A Whale of a Time: Saying goodbye to GordonandtheWhale.com
Well, this is the hardest article I’ll ever have to write, but it has to be done. Next month, Gordon and the Whale will be closing its digital doors as a daily website. You will be able to access our archived articles, but come August 31st, there will no longer be fresh content.
I know this may come as a shock, so let’s take a look back and celebrate how far GATW has come and discuss the future. I’m going to give you the abridged version because, well, hopefully most of you reading this have been following us for a long time.
Back in 2007, Rusty Gordon and I had an idea to start a website that would be based solely on us filming ourselves arguing over whatever movie we just saw. If you’ve ever been around Rusty and I together, you know our humor towards each other is both loving and morbid. I pitched this idea to my cousin, who went to school for web design, and he told me he’d build us a site if we were truly serious about the idea. All we needed was a name. Thus, GordonandtheWhale.com was born - a website that sounded like a children’s book but read like two guys who hated each other. It was all out of love, really.
Once the site got rolling, we’d see every film that opened on that Friday and would have our video or written reviews up by Sunday. It was expensive, but we did it because we loved it.
Then everything changed. We were discovered by a well-respected publicist in Dallas, TX. She enjoyed our wit, humor, and style and brought us on as press, meaning we'd get to see movies for free and before they opened. This allowed us to actually get our reviews up in a timely fashion. To add icing to that cake, we also started getting invited to do interviews with actors and directors coming to town - GATW’s very first was William Fichtner.
A few months later, studios started adding us to their press lists, and we eventually began sponsoring advance screenings, giving away passes. More interview opportunities with bigger talent started coming our way. It was pretty kick-ass and I thought that was what “making it” as a movie website was all about.
Around Christmas of 2008, we brought on James Wallace; he was a bright and persistent young man and, to this day, I’ve never met anyone more passionate about film than him. When we brought on James, well, that’s when things started to really happen for us. Because of him, GATW eventually became studios' largest sponsor for the Dallas-Fort Worth area - James gave us a visual presence behind all that wit and humor. He is the guy who loves being in front of a large crowd and can handle both hecklers and eager movie geeks.
We eventually attended our first film festival together - SXSW - and that’s when we discovered a whole other world of movie blogging.
In April 2009, we brought on Kate Erbland (you can read Kate's very first review HERE), who forever changed the way GATW would write. Since that April, Kate has copy edited almost every piece of work posted on GATW, making sure our grammar was correct and that we didn’t sound like complete idiots (half-idiots is okay by Internet standards). You see, Kate’s really smart and has a degree in English - I dropped out of college to chase this whole movie blogging dream and didn’t pay too much attention in school about grammar and punctuation, which was now a crucial part of my life.
Kate began writing reviews for us and eventually became our head film critic. Anyone who has steadily followed Kate's film criticism career will agree that she can hold her own against any other online film critic working today. It was through her writing that I learned how to capture the feeling of fun in film criticism, whether it be positive or negative. Go ahead and take this time to read one of her reviews and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about - you'll have as much fun reading it as she did writing. I suggest either STAR TREK or CLASH OF THE TITANS.
In 2010, I applied and got accepted into the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association, I then later moved to Austin's Austin Film Critics Association. By asking for advice and criticism on my work, I became a real writer. At the 2010 Austin Film Festival, I was on a film criticism panel with Dallas Morning News' Chris Vognar, Film School Rejects' Neil Miller, The New Yorker's David Denby, and the Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan. I was beyond honored to be a part of this - it was one of the greatest moments of my life.
It wasn’t until James attended CineVegas (RIP) that the Internet started to pay attention to us. It was there that we got our first official EXCLUSIVE which major sites picked up. Soon after that, other news stories and original content began to show up on other websites.
In September 2009, James, Rusty, and I attended Fantastic Fest. We stayed in a tiny one bedroom hotel room with four other guys, and we had the best time of our lives. Life was pretty easy then. We'd use vacation time for festivals, see movies months before they were released, and dream about the day we could do this full-time.
And then another huge turning point happened in GATW’s career - we got accepted into the Sundance Film Festival. As nerdy as it was, I couldn’t decide which I was more excited about: getting accepted or being asked by Film School Rejects' Neil Miller, Slash Film's Peter Sciretta, and First Showing's Alex Billington to room with them during the festival. Kate had covered the LA Film Festival before, but tail-ended Sundance with us. It was no longer just three misfit boys going together to festivals, but one damn talented girl was now fully a part of the bunch.
Kate eventually became a very integral part of GATW, helping James and I make huge decisions on how we would structure our site. We started getting people from all over the world wanting to write for us and finally had a large staff. Life got pretty awesome - through GATW I was able to cover the Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes (with News Editor Joshua Brunsting). GATW even had a sponsor who paid for Josh and my trip to cover Cannes. Holy shit. Where do you go after that?
One thing I haven’t mentioned yet about our site - mainly because it’s not my primary focus of this article - is our financial success, how we ran as a business and paid for festivals. You see, a large number of people see the cool things we get to do and immediately assume there’s a lot of money involved. Let me be the first to tell you - there’s not. With the exception of two festivals, we paid everything out of pocket. Hotels, plane tickets, and food money all came out of our personal bank accounts. At first it was okay - we had faith that one day GATW would be able to pay for it - but it eventually took a toll on everyone.
We did sign with a large ad revenue company, Gorilla Nation, but that financial success never came. We did make a little bit of money off the site, but not enough to pay the writers, or even the editors. Our money went to our server and that was that. After four years of doing some of the biggest and best things with GATW, James, Kate, and I decided it’s best to leave at its peak and pursue other career opportunities. Kind of like what Jerry Seinfeld did with Seinfeld - quit while we're on top.
Trust me, this isn’t easy for anyone here. Letting go of this site is the hardest thing any of us could do, but if there’s a good time to let go, it’s right now.
Thank you all of the people who were consistent in their support of us throughout all of our trials and tribulations, the ones who believed in us, and the ones who helped carry us to the places we end up post-GATW life. I could name everyone individually, but the Academy would turn up the music and I wouldn’t be able to finish. The ones who I am speaking of, you know exactly who you are - I love you with all of my heart and you will forever be a large impact on my life. Thank you.
I will continue working in the film industry; look for that announcement soon. If you've been paying any attention to James Wallace on Twitter, you'll notice he's started his own site, IHeartCinema.net, which will fill the void of advance screenings and other sponsored film events that GATW hosted. As for Kate Erbland, well, I'm told she has a pretty groovy announcement coming soon. Check out the comments to see the rest of GATW's staff members discussing where you can find their work.
This last paragraph is dedicated to my mother, who, since day one, believed I could take my idea of writing about movies online and turn it into something great, and everyone who was ever a part of GATW. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for shedding tears with me and fighting so diligently until the very end. You are the reason I got a taste of hope. Go forth and conquer, my friends.
GATW’s fearless leader and your friendly neighborhood movie geek,
Below are some of my favorite photos captured in GATW's career, quotes pulled from one of our reviews, and wonderful articles written about us. I am super-proud of everyone who helped me make this site possible.