PLEASE JOIN US IN CELEBRATING
FILMS FOR TWO’s THIRD ANNIVERSARY!!!
Chicago husband & wife team Rich Miller &
Jan Huttner created FILMS FOR TWO three years ago. For its third birthday, they discussed the birth, growth, aims, & future of their popular movie website for busy couples. Interviewing them was award-winning Encino, California freelance writer
Alan Waldman, who has previously interviewed thousands of
(CLICK HERE to read Alan’s interview with screenwriter Lizzy Weiss,
followed by a summary of Alan’s own background.)
Alan: How was FILMS42 born?
Rich: We have always seen a lot of movies together, & we’ve has always been very vocal about our likes & dislikes. For 20 years, Jan was a healthcare consultant & she was on the road a lot, so she needed a patter of small talk. Sports was out for her, but movies fit the bill. So she became known among her colleagues & clients as someone who knew a lot about movies. One day, one of the guys complained about spending a lot of money on a babysitter, tickets, & parking to go see a film that he & his wife both hated, & Jan: “You should have asked me first!” So she started to circulate an excel spreadsheet by e-mail called
Caves & Waves (a reference to John Gray’s Mars & Venus books) which gave each of our ratings for all the films we’d recently seen. We updated it each Monday after seeing new films.
Jan: It was the prototype for what we do now. Since many of our friends were either married or dating, we’d recommend films that would be good for couples who only have limited time & can only see a few films.
Rich: We turned the weekly e-mail into the FILMS42 website in February 1999, in time for the Oscars. Originally we built a database under the site with movie, year, director, five leading performers & a 50-word summary (“haiku”) & our ratings from 3 to 5. With time, the database has grown to over 1,000 films.
Alan: Why not from 1 to 5?
Rich: Because we don’t review films we don’t like. If at least one of us gives the film a black ball, we simply say it “Does not meet [our] criteria.” Next we created six web pages built on top of the database: New in Theatres, New on Video, New on Cable, Buried Treasures, FAQs &, of course. a home page. Next we built database search features & a “Pick List” function. After that, we added the monthly feature, chats, the Chicago page (full of all kinds of local stuff), About Us (with rules & criteria, plus information about ourselves & our all-time favorite films), Soapbox (Letters to the Editor & Spoiler Alerts). So we have steadily added functionality as well as content to make it like a monthly online magazine.
Jan: So we are the online site for BUSY couples. We direct you to good films & briefly tell you what they are & why they’re good.
Rich: We both feel that a lot of “film criticism” is designed to be either witty or withering rather than informative. But we just want to be informative, so we don’t waste time (our time or your time) cutting anybody up.
Alan: How successful has FILMS42 grown to be in three years?
Jan: So far, we haven’t had a lot of press, but the site has been steadily growing. We started with a small audience of family & friends, but in 2002 we tripled our audience from the end of 2001.
Rich: The user’s average length of stay has also been growing, at 10-15% per quarter, & is now close to 10 minutes per visit. So when a user enters the site, he or she tends to stay quite a while.
Jan: Before the 2001 Oscars we did some press releases to the local media & that increased our traffic. And our traffic has also steadily been aided by word of mouth. In February 2001, I quit my consulting job & began devoting myself to the site full-time. That’s why there has been more content & therefore more media awareness recently.
Alan: What are your most popular features?
Jan: New in Theatres & New on DVD/VHS are currently tops. Cable doesn’t get much attention unless something special is on, like the Turner Classic Movies’ Western Festival (which we focused on in a November feature). We have just added links to
Amazon.com, so you can now go there directly from our site to order DVDs, CDs, videos &/or relevant books. So our focus in the last year has been on quality. And we both hope that quantity of users will follow quality of content.
Alan Introduces Rich to Froggy the Magic Gremlin
Alan: How do you seek to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other internet movie sites?
Jan: There’s a lot of junk on the net & we don’t want FILMS42 to look like that. We’re appealing to an educated, reasonably affluent adult audience. We are not appealing to teenage boys or reviewing family films for couples to see with their kids. Our recommendations are for couples to see either at theatres or at home (after putting the kids to bed), to help them maintain their relationship together as sane, married adults.
Alan: What types of films do each of you tend to like & recommend?
Rich: I look for a moving & aesthetic experience—something that moves & uplifts me—& that is not just entertainment or propaganda. We just saw Pedro Almodovar’s
TALK TO HER, which will be on my top 10 list this year. It was the “real stuff,” with a true intensity & believability. When I walked out of
TALK TO HER, the reds really did look redder & the blues really did look bluer. In general, though, I am partial to genres like westerns, political thrillers, & police dramas.
Jan: I like a lot of the same things, but the difference is that, for me, the film either has to have a strong narrative drive with interesting characters or have at least one interesting woman character. THE
GREAT ESCAPE, BLACKHAWK DOWN &
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA have no women characters, but I like them all for their strong narratives. Even though I am a feminist, I like war movies & cowboy movies that have strong stories & characters. But if they’re not good, I don’t cut them any slack. A film like Mel Gibson’s
WE WERE SOLDIERS had valid war scenes, but the home front stuff with Madeline Stowe was completely false & manipulative & it made me crazy. It was an obvious attempt to attract a female audience without putting any time or attention into the female characters. On the other hand, I do cut a lot of slack for the movies with strong female characters.
BLUE CRUSH (whose screenwriter, Lizzy Weiss, you interviewed for our October Feature) is a perfect example. There was a lot in that film that was formulaic, but it also had a whole lot of rich, excellent “sociological” stuff that gave it depth. I thought it was one of the best films of the year.
SECRETARY is another film with a lot going on that frankly a lot of guys didn’t seem to see.
Alan: Yes, I certainly missed it. Both lead characters were so terribly dysfunctional that I had a hard time relating to either of them. Anyway, what are your plans for FILMS42? What would you like it to become?
Rich: We would like it to grow, get popular, & evolve into more of a monthly e-magazine. We have already added articles by you & by Bollywood expert David Chute, & we will soon add Detroit writer Marilyn
Krainen, who will write for us on classic films. We are delighted to feature good writers on our site. We have also excerpted books by scholars such as Eric Foner (on
MATEWAN), Wendy Lesser (on VERTIGO) & Martha Lauzen (on the “celluloid ceiling” that continues to be an obstacle for female directors & screenwriters in Hollywood). And we plan to continue to excerpt noteworthy books on film-related topics.
Jan: Every month we want to focus on something different. We want to seek out intelligent people & bring their work to our readers.
Rich: Like the New Yorker, we want to be above the news & not just report it. We are trying to build content that is both topical & that has a different spin.
Jan: For February (which is Black History Month), DePaul University literature professor. Joyce Miller Bean will write about
BELOVED. March is Women’s History Month, so June
Sochen, Professor of History & American Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, will excerpt a piece from her book FROM MAE TO MADONNA (a history of women performers in Hollywood). And we will continue to look for articles that are topical. For example, Eric Foner’s essay on
MATEWAN in November became a tribute to the late Minnesota Senator Paul
Alan: In summary, what would you say is the key to FILMS42’s philosophy & approach to movies?
Rich: On the one hand, we write our reviews so that you can read them quickly, but we also include interesting, textual articles that are good, informative think pieces.
Jan: There is so much out on DVD & VHS & cable TV now; there is no need to spend money on junk. Our features & chats can zero people in on great things they might have missed. We can guide you to good films for couples to enjoy together on a Saturday night out, or on DVD, or on cable for free. When you are busy, why waste your precious time together seeing junk?
To read more of Alan’s wonderful interviews,
surf on over to the Writers Guild of America website (www.wga.org) & search under “Alan Waldman.”
The "usual suspects" celebrate Rich's 50th birthday!