4 Years a Critic: Screened & I

Callum Petch says goodbye to Screened by fondly reflecting on the site that gave him so much.

On the 24th of March, it will have been four years to the day since I published my first actual movie review on the Internet.  Oh sure, I’d dabbled in movie reviewing before (beginning with a DOA: Dead or Alive review that, quite frankly, could best be described as the deranged ramblings of a teenager who loves kung-fu movies and has no discernable taste being introduced to the concept of puberty for the first time), but this was the first time I’d actually properly tried.  It was for Alice In Wonderland, as I’d gone to see it for an English class trip and despised the living hell out of it.  So, being an idiotic 15 year-old aspiring writer with a propensity for over-swearing in his work (because, being an idiotic 15 year-old aspiring writer, that was the thing I took most from Charlie Brooker’s work), I got home and immediately pumped out a review.

My, how I have come on since.

For one, the “sole lone voice of reason” schtick was quite rightly dropped the second I developed common sense.  I swear less now, too!  OK, maybe not so much in what will now go down as the last ever official Screened review, but I learnt that swearing tends to have more of an impact if you don’t drop it every other syllable, lest it look ridiculous or embarrassing (looking at you, End of Watch’s evil cartel).  I don’t personally insult actors or directors or anything of that sort, because that behaviour is childish and leads me nowhere.  When I used to struggle to break one and a half pages for my reviews, I now consider myself having slacked off if I’m not starting my fourth page by the time I wrap up (whether or not that’s a good thing depends on how much time in your day you have to read my crap).  Where all of my reviews used to follow a regimented “Intro, Plot, Actors, Other Pros And Cons, Wrap-Up” formula, now they’re less by-the-numbers, just as likely to spend the 4/5 of the time talking about a movie’s undertones as they are focussing on key aspects and scenes.

Oh, yeah, and I got to make this progression thanks to one of the best sites on the Internet.

So, it was late May to early June 2010, I forget which specifically, and I was looking up old Alex Navarro GameSpot reviews on YouTube, as you do, when I stumbled across a comment on a tribute video.  It said that Alex had found a new home over at a site called Screened.com.  Now, you must understand, I was not a frequenter to Giant Bomb at this time (still aren’t, if I’m bluntly honest), so Alex had pretty much fallen off the face of the Earth for me.  Therefore, I was immediately interested in what he had done next and swooped on over to find out.

I am never getting rid of this drawing of me. Never.

It’s only now (and I mean almost literally now, I didn’t know for certain until I saw the Yearbook on the front page) that I know that Screened was about a month and a half old when I first visited.  Not that I knew that, mind.  It already felt lived in.  The database was already large, though nowhere near as large as it would end up, the archives in terms of news, reviews and videos were already numerous and the users many and varied.  At the time, my writing passion was still predominately television, although movies were quickly bursting through as an equal second, and I felt rather intimidated by the knowledge of everyone else on the site (frequently dropping the names of films that I had never even heard of), so I lurked for a good month.  Keeping an eye on things.

Three things finally got me to bite the bullet and sign up, in the end.  The first, as it likely was for many other people, was the Quest system.  I’m a sucker for trivia stuff, what can I say?  The second was my growing annoyance with Blogger.  Yes, folks, once upon a time, I actually had a blog!  Those who follow me on Twitter will find that hard to believe, but I did and it was shite.  Not just in terms of content (again, the product of an egotistical 15 year-old learning the wrong lessons from his inspirations), not just in terms of dreadful URL (insertcoolnewwebaddresshere or something) but also in terms of trying to layout pretty much anything.  Like, have you tried using Blogger in the past 5 years?  It’s a giant pain in my arse, is what it is.  The third was my desire for actual feedback and exposure that posting on the forums of The Escapist (yeah, I used to be a very frequent member of The Escapist forum, too, times really have changed) simply wasn’t getting me (although, to be fair, their claims that I was just ripping off Yahtzee held some merit; not tonnes, but some).

From there, events started speeding along exponentially.  I started seeing way more movies, I started reviewing a lot more often, I started seriously following movie news and box office totals, I made an effort to push myself out of my comfort zone with what I saw, I began interacting in the forums, I added to and edited the database and I wrote.  I wrote a lot.  Throughout 2011, I posted at least once a week.  You can go and check.  That, of course, sounds like pittance, a basic requirement for any writer, prospective or otherwise, but that was a huge deal for me, at the time.  I was lazy, was going through my final year of Secondary School, with all of the exams and coursework that entails, starting Sixth Form, with the workload that entails, and I had a nasty habit of never finishing anything I started (still sometimes do, in all honesty).  To make it through a full year, pumping out UK Box Office Reports and The Month In Movies posts like clockwork, reviewing every film I saw in the cinema and occasionally finding time to also pump out extra opinion blogs; that was a big deal.

Then, burnout finally happened.  2012 broke and I was hit with an overwhelming urge to stop writing about movies.  Quite honestly, I’m amazed it didn’t happen sooner.  In any case, on February 18th 2012, I went on my first hiatus, and you know that I did because I even made a blog post saying so, like my going on hiatus meant something.  That first hiatus lasted approximately 33 days.

Because then Whiskey Media was sold off to Berman Braun.

One last one for the road, eh, folks?
One last one for the road, eh, folks?

Real Talk: that should have been it for us, right there and right then.  BB had every right and every common sense to shut us down as soon as the sale was made.  We used to talk about how AnimeVice was the most likely to go, or the most deserving to go (because we were concerned about our own self-preservation and said things we didn’t truly mean in the heat of the moment), and some of us still do both, but we’re wrong for thinking that.  AnimeVice has the distinction of being an anime hub, which are rarer on the Internet than movie websites (I assume), and a loyal, if small, following; one that wouldn’t create a thread crowing about how Screened is dead and then resurrecting it every three months because they hadn’t caused enough of a ruckus that week.  We, after the buyout and the safety net dropped, had neither of those things.

But Berman Braun kept us going, anyway.  They even gave us a new editor, the lovely Stacey Winget, and a regular reviewer, Mitch Salem.  That uncertain period, coupled with the departure of Matthew Rorie, was a wake-up call to me.  I’d nearly lost a site that was near and dear to my heart and I wasn’t about to join that mass exodus.  So I resumed blogging, I commented on articles, I posted in the forums.  I think some kind of delusional thought process led me to believe that if I took my eye off the site for even a second, it would be snatched away from me.  It probably wasn’t, in all honesty, more simply myself distorting my memories to make this post more interesting, but I am fiercely protective of stuff I care about.  And I cared about this site and the people, old and new, who populated it.  So I wrote.  Much less frequently than before, granted, but I was also juggling a foray into games writing at the time (of which I have now made my peace with and am grateful to have gotten some close friends out of, if nothing else).  I wrote.  I posted in the forums.  I started up a Box Office Winners League.

And then I met the guys from the Pupcast.

Seriously, more than anything else that this site has given me, I am most thankful for the Pupcast.  I love all the guys (and girl) that got involved with that venture (though we may argue constantly) and the time I spent with that group, from July 2012 to about July 2013 (and the many attempts at resuscitation I tried for the remaining six months of 2013), was incomparable.  I wasn’t in a good place for a lot my second year at college (incidentally the year I spent on the Pupcast) and those guys gave me something to look forward to.  The merest off-handed mention of a recording date would get me all excitable and determined to get through the week, and I would have the most fun when that session finally did arrive.  Listening back, they’re a mess and I’m awful on them, but they also contain so many memories that I will forever cherish.

Life went on, Stacey left and, after another mass exodus (which really should have signalled the end, quite frankly), Screened switched over to being purely community driven.  I started up another Box Office Winners League, this time super-sized, and proved that you really can’t catch lightning in a bottle thrice.  But, most importantly, I decided to try taking advantage of this new community-run Screened.com by seeing if I could get a review up on the main page.  I’d pretty much stalled out as a writer by that point; college was encroaching too much on my time, the Pupcast wasn’t exactly factory-reliable after we moved to our own site and I hadn’t yet decided to recommit to my delusions of being a decent games writer.  Despicable Me 2 was getting an early UK release, I liked animation and I figured that the promise of front page exposure would give me that incentive to get back into writing.  So I pitched to @FinalDasa.  Surprisingly, he said yes.

Most of all, though, I think I'll remember this site for making this officially one of the best shows of last year. You folks seriously are the best.
Most of all, though, I think I’ll remember this site for making this officially one of the best shows of last year. You folks seriously are the best.

I wrote 11 more reviews, last year.  I got to restart my Box Office Reports, this time for the US and on the front page.  Thanks to @FinalDasa and Mike Mazzacane, I reviewed The Legend of Korra for 10 straight weeks (missing only one due to following my still delusional belief that I could make it as a games writer), the first time I successfully stuck out doing articles on a series of some kind (the last was Potterocalypse from 2010).  I was considered important enough to have my Top 10 Films of 2013 be a front page thing, instead of the blog post I was planning it to be.  I somehow managed to convince @FinalDasa that an entire article devoted to The Powerpuff Girls’ one-off reboot special was a good use of site resources (though I was less successful in my quest for regular My Little Pony coverage).

Fun Fact: I was planning on writing this, or something similar to this, on the 24th of March, regardless of whether Screened was closing down or not.  I have been doing this for a quarter of my life, which is actually slightly terrifying if I reflect on my mortality too much, and I barely recognise the me I started off as.  My Box Office Reports used to look like this!  Then they looked like this!  And now they look like this!  My negative reviews have gone from badly stealing jokes from more talented writers to sincerely and sensibly picking apart why a bad film doesn’t work.  Or, you know, pulling a Winter’s Tale.  Meanwhile, more positive reviews now go into detail as to what makes them so good, instead of just pulling out a thesaurus to jazz up the otherwise generic and sweeping claims of brilliance.  Despite being much shorter than the series I did in 2010, I’m much prouder of my Best Films of 2013 article.  And as for TV; I’ve gone from whatever the hell my 24 recap series was to… whatever the hell I wrote for the Korra finale.  Seriously, what on Earth was I going through at that point?

I owe most all of this to Screened.  I owe most all of this to you guys and girls.  This site has been a joy to visit and a place to call home over the past five years and you people are the reason why.  You’ve been nothing but supportive, you’ve been nothing but kind, you’ve been with me every step of the way and for that you have my eternal thanks.  I won’t be sad about the closure of the site due to the loss of my articles and the Internet presence they had.  I back up everything I’ve ever done and will do (even the stuff I am really quite ashamed of).  I will be sad about the closure of the site because I will lose you all to the winds of the Internet and I will be sad because Screened.com, the cornerstone of the last five years of my life, will be gone for good.  I’d say that it’ll be like losing a family member, but I just lost a family member to cancer late last year, so that would actually be rather insensitive.

So, before I wrap up, I want to do a thank you list.  This is not all-encompassing and I’ll definitely have forgotten some of you, but these are just some of the people I have interacted with and are responsible for my becoming a better writer and better human being over the years.  Even if you aren’t mentioned, or have simply lurked around the site for all five of these years without once having commented on or even read any of my work, know that I still love you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Still my favourite film. See, not everything's changed since 2010!
Still my favourite film. See, not everything’s changed since 2010!

Thank you to @Joe and @skidd for reading my UK Box Office Reports in the early days.  You were some of my most devoted readers throughout 2011 and that gave me the push to keep writing that I needed.  Thank you to @Acura_Max, @takashichea, @Bigheart711 and many others for being some of the unsung heroes of the site by keeping that database real big and real purdy.  Thank you to @alexpiercey, @Ghost_of_GhostDad and @VioletEyedDragon for your constant presences; coming back here after the occasional break and seeing you still here, fighting the good fight, always gave me a warm feeling.  Thank you to @welshguy for appreciating a good usage of the word “wank”.  Thank you to @Paulrus because we My Little Pony fans have got to stick together.  Thank you to @CherryBomb for both your kind words on various pieces of work of mine and also for your exceptional “Cherry’s Choice” red carpet fashion pieces.  They’re always a joy to read and if anyone had common sense they would have snapped you up to do those full-time for money by this point.

Thank you to @HotKarl, formerly known as @VinceNotVance, whose friendship from this site somehow managed to hold even when I got a Twitter.  Thank you to @staceywi for steering this ship as best she could during 2012 and being a lovely person to talk to.  Thank you to @FinalDasa for taking a chance on me last July and allowing myself the opportunity to flounce about the place for the last 8 months proclaiming myself to be a real film critic to anyone and everyone who would and would not listen.  Thank you to Matthew Rorie and Alex Navarro for having created this wonderful site that housed this incredible community in the first place and for inspiring me to try this whole film critic business properly.

Thank you to all of the Pupcast members I got to know over the year we did that thing. @RockinKemosabe (Kevin) for your Canadian-ness, graceful taking over of the Box Office Winners League when I needed you to and for being the Ryan Seacrest to my Joel McHale (good luck in film school, duder).  @rem25 (Mike) for being the voice of reason throughout the madness and your continuing attempts to keep at least some of us in touch with one another.  @MrMazz (Other Mike/Mazz) for allowing me to piggyback off of your much better work with my own, much more inferior pieces and being a supportive and frank work colleague, as well as a good friend.  @ToonSkribblez (Michelle) for being my Animation Buddy, for driving Aaron up the wall with My Little Pony references and for providing me with the one picture of myself that I actually like.  @obscurefan (Aaron) for allowing me on in the first place and for continuing to invite me back, even though I get the feeling that you despised every last one of us (hope both you and Michelle are doing well, it’s been too long since I’ve heard from you).  @litrock (Matthew Marko) who, though we may fight and argue and disagree constantly, is a great guy to know, invaluable in his advice and frequently fun to talk to.

Most of all, though, thank you to Jackson Tyler, otherwise known as @Tylea002.  You are the friend that I had been waiting my whole life to meet, without even knowing it.  You’re funny, brutally honest, sympathetic and huge fun to know.  Plus, you have great taste in just about everything, and that’s key to a lasting friendship.  I love you, man, in the way that friends love each other, and your continued existence makes the world less crappy.

Codename: Kids Next Door“So, where to from here?” you’re probably wondering if you’ve somehow made it down here.  Well, as always, you can follow me on Twitter at @CallumPetch although, as always, you will probably regret it the second you do so.  Mike, Jackson and myself are trying to set up a new, short (emphasis on short, there won’t be any Pupcast-style three-hour marathon episodes) weekly movie podcast which will have a home as soon as we can figure out a name for it.  And if you just want a dose of my movie reviews, I seem to have made myself at home over at Failed Critics.  I’ve recently written reviews of 300: Rise of an Empire, Escape From Planet Earth, Non-Stop and Ride Along with a Need For Speed one on the horizon for them, so I guess you could say I’m relatively secure there for now.  Come and visit every now and again, hmm?

I’m not sure if it’s due to the sudden cold wind that’s interrupted this otherwise nice day or due to me trying to fight back this tidal wave of emotion that’s overcome me as I’ve typed these last four paragraphs, but I’m shaking uncontrollably right now.

I honestly have no idea how to wrap this up.  I held off a week before writing this, because I wanted to fully process the news before I set about putting words to electronic paper.  Maybe I thought that would make me more prepared.  Like I had something profound and insightful to close out my time on this site with.  But I’ve got nothing.  My mind is blank.  In just about 48 hours, this site will shut down and there is nothing I can do about it.

My heart hurts.  Thanks for everything, everyone.  It really has been a blast and, despite the last 5 A4 pages, words genuinely can’t describe it.  So, thank you.  I love you all.

Later, dorks.


Callum Petch

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