The Art of Being Nice.

In my last post I reviewed the movie “The Company You Keep.” If you read the review then you know that I loved the movie. But what if I hadn’t? What if after seeing the film, I thought that it had been poorly written or badly executed?

Fortunately for me, I’m not in the business of doing reviews on a regular basis. I can watch a film and say nothing, and no one would be the wiser. This is not the case for real-life film critics. When they see a film they don’t like, they have limited choices. They can either risk retaliation and call it like they see it, or they can write something nice, and let it go.

When I worked in the publicity department of a movie studio, I met all types of critics. Some took the hard road and freely criticized films they didn’t like. In fact, a few actually enjoyed doing that. However,  that action had risks associated with it. Some in Hollywood have long memories.  Others found something nice to say, and never offended anyone. Unfortunately, although the studios loved those reviewers, the public didn’t always trust them to deliver unbiased information.

So today I am going to tell you about a reviewer who struck a delicate balance. If she liked a film, she reviewed it, pointing out all of its outstanding characteristics. If she didn’t, then she would just tell me she didn’t care for our  project. She would then follow-up her comment with something like,  “If you would like me to cover it, why don’t you see if you can get me an interview with one of the stars or the director instead.”

I immediately complied, and instead of a hit piece on the film I received  a completed column  based on a human interest story. In fact, sometimes the piece would be much longer than the review would’ve been, and it always mentioned the film. If it was impossible to get a big name for the review, and many times it was, because I couldn’t risk offending my other reviewers, then someone smaller would do. She once wrote a review about a film's costume design, with quotes from the costume designer.

To this day, I believe her costume review was a big motivator for people to actually see the picture. The reviewer never had to compromise her integrity by saying that she enjoyed the film. Instead, she found something she could appreciate and wrote about that.

So why do I bring this up? The reason is simple, her approach stuck with me. There is no reason to go out of your way to criticize someone’s work. When reviewing any artistic endeavor, if the project is not at the level I think it should be, and I’m not in a position to offer constructive criticism to the individual, then I prefer to look at the situation as someone who’s developing their craft. I also give them massive credit for undertaking the project in the first place. I am fairly confident in my ability to find something to enjoy in every artist’s journey.

The reviewer who adopted this approach turned out to be one of my favorite media contacts. She never made any enemies, never compromised her integrity, always found something interesting to say, and made a lot of friends along the way — me included. When I left the studio I thanked her and asked her about her philosophy. Her answer was, “Over the years I have found that a little encouragement goes a long way.”

I’m writing this today because I intend to do reviews on works in the future. All of them will pretty much be positive. I have the luxury of not having to review anything I don’t enjoy. But more important, I wanted to share the philosophy that if you look hard enough at anyone’s work, or life, there is always something worthy of praise.  Ignoring the bad to find good takes practice. But the results can be extraordinary.

At least that’s the way I see it:

Through a writer’s eyes,



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