Monday, March 12, 2007

Reeling in Readers

The Reeler is one of my favorite film blogs, mostly because it keeps tabs on everything in New York City. If I want New York-based film news, reviews, or event listings, The Reeler basically has it covered. I was lucky enough to be able to sit down for a cup of coffee with Stu VanAirsdale, the man behind the site, one day last year.

It was late, and though the sun had set beyond the top of the Sixth Ave. skyline, Washington Sq. Park was brighter than day. Humongous lights hung off cranes connected to thick bundles of wire that lined the curb where people stopped to stare as the production commenced. Stu VanAirsdale moved briskly through the crowd, his wire-thin frame slipping between hard suitcases full of equipment scattered carelessly about the trailers and trucks and moving vans that occupied the better half of the park street. “I wonder what they’re shooting,” he asked. He wouldn’t get to find out; a nippy woman wearing a headset forced all the onlookers to walk around the opposite way. “That’s bullshit, I hate that,” grumbled Stu, “It’s our city too. Like when they put up those signs that say you have to move your car or else it’ll get towed. I remember they were doing a shoot up where I live and all these cars got towed, just so they could bring on prop cars! I hate that… Let the people watch, let them be part of it.”

In a town where dozens of films are being shot and screened everyday, it’s difficult to keep abreast of the latest events in cinema culture. Enter Stu VanAirsdale: a slim but broad shouldered man with slender framed glasses and a red coif, the kind of pasty flecked character you’d expect to see standing in line at the Angelika or waiting at the bar of the IFC Center. VanAirsdale is the creator and operator of, a website devoted to the New York City film world. Everyday, VanAirsdale updates TheReeler with coverage from major premieres, special screenings, Q&A’s, and other unique-to-New York film events. His goal is to provide New Yorkers with an up-to-date, easy-to-access forum for New York film. “I’m not quite there yet,” he says, “but I’m in a position where I’m about to achieve [my goal].”

The website, which started as a blog, has been embraced by local industry insiders, and has positioned VanAirsdale as a reputable force in the New York film circuit. His writing has since appeared in The New York Times, the New York Daily News, Newsday and Filmmaker Magazine. Likewise, VanAirsdale was invited to speak at the 2006 IFP Market, and is now host to his own panel discussions titled The Reeler Screening Series, which is holding a Q&A with director Stanley Nelson on October 16th.

A native of Sacramento, VanAirsdale moved to Manhattan after leaving the Chapman Film School in California. Like many film-school drop outs, VanAirsdale says, “I learned more spending a day on set than in four days at film school.” He has made his share of short films – including a self-financed project based on the true story of an Australian man who murdered his manipulative mother that he shot in 2000 – but VanAirsdale has no plans of making any more in the future. A journalist at heart, VanAirsdale doesn’t view himself so much as a filmmaker or critic, but rather a purveyor of film culture. “I thought, writing – this is what I know I’m good at,” he says. He enrolled at NYU in June of 2004 looking to complete his masters in Journalism. “Looking back,” he says, “it was a mistake to get my masters at NYU. Not to say that NYU was a bad school or anything, but you get to a point where you just need to stop with school and go to the stories.”

After spending some time interning for the online independent film source, VanAirsdale was invited to participate on their blog page, where he found himself writing on a daily basis. “I’m generally a slow writer, so it helped me find discipline,” he says.

Eventually, VanAirsdale found himself speaking to a specific New York audience. Even though he’s not a native, VanAirsdale feels he’s the perfect voice for New York. “I’m just high strung enough, ambitious enough, disinterested in bullshit and excuses for this city,” he says. At the time, there was no real online source specific to New York film culture. “There was film criticism online, and there was film culture,” he says, “but no one was writing in the context that I was.” VanAirsdale split from indiewire and founded his own blog, The Reeler, in June of 2005, with hopes to fill that void.

Stu with producer Bingham Ray

But building an audience and a successful blog isn’t that easy. The site is largely operated solely by VanAirsdale, with the exception of three critics he enlisted to handle reviews and the occasional guest writer. A typical Reeler blog post usually revolves around a specific event, with background information, event details, VanAirsdale’s perspective, and quotes from the event itself. But with news feeds, events listings, reviews and the blog to update, it’s a big undertaking. “I drink a lot of coffee,” says VanAirsdale. “Probably too much.”

VanAirsdale works what he calls an “impossible work day”, often waking at 6am, writing until the afternoon, and then dealing with “bullshit business” while juggling events coverage. While the site’s increasing reputation has made gaining entry to exclusive events a bit easier, VanAirsdale still occasionally finds himself struggling to get on top of the latest news. “Last night I had to jump through a shitload of hoops to get into the premiere of Infamous. And when I finally did get in, they stuck me in a corner where I couldn’t see. I was pretty vexed,” he says.

But the frustrations appear to be worth it. On September 29th, the website re-launched with several new features, including web forums and a new layout. The product is getting closer and closer to VanAirsdale’s original vision. “Now that I’ve got it, I don’t know what to do with it,” he laughs. Future plans involve a book, the premise of which VanAirsdale is keeping under wraps, but involves “a collection of ideas originally on the website.”

For now, VanAirsdale feels fortunate to have made it as far as he has. “I’m lucky that I’m married,” he says, “that I have another insurance provider in the house.” In many ways, his site is like the indie films that get their weeks due at the Pioneer or Landmark Sunshine – a diamond amidst a boundary less, oversaturated market. “Everyone bitches about studios and indies, but I don’t care,” he says. “I’m just glad Gondry can get a film like The Science of Sleep released. If you have good work, it’ll be seen.”

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