Marco's 11 Years of Experience, 11 Things He's Learned
by Marco Cerritos
October 22, 2008
Yesterday was our contributor Marco Cerritos' eleventh "birthday" as a film critic. It all began on October 21st, 1997 with a screening of Gattaca. Eleven years of going to movie premieres and interviewing celebrities is a lot to take in. Memories, mistakes and other adventures have all been great to endure as well as trips to film festivals and even the Oscars. But writing this on my film critic birthday strikes me more than ever that I'm truly fortunate to do what I love. No boring office jobs or working in a cube, instead it's just writing and watching movies, with celebrity parties thrown in for good measure.
I was going to write something else but our fearless leader Alex Billington suggested this idea instead: the eleven things I've learned as a film critic. A simple assignment at first glance but when I actually started writing the damn thing I realized I had way too many things I wanted to bring up. This also turned out to be a great way to look back fondly at some of the things I wish I had known when I was a young writer. So to all the struggling writers and wannabes reading this, I hope it helps you out. In no particular order, here are eleven things that have stood out for me after eleven years covering the film beat.
1 - Remember the Little Things
My first professional assignment as a film critic was covering the Gattaca premiere at the Presidio Theatre in San Francisco on October 21st, 1997. I was so star-struck and delirious I almost forgot to watch the damn movie. The resulting film review was giddy and amateurish but I didn't care. I was happy and couldn't wait to do it all over again. Over the years it's become harder and harder to be impressed and remember the little things that made me happy years ago. I meet so many celebrities and go to so many premieres that I've become jaded as a result. I've gotten better at savoring the little things and not get caught up in "the machine" and will continue that in the future.
2 - Is John Travolta Gay?
I can't say too much without getting a gag order thrown at me but those of you who know my John Travolta story know exactly what I'm talking about. I've interviewed Mr. Travolta three different times and in each case he's been warm, friendly and very unique. Nothing will top my interview with him at the Ladder 49 junket when his makeup artist literally made his face look freakishly orange. On top of the bad makeup job was that the actual interview which turned out to be, um, very distinct. Once again boys and girls, this isn't a gossip column so I'm not gonna get into details but Travolta's behavior during that particular interview was enough to shock the hell out of me for years to come.
3 - "Sundance is for Pussies"
Not at all and those were the immortal words of the idiot who almost convinced me NOT to go to the coolest film festival in the world. My first trip to Sundance was in 1999 and like most people scared of the unknown, I was looking for an excuse not to go. I was a fresh writer and wasn't sure if I should go to Utah to watch movies. After some coercing I booked my flight and never looked back. Sundance is Disneyland for filmmakers and every year I've learned something different. For the record, last year I learned that Colin Farrell can be a pain in the ass if he hasn't had coffee before an interview.
4 - Michael Keaton is an Awesome Drunk!
Speaking of Sundance, meeting and interviewing one of my film heroes this year was one thing, getting trashed with him was something else. Shots of Hennessey during an interview led to a burned throat, a massive cough that I couldn't shake for weeks and a great fuckin' time! That's a story I'll never forget.
5 - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Want to Kill Me
Brad actually likes me and I think we had a great interview a few years ago. But once he no doubt heard about my Cannes fiasco with his girl Angie I'm sure I was on his shit list. I hope he can be a cool and forgiving dude (it was an accident) but who knows? It turns out red carpets are a nightmare to cover as a journalist and getting interviews can be even harder. I was ecstatic to interview Angelina and my nervousness plus her pregnant frame made for a huge mistake I won't repeat here. Apologies were made all around and I felt like I'd been hit by a truck but in retrospect it turned out to be a great story to tell. But it's too bad I can't repeat it here. I'm not dumb enough to repeat my mistakes in print.
6 - I've Dated James Cameron and Spike Lee
For the first three years of writing professionally the hardest interviews I had were James Cameron and Spike Lee. The reality was I was still getting used to interviewing celebrities and those guys don't take shit from anybody, even if it's an unassuming reporter like me. I realized interviewing celebrities is like going on a first date. Keep the conversation going and always make it interesting. If you see them getting bored or calling you out, it's over. I've since interviewed Cameron and Lee twice for different projects and have gotten great interviews as a result.
7 - Star Fuckers Rule the World
At every premiere and Hollywood party I've been to there are tons of ass-kissers and star fuckers ready to do anything to get close to a celebrity, any celebrity. Even if it's a local celebrity like me. They don't care because that's what star fuckers do, they see you with a press badge interviewing George Clooney and they (rightfully) assume you're VIP. I used to not let it get to me when I was younger, now that I'm showing my age it makes me sad to see that kind of crap go down.
8 - James Bond Stole My Girlfriend!
I won't name names but let's just say a certain 007 tried to steal my girlfriend during my interview with him! Listening to the audio file as he not so subtly tried to flirt with her made me realize that movie stars can be just as crappy as normal people. I'm just glad the now ex-girlfriend didn't turn out to be a star fucker.
9 - They Hate You Because They're Jealous
This one's pretty self-explanatory. I've made friends but I've also made enemies. Mostly because some people can't stand the sight of other people being happy. I understand it but I don't agree with it.
10 - Film Critics Can Be Anti-Social Bastards
I started doing this when I was 18 and most of the professional critics in my area were at least in their mid-30's. Without knowing anyone I started being friendly and social with whoever would talk to me. Not in an arrogant or overbearing way, I was just being genuinely nice. The one thing I've learned is some critics can be fun and outgoing but a good chunk of them don't want anything to do with you, especially if you're the new kid.
11 - Hollywood is Like High School With Money
The more I keep doing this the more I realize image is king. Everyone gossips and everyone lies to get ahead. It's all about who gets paid what, who sleeps with who, who screwed who to get what movie, and so on. It may be shallow and pessimistic but it's also realistic. Embracing that fact has helped keep my sanity these eleven years. I love what I do and can't see myself doing anything else.
For better or worse these are some of the lessons I've learned from the front lines of film journalism. Despite the occasional potholes, any kind of problems doing this for a living are few and far between. I'm grateful to not only be a full time writer but also to get the chance to really do something I'm passionate about. Watching movies and soaking in irrelevant details about filmmaking seemed silly to me years ago, but now helps my work stand out in the best way possible. Happy birthday to me and here's to at least another eleven years! You can read more of Marco's articles and reviews right here.
Presidio Theatre photo courtesy of Edwård on Flickr.