It was a black tie event. Cocktails and formal wear with possibly a charity involved. I recall standing amongst some writing peers, one of whom was a word jockey whose name had been attached to a string of blockbusters. We’d only just been introduced when he grinned and offered a compliment.

“Hey, congratulations,” he said. “I saw your movie.”

“I’m sorry,” I hastily apologized, certain he was speaking of Money Train, which had been in theaters barely a week.

The A-Lister’s smile turned slack as if he’d accidentally stepped in a pile of excrement.

“Well, I enjoyed it,” he tried to save. “Thought it was a good time. I hope it makes a lot of money for you.”

I thanked him for the kind wish and carried on with the evening. A bit later, while waiting for a refill at the bar, I met up with a friend who’d overheard my brief exchange with the blockbuster writer.

“That was real dick thing to say,” he offered. “The guy was trying to pay you a compliment.”

“You mean the part where I apologized?” I rhetorically replied, the aftertaste of my own lousy movie still spoiling on my tongue.

“Did you stop to think he may have actually liked it?” my friend asked.

In a word? No. I hadn’t stopped to think about anything other than my own disappointment in the picture. In fact, my response required no thinking whatsoever. It was my movie. I’d birthed it. A parade of well-meaning others had lobotomized it. It was mine to loathe. End of argument. I win.

But…

Am I the best and ultimate authority to judge my own work? Maybe. Maybe not. As it applies to my own sense of accomplishment, I can and should accept the mantle. Who better to criticize myself besides the hit-making trio of me, myself, and I? I set my own standards. Whether I live up to them or fall short is for me to resolve. Yet does that diminish the opinion of another who views the work differently? And should my own sour grapes be allowed to infect the enjoyment of their own movie meal?

Part of surviving the inevitable ups and downs of a career producing entertainment—be it movies, books, TV, or even a blog such as this—I have to accept that no matter how much I think a story is worthy of public consumption, there will be those who think the work simply sucks. I accept this fact in the same way I accept other irrefutable certainties of nature such as Newton’s Laws on Gravitation, E=mc2, and that we will suffer yet again another remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

If the former assumption is correct, so then the opposite must be true: however much I dislike one of my own works, others will find something favorable in it. Hell, they may even like or love it. Does that make them stupid or blessed with underwhelming taste? Not even close. My taste is not necessarily your taste nor is your taste anyone else’s threshold for good or bad.

How often have you seen a movie or TV show or read a book that you flat out loved? Then in an effort to learn even more about your awesome discovery, you Google the title and find it has a sub-fifty percent score on Metacritic or that there are internet bulletin boards dedicated to pummeling it and its author(s) into celluloid dust. Should that change your opinion of the work? No. Does it distract or diminish any of the enjoyment you’d already ingested? Absolutely not. You liked it because you liked it. And there should be no excuses despite what others might think.

My daughter recently discovered a movie that I’d never heard of. It was an indie title that she’d DVR’d then made an appointment for me to view it with her. After we’d unspooled the flick, she asked me what I thought.

“I enjoyed it,” I told her flatly. “It was really interesting. Thanks for asking me to watch it with you.”

Now, if it sounds like I was being overly polite, I wasn’t. I just really appreciate that my teenager wants to share anything at all with me and I want to strongly encourage her to continue said efforts as long as she’s willing.

“Yes,” she responded. “But what did you think of it? As a movie?”

I easily broke the picture down into my basic likes and dislikes, leveling my practiced eye on everything from the writing to the production to the casting and performances. And despite having really enjoyed it, I found some aspects unsatisfying and the dramaturgy to be an uneven mess. It was late. My daughter was asking my opinion. And since that happens so rarely, I probably droned on well past my welcome. Finally, I decided it was her turn.

“What did you think?” I eventually thought to ask.

She was hesitant to answer, continuing to grill me over my criticisms.

“You’ve heard what I think,” I told her. “I want to know what you thought of it.”

She still dodged me, clearly not wanting me to hear her review. At least not yet.

“My opinion is just another opinion,” I insisted. “Yours is yours and of equal merit.”

Yeah, that’s what I said. But I’m her father. And my opinion probably counts more than just any old opinion. At least this week. She wasn’t being oh so politic with me.

“I really want to know,” I pressed her.

“I really, really loved it,” she finally admitted.

“Why?” I asked her.

As she explained herself—quite cogently I might add—she continued to qualify her judgment in deference to my obvious disagreement. Essentially, she told me it was hard for her to give an opinion that differed from mine, as if doing so would lead to my disappointment in her.

It wasn’t that my opinion was that strong. It was because I’m sometimes way to quick to share it without thought for who asked or if I was even queried at all.

Yeah. Add this to posts about me and my big fat mouth.

If past actions are a genuine predictor of future behavior, I can’t precisely say that my lesson has been truly learned on a molecular level. But maybe… just maybe… I may from time to time be more inclined to seek out another’s aesthetic opinion before being so quick to draw my own.

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • jimmytwiz

    A good lesson for us all.

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks Jimmy.

  • Milo

    Yep. Fortunately and unfortunately, today everyone (over the internet – IMDB, Youtube…) can express his/her own views, sometimes being trashed for expressing like or dislike of some particular movie.
    Heh, sometimes it gets pretty annoying as some arrogant people think that their thought is given by God.

    • Doug Richardson

      And as we both know, Milo. God’s opinion is rarely revealed until you’re crossing the river Styx.

      • Milo

        Hehe, I wonder what God thinks about art of movies in general.

  • Aaron C

    Awesome post.

    When I was in high school, I went over to a friend’s house for movie night. She was more a mentor than a friend to me — had introduced me to Vonnegut (his books, not the person) and other “respected” literary and cultural works — and we were sharing films that were important to us. We watched her movie first, which turned out to be Sophie’s Choice. Mine? Some Kind of Wonderful. For whatever reason, that silly little paint-by-numbers retread of Pretty In Pink was really important to me at the time. I cringe now thinking that I brought that movie over to watch, especially following Sophie’s Choice, but she was gracious and must have understood that it was important to me. She never made me feel guilty about liking such fluff. The guilt was all mine as I got older and was exposed to more media (this is not to say I don’t love a good action flick or silly rom-com or have my guilty indulgences). But I think these moments, like the one with your daughter, are so valuable. It’s where the wisdom of age becomes such a benefit and we can be softer to growing minds than we’d be with friends with whom we can pull no punches. I always think back to that day now whenever I’m asked about something that I know is important to the other person, because I never know what their perspective is.

  • Phyllis K Twombly

    If we all had the same tastes we’d all write and make the same movies. I’m still trying to finish watching Birdman–I know it got a 93 rating on Rotten Tomatoes and won multiple awards but to me it seems like talking heads saying little. I’m still trying to find the appeal. Maybe I’ll get a cake to celebrate the differences?

    • I agree about Birdman. Haven’t seen the movie. Read the script. I’m a fan of actors Keating and Norton, so that may be the difference, but I thought the story was gosh awful. Only outstanding scene was ‘bird man’ running down the street in the buff, something the 3 stooges would do.

  • wonder

    Great insight. A reminder for all of us!