreams do not include a rich husband or a lottery win, though of course I wouldn’t say no to either.



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  • wilsonhl

    Well I find this faq really interesting that confirms my idea that I shouldn’t try to write, it really doesn’t seem to pay well; and btw it might be worth developing your thoughts on the whole writing/editing business, in, well, a book?

  • MaryAnn

    I shouldn’t try to write, it really doesn’t seem to pay well;

    True writers write because they can’t not write, not because they hope to get rich at it. If you’re a true writer, you won’t be able to not write, regardless of the potential for income connected to it.

    There are already many books about writing and editing. I don’t think I have much to say in that area that hasn’t already been said.

  • Aderack

    There are a couple of parts to that. There’s not being able to not-write, out of the sheer glee or other reward or psychological need to do so. And then there’s not being able to not-write because often it’s all a writer is able to do! Which can be problematic, as it really can get mentally exhausting. There’s a reason why writers sleep so much!

    I’ve tried to “escape”. I’ve tried to do other things. Yet it seems that writing is the only thing that I do well enough that people are willing to pay me to do it. Not much, but I get by.

    Writing and editing. Editing is better, as it doesn’t take so much out of me and it pays better.

  • JoshB

    What shit have you pulled that people think your bosses should have been upset with you?

    Were the people asking jealous of your professional freedom or offended by something you wrote or what?

  • MaryAnn

    What shit have you pulled that people think your bosses should have been upset with you?

    Oh, you know, things like not being “objective” or not deigning to approve of movies that are popular.

    Were the people asking jealous of your professional freedom or offended by something you wrote or what?

    I’ve never gotten the sense that there’s jealousy involved — it’s more that people are incensed that anyone could have managed to pull off the kind of scam I apparently have managed to pull. Because they think I’m getting rich by writing movie reviews they disagree with.

  • CM

    Well congrats for doing as well as you do; I for one am glad you are as involved in this blog as you are since I really do enjoy your writing and opinions.

    But you forgot to mention one perk of the job: free movies! I think the money I spend on films and DVDs is comparable to Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe collection expenses.

  • headneep

    I’m so glad to know that you earn your living from the fruit of your “pen”, no matter how humble a living. I always wanted to do so myself (as a novelist). I didn’t expect to be rich like Stephen King. Just getting by would do. Instead, I get by as an office drone. My excuse for not fulfilling my dream is that I don’t have enough energy and creative juice left after a hard day at the office (and commute). Works for me :-(
    Kudos to you, Maryann. Keep up the good work.

  • JT

    You should definitely try and write more Totally Geeky Guides and make it into a series when you get the time (Recommendations: BTTF, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, This is Spinal Tap)

    When the Princess Bride book came out, I bought one for myself and one for my friend and we both loved it.

  • Allochthon

    Thank you for this.

    A woman doing what she does, doing it well, and making a living off of it, no sugardaddy/trustfund/lottery in sight.

    And not Carrie Bradshaw (stupid bint).

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