Wayne State Assistant Director of Editorial Services Chris Williams, B.A. ’01, M.A. ’20, loves a good movie, but for Williams, the movie experience isn’t complete until he writes a review for his newsletter, Chrisicisms.
Williams has been a film critic for most of his adult life, and his popular newsletter is a way for him to continue that passion despite a busy schedule that includes work, two young children, podcasting and reading three books simultaneously. Williams is a writer at heart; it’s something he does for work and for fun. Let’s spend five minutes learning more about Chris Williams.
How did you get started doing movie reviews?
I always loved movies growing up. When I was a kid, I would watch Entertainment Tonight and all those shows. We actually had some family friends who would call me “Entertainment Tonight,” because every time they would come over, I would have some new bit of movie info for them. I always loved movies; it’s just something I’ve gravitated toward.
When I was in high school, I joined the school newspaper because I always liked to write. The problem is, I had extreme anxiety in high school and I didn't want to talk to anyone. So, I started doing movie reviews. I think the first one I wrote was for Broken Arrow, which was this really bad action movie in the 90s — I remember writing how great it was because everything blew up.
When I eventually went into journalism, I worked for a weekly paper in Macomb County, and it was basically my responsibility to kind of fill the paper. My editors were really great about letting me experiment a bit, so I started doing movie reviews. I started writing about what I saw over the weekend, and then my boss got me on the list to go see preview screenings. I'd go see a movie about a week before it opened, and we'd have the review ready to go. From there, I was able to join the Detroit Film Critics Society, which actually started up right around the same time. I was a founding member of that. It was great, I was part of this great critic society with people from the Free Press and TV, many of whom I still talk to. I was interviewing some great people — I interviewed Danny Boyle, I interviewed Rainn Wilson from The Office. It's just fun. So that's how I got started.
I left the paper and kept doing it on a freelance basis until about 2015. And then from there, I've submitted some articles and tried to figure out the new digital era. About a year ago, I started a website to kind of keep track of my writing and podcasting because I do a movie podcast as well. Within the last few months, I kind of realized that a newsletter is where I wanted to focus my efforts. I've really kind of drilled down in the last month to make that my primary place for film criticism right now.
What do you enjoy most about doing movie reviews?
When I write a review, it’s kind of how I help myself figure out what I thought about a movie. I love to write and that's kind of a way to get my thoughts out. It allows me to go back over the movie, and kind of examine it. I love conversations about a movie. When I go to a movie with my friends, we’re gonna spend two hours at Starbucks afterward talking about it. Criticism is a way to say, you know, here's what I thought about this movie. I'm going to put this out there. What do you guys think about it? And that's a fun conversation, especially now that everything's online, and you have Twitter and Facebook, and people can tell you how wrong you are, or they can offer their interpretation.
I think it's a great way to understand the movie, to kind of celebrate a movie or maybe to vent about a movie I hated. It just kind of completes the experience. It's kind of like when you go to the Grand Canyon or something. You want to send a picture to somebody — it's not complete until you've told someone about that. And that's kind of how I approach movies. It's not really complete until I've said what I thought about it, which might be a really arrogant way of thinking, but my experience of it is talking with other people and just getting to those conversations.
What was one of your favorite moments as a film critic?
A few years back, I was writing for a magazine that went away really quickly, but Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, was doing a screening of Ghostbusters at the Emagine in Novi. And they're like, ‘Hey, this is coming up and we want to promote this. Would you want to interview Ernie Hudson about Ghostbusters?’ And you know, I grew up loving Ghostbusters. I’ve probably seen Ghostbusters more than any other movie, because I would watch is so much as a kid. I still watch it. So, I'm going to get to talk to Ernie Hudson about Ghostbusters, and he's a Wayne State alum.
So, one evening I got on a phone call with Ernie Hudson for about 20 minutes, and we were talking about Ghostbusters. And that was just a moment like where you're sitting there and you feel your inner child like just say, “Yeah, well done. You did it. You're talking to a Ghostbuster about Ghostbusters.” And that was a highlight for me, that was fun. He was great. He had some great stories about it, and I don't even know where that that interview lives, but I got to talk to him about Ghostbusters. That was a big moment for me.
How does doing your newsletter tie into your work at Wayne State?
I'm a writer and editor at Wayne State, so one of the things I've learned here is this constant struggle to write tighter. I like a lot of words, and what I write here doesn't usually involve a lot of words, So it's taught me to write tighter, and I've tried to pull that more into my reviews. I also think that after writing and editing marketing pieces all day, it's sometimes very enjoyable to go home and write something that's a little bit more frivolous. Just learning general marketing here has helped me, too, because the film criticism world has changed so much since I started.
I was writing for newspapers back when you could do that, and that's not a thing anymore. Most papers don't have a critic and, if they do, they do it part time. It's a lot of people trying to figure out how to navigate this whole digital space. And that involves understanding how to promote yourself, so I have a newsletter because blogs aren't really a big thing anymore. And I would eventually like to make some money with it and get my name out there. But I have to promote it, so I have to understand how to use hashtags, use SEO, how to use Instagram — things I had no idea about 10 years ago. So the work I've done at Wayne State has really helped with that.
Coming to work here, I also got to go back and get my master's. My graduate thesis was on film criticism. And that was a huge help. I was studying how to engage film, I was taking film classes, I was taking research classes. I also studied new media. My thesis was on journalism and film criticism and how to navigate the digital world. And that's kind of played into the thinking about where do I go next with this? How do I do this? So, really, coming here has helped that and, you know, one doesn't play directly into the other, but I’ve become a better writer because I'm here.
It's nice to have a job where I don't leave stressed every day. I have the energy to go home and do that. But then going back to school, being able to take classes with Karen McDevitt, who is really knowledgeable about film and about new media. Taking classes with Elliot Wilhelm, who heads up the Detroit Film Theatre, who was actually on my thesis committee. I think that really helped prepare me for whatever I want to do next. I've thought about, you know, is there a place to eventually be an adjunct film instructor, or lead a discussion group at a local library? Wayne State’s played into that a lot.
Know a Wayne State University faculty or staff member we should spend Five Minutes With? Send along their name, contact information and a few sentences about the person to email@example.com.