While combing through other websites and blogs, we came across one that we found intriguing called Flat Circle Blog. The man behind it, John Saeger, went from working for private investigation companies to blogging about film, music, and pop culture in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His film, TV, and music reviews reveal him to be impressively well-informed, and we wanted to know more about the man behind the reviews.
Hi, John! Tell us about yourself and about how your blog got started.
I live in the Philadelphia suburbs with my wife Janet. We have a cat who constantly walks all over my keyboard, which is not terribly helpful. I started The Flat Circle in April 2017. The blog initially had a wider range of pop-culture topics, but over the last six months I decided to focus on television, film, and music. I consume a lot of entertainment and love sharing those experiences with people.
Tell us about working for private investigation companies! That sounds awesome.
The industry sounds more exciting than it is (although it was a great conversation starter). Most of my time was devoted to background investigations. A lot of that encompassed social media documentation, so six years of reading Facebook pages was mentally taxing. I was glad to put the P.I. industry behind me in May, and I am looking forward to the next phase of my career. Hopefully that involves writing professionally, to some extent. I do have a side gig doing instant replay for basketball games that I absolutely love.
How did you get interested in film, and why is it so important to you?
Film was originally a secondary focus for my site. As my blog grew, I found that I liked writing about movies more than other topics. This really kicked into gear when I decided to watch all of the Best Picture nominees for the 2018 Oscars. Not only did it grow my appreciation for different types of movies, but I rediscovered how much I love seeing movies on the big screen. So far, I’ve been to the movie theater sixteen times in 2018 and caught up on a lot of other films on my bucket list.
What are some of your favorite movies? Moderns and classics.
My favorite modern films have a Christopher Nolan theme: Dunkirk, The Prestige, and The Dark Knight. I also put Apollo 13, Casino Royale, The Fugitive, and Creed in that group. Gettysburg is a guilty pleasure film that plays to my history nerd sensibilities.
Classics are a little more eclectic. I don’t have one favorite movie, but Rocky, Bull Durham, The Empire Strikes Back, On The Waterfront, The Searchers, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Frankenstein (1931 version), 12 Angry Men, and Stalag 17 round out an informal pre-1990 top ten.
What about your favorite TV shows?
I binged all of The Americans this year and loved every season. It’s one of the few television shows where every season is equally good. I regret waiting until this year to start watching. Other favorite recent TV shows are Stranger Things, The Good Place, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, VEEP, and Brockmire.
“Older” shows like Law & Order (the first decade), Night Court, Cheers, The Wire, Band of Brothers, The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad are also on my list.
Who are some of the filmmakers – directors, writers, actors, everyone – you admire most?
Right now John Krasinski and Bradley Cooper are in interesting phases of their careers. They are both evolving from actors to filmmakers. They both had hits in 2018 with Quiet Place and A Star Is Born. I expect that we are about to benefit from their creative primes.
What, in your opinion, makes a good movie or TV show? Is there a specific formula or checklist?
It’s 90% writing. Acting, directing, and production quality make the most noticeable visual impact on a movie or television show.
Writing ties everything together. Writing gets people to binge a show. The movies with the best scripts endure.
The Social Network is a great example of how a potentially bland topic can be one of the best films ever made. Aaron Sorkin’s script is the best part of the film.
What are your opinions about the current trend in rebooting TV shows?
It is killing network television. I understand that pre-existing intellectual properties have the best chance to attract an initial audience, but the volume of reboots and spinoffs is not healthy for broadcast television. Having whole blocks of Chicago CSI Special Victims Unit and The Conners is uninspiring. Rebooting Magnum, P.I. is a prime example. You can’t replicate Tom Selleck. I would rather just watch the original series.
A majority of the freshest concepts on television tend to be on streaming, cable, or premium platforms. This is a shame because television is at its peak when everyone is watching and obsessing over the same thing.
How do you feel about the controversy in using British actors for American roles?
It does not bother me at all. Roles should go to actors who fit the creator’s vision. Their talent ultimately determines if the casting choice is successful. Having a foreign actor like Saoirse Ronan transform into an American can make an acting gig even more impressive.
Do you agree with the notion of films currently being in a decline and TV in an upswing?
It’s only partially true. As I mentioned before, lots of the same thing waters down the medium. There is too much regurgitation of pre-existing intellectual property in film. I’m glad that Marvel does well, but those movies aren’t for me. So many good movies are packed into the Fall and Winter. It doesn’t feel like there is a wealth of good new films, but there are. The summer blockbuster is risking losing people who are not into superhero movies.
Television is a giant content bubble. The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire all aired in a 14-year period and there can only be so many game-changing ideas on so many different platforms. Nothing can replicate the feeling of sitting in a packed theater with a captive audience. If Hollywood can provide the buzzworthy movies, it will all balance out over time.
How did you get interested in music, and why is music so important to you? Are you a musician yourself?
I have no musical talent whatsoever. I first got into music during freshman year of college. The album which hooked me was U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and their song “All Because Of You.”
I became even more interested in music in 2009. I was an intern with the Reading Phillies. One of my jobs was to play music during games. While I admit that it was an overwhelming summer, one game was a revelation. Pedro Martinez was making a rehab start that brought the then-largest crowd in stadium history. It was the first time that I felt how cool the job really was. Playing to a packed house was just an all-time rush.
After that, I wanted to learn more about music, so I worked at Main Street Music in Philadelphia. I wanted total immersion in everything that I had been missing out on and a record store was the best place to play catch up.
Tell us about some of your favorite musicians, and why they are your favorites.
My favorite musician is Tom Petty. I have written a lot on him, but I don’t think I have ever expressed why he is my favorite artist. Some of it has to do with his demeanor and work ethic. Mostly, I just love the Heartbreakers as a perfect garage rock band who could just own a venue with amazing musicianship.
What is your goal with your blog (who do you want to reach, what do you want to say with it, etc.), and how do you plan your content?
My initial goal was to write for the sake of having a creative outlet. As time has gone on, I have found that I want to grow The Flat Circle and develop regular readership.
Eventually, I would love to contribute to publications and do some type of professional writing. I know I have a lot of work to do before I can reach that level of critical authority. Not only does that involve writing more, but also watching and listening as much as I can.
As far as planning content, I am settling into a rhythm by publishing almost once a week about each topic. I try to spread it out so that I don’t became too focused on one subject.
What challenges do you face with your blog?
My main challenge is growing my readership. I don’t write viral pieces for the sake of going viral. Stuff like “The Post is Steven Spielberg’s best movie” and nonsensical political tie-ins are just absurd, but they get rewarded on the Internet. Having a moderate critical take may not get a million shares, but hopefully it builds an audience of like-minded readers over time.
Do you have any advice to give to new or more seasoned bloggers?
I first started blogging on a dumpy platform. I did not learn about SEO or take the time to discover how to at least break even financially on a blog. There is a lot of time and effort before bloggers hit “publish” that goes unnoticed. I didn’t consider learning how to be a blogger in the beginning. I wish I had. It would have saved me a lot of work in the long haul.
My primary advice for bloggers is to learn about blogging first and to pick a topic that you love. There can be lean times in blogging. If you learn the process and pick out something that you love writing about, that will get you through the tough days.
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