You started your blog in 2008 when you were 16, why did you start it?
I can’t really remember, I think it was partly just boredom of doing A-Levels and having nothing else to do. A friend of mine had started a blog and I was jealous of that and wanted to have one, at that point it wasn’t like everyone had blogs. I just wanted to see if anything could happen with it and to try and see films for free.
At first I was trying to write about everything, hence the name, which has nothing to do with film at all. I was just writing to people and saying ‘Can I have this for free? I’ll write about it…to my zero readers…’ I’m sure that was a very attractive prospect, luckily there weren’t quite as many people doing it in 2008 as I can only assume there are now, so some people were like, ‘Aw, that’s sweet, he’s taking the initiative.’ It wasn’t that much sweat off their backs to send me three singles or films. Then I just carried on in that vein for a long time before I started putting proper effort into making it good.
How did it become successful?
There was really no massive turning point, I think about six months in it was in The Guardian: Guide, as an online pick section, written by Johnny Dee, so that made a difference, little spikes like that. But pretty much over the three years it’s been a steady curve of getting better.
And you were on BBC film 2010?
Yeah I was on for that series, and that was the same thing really, Claudia Winkleman just happened to stumble upon it via Twitter. I only joined Twitter in 2009 and that made such a major difference and still does. So many opportunities have come from there in some way and if I had been on it in 2008, it probably would have been even easier to get connected with all these people.
So the blog is your job?
Yeah, I mean I couldn’t live just solely off the blog. I have to write for other things, but because it is just me, any small amount that comes in is for me.
Where do you see yourself going with it? Do you want to develop it?
I don’t know, I don’t think it would lend itself to being expanded and having lots of writers because it is such pointless, point-of-view things. It’s not about getting news. I think I would have to find someone who writes very similarly to me, otherwise it would feel like a couple blog, where you’ve got two view points, which could work but I don’t think that’s right for me. Doing events are fun, but there’s not really any money in it. It’s just for fun.
Why do you think people read it?
That’s a hard question…that’s a question that encourages me to be very arrogant. I reckon it’s because it’s just so good, so fucking good, that how could anyone not like it?
Well it does have ‘grant watch’…
Yeah, it’s things like that when people feel like they can identify a personality…
Josh (photographer) was suddenly available when he saw the hugh grant feature…
Yeah, well I need to get going on that, because I’ve been doing it for months and I’ve only done five! I’ve got them all on my Love Film list, but they never seem to come. Maybe because they’re so in demand, that everyone is trying to get hold of them, trying to get hold of The Lair of the White Worm, I might have to get it imported. But yeah, I guess it’s more personal than most movie blogs, although there are a few…
But you were obviously the first…
I was so groundbreaking! No there’s an American film blog called Film Junk which has basically been doing what I’m doing, for a lot longer than me- Outside Film, Pop Justice, I just steal everything from them!
That doesn’t sound good…
It’s all been done before, but I’ve managed to carve a niche anyway!
What’s this feud with the daily mail’s film critic, Chris Tookey?
I actually know Chris Tookey, I wouldn’t say well, but we have this very cordial relationship where we can have quite in-depth discussions about why we disagree so strongly with each other. He makes some good points even if he does sound insane a lot of the time. I think he believes everything he writes and he’s not one of those critics, like so many of them, that just fall asleep in a film and then give it 5 stars.
He’s a good critic, it’s only when he gets trapped into doing all these really moralistic, Daily Mail style angles on everything. Although, as he said to me – which I haven’t really thought about, but it’s very true – he finds it hard that that’s my biggest criticism of him when a lot of my stuff if quite moralistic, obviously on the other side of the spectrum by miles…which is quite a good point. But the difference is I’m right and he’s massively wrong. (Laughs)
How does it feel when people negatively comment on the blog?
Saying it’s shit? I don’t have comments on the actual website itself, I think they’re pointless. I just don’t think people comment if they like something. When ever I write for something that has a comment page like The Guardian in the particular, it seems that if they’re not interested in it then they wonder why it’s onThe Guardian website. Despite the fact that The Guardian must have 60 different subjects on their website and you’re never going to be interested in all of them, you don’t have to read it. I tend to write for The Guide, which is more light-hearted and then it ends up on the website and people mistake it for news. Fair enough if the article said something objective or inaccurate, but why would you get involved if you don’t even care about it? So not having a comments page is helpful.
If you go to the effort of emailing, Facebook-ing or Tweeting me, then you’d have to be an odd person to seek out that confrontation…not that people don’t do it. I do get bizarrely aggressive emails from people that are absolutely furious at the temerity to put this stuff online.
Does that put you off?
Not really, because the ones that, not put me off, but make me think in a good way are the ones that say they like the blog, but thought I shouldn’t have said something in particular. But certainly when I did the TV show….fucking hell, just an avalanche. It happens to everyone but I think it came on really badly, and I think because my twitter name is @ultraculture rather than just my name, people thought, ‘Oh it’s OK, I can just write that, it will be read by one of the Ultra Culture guys, and not the guy I’m actually writing about.’ Which of course is actually me.
I think that probably gave me a thicker skin than anything else. I guess…sorry, this is turning into therapy (laughs)… I guess it was partly because I kind of agreed with them because I wasn’t very happy with it or how I was on the show, so it kind of touched a nerve. Where as if people say, ‘Your writing is fucking shit, why are you doing this?’ It doesn’t hurt in the same way, because I like my writing and I would defend anything that I write. If you aren’t happy or confident about something then people start picking up on it and that can get to you.
Do you think blogs will become more influential than newspapers, do you think they should be?
I think it will become so blurry as to what is what, I read a lot of newspaper film criticism, but I read it all online. I don’t know whether what I’m reading is from a paper somewhere, or whether they’re just a blog for The Guardian website. I suppose the distinction is paid critics versus unpaid critics, I don’t think there’s a massive difference. I think there are some really bad paid critics and some really bad unpaid critics, and vice-versa. I suppose the only worrying bit, is that worrying middle ground where people are in awe of being sent things from distributors and may get swayed, but I don’t think that happens as much as a broadsheet critic would have you believe. The idea that every blogger is this nerd in a bedroom somewhere, getting a little Immortals toy and suddenly giving it 5 stars.
I think a lot of broadsheet critics overestimate how easy it is to become successful from a blog, they think it’s easier than it is. In a way it’s more dangerous to become the new Times critic, you instantly have an audience, whether you’re good or not, and generally they are going to be good because they’ve had to fight to get the job.
Who is your idol?
(Long, long pause) OK…this is not really my idol, because I don’t want to be him or live my life like him – although it would be fun – I will always read, watch, indulge in anything that Harmony Korine ever does until he dies. I just think he is such an incredibly playful, inventive filmmaker. And also my mum.
Get sucked in by IDOL’s favourite film blog – Ultra Culture
Interviewed by Emma Hurwitz
Photographed by Josh Shinner