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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sean Kelly

Reflections on a Decade of Film Blogging

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On August 31, 2004 at 11:35am, a 22 year old film lover named Sean Patrick Kelly posted the introductory post for his new film blog “Sean P. Kelly On Movies,” located at http://skmovies.blogspot.com.  A couple hours later, the first proper post was made, which was all about this young blogger’s hatred of film reviews.  Fast forward a decade later and this now 32 year old blogger has turned into a more mature writer, who now appreciates the value of giving an opinion.

It is hard to believe that I have been blogging about film for a decade.  Like many of my online endeavours, this film blog began as little more than a hobby.  Whenever, I felt like giving an opinion on the world of film, I would post it on this blog.  When I started this blog back in 2004, I never really thought that I would still be writing it a decade later.  Even more surprising is how my writing steadily developed into more than simply a hobby.  If I was told a decade ago that my blog would allow me to get media access to film festivals and open the door for other writing opportunities, I probably would have laughed.

Well, it’s time to go down memory lane and revisit the first ten years of “Sean Kelly on Movies.”

Before the Beginning

It’s pretty safe to say that I have been a life-long lover of movies.  I was taken to movies by my parents multiple times as a child and I began going on my own when I became a teenager.  I lived within walking distance of both the Runnymede Theatre and Humber Cinema, which helped me to easily go and see most of the major new releases.  By the time I was in my early twenties, I had progressed to seeing films on a weekly basis.

I was also a very computer literate person and I was actually planning on pursuing a career in computer programming.  Following my graduation from high school in 2001, I enrolled in the computer programmer diploma program at Humber College, which I graduated from in 2003.  Sadly, I never succeeded in finding a career in computer programming, since I had the bad luck of learning to become a programmer when the whole industry was at the beginning of a downslide.

At the same time that I was learning to become a computer programmer, my love of film continued to grow.  Halfway through my studies at Humber, I saw Donnie Darko, which I consider to be the point where my love of film turned a corner.  It’s probably a bit of a misnomer to say that I have been blogging about film for a decade, since after seeing Donnie Darko, I started making more film-related posts on my old Live Journal blog.  I didn’t blog about film often (about 2 dozen posts in a three year period), but it was the beginning of posts that I would later include in my proper film blog, such as my yearly Oscar predictions and reviews beginning with “My Thoughts on.”

It’s interesting going back through these old Live Journal posts and reading about an aborted movie site I was planning in the fall of 2003 called “Movies of the Moment.”  I’ve forgotten what that site was going to entail, but the term is something that I would later reuse for my blog’s new release column.

The Early Days

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The blog’s early look, circa 2005

So, it was in the summer of 2004 that “Sean P. Kelly On Movies” was officially created.  I cannot recall when I decided to remove my middle initial from the site’s title, though I am somewhat glad that I did, since “Sean Kelly on Movies” just seems to roll off the tongue better.

It’s probably a bit of an understatement to say that I had a slow start.  After my initial two posts on August 31, 2004, it would be two weeks before I made another post.  After that, I essentially went on hiatus for nearly three months, before I decided to make an effort to post semi-regularly.  I would say say that the first 2-3 years of my blog was all about me trying to figure out what exactly I was going to blog about.

I maintained my anti-review bias for the first few years, so most of the posts I had written were opinion pieces.  In those early days, I wrote about things like the Million Dollar Baby controversy, responding to jerks yelling F-bombs at the screen, talking about the time I met a certain horror director, and my opinion on the then-proposed shortening of the theatrical/DVD window.  In addition to my many opinion posts, I began my “Movies of the Moment” column (now known as This Week in Movies), where I would break down the week’s new releases.  This column has always been little more than filler, which is probably why it has been an “on again, off again” column for practically the entire history of this blog.

Getting Educated

YorkU

In the fall of 2005, I enrolled as a mature student at York University.  My initial goal was to get an Information Technology related degree, to go along with the college diploma I already had. However, the computer related degrees at York required math prerequisites that I didn’t have.  In fact, I actually had to declare a major of mathematics for my first year, since I needed to take a math course to get into Information Technology and I had too many transfer credits to go undeclared. I eventually decided that this wasn’t the path through university that I wanted to continue on, so I applied and got accepted to York’s BA program in Film Studies.  I actually later found out that York was the first University in Canada to offer a theoretical (as opposed to production-based) film program. It took me a while to get used to all this theory (I got a mere 48.5 on my first midterm), but it eventually turned into a program I quite excelled in and my education helped to turn me into the film writer that I am today.

Around the same time I started studying film at York, I signed up for the volunteer program of the Toronto International Film Festival.  I had already been going to the film festival for three years at that point and I had written a couple posts for the 2005 festival, including my festival history up to that point.  At the time, I didn’t see more than one or two films at the festival, so I didn’t really have enough to blog about.  Signing up to volunteer helped with this, since I would receive a voucher for a film after every shift.  I also decided at the time that I would write logs about my volunteer experience.  I would continue this habit for my first four years or so of volunteering, before I decided around 2010 that it would probably be best if I kept my writing and volunteering separate.

Anyways, enrolling in film studies definitely had an influence on the content I wrote for my blog.  Probably the biggest change to happen, as a result of my education, is that I finally lightened up on my anti-review stance and announced in January of 2007 that I would finally begin to write reviews for my blog.  Of course, calling them “reviews” would be a bit of a joke.  For many years, I would never use the word “review” in these posts, which would instead be prefaced by “My Thoughts on,” with the reviews never being very long (often less than 200 words). 

While the earliest reviews had ratings (representing both IMDB and Yahoo Movies), there was a point around March 2007 when I decided to stop including them, only to permanently reintroduce them a year later.  My stance on my numbered rating system is that the number I throw on to the end of the review is more for me than the reader.  There are many times during the year when I have to make a ranked list (such as during festivals or at the end of the year) and, when it comes to sorting, I give priority to the films with higher ratings.  This is why the majority of the films that I see (and like) get a rating of 8, since that is my default.  It’s a non-conventional system, but I like it.

The addition of reviews really helped to increase my post count, with me having made 80 posts by the end up 2007.  However, that number would soon go way up.

Taking Blogging Seriously

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The blog’s first major redesign, circa 2008

It was around 2008 when I decided to make a serious effort to improve the readership of my blog.  It was around April of that year, where I experimented with making daily posts.  One of these was a new column called Interesting News of the Moment, where I would post about interesting film news that I noticed around the web.  I also started my Classic Thoughts series, where I would write reviews of older films, which I am either watching for the first time (like I do now for the Blindspot series) or have recently rewatched.  It was also around this time that I started posting DVD columns for the first time.  I would eventually slowly stop doing daily posts, though I ended up writing 315 posts in 2008 and 333 posts in 2009, which remains the two best years of my blogging history.

Around this time, I also made an effort to make my blog look a bit more presentable, without the generic blogspot template I have been using for the past few years.  I created the film reel collage of my favourite films, which has become the basis for my new dark grey template. It was around July of 2008, in which I officially registered the domain of http://www.skonmovies.com, which replaced my original blogspot address.  It was also in July of 2008, in which I joined Twitter under my original handle of @seanpkelly82. I would change it to @SKonMovies a few years later, after I realized that most of my posts involved my film blogging.

Writing for MONDO

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It was in January of 2009, in which I began to branch into freelance film writing, when I began to write for the online arts magazine MONDOmagazine. The magazine allowed open contributions, so all I had to do was write something and submit it to an editor.  It was through MONDO, in which I developed my skills as a reviewer, with my first post being a review of Laurent Cantet’s The Class.  I would continue being a very regular presence on MONDO for the next two years, until the magazine quietly ceased operations in early 2011.

Also in 2009, I began to expand my event coverage, by attending both Fan Expo Canada and the Toronto After Dark Film Festival for the first time.  I only saw one film at TAD that year, that being Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘R Treat.  However, I ended up writing both a capsule review of the film for my blog, as well as a longer review for MONDO.  The latter ended up being quoted and linked from the Trick ‘R Treat Twitter account, which gave me the first taste of both the power of social media and my growing clout as a writer.

School’s Out

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SK on Movies, circa 2011

In May of 2010, I graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and Medias Studies with Honours.  My goal since I started volunteering for TIFF in 2006 was to eventually get a job with them and, following my completion of university, I would apply to practically every TIFF job opening I qualified for.  I quickly learned that getting a job with TIFF, a non-profit organization that doesn’t hire often, was very difficult and highly competitive.  I made use of sites, such as Media Job Search and Work in Culture, to find other film-related job opportunities and I was lucky in the fall of 2010 to get interviews for internships with both eOne Entertainment and the Worldwide Short Film Festival (sadly I got neither).  To keep myself busy as I remained unemployed, I increased my TIFF volunteer commitment to include year-round opportunities and I focused more on my writing.

Switching to year-round volunteering ended up really helping me get the most out of the film festival, since I was now able to save up vouchers during the year.  While there was only a small bump at the 2010 festival, I ended up seeing a whopping 26 films at the 2011 festival, which is still my all-time high.

Blogging about the Humber

In the spring of 2011, the Humber Cinema, one of the two local cinemas I went to regularly as a teenager, was set to re-open after being closed for eight years.  I celebrated the re-opening by writing a retrospective post about my history with the cinema.  This turned into a whole series of posts detailing how the cinema was doing.  When the cinema re-opened in April 2011, I didn’t realize that this story would turn into a literal west end soap opera.  Within the course of a year and a half, the Humber was re-closed (twice) and the manager who restored the cinema found himself evicted by the landlord.  While I decided to stop blogging about the Humber (and this bitter feud) in late-2012, I am happy to say that the Humber is still open for business and I still see films there quite regularly.

I would later write about other cinemas I visited in the post Movie Theatres of My Life in January 2012, followed by MORE Movie Theatres of My Life a few months later.  I was planning a third post in the series (about international cinemas), though I have yet to get around to writing it.  Around the same time, I started my Revisiting Series, which consisted of very in-depth (and spoiler-filled) discussions of classic films.  This included my Revisiting 1982 series throughout 2012, in which I talked about many films released during the year that I was born, often considered to be one of the greatest years in film.

There’s a community of film bloggers in Toronto?

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SK on Movies, circa 2012

An interesting sequence of events began as I was attending the 2011 Toronto After Dark Film Festival.  This was my first time seeing more than one film at the festival, which resulted in me doing proper coverage.  That year, Toronto After Dark was being covered by a site called TheSubstream, which I remembered from their presence at TIFF.  I went to the site to check their coverage and I liked what I saw.  I started commenting on posts and their message board and a few months later I answered a call looking for a news contributor and I would end up contributing to the site for a little over a year, until sadly TheSubstream closed in the spring of 2013.

After the conclusion of Toronto After Dark, fans of the festival were asked to comment on an episode of a podcast called Mamo, which was being highly critical of the festival (comparing it negatively to TIFF’s Midnight Madness).  I was already remotely familiar with the show’s hosts Matthew Brown and Matthew Price, since they were also contributors to TheSubstream.  The podcast was hosted on a film blog/community called Row Three.  After listening to the podcast, I left a comment in support of Toronto After Dark.  It turned out that I liked both Mamo and Row Three, so I subscribed to the podcast and started regularly visiting (and commenting on) the site and I eventually started listing to their own podcast the Cinecast.

In November of 2011, the TIFF Bell Lightbox (which opened a year earlier) held an event called the “TIFF 80s Tweet-Up,” in conjunction with their “Back to the 80s” film series.  While I attended the event on my own, I noticed that there were a group of people all sitting together, who were apparently all fellow film bloggers.  One of these people – Ryan McNeil of The Matinee – I already knew, since he was the older brother of one of my friends from elementary school.  I didn’t really interact with this group at the Tweet-Up, though I was following them all on Twitter by the end of the night.

It was in January of 2012 when I received an e-mail from Kurt Halfyard, one of Toronto-based writers for Row Three and Twitch (and who I was also familiar with from his occasional contributions to TheSubstream).  It was in this e-mail that I was officially invited to come out for the monthly Film Blogger pub nights, which apparently have been going on since the mid-2000s.  Being a somewhat introverted guy with Asperger’s, the first pub night was a little nerve-wracking for me, but I quickly found myself part of the group.

Chancing into this blogger community ended up being a great thing, especially when I began spotting the fellow bloggers at film festivals and screenings.

Getting Accredited

One thing that I quickly realized as part of this Toronto film blogger community was that I could apply for and cover film festivals and events as accredited media.  While this is a difficult task to achieve for TIFF, I managed to get accreditation to many of the smaller film festivals in the city.  The first festival I received accreditation for was the 2012 Shinsedai Cinema Festival, followed by Toronto After Dark 2012.  However, the big accreditation for me was Hot Docs in 2013.  As one of the bigger film festivals in the city, getting accredited for Hot Docs put me on many PR lists, which really increased the volume of blog-related e-mail I received.

Writing for Toronto Film Scene

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In 2013 I noticed that Toronto Film Scene, an online magazine I was interested in writing for since I discovered it in 2010, was looking for new contributors.  I applied to the site and I ended up being officially brought on as a contributor on July 24, 2013.  My very first post to be published for Toronto Film Scene was a review of the film Planes in early August.  I then went straight to helping with TFS’ coverage of TIFF 2013, which included writing reviews for four of the films.  One of these TIFF reviews was for Ingrid Veninger’s The Animal Project, which would later be quoted in the film’s trailer.

Writing for Toronto Film Scene is the biggest film writing gig that I’ve had and I am very busy writing lengthy columns for each month’s issue.  That said, I still try to remain active on my blog, writing regular reviews and the occasional opinion piece.

Looking to the Future

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SK on Movies, circa 2013

That now brings us to the present.  When I started this film blog in 2004, I did not really expect that I would still be writing it ten years later.  In a decade, the blog has gone from a glorified hobby to something much more.  Even though I don’t really get paid for writing about film, it is something that I really enjoy doing and I can’t see myself not continuing to do so.

I hope to further develop my clout as a writer in the coming years and perhaps even get that elusive TIFF accreditation.  I have toyed with moving my blog away from Blogger and to a dedicated WordPress server, which would give me more control and allow me to implement a more professional-looking design.  However, such a move would cost both time and money and, for the time being, I am quite happy with my blog the way it is, which is probably why (save for some cosmetic tweaks) the look hasn’t changed too much in the last few years.

One goal I had immediately after graduating from York University was to get an essay of mine published in a film journal.  I did end up submitting an essay to the CineAction film journal in the fall of 2011, but it didn’t end up being chosen for publication.  Since I would like to think of myself as more of a film scholar than merely a critic, this is an avenue that I would probably try to re-explore in the future.

The last ten years of blogging have been a wild wide and I look forward to doing this for many years to come.

SKThenandNow

Credit goes to the Internet Archive for helping me compile screen captures of the various designs of SK on Movies over the years.

Sean Kelly

About Sean Kelly -

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described ├╝ber-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).