Mr. Beaks Comes Clean About His Flickchart Addiction! Interviews The Site's Founders!
Published at: July 6, 2009, 4:57 p.m. CST by mrbeaks
Flickchart began its assault on my free time a little over a week ago when Cinemtical's Scott Weinberg touted it as "The Coolest Movie Site of the Year!" Since I implicitly trust Scott's rabid enthusiasm, I figured there was no harm in checking it out.
Within fifteen minutes of logging in, I was hooked. Four hours later, I was obsessed. Now, nine days into my Flickchart odyssey, I am evangelical.
Though pitched as a social-networking site that helps you locate like-minded movie buffs, Flickchart is essentially a barroom argument with one's own impeccable taste in cinema. Here's how it works: once you log in, you're presented with two randomly generated movie titles. Pick one. Then you get two more titles. Pick again. And so on until you've compiled something approaching a master list of your favorite movies. To avoid selecting from the same group of popular titles, you can filter by genre, decade or year. This is particularly helpful when a good-but-unworthy title ends up in your top twenty because it appeared early in your ranking process and keeps going head-to-head with atrocious competition (e.g. I couldn't knock THELMA & LOUISE off my all-time list until I focused on 1991 releases).
Is the process flawless? Hardly. Consider my current top twenty:
1. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
2. CITIZEN KANE
4. DIE HARD
5. THE GODFATHER PART II
9. BULL DURHAM
10. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING
12. BACK TO THE FUTURE
13. ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND
14. SHADOW OF A DOUBT
15. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY
16. DO THE RIGHT THING
17. THE FLY (1986)
18. DUCK SOUP
19. BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA
Not an awful list, but there are galling omissions. For starters, there's no Hawks, no Lubitsch, no Ozu, no De Palma and only one Welles. This is problematic because those are my five favorite directors. Also, there's no way THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING gets anywhere near my Top 100. But it placed high enough, early enough that it's going to be hanging out in that elite group for quite some time.
But while Flickchart has thus far painted a somewhat inaccurate picture of my overall taste in movies, I keep coming back because I know the gentlemen who launched the site, Nathan and Jeremy, are working tirelessly to add as many titles as possible; even better, they're planning to tweak the algorithm, which will help ensure that quality films like BREAKING AWAY don't consistently languish beneath, say, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remake just because a) their chances of going head-to-head are slim, and b) the Peter Yates coming of age film was released in a much better year for movies (1979 vs. 2005). Flickchart is improving by the day - and it'll only get better via your participation and input.
But for every minor annoyance one runs across, there's an awesomely agonizing Sophie's Choice like this: Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD vs. EVIL DEAD 2. I got hit with this dilemma the first night I logged on to Flickchart, and I literally had to walk away from my computer to deliberate. Two of the greatest horror movies ever made. One is perfect as social commentary, the other is flawless as full-throttle cinema. There was no wrong answer. There was only what I preferred at that moment. So I went with the Romero. Tomorrow, I might take Raimi. Of course, I think MARTIN is better than both of 'em...
There is a FAQ on the Flickchart site, but I thought it might be helpful if I hit up Nathan and Jeremy with my own questions and concerns with regards to Flickchart. So here's a little back and forth with the boys about the origin of the site, why they turned it into a social-networking tool, and how they plan on expanding it.
Mr. Beaks: How did you guys hook up?
Flickchart: We met in college, although we were merely acquaintances back then - passing in the halls and computer labs. It wasn't until we ended up both getting a job at the same company 3 years later - at the exact same time - that we became friends. Our idea for Flickchart, combined with a love for debate about film, and the fact that we're both web developers/designers, presented us with all the ingredients to create a site that tries to solve the question as to what the best movies of all time really are.
Beaks: Why a social networking site based on movies?
Flickchart: Flickchart was sparked by an off-handed comment when the two of us were arguing about the movies on IMDb's Top 250 list. PULP FICTION was sitting 3 spots above THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in the top 10 (currently 5 spots above). We agreed that if everyone had directly compared them, rather than assigning star ratings to each one in a vacuum, things would've shaken out differently. It seemed like a pretty fun way to build a list of your favorite films, and maybe truer than what you'd arrive at by only using star ratings. If THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and PULP FICTION are both "5 stars", which one's the better movie? We didn't sit down to create a social networking site, but it was immediately obvious. When we couldn't tell our friends about Flickchart without getting into arguments about our example matchups, the social aspect proved to be essential to the format. Some of the most fun we'd ever had talking about movies was debating which of the two is better, but no other sites were pitching it that way. Gathering friends to debate about what the best movies of all time are, in a way they hadn't considered before, just seemed to be a perfect platform for a website.
Beaks: In a nutshell, how does the ranking system work?
Flickchart: We present two films, and you simply choose the one you prefer. You might like one over the other for a myriad of reasons; the better story, the better cinematography, the better acting, the one you're most nostalgic for - but ultimately there's always something that makes one of the two the better movie - to you. As you rank, you get introduced to more and more films (from popular blockbusters to obscure cult films), and your rankings get mashed in with everyone else's on Flickchart to generate the overall "Greatest Movies" list.
Beaks: I've done 2,418 rankings, yet my top 20 is not close to resembling my all-time top 20 (I admire THELMA & LOUISE a great deal, but I doubt it's even a top 200 movie for me). Any idea how long I'll have to rank to get my list to better represent my tastes? (Keep in mind I've seen a shitload of movies.)
Flickchart: It's different for everyone, depending on whether you're ranking all movies, or if you use our filters to fine-tune your Top 20, 50, 100, or 250 - or choose to rank only within a specific year, decade, or genre. That being said, we're currently in the process of testing a new & improved algorithm we've been developing internally that will substantially change how the rankings are presented and stored, which should make for faster refinement of users' lists, with smarter results along the way.
Beaks: How does the system account for a shift in preference? For instance: let's say I choose PARIS, TEXAS over WINGS OF DESIRE. Several nights later, I pick NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD over PARIS, TEXAS. But a week later, when confronted with NOTLD vs. WoD, I decide at that moment that I prefer WoD. Does that foul everything up?
Flickchart: A lot of people ask about that lack of perfect transitivity, but it's not a problem. We always take whatever your most recent preference is, as many users have flipped back and forth on their choices. Sometimes the difficult matchups are so close that you might go with one film today, but the other next week. Sometimes your tastes just evolve over time. And again, our algorithm refinements will be applying to this as well to be smarter about your past choices, so we'll have a much better sense of your decisions once that's in place.
Beaks: Will you add TV movies? And what about a spinoff site based on TV shows? Or could you incorporate that on Flickchart?
Flickchart: Right now we're working on expanding our offering of movies, starting with all of the more obvious omissions and then digging a lot deeper in our lighter areas (international, anime, indie, documentaries, TV movies, etc.). For our launch, we're focusing on making sure that nearly all U.S. theater-released films are included, and we'll continue to add more as we go. As for a TV-only spinoff site - we've already developed plans internally for that, and other media as well (music, video games, books, and more). Movies are just the beginning for us.
Beaks: Have you thought about bringing on featured critics?
Flickchart: We'd be absolutely thrilled to have featured critics on Flickchart. We'd love to see what Roger Ebert's highest ranked unseen film is, or favorite horror movie, or favorite 1980's movie - wouldn't you? (Beaks note: "Unseen"? Roger's seen everything!)
Beaks: What about getting into the movie news business? Trailer premieres? Exclusive interviews? If the site really takes off, you can guarantee that the studios will come a-callin'.
Flickchart: News, premieres, and interviews are some of the many things we'd love to dive into as the scope of the site evolves. The trickiest aspect of adding stuff, especially large features like news & interviews, is preserving the feel of the site while it grows and avoiding too much clutter. In the not so distant future, though, you'll see Flickchart grow well beyond just its front page. More social interaction, better ways to compare your lists and tastes in film with your friends, and the ability to create custom lists with commentary on why the films are ranked as they are for you, are all features we have in development. In addition to these and other ideas, our 10,000+ beta testers have been extremely helpful in providing all kinds of excellent suggestions to us through email, Twitter, FriendFeed, and GetSatisfaction.
Beaks: How do you answer the criticisms of someone like Harry, who doesn't like facile comparisons between films? (And isn't list-making a time-honored barroom tradition?)
Flickchart: The exercise is only as facile as you make it. When it comes to actual matchups, we hope you'll feel more of a connection to each pair of movies - via the posters, the trailers, and above all the spotlight that's trained on just the two of them - than you do with shuffling titles around on a list and attributing stars. It can really challenge you to think about what makes a good movie, and what makes one movie better than the other. You can also make comments on each pair of matchups, and we've gotten some terrifically insightful stuff from users so far. Harry's right that the mechanism itself is simple; but the depth of thought and conversation that arises from it is enthralling.
Not everyone loves making lists - but we hope Flickchart, at its core, should be fun above all else. A lot of people have described the effect as a sort of StumbleUpon for movies, since you can sit back and rank while the system delivers films to you that you love, hate, haven't heard of, forgot about, or have always wanted to see. As you mark movies that you haven't seen, we store that list for you so you can check out what you've missed - automatically ranked by greatness by all of Flickchart's users which lends itself to be a great recommendation system. When you see a new movie, you can bring it up on Flickchart and do a series of rankings to immediately slot it into your list where it belongs.
The thing that we think makes Flickchart different is that it makes you really consider what you love about movies, and as a byproduct of our process, you get introduced to great films you've never seen, like-minded people that have similar tastes in film, and - for statistics junkies - a wealth of knowledge about how films relate to each other in a way you've never seen before. We have a lot more to unveil along those lines up to and beyond our public launch, so hopefully we'll have even more to offer both casual movie fans and hardcore cinephiles alike.
As for barroom traditions, load up Flickchart on your iPhone at the bar sometime and yell out "Which is better, DIE HARD or RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!" and see what happens.
Ready to lose hours of your day to Flickchart? Click here. If you like what you see, be sure to friend me (username: mrbeaks).