A conversation with Fake Criterions' creator

Slide show: The mind behind the popular film parody site reveals its secrets -- and we share some of our favorites

Published June 16, 2011 12:01PM (EDT)

Not every movie is a masterpiece. But all movies deserve the chance to look like one. That at least is the concept behind Fake Criterions, a popular Tumblr that takes reader submissions for films that should get remade as part of the Criterion Collection series. With theme months and challenges, the site has quickly become one of the more popular user-submitted Tumblrs out there (and was included in Matt Zoller Seitz' slide show of best movie fan art). We wanted to know a little bit more about the criteria that went into to choosing a "fake" Criterion, so we talked to co-founder RJ White on the qualifications of this new faux-art form.

How did you get the idea for Fake Criterions?

Last fall, for someone's birthday, I'd ordered a Criterion gift card and thought it'd be fun to make a fake Criterion cover card, so I found a template online, Photoshopped it up, end of story. Then, later in the afternoon, I started thinking about taking some mediocre films and giving them that treatment. I made the first three or so, posted them to my personal Tumblr, then talked to a friend of mine, Kevin Church, about the idea of making it a separate site. He's the one who came up with the name "Fake Criterions." From there, I'd just throw up a new one every so often or ask friends if they wanted to contribute.

Then other people started making some, tagging them, so I could easily pass them along. It was important to get it to that point where the audience actually wants to participate. Some people have submitted ones that are genuinely well-designed covers, and thank goodness, because I'm no graphic designer.

But it's changed a bit from the original concept. In the beginning, we used middle-of-the-road to awful films, but that's changed a little. A good example is a cover someone made for "Real Life," the brilliant Albert Brooks film. Who knows if Criterion will ever release a version of that? But they haven't. So, there's your Fake Criterion. That's a great movie, but it still fits the broader definition for the site. Besides, no matter how much I don't think something's a good film, I get multiple people who respond, "What? I'd totally buy this!" There's always going to be someone out there who loves it. I think the first one where that surprised me was "Point Break."

When did you come up with the idea of theme months? Do you have them every month? What have been some of your favorite theme months?

I listen to Paul Scheer's "How Did This Get Made?" podcast and emailed him asking if it'd be OK to do a theme week based on whatever film they were covering next. It turned out to be "Drive Angry 3D." So, I put the call up and people made some wonderful and weird stuff. A month later or so, it was a week devoted to the Internet's favorite auteur, Uwe Boll. Then, for the entire month of May, it was "Double Fakeout Fake Criterions," devoted to covers for fictional films. That one went really well. I was pretty bowled over by what was sent in for that. This one guy made a trio of covers for the fake trailers that showed up in the Tarantino/Rodriguez "Grindhouse" project and Edgar Wright and Eli Roth responded to the ones for "Don't" and "Thanksgiving." It's crazy to me that those guys actually saw them. So, that theme might come back up again. There's still a lot left in that ol' content mine.

I have a definite idea for this August or September. It involves a rather prolific, great director who, very surprisingly, has nothing in the Criterion collection, for whatever reason. There'll be a lot to choose from.

If you controlled Criterion, what would be some of the first movies you'd add to its repertoire?

I have to say, I'm not sure. I'm pretty happy with what they have. They've already released two of my all-time favorites -- "Sweet Smell of Success" and "Ace in the Hole." I suppose, to go with those two, I'd want "A Face in the Crowd," for a Depressing Mid-Century Media Cynicism Triple Bill. Maybe this follow-up, because it would just be insane and awful. Also, if I were in charge, I'd keep the streaming editions on Netflix, because I am selfish and too lazy to put discs in a magic TV video box.

What actual Criterion covers would you replace with your fan editions?

There's a reason people like this page and it's because of the respect people have for Criterion's flat-out amazing design. I've seen people link to Fake Criterions and say things like, "Oh, they aren't as good as the real thing." Well, of course not. It's not supposed to be. It's just a bunch of people who love the real thing, goofing around. There have been a few that folks have sent in covers for that could pass for the McCoy, but there's always that slightly out-of-reach quality the real Criterions always seem to be able to hit. I mean, have you seen the cover for "Kiss Me Deadly"? It's great. Even the one for "Blow Out." I don't even like that film, but that cover makes me want to watch it again.

What has been Criterion's reaction to your work?

In the early days, when it was getting forwarded and linked like crazy, they posted it to their Twitter, so I think they're fine with it. This April Fool's Day, they even posted their own, a whole page with details about a nonexistent upcoming Criterion of "C.H.U.D.," complete with a fake excerpt from a supplemental documentary. It'd be neat if Fake Criterions might have had a little to do with that. On that same day, I posted the real cover for the Criterion of "Armageddon." So, they did something fun and creative and I was kind of a jerk.

Any plans for the site besides keeping the Tumblr going?

I'm not sure about anything outside of keeping it going. As long as I can still think of ideas and other folks keep sending them in, that's probably the best thing I can hope for. I've had people ask about a book or posters and, horrendous rights issues with those aside, this whole thing is made for the Internet. It's a project that was created for an online audience to be forwarded and linked and I think it works best here. I just hope people continue to enjoy it.

Though, I do need some ideas for more theme months and weeks. How about "Post-1981 Francis Ford Coppola Films"?

By Drew Grant

Drew Grant is a staff writer for Salon. Follow her on Twitter at @videodrew.

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