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Panel Nerds: Lights, Camera, Twitter

Who: Dana Stevens, Will Leitch, moderated by Lindsay Robertson
What:Everyone’s a Critic: Film Criticism in the Age of Twitter
Where: Tribeca Cinemas
When: January 17, 2013
Thumbs: At Our Sides

What’s great about Twitter is not at all what’s great about panels. On Twitter, we can ramble and stumble our way through a thought. A panel, however, when done right, remains focused and tight. But while this panel of film lovers and authorities offered great insights and recommendations, the conversation at times veered a bit too much off course from the core topic of the evening, how Twitter influences film criticism.

Sure, the social networking platform was a central point for the whole hour; yet we hoped for more discussion about how the democratization of opinion writing (notably reviews) has affected film critics and their future. Still, it was interested to hear Dana Stevens’s and Will Leitch’s thoughts on the medium in general, what keeps them there, who is good to follow, and what behavior they prefer to see there. Stevens said that Twitter gives her “writing freedom” when she requires it. It feeds you topics and ideas to consider for offline chats.

Leitch said he’s happy at times to step away from Twitter (to watch movies or awards shows) and to have some time to come to his own conclusions without seeing what the commentariat has to say first. In their writing, large and small, critics must consider the audience. Sometimes they just need a little time to get their words together, Leitch said. For instance, with the topic of spoilers, Stevens said there’s an “epidemic” among moviegoers who wish to enter a theater without any information. It strikes the panelists that if people don’t want to learn a thing about the movies, they shouldn’t read reviews ahead of seeing films.

Reviewers, too, must shy away from knowing too much about a film, Leitch added. He said that his impressions of a movie might very well not sit well with a filmmaker, and he prefers to keep his opinions from being morphed by what he reads about the director’s vision, on Twitter or elsewhere. There can be an advantage to following filmmakers on Twitter, as both of these critics do. However, it is only valuable if the account offers “a glimpse into their brains,” ad Stevens put it. In other words, if they use the medium well or in interesting ways, it’s worthwhile. What’s clear about social media is that with everyone using the platforms differently, it’s up to users to decide how to measure success.

What They Said
“Film criticism as we know it is disappearing fast so you better start adapating.”
– Dana Stevens wonders what her craft will look like down the line

“Because I’ve been online for so long, there’s literally not a name I’ve never been called.”
– Will Leitch has taken his share of criticism

“For me, it’s fair game if it happens in the first 15 or 20 minutes, in the first act of the movie.”
– Dana Stevens outlines her spoilers policy

“I’m basically broadcasting to imaginary fans who happen to be real.”
– Will Leitch describes how it feels to tweet to an audience of 30,000 people

What We Thought

  • Moderator Lindsay Robertson came prepared with a list of questions and seemed to get through them all. Nevertheless, there were times during the conversation when she could have probed the panelists for more, or hit them with a followup question. Most of the time once each of them answered, they moved onto the next thing.
  • We were impressed with how open Stevens is to innovation, particularly regarding what she sees as the natural next step to film criticism, the video essay. If Stevens and others can make this transition from traditional reviews to new forms, we will buy the hype that criticism will live on.

PANEL RULES
Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like…Hogging the Spotlight, Until We Do
For only one of a handful of times from years of covering panels, we asked a question during the Q&A section. It was only because we had the right people to ask about something timely and relevant. We asked Stevens and Leitch why the Twitterverse seemed to react to Jodie Foster’s rambling speech Sunday night with punchlines, yet the following morning the blogosphere had nothing but love to award miss Foster. Stevens said that when we tweet live events these days we make a choice between treating it as serious or silly. It’s what made the presidential debates so much fun, she noted. Leitch pointed out that during the Foster speech, especially as it began, people weren’t sure what it was or how to react. So they made fun of it. Only afterward was it clear what was happening, and that people liked it as a whole. Step back and it appears to be something else.

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