Can Filmmakers also be Critics?

If you are part of the online film community and have spent time on the hellscape known as X, aka Twitter, over the weekend, you probably saw or stumbled upon a video of Chris Stuckmann that has gone viral over the past few days. In the video, Stuckmann states that he will not be reviewing Madame Web because he refuses to say negative things about filmmakers, especially ones who have to work within a studio system. The clip is posted below:

As Erick Weber and I discussed on Sunday’s episode of MMT, I have known Chris Stuckmann since he started his YouTube channel and have seen how his career has evolved over the past thirteen years. Stuckmann’s career as a critic began as just a guy who reviewed movies in his bedroom, but over the years, he has matured and shown much growth as a critic. Before I jump into the topic of discussion, I feel it is only fair to dive a bit into this situation, which has caused so much online chatter over the past few days.

Like most of us in the film space, Chris loves movies and watching movies, but early on in his career, he knew very little about film and film history. Thanks to YouTube, Stuckmann was part of this new wave of online criticism, where the average Joe and Jane could become a film critic. Stuckmann wasn’t alone in this space. Jeremy Johns, Grace Randolph, The Schmoes, Tom Chatalbash, and a handful of others launched this movement on YouTube. They quickly became well-known voices, and the average person began listening to them, and their takes more than the traditional film critic.

However, out of all the names that I just mentioned, Stuckmann was often the one who received the most criticism. Early on, many people complained that he lacked basic knowledge of film history. However, I will say that he took those criticisms/comments to heart and went back and watched many movies to give him a better perspective.

Over the past 13 years, Stuckmann went through a lot of personal changes and struggles. Stuckmann, although always very popular, as I previously mentioned, had a lot of critics and enemies. There were a lot of newcomers to the YouTube film-reviewing space who had issues with Stuckmann. People also don’t seem to remember that he was a Jehovah’s Witness and left the religion behind because he felt it negatively impacted him and his passions. Stuckmann also started when he was a single guy, and when he eventually got a girlfriend and later got married, he changed because his wife was also very into movies.

After many years of being a critic, Stuckmann decided to take a risk and venture into a career as a filmmaker. His early work, mainly low-budget short films, were often mocked and bashed online. To his credit, Stuckmann didn’t let those negative comments define his goals as he pursued a filmmaking career. Last year, he made a feature film with some notable names that will probably play at some film festival sometime in the next few months to a year.

This whole scenario has created such a stir online, which, after speaking about it on MMT, inspired me to write about it. The question that Stuckmann’s video ultimately raised is, can a creative, which, for the sake of this article, is an actor, writer, or filmmaker, also be a critic?

While some critics are much harsher than others, if you want to define yourself as a critic, you have to criticize things because it is part of the job description. The conflict of interest comes into play because, as a creative, you are now criticizing someone’s work with whom you may one day work alongside or with whom you want to work with. And while criticism is part of everything in life, from cars to clothing to food to art, people do take criticism to heart. Actors, filmmakers, and writers often remember who championed them and who didn’t, especially when someone is incredibly well-known in a particular space like Stuckmann is.

Over the past several years, more and more celebrities have turned to social media to discuss how bad reviews have negatively impacted them. Most recently, Kumail Nanjiani spoke about how the adverse reactions to the Eternals caused him to seek counseling because of the massive amount of trauma he has experienced from said reviews.

The Kumail Nanjiani situation, which is one of many, prompts a much larger discussion about modern-day criticism and the negative impacts of social media while directly referring to the topic of conversation. If Kumail Nanjiani saw Chris Stuckmann’s negative review of the Eternals (I don’t even know if he reviewed it, but let’s say he did and it was negative), do you think Kumail would work with him as a filmmaker knowing how the negative feedback caused him such trauma?

Let me take this argument one step further; I am a critic and an entertainment journalist and often submit my name to do interviews for movies and TV shows. If I react negatively to a movie or TV show, nine times out of ten, the requested interview will not happen. Why? Because the studio, the talent’s representatives, or, in some cases, the talent themselves see the reaction and stop the interview from happening. This has occurred numerous times over the years, even with talent whose work I tend to support. These interviews are all done to create a positive narrative that will ultimately sell the product. So, again, for this scenario, let’s say I am a massive supporter of Dakota Johnson, but I publicly shared on social media how much I disliked Madame Web. Even though I like Dakota Johnson, that interview doesn’t happen because of the potential narrative that could be created and spun into a negative. “Hey, Scott hated Madame Web, so why is he singing Dakota’s praises and not hammering the movie? Did the studio pay him to be positive?” Unfortunately, this is the world that we live in.

So, with every career path one explores, you have a personal decision to make about what that means. Stuckmann’s path is now to be a filmmaker. In that case, he needs to give up criticism entirely, and if he plans on keeping the channel, convert it into something that focuses solely on personal recommendations like “My five favorite science fiction films” or “Why The Dark Knight is the best Batman film of all time.” By going this route, Stuckmann could continue doing videos while removing himself from the hurdles of being a critic so that he doesn’t upset or offend anyone that he potentially could work with in the future. With this said, he has to fully realize that not being a critic could drastically impact his channel and audience, but again, this is a personal decision that Stuckmann must make. You cannot call yourself a critic and refuse to address the negative elements of things that the job requires of you.

To be abundantly clear, in my humble opinion, being an actor, writer, filmmaker, and professional critic is a massive conflict of interest. As a critic, you need to be able not to be influenced to think or feel a certain way while breaking down different elements and describing what works vs. what doesn’t. Yes, criticism, like art, is subjective, but you should know the subject matter as a professional. One shouldn’t be afraid to say something negative if they dislike something or believe it isn’t good. I know it is a personal issue sometimes because we become supporters or fans of actors, filmmakers, writers, etc. This is a dilemma that I often face after 23 years in the business, but ultimately, not everything is great all of the time. I think Taylor Swift is a great musician, but I don’t think all her songs are great. This doesn’t mean that I dislike Taylor Swift any less because I’m not too fond of some of her songs. Life is all about constructive criticism and having an opinion. Thoughtful criticism can help others improve, even if we don’t always want to hear it.

That said, there is a crucial difference between saying the script is terrible and this is why vs. the script is awful and the writer should kill themselves. I think the problem with criticism overall is that we, as a society, allowed everyone and anyone to become experts on it. Not everyone can be an expert. Yes, we are all entitled to an opinion, but the lines have been blurred. As a critic, I know that sometimes I may say things that will bother people with whom I formed friendships and relationships, but it’s all part of the job. I have formed friendships with many filmmakers, producers, actors, and writers. Still, not every project they have been part of has been good, and it is hard not to feel a certain level of bias after forming these relationships. In Hollywood, many people control what happens behind the scenes, so even if an actor likes you, someone at a studio, their agent, or one of their reps can impact that relationship.

But again, going back to the core question, anyone looking to pursue a career in a particular sector of an industry should do their absolute best not to burn bridges and keep things kosher because you never know when you may work with that person or need their help. Hollywood is very much a town of how can you help me, and MAYBE, one day I will help you. Very few people don’t take things personally in this town, and by being a critic, you become an enemy to many whenever you don’t like something. As someone who wants to be a filmmaker, Stuckmann has to stop and think, should I criticize an actor or a writer when I know that my take will be shared with others, especially in the age of social media? Sometimes, even the most constructive comments can be viewed as unfavorable and, as a result, can destroy potential relationships and, in this case, opportunities.

So, what do you think? Do you think you can actively work as a creative in the industry while publicly criticizing others and their work?

Written by
Born in New Jersey, Scott Menzel has been watching film and television since he was three years old. Growing up, he watched as many movies as he could and was highly influenced by the films of Tim Burton, John Hughes, Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Spielberg. Scott has an Associate's Degree in Marketing, a Bachelor's in Mass Media, Communications, and a Master's in Electronic Media. He has been writing film reviews under the alias of MovieManMenzel since 2003 and started his writing career as a contributing critic at IMDB.com and Joblo.com. In 2009, Scott launched MovieManMenzel.com where he posted several of his film reviews but in 2011 decided to shut down the site when he launched We Live Film.com. In 2015, We Live Film became We Live Entertainment. The domain name change occurred after months of debate but was done so that he and his fellow staff members could write about anything and everything in the world of entertainment.

Your Vote

8 6

Lost Password

Please enter your username or email address. You will receive a link to create a new password via email.