Social media allows the audience to give ‘feedback’ to filmmakers – we look at how they should react.
Matt Edwards (@MattEdwardsFilm)
Social media is a wonderful tool for film fans. Whether it’s picking up movie recommendations from Guillermo del Toro, soundtracking your day with Edgar Wright’s music tips or viewing incredibly important pictures of Taika Waititi, sites like Twitter and Instagram have changed our relationship with many of our favourite moviemakers.
For a time, social media was even a place you could go to ask Jerry Bruckheimer every question you’ve ever had about the guinea pigs in G-Force, such as whether the action could be put together by normal stunt coordinators or whether a special guinea pig wrangler was required. Unfortunately he stopped posting on Twitter a while back, but please do send him any questions you have. He never answered them anyway, so it doesn’t really make any difference if he’s there or not.
What were we talking about before you lot started going on about G-Force? Oh yes. Social media and being a tool. Anyone who has ever demolished an Ikea shelving unit after three hours of unsuccessful construction, following a seemingly endless hatetrek through the store and then somehow getting the bastarding thing home, will know that while tools are meant to be helpful, they can easily be used for destruction. Social media is a tool that has given us the ability to respond or talk to people we think are great or interesting. Quite how so many people have ended up using it as a way of furiously howling complaints at film directors is beyond me.
So let’s say we’ve got a smartphone, we’ve got a Twitter account and we’ve got a bone to pick. There they are on Twitter, tweeting away after making that film we hated. We are livid. We decide to let them know what they’ve done wrong. They should have to read what we have to say, shouldn’t they? No, not if they don’t want to. And they almost certainly don’t want to.
When you make things, whether it’s films or articles or food or anything creative, you know the kind of feedback that you find helpful. It will be a type of guidance that’s useful to you as you work, it will likely come from someone whose opinion you trust and usually you’ll have asked them for it. Unsolicited advice from strangers delivered in public is unlikely to be of much use. They don’t know who we are, they don’t know if our advice will actually be helpful, they don’t know why we’ve offered it and they didn’t ask us for it.
Obviously, we can criticise any film we like. Another brilliant thing about the internet is that if we don’t like a film we’re no longer limited to mumbling our complaints into a pint glass. “Guinea pigs can’t even do jumping kicks”, you might have lamented to a sympathetic but confused barman in yesteryear. Now there are so many places we can express ourselves and our opinions, whether it’s a blog, a podcast or on social media. Fantastic, right? But it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between expressing our opinions and pushing them into a creator’s face unprompted. It’s the equivalent to shouting your thoughts through someone’s letterbox, which I’ve had made clear to me is not socially acceptable or even legal.
It might be that the filmmaker wants to read reviews or search Twitter for reactions to their film, and that’s entirely on them. Before writing this I had a look through some tweets that had been sent to Paul Feig and Rian Johnson, the makers of recent Ghostbusters and Star Wars films. Then I had a long hot shower and spent some time with my loved ones, because it was grim and I needed to heal. But along with an outpouring of the kind of hate I’d assumed was reserved for heinous criminals, I found a few of arguments that I thought were worth addressing.
The first was: ‘I bought my ticket and so I have a right to complain’. We absolutely do. But we didn’t buy a dented tin of beans, and the film director’s Twitter feed is not the customer services desk down the Aldi. By all means, if you hate the movie, dip out of the theatre after 20 minutes and see if they’ll refund your money or let you see something else. Email the studio’s customer service team. The ticket lets you see the film, not yell at Rian Johnson every time he tweets about a sandwich he’s eaten. Which is dead weird, by the way, particularly as his film came out over a year ago.
The second was ‘if someone can’t take criticism, they shouldn’t be directing films’. This is an argument that seems to come from people who have been blocked by the subject of their critique.
It’s worth remembering that by the time a film the size of Ghostbusters: Answer The Call has hit the big screen it has been through rounds and rounds of criticism from loads of people. Producers, executives, the cast, trusted friends, Slimer. They’ve got the advice they wanted. It might be that our criticism just wasn’t seen as being valuable to them, no matter how valid we feel it is. We don’t get to decide what we mean to other people. Sometimes it’s that it’s abuse dressed up as criticism. Or perhaps, because it came in the middle of a torrent of other abusive messages, it’s indistinguishable from abuse. Either way, they don’t have to take our abuse. Hell, they don’t even have to answer our questions about those aforementioned guinea pigs.
Then there’s the argument that directors shouldn’t acknowledge positive comments if they don’t want negative ones. I think that’s silly, and suspect it’s made disingenuously. Negative feedback has to be considered, processed and delivered in a way that’s helpful. Positive feedback always makes you feel nice. Essentially it comes down to: it’s up to film directors to decide whose feedback they consider to be valuable. Bellowing at strangers in front of a crowd is impolite. And here’s a hot social media tip: it’s the most fun when you use it to talk about the things you love.