April 02, 2020
They are happy to trash movies from the comfort of their typewriters, but what happens when critics put their money where their mouth is?
Poachers turned gamekeepers: when film critics get behind the camera
It was at the London premiere of Shakespeare in Love in 1999 that Henry Fitzherbert decided to seize his chance and make the leap from film reviewer of the Sunday Express to Hollywood screenwriter. Buttonholing the movie’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, he pitched him an adaptation he had written of Stephen Benatar’s amnesia thriller Recovery. “He told me to get it to his hotel suite by 6am and he’d read it on the plane home,” Fitzherbert recalls. “Then I got a call from his New York office saying he loved it and I thought: ‘I’m going to be an overnight success!’ I was summoned to a meeting with his senior exec in London, given ‘notes’, which I worked on for months – and never heard from any of them again. As people say, it’s not the rejections that kill you, it’s the hope.”
Nearly two decades later, Fitzherbert finally moved decisively from reviewing to screenwriting when two of his scripts – the historical drama Born a King and the horror-comedy Slaughterhouse Rulez, co-written with the former Kula Shaker frontman Crispian Mills – went into production in 2017. Though, as he points out, the career change was “not by choice but design: the paper had let me go”. Rather satisfyingly, the first day of principal photography on Born a King happened to coincide with his final one as a reviewer. “I left the screening room in Soho, drove to Hatfield House and walked on to the set of my debut film where a cast and crew of 200 were bringing my screenplay to life on an extraordinary scale. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better ‘fuck you’ to the paper.”
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