You may resent me for not giving you ten more rental ideas, but since I realized that FILM FREAK CENTRAL's tenth anniversary obliged me to recap the site's "origin story," anyway, I just decided to dedicate my list to landmarks in our turbulent history. (Like I warned, "self-indulgent.") Th..Th..That's all, folks!-Bill Chambers
10. 10th Anniversary (Present)
9. Press release from New Line (November, 1998)
I've said many times before, only half-jokingly, that I started FILM FREAK CENTRAL to get free LaserDiscs. Well, that never panned out--and the format was on its last legs by 1997, anyway. Cut to the fall of 1998: out of left field, I receive a press release from New Line Home Video; nothing ventured, nothing gained, I e-mail the address at the bottom asking them to send me review copies of both DVD titles they were promoting therein. The following day, a FedEx truck rolled into my driveway, accompanied--in my head, at least--by the Hallelujah chorus hymn. It was FFC's first fix, the first time the industry acknowledged our existence in any way, shape, or form...and I've probably been chasing that high ever since.
8. Sued...Sorta (2001-2003)
They say you haven't made it until somebody wants to sue you. In the interest of self-preservation, I'm truncating the details, but back when FFC was starting to gain some traction on the Internet, a certain web personality I had, contrary to his belief, not heard of before sent me a j'accuse! e-mail vis-à-vis my alleged trademark-infringing use of the term "film freak." I ignored him at first, but he was persistent, and so I sent him a list of about 30 sites with some variation of "film freak" in their brand (if I was ever going to change the site's name, that would be the reason). Well, I guess that pissed him off, because his rent-a-lawyer then couriered me a small forest's worth of paperwork, none of it amounting to anything but evidence that they had toner and they were gonna use it! Suffice it to say, I continued to do nothing, though I took advantage of a free hour of legal counsel from an entertainment attorney, whose advice boiled down to "do nothing." Eventually I got worn down by his passive-aggressive threats of litigation and e-mailed him ("Dear [name withheld], I'm not taking the bait. Bill, xo"), at which point I was notified by an Intellectual Property arbitrator that I had something like a weekend to counter his multi-point entitlement claim. This time I did something, but not much; and the committee unanimously decided in our favour. Justice! I still receive the occasional message from his cronies asking why I can't be a "gentleman" and, y'know, undo a decade of hard work by changing FFC's name to appease an ego obviously bruised by every disappointed visitor who goes to his site thinking they're going to ours. Should the day come, I'm partial to Cinema Jolie-Pitt.
7. Fight with Ebert (August, 2004)
The most e-mail I ever got in one day (not counting the odd spam flood) attended Roger Ebert's review of The Brown Bunny, wherein he rebutted my Ebert-baiting capsule on the same film. Perhaps more of a private milestone than one for the site, it nevertheless sticks out in my mind as a moment of validation from the establishment--when my own friends and family began to look at FILM FREAK CENTRAL as a legitimate pastime; Ebert did nothing less than make it easier for me to run this operation unabated, at least temporarily. You might be interested to know that I've crossed paths with him many times since (we even powwowed but a few weeks later at a screening of Saw), and if there were any hard feelings, I couldn't tell. I missed him greatly at last year's TIFF and wish him nothing but the best as he recovers from his gruelling medical ordeal.
6. "Attack of the Drones" (May, 2002)
If you ask me, Walter's written far better reviews than the one he wrote for Attack of the Clones, but I doubt he'll ever write another review with the half-life it's had. From being the root cause of our first bandwidth fine to begetting our first special edition of "Reader Mail" to, most notoriously, landing us on Lucasfilm's shitlist so that we were explicitly denied screeners of the Star Wars trilogy when it finally hit DVD, it holds a special place in FFC lore. It even, in a roundabout way, led to us interviewing Mark Hamill! For all that, what I like best about it is that it set us apart, at a critical juncture, from the fanboy contingent.
5. The Publication of Our Annuals (2005, 2006)
Now's as good a time as any to formally announce that we will not be publishing a 2007 Annual--the first two simply didn't sell enough copies to make it worth our while. But we're not ruling out the possibility of another book of some sort; it's a genuine, selfish thrill for us to see all those bits and bytes quantified like that. And how many film sites can lay claim to two thick volumes of their work? With forewords and blurbs by some of their favourite directors, to boot? The whole experience was intensely gratifying, and it surely revitalized our writing, that intimate awareness of a destination beyond the ether.
4. Birth of a Blog (August 23, 2005)
Let me take this opportunity to set the record straight: this blog was Walter Chaw's idea. A lot of the stuff he was itching to write was difficult to contextualize within the traditional parameters of FFC. I was game but leery, seeing as how each of us has a backlog that could stop a river and this would just provide one more distraction. But I'm proud of the community that has sprouted up here and I feel, as I wrote in the introduction to "The Film Freak Central 2006 Annual", that it makes great scaffolding for the mothersite. Truthfully, I can't get over how civil the conversation around these parts is on average--the cynic in me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop.
3. E-Mail from Walter Murch (January 16, 2000)
I was DVD-shopping in Toronto when I spotted a childhood favourite, Return to Oz, sitting on the shelf. "Don't buy it," my friend advised, "it doesn't hold up." But for some reason, even if it wasn't as good as I'd remembered, I knew I would regret not buying it more. A few months after I wrote up the disc, I received an e-mail from Return to Oz helmer Walter Murch. He was quite complimentary towards my review, though I suspect he had an ulterior motive to correct a misnomer I perpetrated regarding the film's soundmix. Be that as it may, it took me a day or two to process that the freakin' editor of Apocalypse Now had casually struck first contact with me; I replied, paraphrasing Mario Puzo, that if I'd known he was going to read the review I would've written it better (I'm sure he groaned), then begged him for an interview. I credit the resulting Q&A with forcing me to get serious, truly serious, about FILM FREAK CENTRAL, if only to honour Mr. Murch's generosity and good faith.
2. The Hiring of Walter Chaw (April, 2001)
The name Walter has been good to me. You know how they say that some talk shows are host-driven and some are guest-driven? My utopian fantasy for this site was one that was review-driven rather than critic-driven, and when I first started recruiting writers, I wanted to create a cinephiliac supergroup of budding talent. But there's no denying that one voice has risen above the chorus. I can honestly say that while I created this site, with all due credit to esteemed colleagues Travis Mackenzie Hoover, Alex Jackson, and Ian Pugh, Walter made it. Dude's a rock star. For what it's worth, when he came aboard, a lot of folks informed me that he sounded the death knell for the site--and I usually responded that it's better to hate someone for the right reasons (Letterman?) than to love them for the wrong ones (Leno?). Unfortunately for Walter, he rarely equivocates in a world that petulantly equates anything but utmost equivocation with "meanness." Politesse has somehow become a greater virtue than honesty, conjuring the image of Rome fiddling while Nero burns. It's an honour to provide Walter sanctuary in these cowardly times, to be affiliated in any way with his genius, and to call him a friend. If anything gives me hope for not only the future of not only film criticism, but the battle against anti-intellectualism as well, it's that I detect Walter's influence in a lot of up-and-coming young critics. I'm sure that drives him batshit, though.
1. The Purchase of the Domain Name FilmFreakCentral.Net (November 19, 1998)
Christ, why didn't I pick .COM?!