The Big ManYou sell your script, you fight your way through development hell, you lock horns with the studio, you stay on the project, you parry and thrust with the director and get your star and the green light flashes go.
But before you get to Roger Ebert and the red carpet and the box office stats, the odds are good that you’ll be hearing from Ain’t It Cool News. Love him or hate him, Harry Knowles is a factor in our lives. He may not affect things the way the mainstream media believes he does, but he’s out there, his correspondents are out there, those pesky TalkBackers are out there, and they won’t shut up.
Nor should they. I know a lot of filmmakers get annoyed by Harry and AICN. I take a more moderate point of view.
AICN’s meat and potatoes are early script reviews and test screening reviews.
I’m not a big fan of early script reviews. I understand why people are interested in them, and there are worse things in the world than generating curiosity in one’s work. On the other hand, works in progress really are works in progress. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for audience input into the process. I love test screenings. Still, writers need some time to be able to flail around a bit before getting a project on its legs. Sometimes you have to go too far or break some rules to help you eventually find your way. God forbid someone gets their hands on an experimental draft and craps on it.
But that’s not the AICN function I want to talk about today.
A week ago, we test-screened Scary Movie 4 for an audience in Burbank. By all of our estimations, the screening went very well. Our numbers were very good, but for a spoof comedy, it’s less about numbers and more about laughs. The audience laughed. A lot. They laughed all the way through.
It was a good screening.
Somewhat predictably, two reviews ended up on AICN. Now, I happen to be a long-time and fairly frequent reader of AICN, so I know how to translate reviews of a movie like Scary Movie 4. Given that it’s a third sequel, given that its target audience is younger than the average AICN reader, and given that its level of comedic sophistication is fairly low, the possible reviews would probably work out as follows:
“Like getting smashed in the face by Satan’s balls over and over” = bad “A few laughs, but mostly boring and stupid” = average “People around me were laughing a lot, but honestly, did the world need this movie?” = good
One of the reviews seemed average, and one seemed good.
I’m not precious about this stuff. I understand that a movie like Scary Movie 4 isn’t going to light a fire of excitement under anyone with a little bit of cynicism in their bloodstream. People see a movie with the number “4″ on it, and even the optimists must conclude that a gross exercise in commerce is afoot.
Which is true. It’s not like the studio is looking to change the world. They want money.
For me, however, it’s not a gross exercise in commerce. For me, I’m honestly trying to start and keep an audience laughing solidly for 80 carefree minutes, so when the reviewer says the audience was laughing their asses off, that’s enough of a takeaway for me.
But what about the Talkback section?
Ohhhhh, those talkbacks. Should they be listened to? Harbinger of the audiences to come? Ignored? Weird obese virgins nattering at each other about minutia?
Ain’t it or ain’t it not cool?
I like reading the talkbacks because I really do get a sense of where the project is or isn’t connecting. It’s one thing to theorize about what that “4″ means in a public relations sense. It’s another to hear people talk about it in a blunt fashion. I like knowing who people really do think is cool, and I like knowing who people really do think is lame. That’s important. It’s not productive to sit in my room and scowl about how the talkbackers are a bunch of vulgar jerkwads obsessed with oneupsmanship (although some of them are). There are bits of collective truth to be mined from those threads.
Thing is, talkbacks are insular. They’re their own subculture that has turned back and around on itself. It’s not like you’re getting a hundred honest opinions. You’re getting a hundred statements that are partially honest opinion, partially competitive writing, partially intentional deception, partially delusion and partially deconstructive critical anarchism.
That’s why you somehow have to learn to take the talkbacks seriously without taking them seriously, if you dig.
Kevin Smith, who never fails to fascinate, has opted on at least two occasions to literally respond, item by item, to talkbacks. This would seem to define “insanity.” The best he can do is use a bully pulpit to beat up some guy whose name is something like TheRealVinzClortho, but it’s not like Clortho will feel anything but delight at the recognition. The worst he can do is actually appear to lose the exchange with a talkbacker making a valid point. Either way, fighting the talkback is like firing a gun into a black hole. As was the case with Kevin Smith, the talkback simply assimilated his responses and then begain talking back about them.
If the talkbackers find this article, someone will no doubt talk back about it too. I will probably get bludgeoned for it. That’s the tricky part about even mentioning talkbacks. They get pretty recursive.
In that regard, one of the smartest things Harry Knowles did was put that question mark after the title of his site. AICN is an endless question. Ain’t it cool? Sometimes yeah, sometimes no. There’s plenty to learn from all that chaos. Don’t fear it, don’t take it personally, don’t believe every word of it, don’t deny every word of it…and above all, don’t fight it.
It is what it is, and it ain’t what it ain’t.