How to Get Your Indie Film Reviewed with Film Critic Ken Murray
Think quick: Who is a filmmaker’s best friend?
Sure, sure … cast, crew, financiers, distributors are all important.
But one of the best friends you have is someone you’ll likely never meet: the person who reviews your film. (Of course, a bad review can make this person your worst enemy — but if you’ve done your job, good reviews will follow.)
If your film is small and lacks noticeable stars, you’ll be hard-pressed to find sites to take the time to review it. One way to tap into this gold mine is to use IMDB to find films similar to yours, check out the “Critic Reviews” and contact those sites/publications via Facebook messaging or following them on Twitter (and then sending a direct message). Connecting on LinkedIn is another work-around.
Or schmooze at festivals and connect with film reviewers, or ask other indie filmmakers where they submitted their films to for review.
Even better … have someone on your crew connect you. All three approaches have worked for me and my film Blessid which lacked a theatrical release and star power, but still managed to garner over 100 reviews on Amazon and over 15 critic reviews on IMDB.
For a low-budget indie filmmaker, reviews are like currency. One of the best sites I stumbled upon was The Nerds Templar created by Ken Murray, who is both a film reviewer and in the film business himself. If you’ve lucky and worthy, a guy like Ken might not only review your film, but also include you in one of his “year in review” posts too.
I reached out to Ken recently. Not for another review. But to pick his brain about what’s inside the head of a film reviewer – what they respond to, and what turns them off. And, importantly, how filmmakers can make a connection.
First things first … when/why did you begin The Nerds Templar, and what is behind the name?
KEN: I’ve been writing/reviewing professionally since 2010, but The Nerds Templar site itself has only been around since April 2016. Yeah, we are still relatively new. I’ve written for other sites and the one I was on at the time was shut down without much warning so I created my own site, The Nerds Templar. I’m fascinated with Knights Templar history and I’m a nerd so I thought it sounded cool. I came up with the name long before I had my own site and I knew I wanted to cover more than just movies so I thought it fit. We cover movies, comics, video games, toys, nerd stuff.
How many movies have you reviewed, and where do you find the time?
KEN: Wow, I’m not even sure myself. For a period of about four years, I averaged just over 100 movies at the theater per year. I’ve cut back, but I still watched over 80 movies theatrically last year. Then there are film festivals, DVDs/Blu-rays, VOD releases. I would say I average over 300 films a year to review and I do try to watch some for my own enjoyment as well. I don’t work a classic 9 to 5 job so film pretty much is my job. Besides writing about movies, I work in the movie industry as well whether it’s doing background work, working on independent projects or even making dumb shorts with friends. If you want stability and that weekly check, don’t do what I do!
Things that drive movie reviewers nuts … go!
KEN: Continuity errors and goofs drive me insane. I understand not every film can afford a script supervisor or someone walking around set taking pictures of wardrobe and set design for continuity purposes, but there’s no reason a $30+ million Hollywood production should have errors in it. I know re-shoots and editing can cause some of them, but come on. I recently watched a movie where Wyatt Russell’s hair changed each shot. Hair in his eyes, cut to woman talking, back to Wyatt, hair tucked over his ear and so on. Although my biggest pet peeve is gun work. I cringe every time a character cocks a shotgun or racks a handgun slide to chamber a bullet when not reloading. It’s for dramatic effect, but in real life you just discharged a round and now you’re one less than before. Bad audio is also a big negative to me, but I watch a lot of low budget or straight-to-video films that don’t always have the budget to fix audio so I try to let that one pass.
Top three movies, and why. Best “moment” or scene captured on film.
KEN: My favorite film of all-time is The Empire Strikes Back (told you I was a nerd). It’s a blockbuster, iconic film yet it’s a total downer. Plus, who doesn’t love Boba Fett? The Brothers McMullen and Good Will Hunting had the most effect on my life though at least professionally. Ed Burns’ story of Irish brothers is probably the most honest film I’ve ever seen. That movie (along with all his others) sounds like myself and people I know. I swear I spoke lines from that film in real life. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are household names now and people are used to movies coming from Boston, but at the time it was released, Good Will Hunting was the first time I saw people from here making a movie about here. It was the first time I thought someone from Massachusetts could actually work in the movie industry. Kevin Smith’s early films and Jon Favreau’s Swingers also had an effect on me.
Indie filmmakers should watch films. What are some favorite films most people have missed?
KEN: I think more people should check out Asian cinema. Did you see The Handmaiden last year? Wow, that’s a beautiful and haunting film. Not only is Asia putting out some of the best action films of the past decade (The Raid flicks, the Ip Man franchise), but they put out some fantastic crime dramas as well. Infernal Affairs is a classic that we Americans saw as The Departed. If you don’t know where to begin, go watch Oldboy, I Saw the Devil, and even newer films like The Wailing or Train to Busan.
Who do you like to watch — favorite actor, actress, and classic film ending?
KEN: My favorite actor is Christian Bale. Sure he played Batman, but the best performance I’ve ever seen is watching him in The Fighter. You 100% believe he is a crackhead in that movie. My favorite actress is probably Charlize Theron. She’s a total chameleon. Her resume is all over the map in terms of genres and roles. Some of my favorite movie endings are, not including The Empire Strikes Back of course, The Usual Suspects, Oldboy, The Mist, Seven, and the multiple endings of Clue. That movie is a cult classic and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise!
Any tips to help indie filmmakers to get their film reviewed?
KEN: The biggest piece of advice for any filmmaker is NETWORK. Network, network, network and when you’re through, get on social media and network even more. Search hashtags. I’m serious. When I tweet a review or article about a movie, I’ll use hashtags like indie, independent film, horror, sci-fi, whatever. Sure, getting reviewed by one of the big sites or magazines is great, but odds are that’s not going to happen. There are tons of people out there who just love movies. Reach out to them. I’ve met some great indie filmmakers through Twitter and social media. I got a writing job through Twitter. Go out and support others as well. Go to a film festival. Go to a premiere of a little movie and meet people. And don’t worry about negative reviews. Not everyone will like your movie or get what you were going for, but who cares?
Which kind of films are the hardest to review? Other than watching a film, what helps you write the review?
KEN: The hardest films to review are average films. I’d rather love or hate a movie than watch an average film. At least when you like or don’t like a film you have reasons for it. You can talk about those reasons, the pros and cons of that movie. An average film gives you nothing to say, nothing stands out good or bad. To me there’s nothing worse than a movie that once you see it, you never have to watch it again.
What things should a filmmaker include in a note when reaching out to a film reviewer? Anything they shouldn’t include like links to other reviews?
Pitching to a reviewer is a lot like pitching to a distributor. Sell me on it. Tell me what festivals you’ve played. I’ve been around for a while, I know most of the festivals and their reputations. Tell me what awards you’ve won or any reviews already out there. Definitely, send a trailer and any names you might have. There are certain actors out there who don’t mind collecting a paycheck and have hundreds of credits on IMDB because of it. To other people it might be a negative, but I watch most things that come my way and I’ve seen plenty of films with Eric Roberts or Danny Trejo in it so that the film has one recognizable name on the poster. Tell me who’s in your movie; you hired them for a reason.
Any personal takes on how filmmakers have handled a bad review … the right way?
KEN: My favorite negative review moment is really funny. I honestly don’t remember the name of the movie, but it was a western which is actually a genre I love. It looked like it was shot at an old west theme park type attraction, but with far worse production value. There was an actress in it who played a teacher and she was far too beautiful for the film. She stood out from the other actors and just didn’t fit the time period. I said so in the review itself (again give me something to talk about!). The director saw the review and emailed me about it. Instead of hating me for not liking his movie, he first thanked me for even giving it time and then agreed with me that the actress was way too hot for that time period and laughed about it himself. I think that’s a way better response than going after someone who didn’t like your movie.
Thanks Ken. I’m giving this interview two thumbs up!
About the Author:
Bob Heske is a multi-award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, graphic novelist and indie comic creator. By day he churns out compliance marketing content for financial services; by night he is maniacal at his keyboard – creating characters and dramatic conflicts far more interesting than he is. Bob is currently working on an experimental documentary called Afraid of Nothing (you can help support it by clicking here). You can watch his first film BLESSID on Amazon Prime and Vimeo on Demand. Blessid is directed by Rob Fitz and stars Rachel Kerb and Rick Montgomery Jr.
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