So I Drank Myself to Sleep Over Fake Bots and Haters | Script Revolution

So I Drank Myself to Sleep Over Fake Bots and Haters


As many of you who are familiar with me know, I like to keep things real when it comes to sharing my journey along the emotional rollercoaster that is building a screenwriting career. On the outside, it may look easy, or even an indulgence, to candidly share the tough times, but being honest, open, authentic, and ultimately vulnerable, isn’t easy, especially when the content is dark and seemingly negative. The following article describes one of my most arduous periods thus far, and I’m sharing it for one main reason - I wish someone had told me about this BS before I had to face it - CJ

I exited the Christmas period free of the blues many suffer as they face the cold, stark stint through winter toward the tiny glimmer of light that is Easter and the comparative warmth of spring. I had a movie coming out, and not just any movie, the best movie I felt I’d made so far, and one I’d been closely involved with as a producing partner from soup to nuts, Night Train. To say I was proud was an understatement, and to say I was excited about the release was an even bigger understatement. The trailer, put together by Saban Films, was nothing short of brilliant, and the roll-out, my first theatrical one no less, was first class. I was a very happy camper.

I was even pleased with the critical reception, which tends to be challenging when releasing an independent film within the action genre. Everything can be against you here, as content made for the masses does not sit well with the pretentious, especially when made on a tight budget. However, some got it and saw the value in the story being told.

In fact, all was pretty dandy in terms of response across the board, and this continued for around ten days - where I seemingly jinxed it when I told a close friend how pleased I was with the IMDb score, which was still comfortably in the 8’s.

Oddly enough, that night, it was Google that tipped me off that something was about to upset the apple cart. Like any filmmaker obsessed with the audience’s reaction to their new baby, I was running regular searches to see new posts and articles as they came in. Since Google stick the IMDb details at the top of the search results, it was impossible for me not to notice that the score had already dropped into the 7’s - which is considerable movement in just a couple of hours.

Metaphorically dashing into IMDb via my thumbs frantically dancing on my phone, I found, to my horror, the score had indeed dropped rapidly, and this was down to a sudden surge of 1-star ratings. My heart sank a little, but the onslaught had barely started. Soon my stomach was turning as I checked back in repeatedly to find another thirty 1-star ratings, then another fifty over the next six hours, and on and on, until the following evening, where over a hundred had been submitted with no sign of relenting. It was like a machine, churning away, posting 1-star ratings throughout the day and night at a rate of around ten per hour.

The graph IMDb provide to show the score distribution looked nothing short of ridiculous, with the bar for 1-star towering above the little peaks over on the other side, and weirder still, there were no reviews to coincide with this. It looked completely unnatural.

I am far from technically illiterate since I run a platform of my own (Script Revolution), so I’m more than familiar with attempted spam attacks and flagging multiple accounts from the same IP address. I just couldn’t fathom how what looked like a blatant bot attack could occur on a site as prominent as this - surely they had mechanisms in place to stop it?

That belief in IMDb’s system integrity made me question whether this was valid and real. That this angry crowd, now totaling over two hundred, was made up of actual people, people who were angry and disappointed in the very thing I’d helped produce in a bid to make people happy.

That’s something consumers often don’t know about the vast majority of filmmakers - we ultimately want to entertain our audience above all else. Having a film rejected hurts in the same way offering a homemade gift and having it thrown back in your face hurts.

This hit me hard, mainly because I felt a film’s IMDb score is pretty much the barometer everyone uses to gauge its quality. In fact, I’ve had people who learn I’m in film look up my movies right in front of me and recite the current score. It’s something you can be very conscious about upon launch because, going back to that point about the reception of your baby I made earlier, you really want to know what people think or, to put it more candidly, you really really want to hear a positive response to what’s typically years of effort.

The butchery was addictive to watch too, like a car crash that keeps you rubbernecking. I quickly became preoccupied with checking at every opportunity, and that’s when the user reviews came in on the Saturday. The vitriol was palpable, with myself and my producing partner Shane the subject of personal attacks and tirades. While there was some odd stuff in there, like criticisms that didn’t make any sense and prose that felt like a child writing in a second language, there were references that were undeniably true. Some of these people had undoubtedly watched the movie, or at least parts of it.

Then I did something I’ve never done before, and I hope I never find myself doing again. Something I don’t like to admit, and I’ve only told a few closest to me since. I’d had a lovely day with friends consisting of a meal and board games with some drinks to lubricate the evening’s antics. I knew I could not face being alone in silence, where I would be in my own head, and with the need to go to bed approaching, I picked up my bottle of rum and, knowing full well what I was doing, I drank myself to sleep.

For the record, I do not have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and never have. I am a happy drinker who only does so in social situations, and I rarely ever get sick or suffer hangovers due to consuming too much. That I did this scared the hell out of me, and I was noticeably shaken up the next morning.

In a way, it scared me straight. I figured that if this is what following a film’s release does to me, it’s best that I do what many experienced filmmakers do, and find something else to focus on. Suddenly the likes of Lucas escaping to Hawaii to bury his head in the sand during the release of Star Wars made a lot of sense.

And it was in that sober reflection, with my phone firmly planted on a table across the room like a demon in the corner, I realised the turmoil I’d gone through had been for nothing because what I was letting get to me was all effectively fake.

You see, I’d been quite vocal on the issue and reached out to other filmmakers on social media to see if anyone else had suffered the same experience - the result was surprising. I was inundated with replies from people who’d had their work attacked on IMDb the same way and had more or less given up on the system. I was advised that, if the film was performing well on platforms, I need not worry, and indeed, it was performing well on both Amazon, where it had good scores, and iTunes, where it had reached #12 in the action & adventure genre. It seemed more and more like IMDb was this negative little bubble, a pseudo-reality prone to trolls, and that supported what most filmmakers were telling me - that nobody in the industry cares about IMDb scores or takes them seriously.

That was my core worry, I think, that people, influential people, executives, producers, and investors, would see this as not just a red mark against my name but a red mark against everyone else’s name, and this product we’d created together, a product that ultimately owed something to its investor, would be tainted in a similar way that impacts its performance in the marketplace. Put simply, it felt unfair and unjust, akin to a competitor hiring the mafia to come kick the windows in on your new restaurant.

It turns out I’m years behind the curve, and perhaps I should have known better. While looking for poster designers years back on Fiverr, I’d seen services offering manipulation of IMDb listings. I’d watched something similar happen to a dear friend when his movie received scathing 1-star reviews the minute it was released in theatres and before anyone could have watched it fully. Hell, even as a consumer over a decade ago, I’d formed the opinion that a low score on IMDb would probably mean I’d love the film I was considering watching. I just didn’t know it was quite this bad.

Funnily enough, in a remarkable coincidence, a friend since sent me a Film Courage interview where they pose the very question about IMDb scores to filmmaker Michael J. Epstein under the title “Why You Can't Trust Online Movie Ratings” - perhaps suggesting this has become an epidemic.

Ultimately though, the crazy thing is I kind of went through this with the release of Break Even and Double Threat in both an active and passive fashion. Break Even was my first-ever film release, and I went through the ups and downs of watching mixed reviews come in daily. Double Threat came at a time when I could easily distract myself with other things, and I was able to come back to it months later, after it had become a #4 hit on Amazon Prime, when the negative wave had passed, and the glowing reviews were coming in. And that’s the thing, while neither film had suffered the same level of bot attacks and vitriol directed at Night Train, there had been this process of; release > get attacked by haters > get attacked for releasing something female led > get attacked for releasing something low budget > get attacked by pirates who’ve stolen the content > get attacked by people jumping on the hate bandwagon > balance out as the real audience grows.

While that’s refreshing to know, I wish I’d known it sooner, not just for the impact on my mental health but the impact on me career-wise. The irony is while worrying about how IMDb scores may have negatively impacted my image as an artist, publically acknowledging that worry may have negatively impacted me more as a professional. It made me look like a Debbie-Downer who wasn’t looking toward the successes but instead dwelling on “failures” that didn’t actually exist outside my head.

This highlights a topic worthy of a blog post of its own; the different attitudes toward artistry, and ultimately toward artists, between Europe and the US. I come from a culture where artists wear their creative pains as a badge of honour, the most successful of whom are loved for how tragic they ultimately are. There is a reason why the likes of Amy Winehouse are revered in the UK, and it’s not just for their incredible talent but for the fact they let their art consume them and make no apologies for the flawed human beings they are, as they know it’s those very flaws that fuel the core of their brilliance. Great artists, like great philosophers, tend not to be fundamentally happy people because to force happiness, or fake it for others, is a trite and deluded approach to facing what it is to be alive. The US, on the other hand, with its corporatised culture and “have a nice day” veneer, struggles with this, an issue beautifully portrayed by the sermon-like rants of the curmudgeonly British writer-producer Tom Oakley in The Player, who signs off his dark depressing pitches with the haunting words “that’s reality!”, as if reality is a direct threat to good old-fashioned family-friendly entertainment. America likes all its workers to be perky, bouncy, and on-brand as a team-player, a vibe this sarcastic pessimist can struggle to give off, and an image many artists fail to keep up before their inevitable ostracisation - just ask Britney Spears, Charlie Sheen, or Miley Cyrus. It’s fair to say that the US suffers artistically as a result too, but it’s also undeniable to state that it wins commercially, and it’s that latter point that takes home the bacon or, more importantly, puts food on your table. One of my biggest frustrations with trying to help aspiring screenwriters, particularly aspiring American screenwriters, is to get them to think and act more like artists. However, in the circumstances I detail above, I admit to perhaps getting a little too precious and a bit too dramatic.

Lesson learned; we have to find balance, and pour the best of our artistry into our art, the best of our soul into our collaborators, and the best of our attitude into our audience.

Of course, the much bigger question here is the relevance of IMDb scoring, given that it seems to be at the mercy of rampant manipulation, especially for smaller films, where a comparatively tiny number of votes can have a massive proportional impact. Who does this really benefit other than the people getting paid to run the bot farms that skew the figures either way? I love IMDb and feel it gives the film industry a tool for due diligence that no other industry has, plus I’m an IMDb Pro subscriber to boot, but perhaps it’s time to consider if a database designed to list credits and trivia really needs to show ratings, something that’s normalised in the book and movie world but rarely done elsewhere in the creative industries. Spotify doesn’t feel the need to tell me how a tune has been rated, just how popular it is which, guess what, IMDb already tracks. This isn’t a radical suggestion as it may seem as IMDb already deleted all its forums due to toxicity.

Something else we have to ask ourselves is if any system that allows anonymous downvoting of content is fundamentally flawed within an online world that appears to be getting more cruel and cutthroat by the day. I have first-hand experience with this as the implementor. I initially built a pass, consider, recommend rating system on Script Revolution and, the very night I switched it on, a writer used it to shamelessly mark another writer’s entire portfolio of scripts as a pass. To what purpose do negative opinions serve within the arts other than to bolster people with self-satisfied pretentiousness or the ability to attack those they deem an enemy? Not liking something subjective is an emotion, not a talent, and is all too often tied to ego. I can’t stand the taste of blue cheese, but does that hatred give me the right to angrily downvote every restaurant I see serving it with Buffalo wings?

Anyway, if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you may be wondering what lessons you should take away from this, as it would appear to be a produced-writer-only problem. It’s not. In fact, it’s going back to the tough times I had breaking in, and how I coped with that, that has given me some guidance again now.

  1. Trolls only try to knock you down when they think you’re above them. In this day and age, online haters are an inevitable side-effect of success and a marker point that you’re having an impact. See them as a badge of honour and part of your rite of passage. Know that others will note their blatant bias against you and, if any third party sees their toxic behaviour as reasonable, you never wanted that third party’s approval in the first place. If you hang out in screenwriting communities long enough, you’ll find some will turn you into an enemy, especially if you see any form of success they haven’t yet had.
  2. Systems designed to score the subjective are clumsy at best and flawed at worst. It took me a long time to accept this as a writer, and I’ve spoken before about how, when I first started writing, my partner, an information specialist, warned me about participating in competitions and sites that score based on evaluations. For the sake of having winners and losers, they have to have a system, but the results mean next to nothing in the real world. A script I had scored as a three on the Black List one month was picked out and showcased by Amazon Studios the next. That same script drew a director to me a few years later and kicked off my career.
  3. At a societal level, human behaviour conflates quality and popularity. Another topic that could be a blog post in its own right. Understanding how things become popular and subsequently acclaimed is critical and based more on collective emotion than logic. People generally want to maximise their social mobility, which means liking the things the majority likes, hating the things the majority hates, and remaining indifferent to the unknown. It takes a lot for an individual to stick their neck out and back unknown material from an unknown entity for fear it may come back to hurt them if others don’t feel the same way, so most of those gatekeepers will likely play it safe, sadly even if they like your material.

So, try to ignore the trolls, don’t take any scoring system too seriously, accept that your champions will be slow to come in at first, and absolutely do not drink yourself to sleep because of some bullshit number on the Internet.

About The Author

CJ Walley's picture
Real name: 

I’m here for the gritty movies, the rebellious movies, those films that pack a punch far harder than their budgets would suggest.

As a spec script writer, I love to create pulpy thrillers, mostly with female leads, that feature strong themes, brutal action, witty dialogue, and twisting scenes that have characters vying for power or falling for one another.

As a producer and writer-for-hire, I’m production savvy, budget conscious, and market orientated, able to write in a...Read more



Lily Blaze's picture

Thank you for your brave honesty.

Online reviews have been plagued by everything wrong for a bloody long time. It's frustrating, horribly unfair, and just awful. Many people, and I'm one of them, never post reviews online because all websites that allow reviews have no fail safes in place, no verification process. Anyone, or anything for that matter, can post reviews.

Reviewers (whose names show up as a clickable link on certain sites) get harassed just as much as the content owners. When I did post online reviews on a regular basis (about ten years ago), I was sent death threats all day, every day. I often take the time to send a personal email/message to let someone know my review, because posting a review online isn't safe, and it's certainly not regulated.

Netflix stopped allowing reviews. At first, I thought that's weird. But now, I think that's the smartest thing they could have done.

There really isn't a way to "win" the online reviewing game. I wish there was a way. I would love nothing more than to say, here's how you can't prevent all the hate and auto-generated bots. I don't have the answers. Ignoring hateful/fake reviews is pretty much the only way.

I'm glad you're still here, CJ.

Anthony Cawood's picture

Great article CJ!

Andrea Zastrow's picture

Excellent message. Thanks for sharing. Please continue to "keep it real"; your genuine nature is very refreshing in a world full of phonies.

Madeline Hombert's picture

People who post negative comments at random began their lives as schoolyard bullies. The problem now is that there are no adults ( I do not consider these morons to be adults in any sense of the world!) around to stand them in a corner. The anonymity of the internet can be savage.and these bullies can cause a great deal of angst. The real danger is that writers/producers who may already be in a fragile emotional state when attacked could suffer greatly. And there is no consequence. Great article.