Let It Go, James Franco. (Or How Not to Engage with Your Critics.)

Someone please take this man’s Instagram account away from him.

In the space of just a few weeks, James Franco managed to prove to the world again that he is not too swift at the social media thing. This time, he pulled the amateurish move of calling critic Ben Brantley an idiot for his review of “Of Mice and Men” on Broadway.

He has obviously never received one of my lectures about responding to the reviews!

Here is a screencap of the offending Instagram in question from its originator, Richard Lawson, the critic at Vanity Fair.com. Thankfully, Franco’s PR team was somewhat on the ball this time and had it deleted. But not before it was screencapped and released. The subsequent trending was inevitable.

For the record: the only person in the world capable of doing this effectively is Samuel L. Jackson, who at least manages to make his rants on twitter entertaining.

Iffranco instagram you want to read more about Franco’s second round of Insta-idiocy, here is some commentary from Vulture.com, indiewire.com’s criticwire, the offending review from the NY Times, another meh review from the LA Times, a good reviews from The Independent, and the good review mentioned in the Instagram that started it all, from Variety.

But what can we learn from James Franco, beside the obvious THINK BEFORE YOU SHARE!

For me, the biggest takeaway here is this. Performers and Producers: Do your job. Your job is to offer the best production and best performance you are capable of under the given circumstances. Your job is NOT to try to control the response of audiences OR critics.

And some people REALLY can’t handle letting go of that “control” – which they never really had to begin with.

But you must let it go. Not only because it looks defensive, apologetic, obsequious, or immature, but more importantly because it distracts you from your job: which is to focus on the art. The art of performing the next show, directing the next piece, writing the next play is your job. If you’re too busy running around calling people names or trying to massage their perception of your work, you’re not focused on the next night’s REAL work. You’re focused on your ego and people’s perception of your brilliance. And that after-the-fact self-absorption is a death-knell to the art of theater.

So a few guidelines I like to give the actors I direct:

Don’t respond to the reviews in the newspaper or on blogs. Defensive public responses don’t do anything for anyone, even when they are civil. The artist looks defensive or apologetic. Or worse, self-involved. You may have all kinds of legitimate responses to that critic’s opinion, but trust me, you won’t be able to convey that in the comment sections and have people take you seriously.

Keep your own social media strategy focused on the positive. Even if you agree with the negative comments, find the good things about the work to focus on and highlight. Keep your engagement with others positive and encouraging. Or stay silent. (Break this rule ONLY if you have a proven gift for humorous irony. PROVEN is the operative word here.)

Corrections and clarifications should happen privately. Occasionally, a private exchange for factual corrections or clarifications can be fruitful. But it has to be respectful, professional, and NOT public. A professional critic will make corrections in a timely manner. And if you’d like clarification of something they said, they are often able to give it to you. But the critic is probably going to stand behind her initial response to your work and you probably won’t ever agree with that. So tread lightly and take it in the spirit of learning.

Encourage your audiences and fans to speak FOR you. (This is actually straight out of Samuel L. Jackson’s playbook.) With any review, encourage people to comment on the review’s online versions. Also encourage them to post their thoughts to their own social networks. Sometimes older or conservative audiences need encouragement. Some feel that disagreeing with a critic is disrespectful, but once pointed out that they are as equal an audience member as the critic, they are less hesitant. As often as not, the conversations that evolve from such back-and-forth discussions online can create a good buzz on a show. (It certainly helped a production of HAIR I directed a few years ago, panned by Donald Munro, but completed its run with packed houses.)

Tempting as it may be, don’t go about “thanking” critics for good reviews. It smacks of obsequiousness. You did your job. They did theirs. Share it and then let it go. Besides, if you believe the good reviews unquestioningly, don’t you also have to believe the bad ones unquestioningly? The relative truth about your production is probably somewhere in the middle.

Finally, try to remember that the ultimate goal of your job in the theater isn’t to get good reviews. It is to create the art, offer it to the community, and connect with each other as truthfully as possible. Focus on that each night and the critics simply fade away.

I mean, could a critic ever say ANYTHING to make you quit the theater for the rest of your life? No? Then let it go, James Franco. Let.It.Go.




  1. Craig Wilson · · Reply

    Irony of the Day: When remarking publicly on how others have embarrassed themselves, it might be prudent not to misspell the word embarrassed…

    1. Lol! Good eye, Craig!

      Also, Franco has yet to learn that links do not work on Instagram.

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