The Ebert Rules for Film Critics

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

Long time film critic Roger Ebert gives a laundry list of do's and don'ts for the film writer. Here were a few of my favorite rules.

Do the math. If one week you state, "'Mr. Untouchable' makes 'American Gangster' look like a fairy tale," and the next week you say, "American Gangster" was "Goodfellas" for "the next generation," then you must conclude that "Mr. Untouchable" is better than "Goodfellas."

Be wary of freebies. The critic should ideally never accept round-trip first-class air transportation, a luxury hotel room, a limo to a screening and a buffet of chilled shrimp and cute little hamburgers in preparation for viewing a movie. If you go, your employer should pay for the trip. I understand some critics work for places that won't even pick up the cost of a movie ticket, and are so underpaid they have never tasted a chilled shrimp. Others work for themselves, an employer who is always going out of business. Yet they are ordered to produce a piece about Michael Cera's new film. I cut them some slack. Let them take the junket. They need the food. Also, I admire Michael Cera. But if they work for a place that is filthy rich, they should turn down freebies.

I admit the Freebie Rule was a hard one for me to acknowledge. In the good old days, movie critics flew more than pilots. I flew first class to Sweden, Ireland, Hawaii, Mexico, Bermuda, Iran, Colombia, Italy, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. I was virtually on the Los Angeles shuttle. I flew to England in November for the filming of "Battle of Britain," and was whisked at dawn to a rainy WWII air field near Newmarket where I was able to stand for hours and freeze my ass off while watching the filming of a scene involving a dog gazing wistfully into the sky for its master's missing airplane. If someone had given me a chilled shrimp, I would have rubbed it between my hands to warm them.

No posing for photos! Never ask a movie star to pose with you for a picture. No movie star ever wants to do this. They may smile, but they're gritting their teeth. "It is the Chinese Water Torture," Clint Eastwood told me. "And 99 times out of a hundred, the stranger they hand their camera to looks through the lens, pushes the button, and says 'It isn't working!' and then the fan has to walk over to the guy and demonstrate the camera and say, 'now try it'. And then it isn't working again. Looking at someone looking puzzled at a camera, that's the story of my life."

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