Writing about film, television, music, novels, and comic books is big business these days.
This should come as absolutely no surprise, considering how popular entertainment is in its own right. We’re living in a world where the second adaption of IT, Stephen King’s thirty-year-old horror novel, opened to a massive $13.5 million from Thursday night previews alone. Not only did this allow it to shatter records for R-rated openings and horror openings, but this impressive number firmly put the film on track to become one of the most successful R-rated films of all-time–all before it was technically in wide release.
These types of numbers would have been unthinkable even a decade ago, for such genre-driven fare and entertainment sites across the web are as responsible for building hype as the films and shows themselves.
Sites like Latino Review, io9, The A.V. Club, and others have built an entire industry on the back of entertainment journalism–and a successful one, at that. Information obtained from Quantcast.com indicates that The A.V. Club alone is visited by over 8.9 million people worldwide each month, with 6.2 million of them located in the United States.
All of this is a long way of saying that while entertainment writing is undoubtedly popular, it also has a pretty significant problem… one that needs to be addressed for the sake of both the films and shows we want to read about and the people who claim to love them in the first place.
Putting the “Constructive” Back Into Criticism
Guillermo del Toro has been a filmmaker for many years. Even if you don’t recognize him by name, you are no doubt aware of some of his movies. (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, and Pacific Rim immediately come to mind.)
But even many of his fans don’t realize that before he was changing the cinematic landscape with his unique blend of horror films, he actually did a fair bit of film journalism and criticism while living in Mexico during his early years.
In an interview for his most recent film, The Shape of Water, he talked about this time–and a realization that he came to 20 years ago that underlines the problem with online writing in this field today.
Del Toro said that the only time he felt fulfilled as an entertainment writer was not when he was criticizing art he didn’t like, but instead helping people understand art that he loved.
That’s it–short, sweet, to-the-point, and one of the most important entertainment writing insights that is still relevant today.
Del Toro didn’t want to be a critic in the traditional sense–he wanted to be a champion. He did not see his job as an opportunity to tear something down, but to help prop something up. What’s new with entertainment writing these days is also its biggest problem as a medium: far too many people lean more towards the former than the latter.
All you need to do is take a look at any comic book or pop culture movie-related news announcement to see this play out in real-time. How many “the sky is falling” pieces were written in the immediate aftermath of Lucasfilm firing the directors of the Han Solo spin-off movie and replacing them with Ron Howard with just a few weeks left on the shooting schedule? Or even more recently, when Lucasfilm head Kathleen Kennedy and Star Wars Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow parted ways? Every one of those aforementioned entertainment sites has even gotten in on the “oh no, everything is going wrong” action on multiple occasions in the past week.
This is a phenomenon that has certainly grown over the last few years, as “geek culture” in general has become more and more ingrained in our daily lives. It also isn’t necessarily one-sided, as anyone who has written anything negative about a DC Comics film in the last two years can tell you. In a lot of ways, entertainment writing sort of became the snake eating its own tail. As the content got more and more negative, the fan reactions to that content did the same. This in turn reinforced the content, which reinforced the “fans,” which created a problem that only got worse as time went on.
What’s New with Entertainment Writing? Optimism
With all that in mind, the solution to this problem becomes incredibly clear: entertainment writers need to make a collective effort to simply not be that anymore. It isn’t doing anybody any good–from the men and women working hard to create the content we love to the people who get frustrated and try to shut down sites like Rotten Tomatoes when the journalism community writes something that they don’t like.
Again, it all comes back to Guillermo del Toro. It’s not about tearing down something you hate. It’s about building up something you love. That’s how entertainment writing started and that’s what it needs to return to, pronto.
To put it another way, entertainment content marketing news doesn’t have to be negative to get people to click on it. It just has to be news.
Nobody is saying that marketers need to hire entertainment writers to put an overwhelmingly positive spin on every story. Likewise, nobody is saying that we need to start pretending that all films or television shows are perfect. However, it IS time to start seeing the forest for the trees–or at least to make a passing attempt to do so.
No film is perfect, not even Star Wars. The first Star Wars film has a plot-hole so glaring that Lucasfilm would eventually create an entire film in an attempt to explain it away. But that doesn’t change the fact that Star Wars is terrific.
To that end, one of the most important entertainment writing tips these days is also one of the most simple. Don’t start from a place of “here is what is wrong with everything.” Try to remember why you loved your favorite films, shows, comics or novels in the first place and begin from the mentality of “I love this, and I want you to love it, too.”
The savvy entertainment writers and content marketers out there, the ones who realize all of this today and take steps towards course correction sooner rather than later, are the ones who are still going to be around five or even ten years from now.
About the author
Stephen L earned his Bachelor of Arts in Film and Video Production at the University Of Toledo College Of Performing Arts in Toledo, Ohio. In addition, he also worked for a big box electronic retailer for three years specializing in high definition audio and video equipment as well as computers and software. He has created almost ten thousand pieces of SEO-driven content for various online clients on topics ranging from the entertainment industry, electronics, computer operating systems and general technology.