In early 2007, my friend Tony called to ask if I could cover one of his shifts at work, so I drove down to a construction site near the Home Depot in Playa Vista to fill out forms with his supervisor and to check out the wooden box where I’d be sitting for 12 hours. That’s how my name ended up in the credits for Iron Man.
Half a day, a hundred bucks and a head nod from Robert Downey, Jr. It was a great opportunity in an IMDB profile-fluffing sense, and I remember telling Tony’s boss to keep me in mind if he ever needed another PA, but it wouldn’t matter because I’d leave Los Angeles the next month.
I’d gotten there in July 2006 after driving a U-haul across Texas and New Mexico and Arizona with my then-girlfriend. The grand idea was that she’d try to make it as an actress, and I would try to make it as a writer. She’d gotten a Bachelor’s degree in Theater, I’d taken one screenwriting course. She got a job as a personal trainer, making good money quickly and avoiding auditions. I worked for free in uncomfortable shoes until snagging paid production jobs that came and went according to the whimsical, cacophonic Gods of Freelance Work. Eventually I PAed for The Oscars, a Comedy Central show, a PBS opera and VH1 award shows, and I became a production coordinator on music videos and commercials (like this artifact).
I often get asked how I ended up working as a film critic, and the answer is the most disappointing one possible: on accident.
I spent my first month in Los Angeles buried under Craigslist postings offering “credit,” “DVD copy” and “What do you think this is, a charity?” as payment for production gigs, but one of those postings was for a movie blog that was looking for writers. There wasn’t any money in it, and the operation was still small, but I thought it would give me a solid external reason to keep my technical writing chops intact, so I responded to the posting at a time when a guy named Neil Miller was literally looking for anyone to add to the site. I fit that bill.
For no particular reason, my first post on Film School Rejects was a review of Ong Bak. I used a pen name (R.I.P. Cole Abaius) because I was (pointlessly) paranoid about losing a production job following a negative review, and I used writing for the site as an excuse to head back to Texas after two dismal L.A. months to cover the Austin Film Festival.
I got a badge with my name on it. It seemed fantastically official. We had about 10 readers.
Shortly after that single day on the Iron Man set (making sure no one sneaked in to take pictures of the cave scene and matte painting exteriors for a movie almost no one cared about), my relationship fizzled, so I went to the other side of the country to put my Political Science degree to better use in D.C. I worked at a foreign policy think tank, lived on Capital Hill, took the metro to work just a few blocks north of the White House, and I couldn’t stop writing about movies.
In the two years I spent wearing a suit and tie to work, Film School Rejects had grown both in its audience (into the millions) and in its dominance of my time (my boss started to notice). Eventually it overtook my real job, and Neil and I decided to move to Austin together to turn the site into the kind of real job where you wake up late and spend a lot of time in darkened rooms with one source of light.
It’s been a little over nine years now, and as of today, I’m stepping down as Managing Editor for the site.
The two very best things about Film School Rejects are the people involved and the freedom it has allowed me to write about whatever bizarre nonsense I found interesting. Because of that impossible combination, I’ve been more fortunate than most to jot down thoughts on random things in my brain and to have them read by tens of thousands on a regular basis. God knows why. All of this because I answered a Craigslist ad.
I’ve gotten to write about silent Buster Keaton films and 4-hour Sion Sono cult epics and Spider-Man. I’ve gotten to interview established filmmakers, legends and up-and-comers. I’ve gotten to host two podcasts fueled by storytelling, a passion for film and whatever shiny object was dancing in front of my eyes at recording time. I’ve gotten to talk with Harrison Ford five feet from cows in a Wyoming field, fly to New York to watch Harry Potter fight Voldemort and revel in raw discovery at countless film fests. I’ve met wonderful film minds and made great friends. All on accident, all never meaning to make a career out of this, all because I answered a Craigslist ad.
It’s been an honor leading a writing team here at FSR and engaging with all of our readers. Y’all are the first I’d like to thank. You’re all very strange and smarter than the average internet denizen, and I couldn’t ask for more.
I’d like to thank Neil for laying the groundwork and crafting a space where “the best film critics you’ve never heard of” could feel safe writing from the heart even as the world of blurry rumors and costume first-look garbage threatened to engulf us all.
I’d like to thank my wife, Caitlin, for her infinite supply of support and her killer Leeloo Dallas Mooltipass impression.
I’d like to thank Rob Hunter for always agreeing with me, Chris Campbell for his hard-nosed realism and Kate Erbland (now rocking it at Indiewire) for her undying enthusiasm and sharp intellect. There’s a reason our editorial calls always went on an hour longer than planned.
Thanks to my podcasting partner Geoff LaTulippe for being nothing if not topical.
The rest of the list is a cast of thousands from all corners, and I’m sure I’ll leave people off. Sorry about that. Thanks to Katey Rich, Matt Patches, David Ehrlich, Dave Gonzales, Aaron Morgan, Eric Vespe, Tim League, Drew McWeeny, Erik Davis, Joanna Robinson, Scott Weinberg, Anne Thompson, Kellvin Chavez, Vic Holtreman, Adam Charles, Landon Palmer, Alexander Huls, Monika Bartyzel, Kevin Carr, Robert Fure, The Fonses, Young Il Kim, Amy Nicholson, Justin Chang, Jason Bailey, Sam Zimmerman, Evan Saathoff, Keith Phipps, Joshua Caldwell, Scott Myers, Brian Koppelman, Jeff Bayer, Eric Snider, Alison Nastasi, Karina Longworth, David Chen, John Gholson, Ben Kendrick, Kris Tapley, Brian Truitt, Brian Kelley, Brian Salisbury, Will Goss, Peter Hall, Paul Gandersman, Roger Ebert, DC Pierson, Keith Calder, Alonso Duralde, John Campea, Daniel Walber, Sam Fragoso, Matt Zoller Seitz, Eric Kohn, Thane Economou, Brian Duffield, James Rocchi, Josh Spiegel, Meredith Woerner, Todd Brown, Russ Fischer, Matt Singer, Adam Bellotto, Alison Willmore, Jacob Hall, Scott Tobias, Germain Lussier, Travis Beacham, Nathan Chase, The Bitter Script Reader, Phil Nobile, Chris Gore, A.J. Bowen, Brea Grant, Brian Udovich, Allison Loring, Jason Sondhi, Franklin Leonard, Guy Lodge, David Hughes, FILM CRIT HULK, Mike Sampson, Noel Murray, Inkoo Kang, Jack Giroux, Emily Estep, Scott Wampler, Noah Berlatsky, Marya E. Gates, Jacob Knight, Sean Hackett, Kevin Kelly, Louis Plamondon, Luke Mullen, Matthew Monagle, Nathan Adams, Noah Gittell, Samantha Wilson, Shannon Shea, Todd Gilchrist, Charlie Jane Anders, Jason Arnopp, Meredith Borders, Gary Whitta, Will Harris, Alan Smithee, Peter Sciretta, Jeremy Smith, Massawyrm, Jeremy Smith, Jordan Hoffman, Brad McHargue, and, of course, whoever is running Film Click Bait.
It’s insane how many people you meet doing this and how many of them end up shaping your life.
I find it fitting that I got to guard the Iron Man set near the beginning of my inadvertent film criticism career because it changed so much of the film landscape and, along with a dozen other factors, altered the way that we talk about movies across the internet. It’s been fantastic to grip the handles of that roller coaster car for Film School Rejects.
The ride’s not completely over. I’ll be freelancing for a few sites (I’ve already written a few pieces for Vanity Fair and have a few other sites in the works), and I’ll be focusing a lot more on fiction – posting short stories on my own website and hoping to get more work published in cool places like this.
I’ll also pop in at FSR from time to time, and as part owner, my name will still be on the masthead, so this isn’t so much “Goodbye,” as it is “I’ll see you around.”
So, seen any good movies lately?