Blame Nick Nunziata. After all, he’s the guy who pulled me out of the CHUD message boards and gave me a chance.
This wasn’t my career plan. A college drop out, I found myself working at the New York Public Interest Research Group, a non-profit, where I started out doing door to door fundraising. In Israel they make every able-bodied 18 year old join the military; in the United States they should make every able-bodied 18 year old get driven out to some strange suburb, get dropped off in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and then go door to door asking people to donate money to a left wing cause. It’s hard, it’s scary, and it can be humiliating. After some time I worked my way up the chain, heading an outreach office all my own in the college town of New Paltz, and then went back down to the main Manhattan office to run the then-new website, and edit any publications. This was the mid-to-late 90s, and my qualifications to run the website were that I spent time on the internet and I wasn’t afraid of computers.
When you’re working in the field you don’t have time to do anything except work. When you’re working in an office, you find that you have plenty of free time. I had already become familiar with the world of movie websites, thanks to Corona Coming Attractions, and at some point I ended up making an account on the young CHUD message boards. I was a movie brat, and I was the guy at work who people asked about upcoming releases, the guy whose office had posters for weird movies that nobody else had ever known existed. You know, like Evil Dead II (it was a different world, friends). On the CHUD boards I found a lot of people who were just like me, and who had a similar sensibility. Long-gone posters like Grendel and DJ Evil and Coyote and LowShot and Adam McAllister. And I found a site that appealed to me, and whose main writers – Nick Nunziata and Dave Davis and Brian Koukol – spoke to me.
I posted for a while and I began submitting news. Back then the way that it would work was that I would send Dave or Nick some cut and paste shit from Variety, and they would intro it and then run my little paragraph. I don’t know how it evolved into me writing my own articles, but it did. Back then we hand coded everything, and I would have one Dreamweaver windows open on my dinky office computer (I didn’t have a home computer) for CHUD and one for NYPIRG. It was cool, but it was just a hobby. There were no online publicity departments at that point, and nobody from the studios ever reached out to us – except for lawyers with an occasional cease and desist. We didn’t get invited to screenings; my secret weapon was that I was on one of those lists where you would get invited to be seat fillers at a press screening, provided you lined up three hours early.
But things began changing around us. One day Carl Cunningham, who was running the DVD Sewer, CHUD’s DVD site (back then we had the Creature Corner and The Sci-Fighter and a couple of other spin-offs. The Tolkien Sewer was already dead, though), told me that he had been invited to cover the release of The Godfather trilogy on DVD. Problem was Carl lived in Atlanta and the release event was in New York. And, it turned out, a few blocks from my home. So in October 2001 I got my first ever press badge (which I still have) and went to a block party to celebrate the greatest American movies finally coming to quality home video. I got drunk (on Coppola wine), saw Francis Ford Coppola from a distance, met a girl and chatted up Dominic Chianese. Then I got a bag full of swag and went home, excited to be so close to the action. Little did I know that this was going to be the blueprint for my next decade.
A year later things were totally different. I went to my first junket in 2002, and it was for a Woody Allen film, no less. One of my first ever interviews was with one of my heroes, a man who doesn’t do a ton of press. And it just began rolling from there. There were still no publicists who just dealt with the onliners, and we were lumped in with college reporters and random neighborhood rags. But I learned it all from the ground up, and I made some good friends along the way. I met great people like Ed Douglas and Kelvin Chavez and Wilson Morales and Dan Epstein, who would become my best friend in this business. What’s more, I began to get to know the other people in my weird little industry; back in those days CHUD’s message boards weren’t just a place where film fans came but also a destination for all the great web writers. Drew McWeeny, Garth Franklin and Patrick Sauriol all came by to bullshit and talk about the latest news and reviews. I wasn’t making a penny, but it was like paradise.
By now I was essentially working two jobs. I came into the office and updated CHUD while answering some NYPIRG emails. My day job stuff was getting pushed farther and farther into the background as CHUD started eating up all my time. I was lucky – after 9/11 (our office was three blocks from Ground Zero) I began working from home most of the week, freeing me up to do what I wanted for CHUD. The days I had to come in, I would sneak out of the office to make it to screenings or junkets. I would hide in a little-used back bathroom to do phoners. And then trips began coming in – junkets in LA or set visits in other states. I would plead illness, weddings and the deaths of any number of distant relatives. Anything to get away, run to JFK, and be a part of the magic. It was intoxicating.
Eventually shit got real. I left the United States of America for the first time in 2004, heading to Berlin to visit the set of Aeon Flux. I fulfilled a lifelong dream to go to London, and have now been there so many times I have run out of touristy nonsense to do. I went to Ireland, my mother’s homeland, a place that I never even imagined I would visit. I made it to all sorts of weird countries in Eastern Europe, been to Canada dozens of times and even ‘braved’ Mexico City, where the concierge at my hotel begged me not to ever get into a taxi he didn’t call for me. I have dined with and visited the homes of actual geniuses. I have met Mick Jagger, Peter O’Toole and Paul Newman. I made Steve Martin laugh and have pissed off some of the most powerful people in the business. I went to ILM. Steven Spielberg told me that he reads my stuff.
Shit got realer. First I began getting paid part time, and then some investors came in and monetized the site a bit and I was brought on to full time. I made a decision then that I have never regretted – I moved from New York to Los Angeles. Just days before I left my friend Dan Epstein died suddenly; I took it as an omen that I was done with the Big Apple. Now I live in a really beautiful apartment in a cool neighborhood with a wonderful girl who I met because of CHUD (she was the assistant to the director of Heckler, a documentary in which I appeared) and two great cats (who really don’t owe anything to CHUD, to be honest). I still, until this week, traveled the world and visited sets and met with filmmakers and actors and went to premieres and lived the life that every movie geek kind of dreams about.
All of this was because of Nick Nunziata. Who pulled me out of the message boards and threw me into this world.
CHUD’s seen a lot of change in the ten years since I first made an account on the message boards (which would, at one point, house the official Osmosis Jones boards. Seriously). People have come and gone over the past decade. Dave Davis, who was really my mentor here, moved on and now writes for JoBlo. Smilin’ Jack Ruby, the consummate professional who taught me there was life after the junket circuit and who, one day at Bob’s Big Boy, gave me the courage to make a life change. Jeremy Smith, the finest writer I have ever had the opportunity to be eclipsed by, has returned to his ancestral home of Ain’t It Cool News. Ryan ‘Rotten’ Turek, formerly of Creature Corner and the best reporter I know and a guy who was there for me when things got tough in my personal life. Russ Fischer, who I honestly thought would be running this place with me in 2010, has gone on to Slashfilm. Brian Koukol dropped out a long, long time ago. Andre Dellamorte is still kicking it weekly. Other people have come and gone – David Manning, Dan Vinton, George Merchan – some are missed, some are not. New people are here now, but it’s been the continuity of me and Nick that defined CHUD for the last decade.
Now I’m leaving. An opportunity has arisen that’s very exciting for me, to work with people who I admire greatly and to expand my horizons. I can’t wait for you guys to find out more about this new job, which will have a web component and will still see me writing about movies. No matter what job I ended up with, I know that I would still write about movies – it’s what I love doing. I’ve had other chances to leave CHUD, but I’ve never taken them for a number of reasons. First of all, CHUD’s my home. It’s where I come from. “Devin from CHUD” might as well be on my ID, I introduce myself that way so often. On top of that, CHUD’s needed me. Nick has been a busy guy these last few years, juggling a lot of projects, and I’ve been the front guy for a long time. You wouldn’t believe the freedom I’ve had here – I just publish what I want to publish. But now Nick’s got a renewed focus on the site, some new resources and a new staff. CHUD doesn’t need me anymore, and I think it’s time that Nick resume being the front man, as he was when this all began as movie reviews he sent to friends in emails. There’s a new future for CHUD, a new direction, and I wish Nick and the site the best of luck with it.
Nick gets the biggest thanks, for giving me this chance. It wasn’t planned, but because of Nick and CHUD I was able to find a path in life that has made me happy and fulfilled and, sometimes, successful. Thanks also to the colleagues I mentioned before, the people who served in these trenches with me over the last few years. Thanks to the colleagues at other sites, people who have become my friends and confidantes, people with whom I have traveled the world and shared happiness and grumpiness. It’s a weird family that we have in the online world, but it is a family. Thanks to the publicists who have put up with my late replies to emails and who have accepted the fact that sometimes I have to shit talk their movies. I remember what it was like before you guys, and I appreciate everything you’ve done to make my life better. Thanks to my brother, Derek, who gave me a foundation in Los Angeles. Thanks to Lindsay, the love of my life, who puts up with the fact that I spend most of my day attached to my laptop.
Thank you to the movies and the people who make them. That’s really what all of this is about, the love of the movies. The love of storytelling, the love of a communal experience that’s bigger than us but also reflects who we are, deep inside. The love of escapism and the love of confrontation. The love of a good scare and a good cry. The love of this weird, scrappy, and – a hundred years into its lifespan – still somewhat disreputable artform. I know there’s this belief that critics are just frustrated because they want to be creating art, but I’ve never been that way. Yeah, I have some ideas that would be killer movies, but mostly I love writing about movies and thinking about movies and sharing movies with other people. I don’t want to be a filmmaker, but I am thrilled to have known so many talented and smart people who do make films. Thank you to every person who has ever made a movie that has impacted me – you made every single second of the last ten years of my life possible. Thank you to the filmmakers who have let me into their process, and sometimes even into their lives. You’ve expanded my love of film so much that it’s impossible to ever repay you.
Saving the best for last – thank YOU. Yeah, you reading this. To be honest, I never wrote for you, but I’m glad that you liked (or tolerated) what I wrote. And I’m beyond thankful that you kept coming back. I know that I’m not always the most gentle voice on the web, and I know that I’ve said a lot of stuff that many people have disagreed with – I won’t ever apologize for those things. Because I know that you guys have been smart enough to hear an opinion that didn’t gibe with yours, that you’ve wanted someone who spoke with honesty. I never wrote down to you or pandered to you because I always knew that wasn’t what you wanted. Maybe CHUD’s audience hasn’t been as big as some other sites, but I know that CHUD’s audience has been the best, the brightest and the truest movie lovers.
My time with CHUD has been the best time of my life… so far.
You haven’t seen the last of my byline on CHUD. There are still embargoed interviews and set visits and reviews that will run here in the coming days, weeks and months. But I’m moving on. And where am I going? Follow me on Twitter
or on Facebook
to find out what’s next.