When I first started on Movie Maintenance I was a tiny bit naïve. The podcast seemed to come out of nowhere during a particularly miserable year in which I was struggling to see any viable future for my writing, and I agreed to do it because hey, what else was I up to? I had no idea anybody was listening and less idea that anybody would like what we did.
Hearing the early snippets of praise for our work was a bit like a light turning on. Slowly I realised that not only were people enjoying my stuff, but it was quite a few people. The stuff in question might have been essentially pitching fan fiction sequels but at a time when I really needed to feel like I was good at what I did it was hard to care.
The first signs of dissatisfaction were pretty subtle. One or two people wanting more collaborating, less lengthy pitches. Someone thinking I talked too much, someone else wanting more rotation with who was pitching any given week. While, being a bit sensitive, I wasn’t thrilled with this, I saw their point and tried to adjust accordingly. But generally speaking I was too focused on all the positive feedback to pay much heed to the negative.
Then came the double whammy of the Mad Max and Jessica Jones episodes. In both I loudly denigrated hugely popular properties. One was an unplanned live show that I was called up for when I was already drunk, the other was literally recorded the day after I got back from America, when I was grumpy and jetlagged. While I stand by everything I said in those episodes, I wasn’t my best self for either of them and people noticed. For the first time I found myself on the receiving end of more hate than love and that was officially the end of my honeymoon period with Sanspants Radio. After that I either started getting a lot more vitriol or at least started noticing it more. While the good stuff very much outweighed the bad, from then on I was keenly aware of the fact that there was a large contingent of Sanspants listeners who, despite my best efforts really, really didn’t like me, and had no trouble expressing that, whether it be on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook or iTunes.
If you’re reading this, please note that this is neither a pity party or a search for praise. I used to be pretty sensitive to the bad stuff, now it’s generally white noise. It’s never nice to read anyone saying you ruined a show or are ‘everything that is wrong with the internet’, but the truth is that I’m fortunate enough to be paid for appearing on a podcast that has a listenership of more people than I can even imagine. That very simply would not be the case if we weren’t doing something right.
Of course, doing something right for one person does not mean it’s right for the next, and I think one mistake I’ve made with Movie Maintenance is trying to cater to the complainers, compromising what I enjoyed doing to make the show more in line with what I thought people wanted. So we toned down the amount of fan fiction pitches and amped up the fixes of recent, relevant films.
The consequence of that decision? Our downloads went down.
Of course the instinctive reaction to this is to go into damage control, to try and work out what people want from the show and tweak it to fit with that. But then you remember that doing that is what got you into this position in the first place. And then you realise that you enjoyed the show a lot more when you were doing what you wanted to do instead of what some faceless Reddit commenter wanted. Because doing what we want gives us ownership and ownership allows for passion.
Here’s my theory; our passion for Movie Maintenance is what let others be passionate about the show in turn, because it couldn’t help but shine through in everything we did. The problem with passion is that it can divide people. If someone expresses a strong opinion that is contrary to your own, it’s only natural to get defensive. If you’re listening to Movie Maintenance it’s probably a safe assumption that you love film and when you love something it’s never pleasant to hear it ripped to shreds. But in the same way I had to learn that all the hate coming my way was just a few people’s opinions, those who disagree with us need to realise the same. We’re not right about the films we criticise. We’re just expressing an opinion. Often loudly and angrily because hey, that’s how passionate people are. But that doesn’t change the fact that our opinions are no more or less important than anyone else’s.
I tried to tone myself down in response to the critics. I tried to change Movie Maintenance to make it into what I thought they wanted. Because at the end of the day I’m only human and I want to be liked. But conversely one thing I know for sure is that we can only ever be the people we are and trying to be otherwise is a pointless and depressing endeavour.
I’m always going to click on the bad reviews and snarky Reddit threads. I can’t help myself. But I’ve realised that the benefit of this only goes so far. Being able to hear criticism is healthy, but being able to raise an eyebrow at personal attacks is healthier. Because in the end, your only real option is to do what makes you happy. To paraphrase a pertinent song, you can never please everyone so you might as well please yourself and hope that the rest follows.
Writing words about writing words.