I’ve always enjoyed movies. Good, bad, or indifferent, the weekend usually found me plopped into a theater seat, munching a hot dog or Junior Mints and watching the latest Hollywood product. During the late 80s and into the 90s, I finally broadened my horizons and started attending arthouse films and enjoyed a great many of them.
While writing FutureView for The Buyer’s Guide, I reviewed a few movies (as I mentioned, I panned Star Wars in my original column). When the column ended, the next review I wrote was 8 years later for a very small limited-circulation amateur press publication. When that ended (the publication lives on, my interest in it waned very quickly), I still attended movies, but didn’t write reviews for another couple of years. During this time, 1989-1991, I developed a habit of attending up to three or four movies every Saturday. Tickets were…what…two and a half to three bucks for matinees? I could afford it.
Around the same time, I developed another addiction. I logged on to my first BBS (bulletin board system) in 1990, a system called Texas Talk. BBSes opened up a whole new world — I hadn’t used a computer in this way before. I could download text files and shareware files (usually games or graphics), I could play online games, and I could CHAT with other real, live people. Who needed to leave the house?
I developed many friendships during my days on two systems in particular, Texas Talk and Chrysalis, both hosted in Dallas. Some of those friendships continue this day.
On Texas Talk, the sysops (system operators) started publishing a weekly newsletter. Occasionally, a contributor would write something about online life, review a new game or a new movie, but usually wrote just a couple of paragraphs. While at a Texas Talk party, one of the sysops discussed needing more material and lamented that not a lot of people were contributing. Someone suggested movie reviews (no, I didn’t mention it first, even though I am pretty opportunistic), and I asked if I might send her some reviews. By the next week, I had four movies reviewed, and the sysop suggested I publish them as a separate newsletter, because the reviews ran longer than the board newsletter itself. That’s how my online movie review career was born.
The newsletter was called Lights Out (my online handle at Texas Talk was Acolyte, and an early version of the newsletter was called Lyte’s Out, meaning I was out at the movies). The weekly reviews were eventually distributed to a couple of dozen or more BBSes, mostly located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Lights Out continued for a couple of years and was discontinued in the mid-90s due to personal problems. From there, in 1997 I applied for a position with a new website called The Mining Company, where I contributed movie reviews until sometime in 2000, when editorship and website focus changed. The name changed, too — you probably know it now as About.com.
That association with The Mining Company led to a six-month stint with an independent newspaper published in Virginia and a short association with Suite101.com, but both of these petered out, as well.
So, how did my reviewing movies buy me a car? Every columnist who was still with The Mining Company/About.com in 2000 received stock options when the company went public in late 2000. We were required to hold onto our options for a few months, I forget how many. By the time we could exercise those options, the stock was trading above the $100/share mark. Remember, in early 2001, we were still in the dot.com bubble? Tech startups were ridiculously over-priced (which is how AOL was able to buy Times-Warner, but you see how long that lasted), and that included The Mining Company/About.com. Two days after the date arrived when we could exercise our options, I called the brokers and told them to sell at $90/share. The broker claimed the stock may not hit that price (it had closed just under $90 that day), but I knew, somehow, that it would open either at or just above $90 the next day. I kicked myself for not having acted when the stock was hovering around $100 a day before. Yes, it was dropping that fast.
The stock opened just below $90, surged very briefly, and dropped immediately. At $90, my broker sold my shares and a couple weeks later (maybe six weeks, I don’t remember the timespan), I had a check in my hot little hands.
Within a week of receiving the check, I placed a substantial downpayment on the first new car I’d ever own (and still have to this day), a 2001 blue Hyundai Accent (stop groaning, I’m perfectly fine with it). The rest I socked away to pay taxes.
And that’s how reveiwing movies bought me a car. It also brings my writing history up to the new millennium. What’s happened during the 2000s? Stay tuned.