When Filmmakers Throw Hissy Fits

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This weekend, Gods of Egypt bombed at the box office, earning just $14 million on its opening weekend. Considering the film cost a reported $140 million to make, that was not good news for anyone involved. On Sunday, the film’s director, Alex Proyas, took to Facebook to address his movie’s failure, utilizing an all too familiar approach: he blamed critics. Here’s the full text of his statement:

NOTHING CONFIRMS RAMPANT STUPIDITY FASTER…
Than reading reviews of my own movies. I usually try to avoid the experience – but this one takes the cake. Often, to my great amusement, a critic will mention my past films in glowing terms, when at the time those same films were savaged, as if to highlight the critic’s flawed belief of my descent into mediocrity. You see, my dear fellow FBookers, I have rarely gotten great reviews… on any of my movies, apart from those by reviewers who think for themselves and make up their own opinions. Sadly those type of reviewers are nearly all dead. Good reviews often come many years after the movie has opened. I guess I have the knack of rubbing reviewers the wrong way – always have. This time of course they have bigger axes to grind – they can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming “white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are. They fail to understand, or chose to pretend to not understand what this movie is, so as to serve some bizarre consensus of opinion which has nothing to do with the movie at all. That’s ok, this modern age of texting will probably make them go the way of the dinosaur or the newspaper shortly – don’t movie-goers text their friends with what they thought of a movie? Seems most critics spend their time trying to work out what most people will want to hear. How do you do that? Why these days it is so easy… just surf the net to read other reviews or what bloggers are saying – no matter how misguided an opinion of a movie might be before it actually comes out. Lock a critic in a room with a movie no one has even seen and they will not know what to make of it. Because contrary to what a critic should probably be they have no personal taste or opinion, because they are basing their views on the status quo. None of them are brave enough to say “well I like it” if it goes against consensus. Therefore they are less than worthless. Now that anyone can post their opinion about anything from a movie to a pair of shoes to a hamburger, what value do they have – nothing. Roger Ebert wasn’t bad. He was a true film lover at least, a failed film-maker, which gave him a great deal of insight. His passion for film was contagious and he shared this with his fans. He loved films and his contribution to cinema as a result was positive. Now we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.

There are a number of problems with what Proyas says. First, he’s wrong. Without critics, smaller films like Room and Spotlight would have trouble getting notice amid the tentpoles and franchises Hollywood tends to focus on. Further, he accuses us of going online to see what other critics are saying, then simply following suit. Critics are the first people to see a movie. When we post our reviews — often on or before opening day — there is nothing out there to compare them against. There is no “status quo” at that point. And the assertion that all his movies have gotten bad reviews is absurd. Many critics, myself included, gave positive notices to The CrowDark City, Knowingand I, Robot.

His biggest mistake, though, is in saying that critics are “less than worthless” people who audiences don’t pay attention to, and then turning around and blaming us for the commercial failure of his film. If the public doesn’t listen to critics, then how are bad reviews the culprit? You can’t have it both ways.

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There are plenty of people Alex Proyas could blame for the failure of Gods of Egypt (which, in full disclosure, I have not seen). He could blame the studio marketing department for making it look like another lame Clash of the Titans/300 retread. He could blame audiences in general for giving their money to the third weekend of Deadpool and generally ignoring his film. Or, he could blame himself for making a movie set in Egypt and casting it with white actors, including Scotsman Gerard Butler.

But no, he blames film critics. And he’s not alone. After the failure of Cop Out, Kevin Smith famously barred critics from screening his future films, saying that anyone who didn’t “create art” was not qualified to assess it. After the dismal failure of The Lone Rangerstars Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer bitterly accused critics of “gunning” for the movie. More recently, Kill List director Ben Wheatley echoed Smith’s claims, saying, “Talking about other peoples’ stuff is weird. Why aren’t you making stuff? And if you aren’t, why should you really have a voice to complain about things until you’ve walked mile in someone’s shoes?”

There’s nothing wrong with filmmakers feeling a little stung by bad reviews. There is, however, something wrong with acting like a whiny baby about it. For instance, if Alex Proyas really, truly believes that critics did wrong by his film, why didn’t he defend it? You’ll notice there’s nothing in his Facebook post to counter critics’ claims. It’s just random insults and name-calling. Ditto with Smith and Depp/Hammer.

Filmmakers really need to — pardon the expression — grow some balls if they’re going to publicly respond to critics. Cinema is fundamentally about analysis, exploration, discussion, and debate. Everyone sees a movie in their own unique way. Critics, love them or hate them, work on writing carefully considered reviews, with the intention of discussing movies in an intelligent, articulate manner. Filmmakers should respond the same way, not the opposite.

Imagine how valuable it would be for someone like Alex Proyas to counter the claims of those who panned Gods of Egypt – to explain why he, as the craftsman, believes they’re wrong. That kind of discourse between film critics and director would undoubtedly enrich everyone’s understanding of the work. You would get an in-depth look at the intersection of artistic intent and objective evaluation. There would be more consideration of why certain choices were made, what the intended effect was supposed to be, and why the director used particular methods to tell the story. The point/counterpoint would be fascinating, leading to a fuller appreciation of the movie in question, regardless of any flaws it may have. It might even make initially ambivalent audiences more interested in checking the picture out.

Alex Proyas, Kevin Smith, and others like them have had the opportunity (not to mention the public forum) to defend their works, but instead they resorted to immature You didn’t recognize my genius, so therefore you suck! vitriol. Despite what some would say, critics can totally take a little criticism themselves. Tell us why we’re wrong! Explain to us what we didn’t “get,” or why we looked at the film the wrong way! Have a dialogue with us!

If filmmakers did this going forward, it could open up a whole new — and wonderful — way of engaging with their work. And that would benefit everyone who cherishes the power of cinema.