Posted in Blog Entries

Artistic Integrity: “Professional” and “Amateur”

There’s a spark of controversy that’s coming out over on Letterboxd because of short films that have been removed on a count of not being “professional.” Of course, the natural reaction from many of my own friends was that of anger. But being an aspiring filmmaker myself, I’m seeking to take classes in the future that’ll help me come closer to the art form because of my own love for films of all sorts. But even though I’ve never made any feature films myself, I still feel like I should have some say because there will come an occasion to which I’d want to put my own films out to be seen by many more, and Letterboxd is one step that I’ve found helpful after my own experiences with their community.

More recently, TMDb (otherwise known as The Movie Database), the site where Letterboxd collects their data, has been removing films that Letterboxd users have included into the database on the count that they are not “professional productions.” By the way this looks, however, they are also very evidently damaging the chances of allowing independent filmmakers to acquire recognition for what they do. But for what it’s worth, one of my own friends has also stated that this guideline has also contradictory to the point of absurdity.

But alas, I’ll pull up their own guidelines on which films of any sort are allowed to be entered within their own database.

  • We are a professional movie database, which means that amateur films and TV series as well as school and/or student films and TV series are generally not allowed.
  • Should an amateur movie be screened at a selective and relevant film festivals (e.g. a small town festival or the Cannes Short Film Corner do not qualify), have a proper theater release (e.g. a private/rented screening do not qualify), be on national TV in a country (e.g. small, local channels do not qualify), be on Netflix or an equivalent (e.g. content uploaded to your own YouTube channel, Vimeo or website do not qualify), or picked up and sold by a proper distributor (e.g. a local store do not qualify), it might be allowed.
  • If a person that is considered a professional makes a short film, that film is allowed even without it being released in any of the ways just mentioned. For example, should Blake Lively make a short film next week (e.g. added to Vimeo), it will be allowed because she is a professional.

Right from the third rule alone, I rolled my eyes – because it also seems to imply that a video that was posted on a celebrity’s Instagram would be allowed within the database whereas a feature-length film that was self-distributed is not. But with the numerous films that have already made a name for themselves before TMDb has come up, why is it that these smaller films are not allowed to stay? And the reason being that they aren’t so well-known elsewhere, then what does that have to say for numerous foreign language films that happen to have less than 100 views logged or rated?

What TMDb doesn’t realize about this rule is that they are harming a new generation of filmmakers by being so conservative about “professionalism.” It seems as if it is so limiting, because they do not wish to allow amateurs who are only climbing their way up, as opposed to people who are already established from a following of popularity. It’s here where I question what TMDb defines as “professional.” It seems unbelievably unprofessional on their own end (now to turn the word against themselves), because what they are implying is that only films that have been released as part of a major studio are deemed as professional (consider the fact that we have Sony releasing The Emoji Movie, truly a “professional” accomplishment if you were to ask me) and yet an independent production (take the Academy Award-winning Moonlight for example, or Sean Baker’s Tangerine, which was filmed entirely on an iPhone) is not something that qualifies. If an “amateur” effort ends up winning an Oscar, then by this rule it should not be allowed into the database for it is still an “amateur” effort not affiliated with any professional, because it doesn’t have Blake Lively involved – as they say.

There’s also a sense of elitism coming out on their behalf when I look at how they define a “professional” production as one that has been distributed, and quite frankly it is something that not very many talented filmmakers can afford. For example, I’ll point to Troma as some of their own films are part of the public domain for they uploaded their own films onto YouTube. Because they were distributed through YouTube or any other means, does it make it any less of a film? Quite obviously, vlog videos or comedy skits on the site are not films therefore not legible to be in the database, but Troma’s intentions were cinematic – so are they just thrown into said dump because of how they were distributed?

Now where I’m especially critical of this guideline comes out from the “Blake Lively rule,” which is where I rolled my eyes the most. I rolled my eyes here, because by this own logic, any celebrity can post a video over on Instagram or on Snapchat, and it should be allowed within the database. And this would be considered “professional,” yet an amateur production made for artistic purposes would still be seen as “amateur” and therefore – not a cinematic effort. This is where I’m most frustrated, because few people can make such a lucky hit on their first go that would skyrocket them to becoming a “professional,” a la Sam Mendes when he directed American Beauty. And with this having been said, comedy specials as well as concerts have went on the site without hesitation, but are they made for the same purposes we have distinctively cinematic efforts considered “amateur?” Not to say these should be removed, but why are they listed if so-called “amateur” films are not allowed?

I want to get into filmmaking at some point of my own life, and through film criticism, I felt it was one step getting closer – and then befriending small filmmakers through social media was another. And to see that an entire generation of these people is going to be shut down on the count of not being “professional” is simply, just not okay, in my eyes. It isn’t easy to get feedback when other sites like IMDb are not nearly as accepting of amateur efforts compared to Letterboxd, whose data comes from TMDb – self-proclaiming themselves as being “professionals” yet merely promoting only what is popular already. And for those who question why I have Akira Kurosawa as the header, I’m pretty sure that all of the greatest have started as “amateurs” at some point of their life – that doesn’t make them any less of a talented filmmaker. So why are we bothering to remove shorter efforts of budding filmmakers in the meantime? They aren’t any less of a film the way they are.

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I don't know if you know this, but I love movies.

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