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Why Film-critic Scout Tafoya Sees Beauty In Unloved Cinema

“There’s a guy on Roger Ebert’s website called Scout Tafoya...”

When comedian and actor Patton Oswalt said these words on The Best Show podcast back in 2015, it changed the Queens-based filmmaker and video essayist, Scout Tafoya, forever.

“(Scout) does this thing every couple weeks called, The Unloved,” Oswalt told The Best Show's host, Tom Scharpling. “They’re these amazing video essays about movies that came out and were unjustly vilified or people hated ‘em.”

It’s not every day that a famous comedian says they love your work on a popular podcast. It’s also not every day that that famous person happens to be your childhood hero. Oswalt’s stand up specials and comedy records were staples in Tafoya’s childhood home, so when he found out from a friend on Twitter that Oswalt was a fan of his work, he was so happy that he broke down in tears in his living room.

“I didn’t have enough money to pay rent, my job was terrible, and here was this comedian — who I had been listening to since I was eleven on car trips with my Dad — talking about my work,” said Tafoya, who was recently interviewed on stage by Patton Oswalt at Patreon Assembly in Los Angeles. “I’m still completely blown away by that.”

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Scout Tafoya location hunting for his film The Kill Play in an abandoned school in Lambertville, New Jersey. Photo credit: Tucker Johnson

Filmmakers and critics have a historically tumultuous relationship. After all, if you had to witness something you spent years making be picked apart like a bag of popcorn, you’d probably harbor a little resentment too. But Scout Tafoya, who runs his membership through Patreon, isn’t like other film critics. While many learn to write about movies from being a member of the audience, Tafoya learned by sitting in the director’s chair.

“When I go back to how I got into movies, it’s because I fucking love movies,” said Tafoya. “My whole childhood was watching them, thinking about them, writing them, and making them later. If I didn’t love this, and the people who do this — if I wasn’t in it to constantly be surprised by how good a movie can be, then I wouldn’t be here.”

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Scout Tafoya and crew on the set of Scout's Western film, Hang the Pale Bastard. Photo Credit: Joel Buchanan

Tafoya’s criticism — which has been featured in Consequence of Sound, Rogerebert.com, and Nylon — is influenced heavily by his work in film. He’s written and directed over 25 feature-length films (with a Western on the way), and he even got to don 19th century garb as an extra in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. Because of his time on the other side of the fourth wall, his criticism isn’t just aimed at those who love movies — it’s for those that make them, too. This is most evident in, The Unloved, a video series where Tafoya searches for beauty and meaning in box office flops and critically maligned cinema.

“What I wanted to do was let people know that just because a film looks like a disaster and everybody talks about how much money it lost, that there’s still something to talk about,” said Tafoya about his video series The Unloved.

Embedded content: https://vimeo.com/76672771

And as far as Tafoya is concerned, the lower the Rotten Tomato rating, the more stuff there is for him to unpack. Is Alien 3 (42% on Rotten) as much about abortion rights as it is about Alien babies and intergalactic prisons? Was the 2018 reboot of the Predator (32%) really that bad, or was the film — along with its star, Olivia Munn — a victim of gender bias and sexism? Are these films any good? For Tafoya, the answer is yes, but also, that’s totally beside the point.

“When I started, and the reason that I wanted to start talking about movies like Alien 3 or John Carter or the Lone Ranger or whatever it was, it was because there was so much snideness about a movie for 1000 reasons that didn’t have anything to do with what I was looking at when I watched them,” said Tafoya.

One thing that is noticeably absent from the film critic’s videos is Tafoya himself. But there’s a reason you will never see Tafoya talking into a microphone during an episode of The Unloved. Tafoya wants you to stay with the film’s world, and seeing him would take you out of it. So instead, he chooses to narrate the videos, but beyond that, everything else — from the footage to the score — is taken from the films themselves, further immersing you in its universe.

Scout Tafoya Head Shot

“You want people to feel fulfilled on an intellectual, an academic, and an emotional level,” said Tafoya. “You want people to feel like they’ve gotten everything they need from this five minutes, and to understand why you were talking about the movie, what you had to say about it, and why, perhaps, it’s worth a second look. That’s really it as far as The Unloved is concerned. If people actually like the essays for the little piece of visual and aural art that they are, that’s a bonus. That’s awesome, obviously, but the point is to recontextualize the movie — that’s the whole point. It can’t be about my ego.”

Not that Tafoya has much time for an ego. Last month, he released a video essay a day about forgotten horror flicks. His latest obsession? Hammer Film Productions, a British studio whose difficult-to-find horror films from the 50s-70s have reached cult status with many cinephiles. And, for his Patreon supporters, he’s releasing exclusive video essays on other unsung heroes of the cinema world, like CGI animators: “You got guys painting with ones and zeroes all the time, and none of those guys get any kind of recognition,” said Tafoya.

There are those among us that appreciate the lost and overlooked. Some are museum curators or antique dealers, others are beachcombers, and then there’s Scout. With so many movies at our fingertips, we need the Scout Tafoyas of the world more than ever, not just to show us what to watch (a simple Google search can show you that) but how to watch — now, that’s a story worth telling.

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