Q&A: Keith Phipps Talks About Pitchfork’s New Movie Site, The Dissolve

The ex-editor of The Onion's AV Club is launching a site for film fans

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The Dissolve

Curiosity buzzed across the Twittersphere last Thursday when Pitchfork Media unveiled the imminent launch of its new addition to the brand: The Dissolve. Dedicated to all things cinematic, the folks behind the site are aiming to create a comprehensive archive of movie content, ranging from reviews and commentary to interviews and essays. Helming the  undertaking is Keith Phipps, former editor of The Onion’s well-regarded A.V. Club.

Phipps, who left The Onion in December, took several writers with him, giving The Dissolve a seasoned talent pool. The site launches this July, and with just seven staffers, is setting out to attain the same reach and influence with cineastes that Pitchfork’s namesake site has with music fans. Phipps and Pitchfork President Chris Kaskie spoke to TIME over the phone about what to expect from The Dissolve, how they plan to stand apart from the likes of the A.V. Club, the legacy of Roger Ebert, and why they’re staying put in Chicago.

TIME: It makes sense that Pitchfork should tap into film. How would you describe the new site? What would you compare it to? 
Phipps: There’s not really a film component for what Pitchfork does, which is sort of smart, passionate, if not comprehensive, in these broadly ranging reviews, commentary and interviews with the people who make film. It seemed like a good thing to do. I worked with Chris [Kaskie] years ago at the Onion and I followed his projects. So we got together and hashed it out — we went forward from that fairly simple idea.

A lot of your staff is coming from the A.V. Club. How will The Dissolve be different from the A.V. club?  What will you draw on and what will you do differently?
Phipps: A.V. Club covers everything — and that’s part of what makes it great. We want to focus on film. I parted ways with The Onion and I thought what do I really want to do? I thought I really got into this to write about film. It’s what I’m most passionate about, and I wanted to find a way to do that. From there, I was able to reach out to people who I thought would be a good fit, who I enjoyed working with and who I thought were similarly passionate about film, above all. I was lucky enough they said yes.

The range of content the site will cover — I think it was described as “playground for film lovers” — is a pretty big undertaking for a small staff. What will Dissolve do that other film sites don’t?
Phipps: I don’t really know quite how to answer that because I don’t want to insult other sites, but I definitely think there’s a hole in the market for really expansive film criticism and places that want to go in-depth, with not just the films of the present, which we definitely want to cover really thoroughly, but the films of the past…. One thing we want to dig into is video-on-demand. So many people are watching films at home. I still love going to the theater above all else, but it’s not necessarily how I watch movies these days. Streaming, DVD, on-demand — we definitely want to be there for that audience as well.

Kaskie: A lot of places attempt to enter into talking about culture and art, and they try to throw the widest net they can to ensure they have the widest reach. At the same time, I think it prohibits a lot different creatively executed ideas. What Pitchfork feeds, and what The Dissolve will feed, is a desire and a need to think about how content is presented online, and how that’s evolving. As much as we’ll be looking to create an identity, and we’ll already have an identity editorially, there will also be one creatively and from a design and development standpoint.

One thing you mentioned in terms of content is that you’re going to look back at stuff instead of just covering new stuff. Are there any examples you can give of what that will look like?
Phipps: One feature we want to start off with right away is the Movie of the Week. We pick an interesting film, and there’s sort of an introductory essay, a roundtable discussion and, if we can, interview people who made it. It may not always be in the current discussion, but we’ll kind of take it on us to put it back in the current discussion. Things that we find compelling in some way that don’t necessarily need to have some contemporary peg — just there because we want to talk about it.

I also always kind of wanted a film site that has someone who is just learning about film. Like, say, a 16-year-old film fan who wants to know what François Truffaut films to watch first. I want to  create something with that audience in mind and look beyond what’s just playing right now.

So for novices, too. Keith, in a recent interview you mention Electra Glide in Blue, an obscure reference to most. Who is the typical Dissolve reader? Is it the film nerd to Pitchfork’s music geek?
Phipps: If you think of  this venture in Dungeons and Dragons terms, you think of it like level-1 to level-10 film nerds. If someone come to our site to see what’s playing on Friday, I want them to be able to find a great review, from blockbusters down to indie films. But for people who want to dig deeper, people who want to stick around — and obviously it will take time to build our archives to fill with content about a particular subject — I want to be there for them, too.

Kaskie: Everything is evolving so quickly now, things are changing so quickly, that being at the forefront of that and focusing on all the emerging trends and the ways in which things are changing is a hugely important thing. Pitchfork has seen music go from Napster to whatever it would be considered today. Without there being an online destination that is this comprehensive and this focused, we’ll evolve with that and be covering that entirely as it happens.

Pitchfork’s approach to music is smart, often expert. How will the Dissolve fit into the brand? Will it have the same voice and look? And will there be any crossover?
Kaskie: I think it’ll be its own thing. The voices are already strong enough and respected enough. No one can change the way a band makes music, and it’s only a matter of collaboration through very organic ways that things will evolve. You can’t predict what that might look like. The site will have independent voices and the same underlying spirit but probably evolve more in design and creative ideas than in terms of specific editorial content. The ethos is the same but there’s not going to be any carbon copying in any way. If anything, Pitchfork will probably be taking more from The Dissolve. We have the benefit of designing a site that doesn’t exist right now whereas Pitchfork has 15 years of history. It’s very freeing in that way.

Phipps: I see them as very philosophically complementary. And if we can build a site that is just as meaningful to film fans that Pitchfork has become for music fans, I’ll be very happy.

Design and innovation are also big components of the Pitchfork brand – how will those elements be incorporated into Dissolve?
Phipps: One thing I was saying to people here earlier today is, the last thing I have to worry about is it being a nice-looking site.

Kaskie: The creative director and technical director of Pitchfork will both oversee The Dissolve, so everything in terms of creative resources will be shared. Philosophically and creatively, we’re all inspired by each other, which is kind of the only reason this made sense in the first place because before that it didn’t really exist until we realized we’re all of the same mind.

The Dissolve will be Chicago-based, while Pitchfork, which still has offices in Chicago, has offices in New York. The A.V. club is also in Chicago. Why are you staying put?
Phipps: One of our writers is going to be based in New York, and another in the movie hotbed that is Conway, Arkansas. In a short answer, I don’t want to move, I love New York, but I love living in Chicago. It’s also a great film town and has been for a long time. Certainly, we’re inspired by the legacy of Roger Ebert, who made Chicago into a great town for film critics years ago. Beyond that, Chris and I have talked about how we enjoy being Midwesterners and offering perspective that’s not coastal. Most people in the country don’t live on a coast and I’m actually happy to have a little distance. I like being able to write a review and not having to worry about running into the screenwriter at a cocktail party.

Well I’m glad you brought up Ebert. Someone online tweeted that The Dissolve will be the new go-to place in a post-Ebert world. Is that what you’re aiming to be?
Phipps: Those are shoes that we’re not going to fill, but in terms of Ebert as inspiring us, absolutely. If you wake up in the morning and want to know what’s going on in film and read some smart opinions about film, I want to be the site you go to.

What current films can you recommend for future readers? Any must-see films?
Phipps: Go see Francis Ha, if it’s playing at a theater near you, or Before Midnight. I’ve seen After Earth and Now You See Me – and they’re both quite avoidable.

2 comments
blacula12
blacula12

I really hope that this new site doesn't become so judgmental towards smaller indie filmmakers like how Pitchfork is towards the bands they cover.  If their is to be a "Dissolve effect" on moviesand filmmakers I will blow the F up.  Hopefully this is basically just AV Club 2.0 and not an extension of Pitchfork (and seeing that the staff is made up of former AV Club writers I don't understand why Pitchfork is getting so much credit for this. $$$)

ChicagoCineaste
ChicagoCineaste

"I definitely think there’s a hole in the market for really expansive film criticism and places that want to go in-depth, with not just the films of the present, which we definitely want to cover really thoroughly, but the films of the past." 

You've got to be kidding me. Much like Pitchfork, The Dissolve is already acting like the kid in high school who thinks they're the first person to see a really old movie by a dead director. I wish they would just be forthright and admit they are trying to poach The A.V. Club's audience for the benefit of The Pitchfork Corporation.

Also, regarding the Tweet about The Dissolve being the go-to site in a post-Ebert world, I only found one such Tweet on Twitter and it's from someone with 40 followers. I think it's horrible that this piece makes it seem as if someone with influence thinks that this group of pop-culture commentators will fill the void left by Roger Ebert. Not that the person's comment isn't valid, but this article is presenting that as popular opinion or the opinion of an expert.