Nick Dawson has cultivated the go-to destination for filmmakers from all walks of life to pool their journalistic efforts.
Articles ranging from breakdowns of racist Hollywood films or a chance meeting with Bresson in the 80's, filmmakers come together at Talkhouse to talk, share and explore the discourse around the edges of the frame. Some of the most dynamic conversations happening around contemporary film can be found at Talkhouse, as well as an extremely well curated chorus of voices that will teach, inspire and reveal new layers to both the job and the medium. We got a chance to chat with Nick Dawson, editor-in-chief at Talkhouse, about film criticism, Under the Skin and the importance of diversity in film.
There's an appreciation and understanding and a way that filmmakers talk amongst themselves that people are generally not privy to, and we're trying to bring those conversations more out into the open.
NFS: You've come far in a relatively quick period. When and why did you decide to start this site?
Nick: The site launched in late May of 2014. We're part of the Talkhouse family of sites; it's really just a logical continuation of the music site. The plan is to build out multiple verticals and have one every year that is introduced. Music and film were the intuitive first constituent parts of this bigger picture. My background is as a film journalist and an interviewer much less than a critic. One thing I really enjoy is having conversations with filmmakers, so this was a fun thing to take on as a continuation of those conversations and to really give a voice to filmmakers. There are a lot of voices out there in the current landscape of film criticism and filmmakers weighing in on movies was something we thought was missing.
It’s not about a marketing lead conversation about film; it’s a discussion on it’s own terms, coming from an informed and engaged point of view.
NFS: It’s a really well curated group of people so far. What are some things you look for when choosing people for the site?
Nick: There are those people who are forthcoming with their opinions and passionate about film, and there are those who are very private about how they consume cinema. And we're looking for those people too. There's not one quality I'm looking for; it's about a breadth of different voices. One example -- someone like Sophia Takal takes you through the experience of going to the movie, not just how she responded to it. Everyone does things differently and that's what makes it fun. I always want to have as many diverse voices on the site as possible, and to have those people talk about things we might not expect them to talk about. Joe Swanberg wrote about a Disney movie!
NFS: How has film criticism changed in the past 5 years? Has it evolved or devolved in the digital age?
Nick: The way people look to major critics has changed and it's possible that those voices are less influential than they used to be, but I don’t think the quality of the very best critics has decreased. And that’s not what the site is about -- I’m not making qualitative judgment on film criticism. We just want to provide an alternative.
NFS: Why is it important for filmmakers to be adding their commentary / criticism / advice?
Nick: There's an appreciation and understanding and a way that filmmakers talk amongst themselves that people are generally not privy to, and we're trying to bring those conversations more out into the open.
NFS: Yeah, and there’s something more dynamic about listening to a filmmaker dissect a film when you know they are thinking about it critically and filtering it through what they would do. Also, just the combinations of filmmakers you find on the site are very weird at times and that's what's really cool.
Nick: This industry is very white and very male and I’m always trying to represent the fullness of the different kinds of people who work in film in terms of gender and ethnicity and sexual orientation -- people from all portions of society sharing their take on things. We hope to be more balanced than our contemporaries, but the site is still very much in its infancy.
NFS: I love the piece about Caveh Zahedi meeting Bresson, just getting all these little glimpses into filmmakers' journeys. It's special. The podcast is also awesome.
Nick: We're growing all the time. The podcast is something that started in the music vertical. It's always really fun to do. Like when we did a two-parter with Rian Johnson and Terry Gilliam. That was really fun to do because they are two fascinating conversationalists and brilliant filmmakers. It's always about trying to find interesting pairings. Sometimes they are really high profile and sometimes they are just two interesting filmmakers whose opinions and experiences collide in an interesting way. Like Errol Morris and James Marsh, two Australian filmmakers, that was really interesting.
NFS: My favorite film of 2014 was Under the Skin, by far. Seeing that at the top of the Talkhouse 2014 list made me think, “Okay, this is the place for me.”
Nick: That was so fun for me to have that many people weigh in. I was very pleased. Again, it’s kinda surprising that it was such a clear winner. I think Boyhood was #2 and I knew that would be very strong, but it was very heartening to see a film like that rise to the top and be a clear winner. It’s a good indicator of the taste of the kind of people on the site and their individuality. They’re not following the lead of whatever the marketing is telling them is great; they’re actually forming their own opinions. At its best that's what the site does: it’s not about a marketing lead conversation about film; it’s a discussion on it’s own terms, coming from an informed and engaged point of view.
Thanks to Nick Dawson for chatting with us. Definitely check out the superb and diverse library of filmmakers' journalism at Talkhouse Film.