The Road To Filmwerk

My love of film magazines

I suppose I have Starburst magazine to thank for giving me something more to look forward to in the film world. Back in the late 80s in the UK there were only a few rags on the shelves that were devoted purely to film. There were a few horror and fantasy titles (such as Fangoria); Empire magazine was about to kick off in 1989, but for me Starburst was my gateway in.

Up to this point I’d been an avid video renter. Taken by the silver screen as a young child, that hobby was accelerated further by the fact that our family had moved country to a strange land that didn’t seem to understand me when I spoke. So before I managed to settle into any worthwhile friendships, much of my creative time was spent watching films and writing stories on my typewriter. Flights of fantasy are probably nothing new to children who grow up in villages, miles away from anything remotely worthwhile. But I’m thankful for being trapped at that age, as it helped me hone in, early on, on what I wanted to do in life and what made me happy (so it was a simple case of a career in publishing or film). I didn’t get too distracted by other people until I hit college.

So the limited funds I had went on a subscription to Starburst magazine (from a paper round). I wasn’t making it to the cinema all that often, but thanks to this informative magazine that would start to change very slowly. From going perhaps three times a summer to the flicks in the very late 80s to going at least once a week when I hit college in 1993/4.

It was around this time that I also started to videotape the US Box Office Top 10 shows that were on ITV at around 2am on a Wednesday (yes, back then film was so popular in this country we had Barry Norman once a week at about 10pm, and then this show at the ungodly hour midweek showing what was currently hot in the States).

Back to Starburst; it was published by a company called Visual Imagination and basically covered sci-fi, fantasy and horror releases. There was a news section, articles and finally reviews for theatrical releases, videos and books.  I wasn’t so keen on the horror elements at the time; hence me never buying the likes of Fangoria or even taking much of a shine to CinefantastiqueStarburst though had the goods, and for a good 2 or 3 years I stayed with the magazine. I can remember following the likes of Terminator 2Judgement Day (I was never a fan of the whole T2 acronym that followed, even though I do use it today), Total RecallGremlins 2: The New Batch, and it of course featured one of my all-time favourite covers, and all-time favourite film posters, for The Rocketeer.

Films were very exciting back then, and reading news of what was in production just really blew my hair back. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, in 1991, that I decided to give up on Starburst and head towards the bigger leagues. I stuck with Visual Imagination and went for their general film magazine Film Review. I must have known about this release as it would have been advertised in Starburst. It also featured many of the same reviewer names.  I became familiar with the words by Anwar Brett, James Cameron-Wilson (only cause he had a name so similar to the director) and also Alan Jones, who has since become kind of a hero for me in the film critic world. Cameron-Wilson was the name back then in Film Review that I was more familiar with as he compiled the yearly annuals; which were nothing short of a bloody cash in, but still. He is also the first journalist I recognised when I was breaking into freelance reviewing. He was in fact in attendance at the first film I went to a screening for – called Sleepover (a tawdry teenage girls’ film from 2004 with Steve Carrell in a supporting role). I recognised the gentleman and observed him from afar before going into the screening. I was also happy in the aftermath to see that he had given the film a similar beating to my own. Alan Jones on the other hand was a writer back then whose name I saw on more publications. StarburstFilm Review… and god knows how many other publications he has worked for. It was also clear that he was the horror guy”. Although I had yet to discover that he visited sets and covered most of Argento’s work. And he’s written the book, Profondo Argento, (out of print, but he tells me he is working on the updated version for next year!) which is really worth buying. Alan Jones I met more recently as he is one of the founders of FrightFest. I was lucky enough to do a couple of email interviews with him – one about the festival, and another about being a journalist – which was very handy for me, and hopefully for those aspiring writers out there. I have since then interviewed him twice in person and love every second of his big personality and no-bullshit approach to his work and the people he talks to.

Anyway, I was starting to notice the people that put these rags together and even from the far off land of Suffolk at an age too young to drive or travel far on my own. It wasn’t until later in 1992 that I discovered Empire magazine. I was working as a kitchen/wash up person at a retirement home for the disabled elderly. One of the care assistants was an avid reader of the magazine and was kind enough to let me browse their latest issue. I believe Gerard Depardieu was on the cover and the film was 1492: Conquest of Paradise that was being promoted. I was in. Sold!  And as I was earning money at the weekend at this point I could afford to buy this and also Film Review. I remember each magazine was barely £2 at the time!

In fact so excited I was, I started to dabble with other rags. A few music ones here and there, and whilst I did buy Q for a while and the odd issue of Kerrang and NME, I never really took to them as they barely covered the music that I was into. I took to very alternative bands that were not hot in the press for long periods that rags barely wrote about. Curve anyone?

I did discover some other film magazines though. Impact was a martial arts film based rag that would talk about all kinds of world cinema with people knocking ten bells out of each other. I never fully got into the magazine, although I may have bought 6-8 issues of it. It did do one thing, and that was to offer me insight into a film I would end up seeing 5 times within two weeks of release at the cinema: The Crow. I heard about this film long before any of my friends did. In fact most people caught wind after the tragic death of Brandon Lee, something I also picked up on in the trades. But getting an early glimpse into the film as it was being made was a bizarre experience as the shots that were printed were themselves odd looking. I hadn’t seen anything like this before. When the film was announced, I was expecting another Rapid Fire, short haired, Brandon Lee type of movie. Not this gothic rocker, comic book movie.

Another film I caught onto early in the trades before it became any sort of cult hit was Reservoir Dogs. I also had the pleasure of catching a copy of it long before it was released here. It came to me amidst a pile of tapes my father (bless him) threw down for me to check out. My father was very good at bringing home copies of films for me to check out – both old and new. I would not have seen Star Wars so many times (as well as many other films) if we did not have it on copy before it hit the retail shelves. Hell, this was also how I was introduced to the likes of Ferris Bueller’s Day off which I in turn managed to turn many of my friends at the time onto.

But Reservoir Dogs I watched and I distinctly remember not being taken by it that much. I had read an article, saw the image of Tim Roth lying in his own blood and thought it looked very OTT. The film looked cheap, came across like a play (and I was not a fan of the theatre at the time – I wanted pure fantasy type films). So I kind of dismissed it. In fact not even the ear scene had any impact on me. So when the film became a cult hit I was scratching my head. Listened to what people said and revisited it and decided, “OK, it’s better on second viewing”.  To this day I often wonder if I was being led by the crowd on this one. Everyone became a Tarantino freak – especially when Pulp Fiction hit (which to this day I still insist is over-rated). But Dogs is a very good film, and is one of his best. But if no one had seen it – I would barely have any memory of it. So it is interesting how influenced we can be (certainly how I was back then) by popularity, public opinion and even the lack of both in some cases. It often makes me wonder how many other classics are out there that did not get the chance to be discovered, or that we each dismiss because they come and go when we’re not in the right attentive mood for them.  It’s a practice that I applied more successfully to the music world as I spent many hours, in many days searching for so many bands that were right on key with what I wanted to hear (thank you MySpace!) And as a result I have discovered some real gems and in many cases I have gone on to interview them and review their material in the vain hope that at least a few more people will check them out.

Getting back to the rags; the mid-90s saw more publications come along. I had discovered Sight & Sound – which is like the academics magazine printed by the BFI. I think their core audience was 25+ but I didn’t give a shit about that – even at 18 when I started reading it in 1994. This is the only mag I have collected. I collected it from late 95 and only recently stopped buying. I may have 3 or 4 missing issues in this space of time, but otherwise I have them all from over 15 years of collecting. It’s a good magazine for different reasons. The layout is not very impactful on the eye, but it does have a handy review section that gives you not only a review, but a full synopsis of the film and also the entire credits. Great for learning different production names and running times etc. and also great for spoiling the story of the film! I was particularly careful which of these I read. It’s a nasty habit to get into reading the plot of a film before you see it, but sometimes it actually got me interested in a film. So it can work both ways.

In 1996 Total Film launched. This was to be the main competitor to Empire and, for a while, I was swayed as Total Film had a very cool layout and a very retro look to the front cover. I believe Mel Gibson was on the front of the first issue that was promoting Ransom. The news section was further in, in a grey paginated section. The reviews were initially giving marks out of 10 (now it’s the ole 5 star rating) but also have a predictive interest curve graph, which they have retained. I love the way this magazine started and it’s sad that over the years it has slowly become more and more like its main competitor, and has now slumped to being just lazy. It is still popular, but far too often they have uninspired covers, and the writing has become far too gossip centred (shit, even their website is full of uninspired lists of films. Lazy, lazy, lazy!) I find it shallow that they should write this way and I point my full fingers at Jamie Graham who is now the editor in charge. A bearded, bespectacled, shaggy haired, tubby man I do my best to avoid at all costs when attending screenings and especially FrightFest as Total Film are often a sponsor (at least they have some credit to them).

Still I had many a subscription to the magazine when Matt Mueller was in charge. So there was a time for years when I was buying EmpireTotal FilmSight and Sound & Film Review. Plus, occasionally opting to buy the odd extra as I just couldn’t get enough! Sometimes Hotdog Magazine (a pulpy alternative mag that just was never that great) and various cult magazines like Impact.

Visual Imagination even expanded. They had Starburst and Film Review but also their horror title ShiversTV Zone (which covered, er, TV), Cult Zone was another which was another cross breed and Movie Idols (which was a poster mag based on a different star each issue).

Now I haven’t even mentioned the American Magazines.  Again in the mid-90s onwards I dabbled with different ones. Cinescape (I think that was the title) was my favourite. It listed films in production as well as had advance articles on films we would not get for some time. Premiere was probably the biggest rag out there at the time and, although I wasn’t fully taken by it, editor and writer Chris Connolly bugged me (and he often appeared as a red carpet host at the Oscars – the Cameron Crowe looking dude with the big gap between his teeth. I believe he also appeared as a TV host in Last Action Hero at the Jack Slater premiere).

Then there were the weekly rags like Entertainment WeeklyVariety and The Hollywood Reporter. All with their perks but by this time I was really pushing the boundaries, as well as my wallet. So I cut back on all except those I was subscribed to and even then I had overlap.  At the time I decided to drop Film Review as it was starting to look out of date. It was thinner and offered very little beyond having a table of review results from all the writers which helped give you a rough idea of what was really popular and what was really not. So I dropped down to three rags. For the better part of a decade it remained this way until I started to only buy every other issue of Total Film (until I gave that up completely this year) and then also gave up Sight & Sound.

Sight and Sound I should have given up years ago as it hasn’t changed well with time and was only of great use to me in my academic years – and it was a wonderful tool for that. Nowadays I keep them for reference but with the internet proving so valuable and faster I don’t really need them as I can get everything I need from the web.

So now I’m down to just Empire. There have been times when I almost trashed that as well, as their arrogance can really start to show. And it showed more than ever this year when they promoted their Big Screen event which was pretty much a disaster for the majority of the masses who tried to book and attend it. Having seen their forum they are indeed taking in the constructive comments to help make it better next year, but still showing stubbornness here and there about some of the complaints made. But when you are “Britain’s Number One Film Magazine” you do pretty much ride the high waves in the industry. But they have the opportunity to be a bit more humble and make up for it next year. If they screw that up, then things may well change.

The magazine as a format in general is slowly dying and websites have taken over. Good Lord, there are so many film websites out there Filmwerk barely has the chance to survive. Like spawn all squeezed together in a vacuum, we’d have to work hard to stretch and grow. So it will be interesting to see how far this site goes and how long it lasts and who remains with it longest.

I have myself worked for a few film websites including Den Of Geek and theshiznit. The writing gigs were only a few to speek of for each. One site was more fun to write for than the other, but it wqs all part of the learning curve and soon set me down the creatuve path of doing stuff myself.

At this time I had joined as a writer of online alternative mag Nocturnal and my input grew heavily with each issue. Issue 1 I submitted 3 short film reviews. By Issue 6 I was Deputy Editor and writing and editing pages together for 1/3 of the 72 page magazine. This was about halfway through the mag’s lifetime. I was writing reviews, articles, conducting interviews, covering events and doing heavy photo shooting for the mag (even got the front covers of issue 10 and 11). But as it started to close after its 11th issue, Filmwerk was born. There was work done for a 12th issue of Nocturnal, but sadly it never came to be. I enjoyed the work I did on the magazine, but issues kept running late and I could never get straight answers out of the owner/editor. To this day he’s never explained what happened. Either way, despite missing the mag, I made my transition to the new Filmwerk site at the right time.

It is worth mentioning that I had been writing for our sister music website Glasswerk since 2004 and the owner fully well knows that I had been bugging him for Filmwerk since that year. 2010 he delivered what we have now onto my lap. It was a simple thank you for all the work I had done for Glasswerk in the past. So it was my baby to control, his to own. I had made it to the top of my first tree.

And here we all are, one year later.  Our numbers have grown by 100os; our site has stretched to books and games and the retrospective area is full to the brim. We are growing bigger with every day. So, in retrospect; there have been ups and downs on my journey to get here. Filmwerk is expanding the team, refining the rough edges and believe me; I have days with writers that I wonder if I come off like the editors I fell out with. Seeing life from the opposite end of the scale is interesting.

I’ve had many close friends and acquaintances from my life submit copy to the site and it’s been an enlightening experience hearing their thoughts about growing up with film and the culture surrounding these experiences. I seemed to have made it my mission to get at least one published article from every friendly face I know and I’ve never had a “no” to that suggestion so far. Why? I can only guess that it’s offering someone to opportunity to be constructive about something they are passionate about. It may mean a few hours’ work, but what’s a few hours compared to self-satisfaction in a lifetime.

Steven Hurst

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