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Haunted Sideshow

Dustin Putman


A Few Minutes with...Dustin Putman
An interview with the OFCS Newsletter
February 3, 2003

You may not think of a 21-year-old as being a "pioneer," but Dustin Putman is among the leaders in the new wave of film critics who successfully broke down the age barrier and helped gain a level of equality and respect for talented young writers.

While some old fuddy-duddies sneer at the idea of 21-and-under writers having anything of value to say, Dustin (along with a good number of fellow OFCSers) have proved that mature observatory skills and a distinct command of the language can be found in today's youth.  Dustin's been writing film reviews since the mid-90s and he has built a reputation which is well-regarded by his media peers (including a USA Today Hot Site Award) and from the film industry.  Dustin is a fairly busy man (besides running his online magazine, he is a senior at American University in Washington, DC, majoring in Visual Media and aiming to graduate this fall), he had time to speak freely and frankly about his work in online film journalism.

Q.  You were among the first wave of under-20 critics whose online film journalism was taken seriously by the movie industry and the Net community.  Before online film journalism, there was no precedent for writers so young to be treated as equals to those twice or even thrice their age.  Did you realize when you were beginning to publish your film reviews that you breaking new ground and breaking down the age barrier?

DUSTIN PUTMAN: At first, I really didn't think about whether I was, as you say, "breaking new ground and breaking down the age barrier." It wasn't until I joined the OFCS in 1998 that I was exposed to a sort of discrimination toward a couple of the other younger writers. I suppose those that looked down on us simply felt like they had seniority and we were just a bunch of "kids" who didn't take film criticism seriously and whose opinions didn't really count. Luckily, I had very few encounters with this myself. Since I didn't really go around advertising my age, some of my readers were utterly shocked that I was only 18 or 19 at the time. For as long as they had been following my reviews, they always just assumed I was some middle-aged guy. I guess you could take that as either a compliment or a criticism!

Q.  Some folks may not know this, but you were among the first critics to see "The Blair Witch Project" long before it became the phenomenal event of 1999.  That film's marketing success was rooted in the Internet and inspired by the commentary of critics like yourself.  From your experience as a critic, do you feel that other films have surpassed "Blair Witch" in terms of aggressive and imaginative of Net-based marketing?

DUSTIN PUTMAN: Honestly, no. "The Blair Witch Project" was a one-of-a-kind occurrence in that, had it not been for the film's and directors' official web sites and the early Internet reviews, it would have came and went in theaters in a flash. The key to the marketing—and it was a genius idea that hasn't been done nearly as successfully before or since—was that it captured the audience's imagination. So many people were convinced that it was a real documentary (even after they had seen it), and the summer the movie was released I was inundated with e-mails insisting it was non-fiction. The film's marketing offered something a little different to potential viewers, and created an excitement that was unprecedented for something that only cost like $150,000. There hasn't been another film since then that has done that under those circumstances.

Q.  A quote from your review of the film version of MTV's "Jackass" ("If these 80 minutes don't signal the coming of the apocalypse, nothing ever will!") was actually used in the television promotion of the film.  How does it feel to have a bad review used to promote a film which you did not recommend for viewing?

DUSTIN PUTMAN: MTV's advertising for "Jackass" perfectly kept with the tone of the movie. The marketing team knew that their core audience didn't care about reviews; they were going to see it no matter what. I thought their ads were hilarious (and it certainly helped that I was one of the quoted critics!). In a way, it reminded me of when David Lynch's "Lost Highway" came out in 1997. In all of the ads after it was released, it was proudly displayed that Siskel & Ebert gave it "Two Thumbs Down!" and over it was written, "Two more reasons to see 'Lost Highway'."

Q.  For some time, you've been balancing your film review work with an academic workload.  What is the secret for staying in balance, despite the obvious time pressures from both pursuits?

DUSTIN PUTMAN: I don't know if there's a secret so much as a sacrifice involved. Depending on the semester, I will go to school four or five days a week. Each weekend (and sometimes after school) I will try to see as many of the movies that have been released, and follow it up later at night with writing my reviews. Mix that in with having another part-time job on the side, and it's safe to say that I have little free time for nine months out of the year. The thing is, movies are my real passion in life, and writing about them and having people read them is a bonus, so really there's nothing else I'd rather be doing with my time. Because I don't make much money from it, I could stop at any time if I wasn't enjoying myself, but I love it.

Q.  Where do you see your career headed? 

DUSTIN PUTMAN: With less than a year left of college, I see my future possibly going a number of different way. Ideally, writing and directing my own films would be a dream. I have taken several production classes and completed four short films (for which I directed, wrote, and edited solely on my own). I have also written two (unsold) feature-length screenplays, and a short-subject script. Editing is another film-related passion of mine, which I was surprised to discover around a year ago. I also am in the preliminary stages of writing my first novel, which I hope to send out to publishers once it's finished. Of course, my other intention is to continue to get my name, reviews, and web site out there, and hope that something comes of it. And at the very least, if I ever try to get a job at a newspaper or magazine as a film critic, I've already got an extensive résumé! It's alternately exciting and scary knowing that school is almost over for me. As for what lies ahead, only time will tell.