Welcome to 8 Questions With……
When I first decided to start reviewing films on the blog,I really had no idea on what I was doing. I had no training in film reviewing,I wasn’t a journalist….I simply started writing to write. As I slowly started to post reviews up,I also started meeting both film makers,actors,actresses,producers and fellow film reviewers. This is how I met Brian Skutle. Brian,like myself are film reviewers except for one big difference.
Brian is now a professional film critic,not just a someone who writes “I liked this” or “This sucked”. No,Brian can now watch a film a offer insight on what a screenwriter or a director is trying to say and explain it to a general viewing audience. As someone who has written over 450 reviews,this is no small matter,it takes a skill that I wish I had myself. I really enjoy reading Brian’s reviews on his website Sonic Cinema,not only does Brian cover serious films,he covers music and live theater and he also hosts a podcast where he interviews some excellent guests.
Brian and I have known each other for years online and I have so much respect for him and his voice. He was one of the three writers who had that great discussion with our last guest,Brandon Slagle,about Charles Manson that I mentioned. Looking back and seeing how professionally Brian handled himself,it was clear you could see him evolving from a “reviewer” to a full blown film critic.
I have never told him how much I have learned from him in the way I watch a movie and how I review it and I thank Brian for that.
I really hope you enjoy getting to know Brian as he settles in to answer his 8 Questions…..
Please introduce yourself and tell us what you are working on at the moment.
My name is Brian Skutle. I am a film critic and podcaster who runs his own website called Sonic Cinema at http://www.sonic-cinema.com, where I house my film reviews, podcasts and commentaries, as well as my musical projects from when I’ve composed over the years. At the moment, I am working on keeping up with reviews of new movies and TV shows, as well as thinking about my end-of-year favorites.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic been for you and how have you been dealing with it? How have you been staying creatively sane?
As my primary job has been at a movie theatre since 2001, I have mostly been furloughed since March, save for when we tried to re-open during August and September. In terms of dealing with it, my current influx of screeners, as well as back log of filmmaker-sent requests, has kept me busy, and made it easy for me to socially distance while continuing to do what I love, including covering the virtual Fantasia Fest in August.
How old were you when you discovered that you really liked film? Do you remember the first film you saw in the theaters?
I was about 15-16 when I really began to fall in love with film. My mother, my grandfather, and I would go often, and it was a bonding experience with them that, eventually, became more a creative fascination as I grew to love film soundtracks, which coincided with me being in high school band..
The first film I remember going to was “Return of the Jedi,” but that was because I remember the projection resulting in the movie being stopped and re-started a few times. My mother has told me of taking me to see “E.T.” the year before several times, though I don’t have vivid memories of that.
What is the difference between a film buff and a film critic in your opinion?
I think a film buff is someone who watches movies, is entertained by them, and may watch a lot of them, but doesn’t necessarily have a desire to study them deeper, or may focus on some genres/types more than others. If you are a film critic, I think the interest in the art of cinema, choices the filmmakers and actors make, and what a film is trying to say, is what drives you to dig deeper into the art form, even if many of the films end up just being fine or entertaining.
What exactly is a film critic and why do people depend on them to choose what films they see?
A film critic is someone who examines the art form of cinema, whether it’s the entirety of the art or a specific niche, and wants to dig into aspects of film that the average movie doesn’t necessarily think about while watching a movie. When people are researching a movie, I think a film critic’s opinion is a valuable tool for them to see whether a movie might be worth their time, especially if it’s a movie the potential moviewatcher is on the fence about.
Do you feel most critics are tools of the major studios?
If by “tools” you mean the major studios can use critical opinion to sway audiences to a movie, I believe that can still be true, especially when it comes to awards season. If you are referring to a quid pro quo relationship between studios and critics, while I think there might be some opportunists who will take advantage of that access to gain favor with the studios, the vast majority of critics I have noticed are not afraid of being sometimes brutally honest when discussing films. As I have gotten more access to studio screeners and PR, I still try to fall in the latter category. The idea of studios “paying” or “bribing” critics for positive reviews is a conspiracy not rooted in fact.
How does your process work when you write a film review?
For the most part, I try to write a review in the hour or two after I see the film, although this is easier if I am at home than when I see a film in theatres. Sometimes, I will go back and refresh myself with a scene or two, if need be, but even when I am not able to immediately write my review, I will be thinking about my feelings on a movie of show until I can write them down (I will take notes on occasion).
How important is it to stay neutral when doing a review?
I think getting emotional during a movie, in a positive or negative manner, is a natural part of the watching movies, and reflecting that in your review is important. Being impartial towards a movie based on who is in it, and who made it, is important when it comes to reviewing a movie, especially if you are not a fan of a certain actor or filmmaker, although any biases one might have should, again, be reflected in the review.
Is the theater experience as we know it over? Was it already on the way out because of streaming?
No, I do not think the theatrical experience as we know it is over. I do think the way the studios have released movies is going to have to adapt, and I think we will see smaller theatre chains moving forward, but once a vaccine is widespread, and movies begin to get released on a regular basis, I think people will return to theatres. I think streaming will be more akin to the direct-to-video market for movies, and impact television more than movies, in the long run.
Do you feel the studios played a major part in the theater chains demise by suppressing indie films and denying them screens?
I do worry about the viability of independent films on the big screen, more with the reversal of the long-standing Paramount antitrust ruling when it comes to studios having exclusive rights in theatres to show their movies. While I think studios are not helping the struggling theatrical chains right now by delaying everything, or infusing cash to keep them going, I think the major chains have also not done enough to hasten their downfall by not embracing day-and-date theatrical/VOD releases, and by not adjusting their pricing and experience enough to keep audiences coming to the theatres even when a pandemic was not taking place.
What is the best part about watching indie film for you?
The best part of watching an indie film, as with a major studio film, is the element of surprise. Not necessarily seeing anything radically new, but feeling like an experience has unlocked something in me emotionally, or intellectually. Because of the lack of major studio content this year, indie films have had plenty of opportunities to do this for me this year, and many have. Three of my favorites that have done that include Amy Seimetz’s “She Dies Tomorrow,” Jon Stevenson’s “Rent-A-Pal” and Chris Bailey’s “Curtis,” the latter of which I saw at the Atlanta Film Festival.
What three best directors, actors and actresses have you “discovered” while watching a movie??
If I had to choose, I would say director Princeton Holt, a director/producer I’ve known since 2009, and with whom it is always a pleasure to discuss films with; actor Timothy J. Cox, a theatrical and movie performer whom I know you are familiar with- it is always a pleasure to discuss acting with him; and and actress/director Cindy Maples, whom enjoys working within genre as an actress and director- she was in town once doing editing on a short film, and I had to pleasure to sit in on the process for a bit. I have plenty of others- namely, filmmaker Chris Esper (who has been on the podcast several times, and is also a talented storyteller)- I could list, though.
If you were given a major studio to run for a year, how would you do it?
I would try to diversify the slate of films with less reliance on tentpole releases, and an increased interest on mid-tier projects that combined both tried and true formulas and more original films. I’m thinking of Warner Bros. in the 1990s with films like “A Time to Kill,” “Twister,” “The Fugitive,” “Conspiracy Theory,” “JFK,” and “L.A. Confidential,” to name a few.
Who are the five film reviewers you respect the most and why?
Regretfully, I spend so much time writing my own reviews I often have a hard time getting to other critics’s work. Any discussion of film critics I respect has to begin with the late Roger Ebert, whom was an intelligent and compassionate critic, and always had interesting viewpoints, even if I disagreed with him. Leonard Maltin is next, and his annual movie guide was one of the things that inspired me to write my own opinions on films down, and helped me discover plenty of films. After them, I would say Drew McWeeney, who began on Ain’t It Cool News and has taken a sometimes-difficult journey to being an independently-published critic- he also did the 80s All Over podcast with Scott Weinberg, a horror critic I would also include on here, that was a great time capsule to one of the most formative movie times of our lives. Finally, I would give a shoutout to Brian Salisbury and C. Robert Cargill for their podcast, Junkfood Cinema, which is entertaining and does great and interesting deep dives into genre films. There are plenty of great bloggers and critics I’ve gotten to know through social media beyond them, though.
You did a guest commentary on the film “2050”, how did that come about and how did you like the experience?
I have known Princeton Holt, the director of “2050,” since 2009 after he sent me his debut feature, “Cookies & Cream,” as well as two other films he produced. He was one of the first guests I had on the Sonic Cinema Podcast along with writer-director Brian Ackley when they were promoting Ackley’s feature, “Alienated.” Princeton sent me “2050” to screen in November 2018, and I immediately fell in love with the world, and ideas, it presented, and it landed on not just my 10-Best list for that year, but of the decade. Shortly after an interview to promote “2050” I did with Holt and Ackley, Princeton asked me if I’d be interested in recording a critic’s commentary, something he’d also had for his previous films on their DVD releases. I was honored, and jumped at the opportunity. One of the things that some friends of mine did in the early days of Sonic Cinema was fan commentaries for films, an idea inspired by something Roger Ebert had written when DVD commentaries were the rage. It was a great experience not only rewatching the film a handful of times, seeing more in it each time, but also challenging myself to have the commentary be as informative and entertaining to listen to as possible.
The cheetah and I are coming to meet you at a film festival in your town but we’re a day early and now you have to play tour guide, what are we doing, seeing and eating?
The first thing we are doing is taking the cheetah over to my house and having him meet my four cats. From there, we have Kennesaw Mountain, and a Civil War museum, we could go see, or head down to downtown Atlanta and do some driving around and sight seeing- Centennial Olympic park, the World of Coca-Cola, and the Georgia Aquarium are all in close proximity to one another. Depending on what film festival you are covering, we can go check out the famed Plaza Theatre in Atlanta; maybe set up a tour at Pullman Yard, where several films have been made over the years, or a show at Dad’s Garage theatre, if one is going on. As for food, we could do some pulled pork or wings in the crock pot if you don’t want to go out, or maybe the Hard Rock Cafe downtown, or someplace by the Braves stadium.
Thank you for giving me the chance to participate!
I like to thank Brian for taking the time to do this interview with me. I enjoy his friendship and respect his journalistic skill.
Now if we could figure out why he likes the Cleveland Browns…..I hope you,the reader,enjoyed this interview as much as I liked writing it. You can follow Brians thriving blog “Sonic Cinema” and reading both his past and present work. You might even stumble across a interview with a certain cheetah and his human……
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