Scott Weinberg has been a film critic for a number of years and has over 1,900 movie reviews under his belt writing for sites like FEARnet, Movie Insider and DVDTalk. Before he began working as a film critic, he was a film fan. Weinberg worked in video stores and movie theaters through his youth, soaking in all the movies he could over the years.
Weinberg currently works as the lead film critic for FEARnet and admits to having a great love for all cinema, good or bad. On his Rotten Tomatoes profile, he quotes the great film critic Pauline Kael at the start of his biography.
“The movies are so rarely great art, that if we can’t appreciate great trash, there is little reason for us to go. – – Pauline Kael”
You began your career as an online film critic and have since moved up the ladder to become a respected source of film criticism. Talk about how you started out in the business and the road you traveled to reach the level you have achieved.
I started at a great outlet called eFilmCritic.com, which has been a launching pad for several “now-established” online film critics. Working with that team I learned a lot of things about professionalism and (obviously) how to be a better writer. The key when you’re starting out is to have a group of trusted friends who like your insights, but are willing to be brutally honest if something doesn’t read well. I still get notes from some of those guys today, and I’m grateful for every one.
From there I bounced around to many strong outlets: Apollo Movie Guide, JoBlo, DVDTalk, and Rotten Tomatoes, which is where I learned the ins and outs of “daily movie news” reporting. This led me to write for Cinematical, a site I’d admired since it first appeared. I did a lot of “grunt work” for Cinematical, and was also hired as FEARnet’s lead film critic, and then I got promoted to Cinematical’s managing editor. All the while I’ve tried to cover films and festivals with my own (hopefully unique) style, and a clear message that I love what I do. I respect film criticism and I respect online film journalism – a profession many consider simple “blogging.” Trust me, it takes a lot of time and effort to manage a website that aims to produce quality content seven days a week. As many other people can tell you, it takes a lot more than just “I love movies.”
Were there any bumps in the road in your journey to become a respected film critic? What was the point where you realized you had finally “made it?”
I was told from day one that I’ll have “made it” once I become a print critic. With all due respect to the many great print critics, past and present, I think that’s ridiculous. A well-written article has value, regardless of the medium on which it appears. I happened to show up with my wares at the early days of the internet, I worked pretty damn hard, I met deadlines, took criticisms seriously, treated my colleagues with respect, and felt grateful to wake up doing a job I love. I’ve “made it” if people actually consider me a trustworthy, reliable, insightful film advocate. Oh, and amusing. That’s important too.
I also believe the minute you think “you’ve made it,” you’ve also stopped trying. I have lots of things I haven’t done yet!
With Oscar season here, there are a lot of critically acclaimed films being lauded for awards. Does it feel there is a pressure to “toe the line” when writing reviews of these films and do you ever worry about limiting future opportunities by being brutally honest in your reviews? Is there a way to straddle this line in your writing?
Not at all. The key, and I didn’t heed this lesson early in my career, is to write like a human being, even if you’re about to savage a film. As horrid as “Big Momma’s: Like Father, Like Son” may be, there were still some people on that set who worked hard, and who saw it as an opportunity to perhaps move on to better movies. Before you write a review you should be damn confident on what you’re about to write. And don’t get personal. If I hate a film, truly hate it, that’s still just the film.
And no, I never feel external pressure to “toe the line” on Oscar-type films. I think “The Fighter” is a glorified “Rocky” sequel, and sloppily made, too. I can back that opinion up with my own reasons, but they’re still just one man’s thoughts.
Michael Caine once said you have to choose the critics you read carefully. What is your opinion of the qualifications a respected film critic should possess?
A palpable sense of movie love. That can come across as silly, sweet, earnest, angry, whatever the writer prefers. But when I read a film critic, I hope to see knowledge, personality, and a love for films. You can see it if a critic is a little bit “charitable” on a goofy flick, but you can also sense it in the venom of a film critic who is angry about chintzy, lazy, empty filmmaking. And it goes well beyond one film review; a strong film critic should champion what s/he loves until their throat runs dry.
The advent of the Internet has allowed many aspiring film critics, yourself included, with a voice where they had none before. A panel at South by Southwest this year is entitled “How content is eroding credibility.” What are the pros and cons of the Internet breeding a new type of film critic?
The cream rises to the top, and it’s definitely true in my profession. Frankly I know I’m pretty good at what I do, so I’m not threatened by younger upstarts or enthusiastic newcomers. Know why? I was that guy. Over and over. I’ve seen some writers fade out and get sick of the writing grind, and I’ve seen writers who excel online and in print in equal measure. It’s actually festivals like South by Southwest that have allowed the “truly committed” to become respected in this field. When I was starting out, many festivals were seriously skeptical of onliners. SXSW was just the opposite; they paid attention to which of us did real work, and which ones were it in for a free movie badge. That’s all it takes, really. A few people to pay attention, to get your back, and to treat you like a pro.
I’m really proud to be a part of the “first guard” of online critics, but I’m also thrilled to be friends with the “next generation” guys as well. One thing about movie geeks (critics or not) is this: they can tell when someone is faking it, and they don’t like that one bit. One problem regarding credibility is simply this: everyone loves movies, and just about everyone loves to talk about movies. Therefore, they all feel mostly qualified to be a film critic. But writing is not a fun habit, fortunately, and that weeds out the fakers quickly enough.
Do you feel that the new world of film critics has changed into simply a way to begin intelligent conversations about film or is the film critic still someone that people can look at as an expert on the subject matter?
I sincerely believe that I have some insights, opinions, and personal writing habits that might make me a fun guy to read, to argue with, or to go see a film with. Yes, I am an expert on film. It’s not boastful to admit that you’re an expert on something you’ve studied for over 30 years with endless passion, effort and sincerity.
When I was a kid, “film critics” were the inaccessible geniuses who lived inside newspaper offices. I like it this way better.