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The Secret Origin Of The Underground Film Journal

Back in January, I noted that 2008 was the 10th anniversary of the¬†Underground Film Journal being online. I also wrote that I figured most people wouldn’t care to read about the history of the site. Surprisingly, I actually had people write and tell me that they would be interested in reading about just that, so after mulling it over for 4 months, here it is:

The story begins before the Underground Film Journal. Sometime in the mid-’90s — dates are hazy for me — David Cushman, an old friend from my comic book fandom print zine days whom I had lost contact with, rung me up again out of the blue. He was looking to start up his own website, but wasn’t sure what kind of content to put on it, so he asked me for ideas.

That website was called diRt Magazine — Dave’s title — and I came up with the idea to write short autobiographical stories under the cover of mainstream movie reviews. I’d mostly ramble on about some nutty encounter I had that week, then end each story with a “oh, by the way, I enjoyed the film” kind of closer. Eventually I also wrote comic book and music reviews and interviewed some comic book folks.

Dave also wrote articles in the same style, but he controlled all of diRt’s technical and design aspects. After a couple of years of that, I finally decided I wanted to learn the tech and design side of website creation, too, so I launched the¬†Underground Film Journal in 1998 just as a side project to feature my fiction writing: short stories, short scripts and poems.

However, shortly after I launched the Underground Film Journal, Dave and I ended up having creative differences over the direction of diRt. So, I decided to end the collaboration and focus solely on the Underground Film Journal, which became a combination of fiction writing and the type of reviews of mainstream films that I did for diRt.

The focus of my writing changed a little at that time, too. I still put up a few personal stories, but I mostly started writing political rants under the guise of movie reviews. I also concocted some cockamamie anti-authoritarian group that the site was supposedly the homepage for. But that idea was pretty badly planned out and never went anywhere. I also started an odd cyber-novel and a badly drawn semi-animated comic strip.

For most of the Underground Film Journal’s history, that’s what the site was. I was pretty obsessive about working on it and I viewed it more as a twisted art project than a fully functioning site. I never knew who read it, nor did I ever really try to find out.

Then, in 2002, I got sick of that. The goofy cyber-novel and terrible comic strip really took up way too much of my time and I figured — but had no proof — that nobody was reading them anyway. So, in an even more poorly planned out move, I decided to switch the site to all movie and comic book news and reviews. Plus, rather than my oddball tangent reviews, I decided I’d stick to actual content reviews of the material, plus cover a mixture of mainstream films and underground stuff, but still focusing mainly on the mainstream.

But, the reason it was all so poorly planned out is that I was still creating the site in pure HTML with Adobe GoLive, which is a great program, but man was the site a pain in the arse to update! It soon became so much work that in 2003, I dropped working on the site completely. I just couldn’t keep up with it. It wasn’t really even a conscious decision. It all just ended on its own.

Flash forward to 2005, when I got the itch again. Although I had a satisfyingly creative professional Internet career going, it did start driving me nuts that I wasn’t producing something that I owned entirely myself. So, I looked into transforming the site into a blog. After a couple of weeks of research, I settled on WordPress and the¬†Underground Film Journal was reborn on August 31, 2005.

I struggled a bit at first about what kind of direction I would take the new blog. However, I mostly concentrated on the same mix of covering mostly mainstream films, with the odd bit of underground news and reviews thrown in.

Then, in March 2006, I figured I really needed to settle on a specific focus for the site if I was going to get any traction. Surveying the rest of the film blog scene, I saw that the world was divided into mostly two camps: mainstream film blogs and indie film blogs. Nobody was really covering the underground scene that I had previously only dabbled in and which I was strongly passionate about, yet kind of disconnected from since I didn’t cover it 100%.

So, I started writing almost exclusively about underground films, with the occasional underground comic book review thrown in. It’s worked pretty good so far and I’m probably happiest about the site now than I ever have been. The only trouble is that since I write about mostly unheard of films and filmmakers, I don’t get so much traffic. I don’t get linked to so much because I don’t participate in the film conversations du jour and it’s tough to pop up in search engines because I don’t write about popular movies. But that’s not a complaint. That’s actually what makes the site fun. It’s been a little slow, but by keeping plugging at things my traffic slowly grows and people become more and more aware of what’s going on here. And I truly enjoy spotlighting things I don’t read about anywhere else — and I mean literally anywhere sometimes.

So, that’s the history of this little project that’s really become such a major part of my life, even when I didn’t work on it for 2 full years. For a long time I didn’t know who read anything that I did and now I know a good many of you. And that’s a nice feeling.