Michael Haberfelner is a prolific reviewer of indie films on his website [re]Search my Trash. And for over a decade he has reviewed a huge assortment of indie and underground films (including many Horror titles.) In this interview, Michael shares some great DOs & DON'Ts for approaching reviewers. And since Michael is also a screenwriter, he also shares an anecdote about how an interview with an actress led to the eventual production of one of his screenplays. Which fits nicely with the theme of this site which is basically: Always be promoting yourself and networking while being gracious and acting professionally.
When did you create [re]Search my Trash?
I created it back in 2003 … anyways, didn’t go online until 2005 as I figured one needs a healthy number of reviews up on one’s site to make it interesting for the casual movie fan – so when the site was officially launched, it was I think already 1,000 reviews strong.
It’s grown a bit since, so make sure to check it out: http://www.searchmytrash.com
What inspired you to create it?
Basically, I just thought “wouldn’t it be cool if there was a searchable site that reviewed obscure and indie movies from all ages, and maybe ran some comprehensible articles to go with the reviews?” – and back in the day (remember, it was 2003), there wasn’t one. So I figured, I know how to create a website, I can learn how to handle a searchable database, I know many an obscure movie … why don’t I just do it myself instead of complaining about the lack thereof?
How long did it take before you gained a regular following? How did you promote it?
Hah, there’s a trip down memory lane. In the beginning it was pretty much trial and error, including running ads in print mags and the like. You have to remember, back in 2005, social media was still in its infancy, and everybody had a high time shoving “SEO-secrets” down your throat. Once I learned SEO (as in Search Engine Optimization) was a load of baloney if one wants to gather an actual following and started to figure out how social media might work towards my goal (I’m still far from an expert though), things started to fall into place. How long it actually took? Couldn’t say, but it was quite a while – but fortunately I’m a patient man.
What types of movies do you review? What genres? Are there genres you prefer? And are there genres you won’t review?
Actually, all types of movies, I pride myself to be totally non-exclusive, so there’s no genre or anything I will refuse outrightly … but that said, of course my site has its focus, and some genres – like horror, science fiction, thrillers – will be much more represented than others, let’s say romantic comedies or the like.
You review a lot of Horror on your site. Is that something you have a personal interest in?
Oh horror has always been an absolute favourite of mine. It’s pretty much the only genre that still pushes boundaries, especially in the indie section, and despite many a formulaic horror movie, there’s pretty much an “anything goes”-mentality to it. And I like how it plays with “the forbidden” and makes one go through negative experiences for one’s own enjoyment. On top of that, the horror community by and large is really the most open and friendly community in filmland!
Not all review sites review shorts. Do you think that sets you apart from other sites?
Actually, no, I don’t think so. Quite a few sites I know are doing shorts, at least of late. But to be honest, I’ve never given that subject too much thought.
You review both features and shorts. How much time do you spend watching these projects every week?
Purely taking the watching time now, I’d say 10 to 12 hours per week, though that does vary, depends on what’s going on on the side. That’s of course not counting the time I spend writing my reviews, doing research and interviews. Including that would easily add up to a full-time job ;)
Is it harder to get you to review a feature because of the time it takes to watch it?
Quite the contrary, it’s easier to get me to review a feature as opposed to a short. It might take longer to watch it, sure, but to review it takes about the same time, and with a feature you have quite naturally more content to base your review on. Plus, I feel if one truly loves movies one has to looove feature films, right?
What’s the best way to approach you to get you to review a movie project?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/michael.haberfelner -, let me know that you want me to review your movie in the first paragraph, give me some info about your movie, and ideally also an IMDb link or something where I can copy the credits from, plus poster art to run with the review (if at all possible that is). In addition, be polite and don’t boast, believe me, it doesn’t impress me.
What’s the worst way to approach you?
Oh there is no really “wrong” way to approach me. But here’s a few “don’t”s that might serve as a sort-of-answer: Don’t promise me too much, especially if you don’t have the desire or ability to keep those promises – I’ll gladly review your movie without anything in return. Don’t be over-assuming – again, I’ll gladly review your movie, do some interviews too if I’m interested, but I’m not running your media campaign for you, and I don’t owe you just because you let me watch your movie. And of course, don’t waste my and indeed your time bragging too much about your project – believe me, I’ve heard it all before, and I can tell the difference between proper info and empty sales talk. All of this should be common sense, really, but you wouldn’t believe how often these lines are crossed.
You also do interviews. What motivates you to do an interview in addition to a review? Do you automatically do it? Or does there have to be a special circumstance?
I don’t “automatically” do it, but more often than not I do. Basically, I love movies, so especially if I like one, I want to know more, and what’s a better way to learn more than to speak with cast and crew? Also, if I find out about interesting projects in the making or even in fundraising stages, I figure if a little interview might help, why not? Plus, if we’re buddies, you’ll always be welcome back on my site.
How has your website adapted to the needs and requests of filmmakers?
I don’t know if adapted is the right word even, I prefer evolved. And it’s basically just a couple of things, I’m open to anything and anyone, and I’m doing my part in promoting each interview and review I do, so the filmmakers get something out of it.
Tell me about your own screenwriting and filmmaking endeavors?
Ah, now there’s an interesting question, and actually one that ties in directly with my website www.searchmytrash.com.
My screenwriting debut actually resulted from an interview I did with British actress Melanie Denholme, who was very specific about a movie she wanted to produce, and weirdly enough her specifications resembled an old screenplay I’d had in my (virtual) drawers for over a decade to the tee, so I just pitched it … and a mere six weeks later, I was already on set for the shoot of A Killer Conversation (directed by David V.G. Davies). Sure the film was very low budget – and didn’t demand much of a budget to begin with – but it did get a legit DVD release in North America, so there’s that. Find out more about A Killer Conversation here: https://akillerconversation.com/
Presently, I (well, rather my editor of course) am putting the finishing touches on Talk of the Dead (directed by Eddie Bammeke), an Austro-British comedy short with a much higher budget, and star power from the USA (Lynn Lowry from George A. Romero’s The Crazies and David Cronenberg’s Shivers), and of course zombies, that’s hopefully coming to a film festival near you soon. I’ve not only written but also produced that one (with massive assistance from the able Eirian Cohen) – and let me tell you, if that producing experience hasn’t killed me, nothing will. ;)
Talk of the Dead though is only part of an umbrella film called There's No Such Thing as Zombies (it’s not an anthology, and the short will be injected into the movie in an original and fun way), which I hope to push into production soon – all that’s lacking now is some funds, so if whoever’s reading this has a few thousands to spare, get in touch! Personally, can’t wait to start working on that one, it contains some of the funniest material I’ve ever written.
Find out more about Talk of the Dead and There's No Such Thing as Zombies here:
How do you promote your own work?
Oh the rather typical way, trying to get in as many reviews as possible, running social media campaigns that are also fun for the audience rather than just saying “Buy my movie!”, keeping the movies’ websites and Facebook pages in good shape, that sort of thing – haha, pretty much everything no money can buy ;)
What are some of your favorite film websites (in addition to your own?)
Good God, there are sooo many, so with the theme of HORROR HACK in mind, I’ll restrict myself to a few great horror ones where I’m buddies with the show-runners and/or editors:
Mr Shelton TV: http://mrsheltontv.blogspot.co.at/
Gruesome Hertzogg Radio:
UK Horror Scene: http://www.ukhorrorscene.com/
Wicked Channel: http://wickedchannel.com/
Really cool people behind all of those who like and support indies, and all accept submmissions. :)
What’s the best piece of advice you can give a filmmaker to promote their work?
Oh man, wish I had some promotion secrets to give. Some “How to make a thousand bucks without even trying” – but I don’t.
One tiny piece of advice, though, especially if you’re a penniless indie filmmaker: Always be nice to reviewers, bloggers and the like. If they show an interest in your movie, that doesn’t automatically mean they think you’re “the shit” and give you any right to just keep demanding. Chances are, you’re not the only one who has submitted a movie that week, maybe even that day. So however hard it is, be patient, and also accept constructive criticism for what it is – sound advice.