View Full Version : Suggestions on Giving and Receiving Criticism

Rodney V. Smith
10-31-2009, 01:46 PM
JDS posted this a while back and I think it's something that bears repeating as we get ready to view the movies



Your criticism is important. Saying what you don’t like about a movie or pointing out what could have been better is essential in the growth of the filmmaker.

There’s no such thing as overly critical. But there is such a thing as rude.

If your criticism is peppered with “worst film ever” “the dumbest” “the most retarded” “absolutely atrocious” “completely horrible” “what the hell were you thinking dumbass?” Then you are probably coming from a less than constructive place, and not showing the proper respect for a real filmmaker, i.e. anyone that gets up of their Dunder and Miffilin and actually goes out and makes a film – we all know what an achievement that is and it warrants respect, lots of it.

Lots of hyperbole and negative adjectives, particularly absolutes like worst, and dumbest ever, are probably neither accurate nor necessary.

So you thought it sucked. Why? Saying you thought it sucked in no way helps the filmmaker or promotes an interesting discussion. If you just say it sucked how will they know what to fix next time? Try and offer information as to where, what and why: what specific elements at what moments, and why did they not work.

There was nothing good about this movie. Really? Nothing? AT ALL? You can’t find one single thing the filmmaker did well or competently? Nothing. Wow you’re a very tough date.

If you have some hard knocks for the filmmaker why not mention at least ONE thing that was good. Not asking you to lie. But surely there is something if not subjectively (to your taste) then objectively that was good. Like great sound. Technical excellence. A nice dolly shot. That one incredible actor. The way one scene was blocked. … this isn’t about bullshi*. It’s about the fact that almost every film does something right and the filmmaker needs to hear that also.

So you loved it. Great. If you all you have time for is “I loved it” then say that. Ideally it’s good to be specific with your praise just like your criticism. Telling them why you loved it will help them be a better filmmaker. BUT … don’t you dare not post because you don’t have time to write a bunch of stuff. While we encourage specificity and detail which will help the filmmaker make a better next film, still stop by and say you loved it if you did. That will help them to actually attempt the next film at all.

But again ideally try to be specific with your praise: what worked and why.

Please. Do not get into convincing someone that they are wrong and you are right. If you have left your criticism and they are not responsive to it, move on. It's their thread and they don't have to agree with you. If you adhere to only one of these suggestions please make it this one. Don't go over and over things if it seems unwelcomed or if the filmmaker is unresponsive. State your criticism and move on. Be attentive to how receptive or not the filmmaker is to in depth discussion. If they are into it and it's a good discussion, great, if not, move on.

Try to be specific and helpful. Give a positive note when you can. Pretend you are in a room full of people with the filmmaker sitting on a stage. If you wouldn’t say it in that context don’t say it here.

__________________________________________________ ___


Easy right? You just sit back and agree with the people who think you are a genius and tell the other folks they’re too dumb to understand your vision. Not quite. Take it from me ...

I’ve had fests that were the best experiences of my life and some much less so. The biggest factor was how I handled criticism and interacted with the posters.

You will have a better time, learn more, and look like a really cool balanced dude (or chick) even if you’re not, if you can follow some of this battle earned advice.

As a much wiser Mod once told me (*cough* *cough* Isaac Brody) you don’t have to respond to every post. Some more combative posts may be better left ignored. For the posts which require a response and the ones you just feel a need to respond to … read on …

In the book “The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide” (link) the advice given to filmmakers at a festival talk back is to basically be funny and answer questions. DO NOT … do not get into defending your movie. If you defend your movie, you will only look … well … defensive … makes sense right? This doesn’t mean you hold your movie out at the end of your arm like a stinky diaper. You can stand by the choices you made. You can love your movie. You can think it’s perfect without ever defending it.

If you get a commenter that makes a general criticism about how stupid your ideas are, thank them for their feedback and move on. In fact the harsher and more inappropriate the criticism the more polite you should be.

AUDIENCE: “I’ve seen all of your movies and they all suck. You couldn’t write your way out of a paper bag. I wish I had the 1 minute of my life back I spent watching your movie. I had to stop it then before I barfed on my computer. Pathetic.”

FILMMAKER: “Wow. Thanks for taking the time to at least try to watch my film, lol, and for sharing your passionate comments. Sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea.”

So I said DO NOT defend. What I mean by this is don’t try to convince the poster that they are wrong. Even if their criticism is based on something you felt was out of your control or was the best you could do under the circumstances.

When the audience watches the film they don’t know and don’t care that the only take where the actor really cried was the one where an extra tripped and fell down in the background, so you had to decide if it was too distracting to see the mailman fall in the background or see the real emotion of the woman reading the letter he just delivered. They also don’t know that you only had one hour to shoot the scene and your monitor with enough resolution to see if she was crying or not broke that morning.

Sharing these behind the scenes limitations and compromises can be fine. But be careful. They can merge over into trying to convince someone that their experience isn’t valid because they don’t know what your choices were or what you had to go through to get the shot you had to use.

If this kind of discussion will be helpful then share it. But acknowledge the criticism as valid first especially if you agree with it. “I can see how you could say that. Unfortunately the only takes we had …” (don’t necessarily agree) or “D’oh. Yeah I hate that too. Unfortunately the only choices we had were …” (agree and it’s been bugging you too).

If you get the sense that the criticism is coming from someone that’s just trying to take the wind out of your sails, then ignore them or thank them and move on.

If someone won't let up about something to the point it's annoying, i.e., posting over and over and or giving you unasked for lessons, try to ignore it. If you can't do that contact a Mod. Try not to take the bait.

Remember their experience is valid. You don’t have to respond to every post. Avoid an argument over why they are wrong or don’t understand. Explain or make excuses only if it seems like the discussion will be of benefit. The nastier or more personal they are, the more polite and grateful for their feedback you are.

Mood Niatrec
10-31-2009, 01:49 PM
Thanks for the link, should be really helpful

Rodney V. Smith
10-31-2009, 01:58 PM
Hopefully we can follow these guidelines and be civil to each other. Things have gotten a little heated in some discussions especially with some of the new members. This will serve as a reminder for all of us.

Personally I try to not write from an emotional state. If something upsets me about a film, I'll wait before I do a review and be as objective as possible.

Shaun Patrick
10-31-2009, 02:06 PM
Good call on digging this up, Rodney. Some great stuff from Jack.

The "Attempting to Invalidate Their Experience vs. Having a Discussion" section is so spot on and a great read for both beginner and experienced filmmakers.

Jack Daniel Stanley
11-01-2009, 03:45 PM
Thanks for reposing Rodney.

All stuff I learned by doing it the wrong way :shocked: