Critiquing Micro-Budgets

From Christopher Llewellyn Reed

I have been a professional film critic since 2012, when I began reviewing films for Baltimore’s local NPR affiliate. When the host of the “Midday Show,” Dan Rodricks, left the station in 2015 to devote his energies full-time to his work at The Baltimore Sun, I joined him there on his frequent podcast for the paper’s website. In 2014, I was offered a show of my own to host, on a bi-monthly basis, for Dragon Digital Media, broadcast from Howard County, Maryland, which gave me an opportunity to be the one to choose which films to discuss, and invite guests of my own. But it was not until I began writing for the website Hammer to Nail (H2N), which devotes its coverage to micro-budget independent cinema, that I truly got a first-hand sense of the enormous diversity of film production in our contemporary world. In the almost 9 months since I started at H2N, it has been my pleasure to view and review illuminating documentaries such as Searchdog and SHU-DE!, both of which had their post-production sound done at Studio Unknown, as well as bracingly raw narratives like Claire in Motion and The Mend. I love great commercial entertainment as much as the next guy, but it’s good for the soul to know that there’s a vibrant alternative when you need it.

I owe my place at H2N to Michael Tully, its founding editor, a filmmaker himself. As Chair of the Film & Moving Image Department at Stevenson University, just outside Baltimore, I invited him, in January, 2015, to be our Spring Semester Artist-in-Residence and screen his wonderful coming-of-age, shot-in-Maryland, indie feature Ping Pong Summer (for which Studio Unknown also did the sound). When I wanted to expand my critical range, I reached out to him, and he put me in touch with Don Lewis, the current editor, and I have never looked back. Indeed, one of the missions of the site is to champion the work of lesser-known filmmakers, and as a college professor who would like to see my own students find supportive networks as they make their way in their careers, I embrace this mission. At the recent Maryland Film Festival, which Stevenson faculty attended with students, I moderated a panel on the role of film criticism in today’s social-media climate, where everyone publishes an opinion on everything. My thoughts after that panel? While I won’t claim my opinions on films to be more valid than anyone else’s, I will say that if I and my colleagues at places like H2N can make a difference by promoting the smaller films that no one would think of seeing without our praise, then film critics still matter. Which is good for movies, and good for places like Studio Unknown, which thrive when cinema is robust across a variety of budgets.
Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a filmmaker, film critic and Chair of the Film & Moving Image Department at Stevenson University.  He is the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice, is a regular film review contributor to The Baltimore Sun’s “Roughly Speaking” podcast, and hosts Dragon Digital Media’s Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed. In addition to writing for Hammer to Nail, he writes the occasional piece for Bmoreart and blogs regularly about movies at His twitter handle is @chrisreedfilm.


As the founding editor of Hammer to Nail and someone who has written hundreds of reviews championing unfairly off-the-grid or under-the-radar films, I felt that it was time to step down from H2N after seven years of duty. But that’s not because I don’t believe in the power of film critics and their enthusiastic words to help fight the crushingly imbalanced odds that are stacked up against low-budget cinema. It’s because I’ve had such a hard time getting my next feature off the ground and I’ve been trying to focus on that. While I have, and will, continue to sing the praises of films that mainstream America will barely acknowledge (this year, I demand you see The Fits and Krisha for starters!), I am currently working toward the day when I can return to the great set-up at Studio Unknown to record some crucial ADR for my soon-to-be finished new feature. Hopefully that day will come sooner than later. — Michael Tully

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