An Interview with Film Critic Bill Arceneaux

An Interview with Film Critic Bill Arceneaux

Drawn by Zach McGovern, Picture by Leslie Almeida

Image by Zach McGovern and Leslie Almeida

We conducted an interview with film critic Bill Arceneaux, a writer based here in New Orleans.  Bill has been covering films, the New Orleans film scene, and more with a fun, straightforward writing style. He is incredibly supportive of  the film industry here and was a pleasure to chat with.

1) Please introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you do currently.

I’m Bill Arceneaux, a Metro NOLA native. I’ve been a film critic – working from amatuer blogger to professional writer – since 2011, and a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (1 of 3 in Louisiana) since 2014. I write movie reviews and articles, conduct interviews and produce podcasts from time to time.

2) So saying you are “fan of film” is a bit of an understatement. Clearly you are passionate about movies – what fostered your passion for it? What were some of the earliest films that resonated with you?

To provide a proper answer, I’m gonna have to time travel back to 7th grade. For an in class assignment, we were all asked to write about our best friends. I was the only student to choose a setting, not a person: the movie theater. I’m sure there was some kind of childhood moment that I strive to connect to everyday that is responsible for my love of cinema – perhaps my first memory of movies, which was watching Rocky IV with family – but I just love the public intimacy of watching a film with others. You may be surrounded by friends, neighbors and strangers, but when the lights flicker and fade, it’s just you and the illusion of movement. It’s the most consistent romantic relationship in my life, you could say.

Movies that I loved growing up:

Top Gun
Searching for Bobby Fischer
UHF
– Superman II
The Original Star Wars Trilogy

3) So you’re from the New Orleans area. Do you find it informs how you do your work? Does it impact you professionally?

Absolutely. First off, I do my best to cover films being locally shown at local theaters. This can be pretty difficult, especially if the only regional outlet you write for is in Baton Rouge. However, I do what I can, either through social media sharing or blog writing. Though, I DID just get rid of my most recent blog… Second, I think the laid back atmosphere of New Orleans trickles its way into how I write reviews. I tend to lean towards being cheeky and funny, with the context being that I’m taking the piss out of something instead of straight up negativity. Usually, there’s at least one thing to enjoy in a film. I don’t let the humidity and mugginess of poor craft seep into my attitude.

New Orleans has movie fans and all, but isn’t treated well as a moviegoing (or even movie making) town. We have great theaters, sure, but the culture could stand to be improved upon. If you’re a critic in this area and you’re independent and/or freelance (like me), you write because you love to, not because it pays the bills.

4) You’ve written on several platforms and experimented with various ways of funding your writing, such as Patreon. Monetization is always a challenge for anything writing-based. What have you found to be effective? Where have some of the challenges been with regards to monetizing your work?

Patreon is a wonderful tool if people know who you are and follow you. Or if you’re in a medium that they care about. So far, my campaign has been limited to a network of immediate friends and colleagues. Honestly, finding outlets willing to pay has kept me afloat. This can be a daunting and even depressing scavenger hunt, but I find having an editor to work under only improves my work, with constructive criticism and idea exchanges. I often wonder if potential readers and supporters look at my work and scoff or worse, close the browser tab without finishing. What am I doing wrong or not enough of? How can I better myself? These are always on my mind.

5) What are some of the key elements you look for when critiquing a movie? Are there certain criteria and metrics you use? What are some of the biggest turns-offs for you in a movie? What tends to draw you in and win your approval? 
Only five years into my pro career, I’m uncertain as to the “appropriate” or “scientific” formula for film criticism. I used to treat reviews as autobiography capsules, telling stories about myself that would tie into the movie being written about. I’ve since abandoned that for discussing more of the specific atmospherics of the film than anything. How did it make me feel? What was it trying to make me feel? Was it trying at all?

Brevity and technical cleverness always win out. It’s hard for me to stick with a film when it drags its story on and on, or when there is no flair or mastery of craft (subtle or not) at work. Maximum effort!

6) If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to write/critique films, what would be your main piece of advice?

Keep an open mind and KEEP WRITING. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t get discouraged. I could’ve started earlier had I really listened to certain people.

7) What are you working on now? 

I’ve begun writing for Occupy.com, doing reviews and columns. It’s gonna be a challenge, getting into political and societal territory. Though, movies ARE a reflection of us, so it’s only natural. I’m also working on a new article series for Movieboozer and a podcast for the local cinephile group SwampFlix.com – stay tuned!

7) Anything else you’d like to add? 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might be some kind of reverse or misunderstood masterpiece. Consider and reconsider that.

Follow Bill on twitter (@BillReviews), facebook (facebook.com/reelbillreviews), and support him on Patreon (patreon.com/billreviews).

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