Welcome to the first part of our three-part interview with industry professional Ben Woodiwiss! Ben is a successful Writer & Director at Look/Think Films, best known for Benny Loves Killing (2012), You Look and You Think (2010) and Kiss Fight Smoke (2010). He has a huge amount of insight into the world of cinema and all things film criticism, so we hope you not only enjoy this introduction his work, but also his professional opinion on the world of film criticism!
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself! What are your hobbies? What made you follow a path into the world of film?
I don’t know if I have any hobbies that aren’t related to film in some way. Over the years I’ve learned that while other people were out there going to events and relaxing I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time writing films or writing about films, and not so much on having fun. I am a little intense in that respect. My path into film has been long and inexorable. It all started back when I was a child, putting on plays and then making short films with my two brothers, and everything’s grown from there.
Has there ever been a single, or multiple points in time where you have doubted yourself or your film? Why is this so? Have you ever considered what critics may or may not think of it?
Hand on heart, no. Never. I’ve read this about other filmmakers too, that they can experience all forms of anxiety about multiple elements of their lives, but not about their films. The film is a world that you’re creating, and you know how you want that world to be, so you invariably feel very confident about what you’re doing because you’ve spent so long inhabiting that world in your mind.
Regarding critics, I do layer my films quite heavily indeed. In fact that’s an understatement. They’re intended to be delved into very deeply, so I often wonder if elements I’ve included will be picked up on, but I don’t think I’ve ever worried whether critics would like something or not while I’m working on a film. Just whether they would spot something. It’s always fun when you bury something deep and someone finds it.
Thinking to our social campaign, do you believe that the current state of the industry truly does favour the critic above the citizen? Why do you think this is so? Is it something that should change? If so, why?
I think we’re looking at a time of flux, moving from one era to another. Previously, the critic was the final word on the film, but I think that’s relaxing its hold a little. It used to be that we knew all the names of the most ‘important’ critics, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Since then technology has inadvertently democratised the playing field quite considerably. However, and this is the big problem, I think we’re persisting with an unspoken agreement that this old-fashioned, outdated model is still true. We’re living in a new, ever-changing world, and we’re clinging on, with our fingertips, to an old model. I don’t think this is unique to film criticism though, I think we do this with many aspects of contemporary life.
Throughout our previous discussions, we have alluded to the idea of the underrated opinion of the casual filmgoer. Do you believe he needs more of a voice, perhaps one that equals the almighty film critic?
Yes I do, and in a way I think that’s already happening. We’re seeing more and more attention being paid to ‘hive mind’ film responses. Sites like imdb and rotten tomatoes are people’s first port of call to find out how good a film is. And these star ratings are accumulated from thousands of different people’s opinions. Not critics, filmgoers. I know I’ll usually go to imdb to see ‘how good’ a film is before watching it. So in that respect the casual filmgoer does have a very strong voice, and it’s one that production companies and distributors are highly aware of, and have absolutely no control over. But it’s the hive, rather than the individual. However, where the individual filmgoer does have weight is in the sound bite. I think this has been steadily growing since the 70s, when marketing companies realized the power of catching quick sound bite interviews with audience members immediately after they’d seen a film. This has continued and grown, and become part and parcel of how certain films are marketed (particularly horror films). And this background of the sound bite has given filmgoers a specific way of talking about a film and a platform for being heard, and this may well be the position to move forward from. Twitter is very much continuing and democratising that conversation now, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview!