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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

what happens when all film critics are amateurs?

Do you enjoy reading FlickFilosopher.com on a weekly or daily basis? Then I need you to support the site to the tune of only $1 per month (or more if you’re so inclined). Why? Because advertising doesn’t pay, I run this site by myself (no corporate overlord cutting me a paycheck every two weeks), I run it more than full-time, and I need to make a living.

I could ask another question of longtime readers: Do you think my writing has improved over the life of this site? I think it has… dramatically. (Take a look at some of what I posted in my first month here, September 1997, and see what you think.) That’s because I’m writing all the time. Many creative endeavors require an innate talent, but even natural ability must be honed with practice. And more practice. And more practice.
You may have heard about the notion — which Malcolm Gladwell popularized in his book Outliers [Amazon U.S.] [Amazon Canada] [Amazon U.K.] — that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get really really good at something. That’s five years, if you work at your thing 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. It’s a decade if you work “only” 20 hours a week at it.

That’s a long time, and a helluva lot of effort.

Now, think about what’s happening to film criticism. There are a few outlets left where someone can work full-time at thinking about and writing about movies, but not many. Most of what’s available, workwise, is “volunteer” work. Take a look at the Write for RopeofSilicon page:

Before reading on, take note of one important thing, at this moment the site cannot afford to pay anyone so all positions are strictly looked at as volunteer positions. If making money is your expectation then I suggest you don’t read further, right now the site simply cannot accomodate you. However, iIf you’re still interested, there are a few other requirements you will need to meet before applying.

REQUIRED:

Only Serious Candidates Need Apply: I have tried this before and people either email in and then don’t email back, or they submit a couple of stories only to realize it’s not as easy as they thought it would be and then I never hear from them again. Please, only if you really want to take on this position and are willing to commit to at least six months of work send in your information.

I’ve railed plenty often about why writers need to be paid. I’m not gonna do that again. This is about the consequences of writers not being paid, which is the status quo of the moment.

RopeofSilicon recognizes the problem: Most writers who work for free cannot keep it up. Writing is hard work. It may not look like it, and I’m not saying that there aren’t other kinds of hard work, but that’s the truth. It’s hard work to keep up for 10,000 hours, especially when you’re not getting paid for it. Just ask the folks at GordonandtheWhale.com, which is shutting down at the end of this month after only four years online because they can’t keep up with the practicing as well as everything else it takes to pay the bills.

Here’s the real question: Can there ever be another Roger Ebert? Ebert has been a professional film critic since two years before I was born. Is such a thing possible in today’s environment, where critics are expected to work for free? Who could keep up working full-time for free for 44 years?

(By the way, I’m not suggesting that no one who writes film criticism part-time for free is writing anything interesting or worth reading. Of course there are people doing just that. But imagine how much better they’d be five or ten years from now… if only they’re able to keep it up. Keeping it up is easier to do when you don’t also have to do other work.)

Whether you like Ebert or agree with his criticism or not is beside the point. The point is: Would the world be a poorer place without the likes of Ebert?

If you don’t think it matters, then please don’t subscribe.

If you think it’s arrogant of me to imply that I could be the next Ebert, well, maybe it is. I’d like the chance to at least try.

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