Earlier this year, months gone by now to my surprise, I was contacted by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment regarding a new and exciting beta Blu-ray movie review program that they were developing. The invitation came by way of my professional profile on Linkedin (drop by and say hello) as part of a broad search for creative social mediasts, prolific bloggers and enthusiastic cinéastes actively writing about movies and the entertainment industry. The program was a personal dream come, an unsolicited opportunity both validation for a lot of hard work and just rewards allowing me to get my foot in the very big door of one of the leading major film studios on the planet – we’re talking about the “Big Six” here. I have to toot that horn, loudly. The program was pretty straightforward, once the Elite Team members were assembled we received a selection of Blu-ray titles, ranging from beloved classics (Casablanca) to modern bio pics (Malcolm X., J.Edgar) in various formats – from budget, single disc releases to “digipacks” and “digi-books” and several anniversary collector’s editions. Reviews were posted on our blogs and distributed to the top social networks, varying in style, format and personality from long time bloggers and seasoned writers to television hosts and weekly podcasters. I was chosen in part because of an editorial that I posted on December 30th, 2011 called “Hollywood Blockbusters Make Victims of us All” (the same editorial sparked a spirited debate on the movie network MUBI. The Blu-ray Elite Beta program officially ended in July and here I am, finally writing a wrap up of my experiences.
Writing for Warner Bros. as a Blu-ray Elite Team Member was pretty cool, still is, and definitely a shining highlight of 2012 thus far. It’s been a good year for Above The Line, a growing readership with network opportunities, connections with other bloggers and filmmakers, online and off. In May, Above The Line turned 2 years old (yeah) and on August 7th I posted my 200th blog entry (double yeah!). So far I’ve doubled my total visitors every year since I started, nearly twice as many followers have followed, Twitterers have tweeted and retweeted, and I’m averaging almost 200 visitors every day from all over the world. Just recently I hit my busiest day with 555 visitors! I definitely noticed an increase in traffic since participating in the program, new visitors and shared visitors attracted through the collaborative web efforts of about one hundred active Elite Team members – some more active than others. It took about a week for us to get going and settle in to the system: (3) movies arrived on Friday’s, a week or so to screen them and write a review then it was publish, update, tweet, return; publish, update, tweet return. We received 24 titles in all, including the many disc hit BBC series Life (2009) and Planet Earth (2006), two IMAX titles Hubble 3D (2010) and Born to be Wild (2011). I didn’t finish all the movies I received (sigh) but I did branch out and include several editorials “Blu-ray: Not just a format but a beautiful future” and subsequent posts on the late Tony Scott (Tony Scott: Il Gigante), Christopher Nolan (Christopher Nolan: Master & Commander) and actors like Tom Hardy (Tom Hardy: Brawler, Charmer, Hollywood Courtier) and continue to do so. If all goes well I’ll have another update after posting this – but I’ll keep that under wraps for now – and who knows, maybe a second season of the Elite Team (my hat is already in the ring).
I have to send a little shout out to John LaRue @ TDYLF (The Droid You’re Looking For) for the post he wrote about his own team experiences that inspired me to do a wrap up of my own. I had been waiting around to include some unfinished team business but figured I can always revisit with an “update” later down the road. That being said, it’s interesting connecting the dots of other blogs and bloggers you have in common. Back in 2010 when I got started, I felt like I was a million miles away from everyone until I found the LAMB”(Large Association of Movie Bloggers) and later after that it was MUBI – essential resources for readers and bloggers. The challenge is trying to balance it all out, finding what works for you between posting/reading/commenting and so on. There was quite a mix of reviewers, some I continue to cross paths with, others not so much. I’m still reaching out to others and will continue to do so – it’s like the unwritten code of blogging, connecting and sharing, let one another know we’re part of something bigger than ourselves and everything matters – even just popping over to say hey. I thought it would a nice way of sharing the connections and appreciation and listing a few of the more active people from the team here. So share the love – go see what they are doing:
[In No Particular Order:] If you like your film reviews short and sweet, go say hey to Mark holding down the fort at (Fast Film Reviews), if you’re interested in top 10 lists, Smörgåsbords of movie stuff and giveaways then Eric’s gotcha covered at (Scene Stealers), Blake loves movies so much it hurts and he’ll tell you why at (Bitchen Film Reviews), and Matt want’s to get things right in the world of Blu-ray at (Doblu), and if you need some company go see Mitch at (Movies with Mitch), Eddy offers entertainment, technology and family product reviews at the (Dancing Hotdogs) and Phil Lozen wrote a nice little wrap up piece for The Digital Media Zone where he discusses the merits of relationship building between companies and their audiences. Heather’s place is a wealth of movie stuff and then some at (Movie Mobsters), Nathaniel goes at (The Film Experience), and there’s John at none other than (John Likes Movies), Kevin has media to die for at (Fat Guys at the Movies) and Jake makes no bones about it (Not Just Movies). The thing you’ll learn about movie blogs is that there truly is something for everyone and if you’re thinking of getting into the fray, don’t worry, there’s always room for one more. I find new and rewarding resources all the time, places like Total Film, Only Good Movies Blog, of course LAMB. Over the years I’ve branched out to connect with other places too, great websites, blogs and bloggers that continue to inform and inspire my writing. In addition to contributing content and commentary, I also submit articles for their various contests, showings and special features. Big shout out to Rodney over at Fernby Films way over there in South Australia, Dan makes a mean blog happen at Dan The Man Movie Reviews, and some recent guys that always share the blog love, Andy at Andy Watches Movies and Nostra at My Film Reviews. I wouldn’t be here doing what I do without the everything that she is and more, my life and love Melissa who is the most amazing spirit I know, artist, dreamer and adventurist, my muse – and she maintains a pretty cool blog herself. It’s a crazy thing to do and I’ll bet if you ask us why we do it we do it we would probably all agree we can’t do anything else.
The full spectrum of movies we received for the Blu-ray Elite Team Beta Program for Warner Bros. ranged from classics to modern favorites, grand stories and epic landscape spectacles, comedies to painful character biographies. History lessons and history exaggerations, the greatest stories ever told and those that could have never been done. The releases ranged from 1939 to 2012 with the common thread being that all the titles are Warner Bros. releases (of course). Looking back over the collection there are obviously some shining moments and pretty amazing collectibles mixed in with considerably less exciting ones. I’ve never been a die-hard comic book movie fan and while I can appreciate the genre and from time to time some of the movies, most of the time they are overblown, overpriced and poorly conceived with one of the worst offenders in recent memory among the titles we received – Green Lantern. My full review is here. I must admit I was even less excited when I received Happy Feet 2, Journey 2 and A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas. Surprisingly though, the latter, Harold & Kumar (H&K as loyal fans and followers refer to the franchise) was not only funny and inventive, in that stoner comedy of errors sort of way, but it was well written, topical jokes and well-meaning explorations of race, class, identity and social customs – all stuff you rarely find in comedies. Comparatively speaking, Crazy, Stupid Love which I found OK and watchable (my review, to which I recommend you “see-it”) had more well-known actors but their performances were just ok, not remarkable. The traditionalist in me was pleased to receive arguably several of the greatest films of all time – Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane and Casablanca; films that I grew up with and also studied in film school. I was also happy to see Malcolm X and J.Edgar in the mix, two bio pics from two of the most respected filmmakers in Hollywood right now – Spike Lee and Clint Eastwood – and while each film has issues and challenges, the Blu-ray of Malcolm X is thoughtfully packaged as a “digi-book” with a wealth of supporting materials, second only to the Citizen Kane anniversary compendium that was included – a true collector’s edition.
Aside from the amazing movies that we were able to add to our collection and the camaraderie of the various team members, it was a wonderful experience working with Warner Bros. and our own marketing team people behind the scenes who guided us through the program. I can only say good things and hope you find my reviews and the reviews of the team engaging, informative and enjoyable.
Here is the list of films we received and links, where appropriate to my reviews.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
Citizen Kane (1941)
IMAX: Hubble 3D (2010)
IMAX: Born to be Wild (2011)
BBC: Life (2009)
BBC: Planet Earth (2006)
One last note: I think we can learn from all films and especially from the films that challenge us. It’s like sitting around talking to people who all agree on the same subject – how engaging is that? I’m reminded of someone who asked me once why I spend so much time writing about films that I dislike, in some cases loathe, recommending people to “miss it”. My response to them has always been that I believe in the experiential aspect of cinema whereby people come together in the creation process and revel in the collective spirit of the team to bring something into being, almost like a child you’ll hear some filmmakers describe their films. Later, the same can be said of the communal joys of sharing in the viewing pleasures, and displeasure, in that it is a collective of shared personal experience. We have various roles all along and regardless of why we are there we share a unique opportunity to laugh and cry together, to steal away to other times and places together and to root for the good guys and scowl at the bad guys. We don’t have to agree or like the same movies to have a starting place for rich conversations even if they are about how much a film disappoints us. Movies are as much about our personal experiences of them as they are much larger ones, sharing in the spirit of the medium to unite us for a little while in truth, twenty-four frames per second.