14 May 2008

Spectator sport.

I guess I should head off the e-mails seeking my annual report from Cannes: It can be found this year at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Sadly, the crap economy has pretty much wiped out my freelance income since January, to the point where for the first time since 1997 I may have to go out and get myself an actual job. (Which is a bit problematic since I'm not exactly qualified to do anything else, except play poker.) One axe after another:

• Esquire: No longer runs my column every month—it now depends on whether they feel there's a subject that warrants the space. Of the last six issues (including two yet to hit newsstands), I appear in only three. That's a big hit.

• Nerve.com: Dismantled their Film Lounge and cut me back from one review per week to one review per month.

• Las Vegas Weekly: The editor who hired me resigned, and his replacement recently cut my fee in half and basically said Take it or leave it. Plus many of the reviews they assign me now run only 350 words (rather than 700-800) and pay only 1/4 of what I'd been getting.

Again, this has all happened since the beginning of the year. Not to subject you guys to a lot of whiny bitching and moaning (see also: my girlfriend of two years giving me the ol' heave-ho in March), but if you've been following my adventures as a film critic for a long while, as I know many of you have, be advised that that lengthy chapter of my life seems to be on the verge of closing.

In any case, back in March, when I had to make the decision (and when the prospective lineup looked way less appetizing than it's turned out to be, arrgh), Cannes just seemed like a bad idea, money-management-wise. Even at the height of my hotshottedness, nobody ever paid me to go there—the fee for my blog reports at Nerve covered less than half my expenses—and right now I simply can't justify spending well over $2000 to see a bunch of movies, however hotly anticipated, that I can catch four short months from now at Toronto (significantly cheaper) and/or the NYFF (completely free). So I'll be following the action from home along with most of the rest of you.

NOTE: While I was typing this post, I received this e-mail:

Hey Mike,

Are you in Cannes? If so, are you blogging about it somewhere? Your coverage is always the best; I particularly dug last year's experiment.

Thanks man. Yeah, this year I'm doing an even more radical experiment wherein I discover how I react to movies when I don't see them at all.

Thing is, I can't really complain too much. Michael Atkinson, who's had his own employment troubles of late, had a point when he noted last month that film criticism is essentially a part-time job for which a few lucky souls get paid a full-time wage. Even when I had a salaried staff position at Time Out New York, it was rare for me to put in more than maybe 15 hours of bona-fide work in any given week, including the time spent watching the films. To get away with that for more than ten years is pretty damn sweet, even if I have no 401K or anything to show for it.

That's Ed, any and all freelance writing opportunities—as well as any not-so-veiled propositions from smart, funny women into word nerds, so long as I'm fantasizing—will be very cheerfully considered.


Noel said...

Not to get all maudlin, but when I saw the first reviews of BLINDNESS start trickling out this morning, I realized how much I'm going to miss reading your Cannes reports. I almost feel like it's not worth the bother to read everyone else's take on the program without having yours to provide some much-needed perspective.

(On another note, I'm starting to wonder whether this year's TIFF will be a sort of "last hurrah" for a lot of us, or whether all the old crowd will keep coming every year as fans, if not pros.)

Wish I had an editorial position and could throw some work your way. But I'm struggling some myself. One of my major sources of extra income has gone from giving me an assignment a month to a grand total of two all year (thus far), and while I've got a weekly side gig that's helping fill the income gap, my editor has pretty much let me know that we're living week-to-week. Meanwhile, those quarterly tax payments (based on last year's inflated earnings) keep coming around....

ARBOGAST said...

I always enjoyed your reviews in TIME OUT NEW YORK and I'm very saddened to hear of your hardship. You had reached an admirable level of success, at least from a recognition standpoint if not actual dollars, that was an inspiration to many writers trying without any success to do the same thing.

Do you suppose we displaced critics might form some kind of James-Younger style outlaw band?

Jon said...

Well, if it's any consolation, here's another pro writer who'll likely be looking for a Real Job later this annum for the first time in years.

Dismayed to hear it, though - I've been a faithful reader since before you last had a real job, and I was looking forward, as ever, to this year's Cannes reports.

Chris Ereneta said...

My three suggestions, fwiw:

1. Go back and update The Man Who Viewed Too Much with various TONY/Nerve/LasVegasWeekly/Esquire/Twitter reviews (whichever you have permission to repost), so that the google juice gets back to you.

2. Set up a wiki of all your reviews for the same reason.

3. Assemble all reviews (long, short, etc.) in alpha order for assembly into book (see blurb.com, lulu.com).

4. Ok, it's four suggestions. Blog more here.

futurefree said...

I just had this horrible vision of a dystopian future where the only person getting paid to review movies anywhere in the country is Peter Travers.

Pardon me, I have to go curl up in a fetal ball now.

htfernandes said...

Ereneta is right. Taking his advices will not only increase your exposure, but also make your saddend fans a little happier.

Some other suggenstons:

- why not writing fiction (screenplays)? You know a lot about movies, and seems to know a lot about life too.

- why not producing a documentary about film critics and similars who live a "double" life (like watching movies during the day, playing poker at night)? Sounds funny and instructive.

- try to sell your reviews (and your forthcoming book) abroad. None of Brazilian critics write like you. And we have at least two yearly huge film festivals (each presenting more then 350 movies), which could take advantage of your reviews (since the movies presented have usually been previously shown at Cannes, Venice, and other festivals).

Anonymous said...

Non illigitamus carborundum

-- Shawn Levy

Patrick Murtha said...

Mike, you and I butted heads regularly during my time in the web-group Cinemasters (where I posted as Mark Harris, my "real" name, but with the Entertainment Weekly Mark Harris also out there, it gets confusing, hence my blogging nom de plume Patrick Murtha). Nonetheless, I am very saddened to read of this development. No matter my disagreements with you, you are a fine professional writer, and it is quite disheartening to read what has been happening to you and other similarly situated critics. Having been a freelance writer and film critic myself long years ago, I thoroughly understand the economics of it; including the necessity of living in one of the world's most expensive cities (NYC, LA, London, Paris) in order to maintain any pretense of being connected to the main flow of cinematic events. (Not sure how Rosenbaum has gotten away with being Chicago-based all these years, it's a decent movie city but not really in the top tier.)

It's ironic that with the Internet, there are more opportunities to write about movies than ever before, and less chance of making money at it -- especially with the veritable replacement army of potential writers for any given commercial assignment.

I guess I made my peace with this situation some time ago by taking corporate employment (not "secure" -- what is, these days? -- but decently paid) in one of the more affordable reaches of small city America. It has disappointed me that I was not able to make my real interests "pay," but such is life, I guess.

I really do hope you find some decent regular gigs and can keep at it, Mike. I have always continued to read your work with interest.

Nictate said...

A gifted writer is a terrible thing to waste.

I vote for the screenplay, at least on the side. Wasn't there some mention of something called "The Heist" many moons ago?

I'd like to see the name MD'A in a title sequence on the silver screen.

I'll keep my virtual fingers crossed for you.

Oh, and the Brazil idea is not a bad one. I just got back from Sao Paulo and would move there in an instant if I could speak Portuguese. It's New York with more passionate PDA and more affordable epicurean delights.

Matt said...

You have a unique view on films. And you're tougher than most, which is apprciated. I hope you keep on keepin' on.

Kza said...

Well, this sucks. I hope things turn around for you.

More fwiw suggestions/comments:

1. I'd buy a book of your reviews in a heartbeat.

2. Maybe you could be the Daring Fireball of film criticism? Some kind of membership-based blog/website to bring in money? This is going to sound stupid, but that's never stopped me before, so: MD'A is a brand, and a recognizable one to a specific segment of the internet population. Why not try and work it?

3. I'd buy a book of just about anything you wrote in a heartbeat.

Anyway, my best wishes to you.

alex said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

What the KZA said. I'd pay for that shit, yo.

As an avowed MD'A acolyte (since '98, no less), I will miss the Cannes report. I will also offer wishes of good fortune in regards to your tight financial situation. And sorry about the girlfriend thing, too. That's total ass.

I will also vow to not be so goddamn stilted next time I comment.

tb said...

The BIG question is: Will this prevent your Clip Party visits? Now THAT would be sad.

But really -- sorry to hear of your travails. That Real Job prospect can be damn scary -- I'm dealing with it myself, and went back to school to sort it out.

Filmbrain said...

Hmmm...film critics....poker...I've got it! Pitch a show to both the Sundance and IFC channel that features film critics sitting around playing high-stakes poker while discussing things like Mise en scène in the films of Hugh Wilson, or what a crime it is that Jack Elam never won an Oscar.

How can this not be a hit? At the very least it'll be better than that cloying Jon Favreau dinner show.

Glenn Kenny said...

Goddamn, Mike. I think we canned film crits need to form a consortium. Or a junta. I'll be in touch.

Andrew O'Hehir said...

Jesus Christ, Mike, that sucks. I don't think we've ever met, but I've always enjoyed reading your work, even (perhaps especially) when disagreement was involved. Definitely sorry to hear you're not here in Cans.

I suspect the writing is on the wall for everybody who does this for a living. Which sucks if you care about, you know, movies and culture and thinking and stuff. As various people have suggested, as a personal "transition" it might work out. Absolutely write a book, about movies or something else. Write a screenplay, a novel, a nonfiction exploration of something, whatever.

But first take a long trip to someplace you've never been. I'm serious. Go for longer than you think you want to. You'll never regret it, and you'll ALWAYS regret it if you don't. You probably don't have the money, but who cares? Nobody has money. Our government has no money. It's all debt. Might as well experience something before it all goes to shit.

Vill said...

Crap. I've been reading your stuff since 1995 (I believe that's when EW covered your site). As a creepy internet stranger, I can only say: "Finish 'The Ruse'".

Michael said...

Yeah, when are we going to see "Written by Mike D'Angelo" on the screen? All this film criticism has been a sponge for your considerable talents! Go write some stories, make some movies!

Matt Noller said...

Well, fuck. I was crazy excited about maybe getting to meet you there this year.

On that note, I would totally buy a book of your writings, or pay for a website, etc. Good luck with everything.

htfernandes said...

Find yourself a job and start writing in the free hours. A lot of people does (including me, but in portuguese). When you get used to the routine (it takes no longer then 6 months for your brain to start spitting ideas in the correct timing), think seriously to write that screenplay. Keep a low budget movie in mind. Don't make it too experimental, nor dumb down the matter. Something like a Carruth-Nolan-Mamet milkshake sounds tasty. When finished, send it to me. Here is why.

- production is much cheaper down here. Brazilians and specially our hermanos Argentinians have been doing fine jobs with bugets smaller than a couple million dollars. I doubt the Romenian abortion movie cost more than that.

- In a 100-mile-radius around Sampa (São Paulo's nickname), we have almost all kinds of locations (just don't think about polar bears and camels). And if you're gonna write an urban story, read what Nictate wrote about Sampa.

- Brazilian films are made with heavy public subvention. We could use it or, which I prefer, inovate and totaly break the paradigm: I have a some money, and some contacts that might provide more contacts and money. If we are able to make the right people see it as an investment, your screenplay could be the launch of "Sampawood"...

- competition is smaller, there are (much) less nice screenplays and movies here than in NY or the U.S. or Europe - a good project is likely too easier succeed (at least regionaly).

- Our PIB is growing 5% a year, our moviegoing (and also other media) public is fastly and continuously growing, etc.

Fisrt you have to heal your heart, "amend" your life. Some money and some comfort, even if "milked" from 8 or 10 not-so-pleasant hours a day, are important to feed the raising of our dreams. Take your time. But keep my words in mind. I mean what I'm saying. I read your reviews, all of them, since 2000. As I wrote in other post, you know a lot about movies (and in a unusual kind of way), and seems to know a lot about life. There's not much talent around these days, one can't afford to waste it before trying.

Matt said...

Is now a good time to try to sell you on a rewarding and lucrative career as a high school teacher?

Russ said...

Mike, I'm sorry to hear about this. I've been reading your stuff since the mid-90s, starting with your comments on rec.arts.movies.current-films. I even recall reading a partial screenplay of yours called "The Ruse," IIRC. If the film criticism money is drying up, then maybe you could make another go at screenplays. I realize that won't solve the short-term money problem, but it has the potential for decent money should you make a sale.

Good luck...

Carlos Reyes said...

Along with Robert Koehler, you're probably my favorite film critic. I've learned so much from you and frankly visit your site at least twice a day. Keep it up!

Adam Villani said...

Dang. We may have butted heads a few times, but I've always admired your writing.

Any idea what sort of second career you might like to try?

Kza said...

Speaking of Daring Fireball -- I don't know if you read that site, but John Gruber just linked to this:


It's a print-on-demand service, but instead of books, it's magazines. They handle the subscriptions and mailing and all that, and all you have to do is upload a pdf. When I saw, my first thought was "Mike D'Angelo might be able to do something with that". Not sure if you want to get into the magazine game, but even a series of issues that collected your online writings would be awesome, imo. I'd subscribe, that's for sure.

(One thing: you'd probably want to put pictures/film stills in it, and I have no idea how that works with fair use, the MagCloud terms of agreement, etc. etc. etc. But anyway.)