In 2011, I changed the way I approached online media criticism in an effort to join a pretty big film critics organization. I saw a large amount of new release films in genres I was rarely drawn to just to balance out my enthusiasm for horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Despite my best efforts and a very quick approval through the first round of the application process (believe me, it was more than just logistics and tech requirements to get that far), I received an official rejection from the group a few months ago. I hesitated on requesting the ballots with comments from the voting members who evaluated Sketchy Details. Eventually, I buckled and asked for them. Guess what? The votes were split evenly on whether or not to let me in. The negative voters unanimously said that I focus too much on horror to be a serious member of the organization. The next biggest complaint was that Sketchy Details is not JUST a film site. Quelle suprise.
If you're wondering why film reviews suddenly got sparse over the summer, you have your answer. I love film criticism, but I had to come to terms with changing the way I approached new releases for so long just to be slapped with the usual "horror is bad so you're a bad writier" commentary. I will be reviewing more films in 2014 than I did this year, but it will be on my terms. It will be the films I want to see, not the films I feel obligated to seek out just to please a group that demonstrated how I will never meet their standards.
This is a really good thing. You're going to see more in depth reviews similar to my readings of the Carrie remake, Only God Forgives, and American Mary rather than "how do I stretch "I guess it was okay?" to 400 words?" panic reviews. Joining that group would have turned me into a permanent content farm with no time for reflection. I can't say I'm happy that I'm not a member (you join a group like that, you suddenly get invited to all the press screenings and receive offers for screeners for a whole lot of films each year, which means more free content to cover), but I can say that I'm happy to be able to claim full ownership of what I write again. I knew what the expectations were for this organization and I willingly took on the challenge; I was just miserable every single time I compromised my ideal for their ethos.
Will there be negative reviews still? Of course. I'm not a crybaby who thinks negative reviews have no place on a criticism site. I have strong opinions and I justify them with the text and context of the film. I can just spend more time examining the merits of a given title if I feel the need to. I can also watch a film and just choose not to review it. I saw Thor: The Dark World and could not stretch "okay, not great" to a worthwhile exercise of media criticism. It's no different than fighting to get into a panel at a convention and then being left so uninspired that I delete my notes before moving onto the next event.
So what's coming in 2014? More diverse media coverage. Season 2 of Slipstream, Sketchy Details @Home, and The Haunting Ground in new formats. New strips in The Preston Files. Reality TV and TV recaps. More book reviews (I can spend my free time reading rather than hunting down new releases all over the place). New video game content (yeah, I'm going to start streaming indie games). More convention panels. More editorials. More media projects like my debut short story collection. And the return of a few regular features that had to go away because of the content I had to cover for my membership bid rather than the content I wanted to cover because x, y, or z was a cool feature concept.
I can also look outward for more regular slots like what I do at Man, I Love Films. I already have a new feature lined up at The LAMB. I'm looking for a new gaming site that won't drop me like a sack of potatoes for writing a negative opinion column when asked to write a scathing negative opinion column. And I'm really hoping 2014 is the year I can pick up an extra writer or two to further expand the world of Sketchy Details.
And with that said, I'll be living at the multiplex this weekend to catch up on titles as diverse as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Inside Llewyn Davis. Not because I have to, but because I want to. There are some fine-looking films that I just haven't gotten to because of bad weather and a worse schedule.