Reviewing movie screeners

During a movie review I hit quite a dilemma. I’d received a screener (a free copy of a movie given to reviewers to watch and review) and I didn’t enjoy it. Now in normal circumstances I wouldn’t have bothered too much, written the review the way I had called it, and continue onwards. Yet there were a few things that made me slightly nervous about that.

Firstly it was an independent movie, secondly it was put together by the people behind the project and not a Studio which meant it was their labour of love, and lastly because I hadn’t given a poor review of a movie I’d been sent a screener for before, so I was quite concerned. Still, I wrote the interview and made it as positive as possible, emailed the Producer to let them know, and did my usual cross posting on my site and also that of IMDB. That evoked an unhappy response.

It wasn’t so much the review that was bad, I mean it was honest and fair, and it did give a fair bit of credit to the style of some of the movie, and there were some good quotes that they could take from the review. In fact, I even suggested that they pull some of the good quotes out for their comments on the site. My email to the Producer was quite apologetic and humble, but at the same time I did say that it was my opinion and that’s what I felt about the movie.

The immediate response from them was alright. They were disappointed that I didn’t give the film a more positive response, but they thanked me for the time to review it and the suggestion to take the more positive quotes out of context and use them. Quite a common practice if ever you see those quotes on an average movie poster or advert. They also said that there were a few people visiting from our site, so it might have the desired effect of selling a few copies anyway. There was even a referral to his latest movie. All in all I thought it was a downbeat but fair email.

I came home from work the following day to find a few emails from them. They’d just seen that I’d posted the review on IMDB under their listing and were none too happy. Now I’m not quoting directly, as it was on a personal email, but the gist was they weren’t happy that I’d put the review on IMDB and would like me to remove it immediately. The reasoning for this was that they were an independent movie and struggling to sell, they also didn’t realise that I would be handing out the review ad hoc. A second email came soon after to repeat the request to remove it saying that there were other review sites that would not post any bad reviews of independent movies just good ones, and this is what they wanted.

I was stunned and quite annoyed. I took some time though and began to try and understand their side of things. Obviously they have invested time and money into the project and want to sell what they’ve made to recoup the investment and hopefully make profit. Poor reviews threaten that, and a poor review can do a great harm to a movie, much more than a single good one can do good.

However, I believe my role is not only to talk about movies and get people discussing them, but also to review movies and inform the public about which are good and which are bad. This is really an effort to let them know which are worth spending their money on, and which aren’t. After all it’s not as though the public can go out and watch every movie in the cinema or on DVD, and neither can I! So I think a prime role of a reviewer is to give their honest, unbiased and fair opinion of a movie in its given context, and deliver that review.

Now however I see a film I review it on my own site and IMDB, after all that is the International Database of Movies and it only works if you vote and review on movies. It just so happens that I saw this movie through my work on the Movie Blog, so I automatically posted it three places, the site I work on, my personal site containing all my reviews, and the IMDB site. Hardly ad hoc, and hardly unexpected.

I have to say that I do not agree with the principle of not posting poor reviews. Sure I understand if you have nothing but negative and degrading comments to give, then don’t give them, however if the review is honest and unbiased but still poor then it should be given. The review is to let other people know what the movie is like, not to give them a biased positive view and increase sales.

For instance I have reviewed DVD’s with one out of five and two out of five, as well as movies scoring two out of five (there are no one’s as yet). There are still positive comments in some of them, and others, well they aren’t spiteful or overly critical, but an honest opinion of what I’ve seen.

Personally I wouldn’t rate the review of a site that will only review movies positively, and if they don’t think a movie is good then they won’t review it. I wouldn’t trust a review from a site like that, how would you know that a movie not on their review list is either bad or just not reviewed, and how would you know if they haven’t received incentives to post nothing but positive reviews. It’s just skewing the data for the public and giving them the wrong information.

If I don’t post a review if it’s negative then I feel I’m not giving other people the opportunity to find out and make a judgement call on not spending their cash on it, so by holding back a review I’m effectively helping the sale of a movie or product I don’t actually believe in.

So I think it’s wrong to not accept poor or negative comments and reviews on your movie, you should be working hard to get good ones. After hearing this I did remove my review from IMDB, I thought there was some mileage in the fact that I hadn’t warned them that I would post on multiple sites, and they were appreciative of the act.

I also decided to email two other people who had sent me screeners for their movies and warn them of what I was going to do and that the review may be poor or it may be good. While they both said that they would never think to tell me what or how to review and that they both respected my honesty and fairness, one said that he would never think to suggest to me how to review his movie, it’s not like he’d created some rubbish movie, he had pride and belief in his work.

So why am I feeling wrong about removing my review? Okay I give up the fact that I did not prewarn anyone, but it’s not come as a surprise to the three movies I’ve already reviewed through screeners or the two I am waiting to view and review. They were quite happy and had confidence in their work. I still feel that in a way I’ve been censored.

I feel it’s really nieve to expect to receive only positive critique on something you have created and are selling to the general public for money. I mean if I were to purchase a copy of that very same DVD would I then be entitled to put up my honest, fair and unbiased review on IMDB? Oh, and those words to describe the review are my Editors, not mine.

Quite frankly I think it is nieve to expect only positive reviews, and what I feel is worse is to engineer that scenario, and make sure that is what you only get. What this makes me feel is that a product is being sold for money, not a movie being given out for enjoyment and critique.

I was, and still am, astounded.

3 comments on “Reviewing movie screeners”

  1. Lee Reply

    It’s fair to desire only good reviews, but to try and quash poor reviews is no good for anyone.

    What if you’d enjoyed it so much to give it 5/5, “buy everyt bit of merchandies you can, and marry the director” type write-up? Would there be the same hoo-haa?

    I’d go with your last two paragraphs. You know your principles have been compromised.

  2. louise Reply

    I am also astounded. It doesn’t matter if it’s a film you made, a book you wrote or painting you created. They all rely on people viewing them or reading them. If you make a film surely you have to be willing to receive both good and bad reviews, that goes for blockbusters and independants. Can you imagine George Lucas not letting anyone give Revenge of the Sith a bad review, thats nuts. That should go for independants as well. If independant films are given great reviews regardless of how bad they are, then it won’t do the independant industry any good surely.

  3. James Russell Reply

    It’s a hard one, I know. I made the point on a message board I frequent earlier today that you lose the right to complain about something you haven’t liked if you’ve been given it for free. In this case, however, you’ve been given it to do a job with, i.e. review it, which is why I never feel bad about giving bad reviews to films I’ve seen for free and haven’t liked. I’m supposed to review them, and I will not review them dishonestly. And I’ve never viewed “labour of love” or “independent production” as reasons to go soft on a film.

    The film producers are entitled, I think, to be disappointed that you were unhappy with their work. They are not entitled to tell you not to publicise the fact or not to publish your review; it is grossly unprofessional of them. And by pulling the review from IMDB, you are indeed being censored–by yourself, not them. Leave it up. You likely won’t earn their friendship, but it’ll be their loss. This sort of behaviour can only bite them in the arse.

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