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(L to R): Bobby, Senh, and Ben

Senh Duong has created a hit movie reviews site. We asked him what inspired him to launch this informative and entertaining site. He did such an articulate job - that we decided to have him tell the story in his own words. -- AC Team

Rotten-Tomatoes.com
by Senh Duong, Founder

     Rotten Tomatoes was started a year ago on August 18, 1998. My goal was to create a site where people can get access to reviews from a variety of critics in the US. The idea was that if the majority of critics who has already seen a movie  recommend it, then it must be pretty good.

     Before the web, your best bet for a review is most probably your local newspaper. The problem with reviews from newspapers - and other print media - is that you usually only get one review to base your opinion on. It's not practical for a publication to hire 30 critics to review one movie. So to get a critical consensus, one would have to undergo the laborious task of searching for, and reading through, numerous reviews from newspapers around the country.

     It's also difficult to find a magazine stand that not only has numerous papers from around the country, but also one that allows you to go through each and every one of them without purchasing them first. With the web, the latter is not a problem. Access to the nation's papers is right at your fingertips. You still have to search for, and read through, those online reviews to get a consensus though. That's where Rotten Tomatoes comes in.

     We help you gather and organize those reviews, and we make it easy to see the consensus of the nation's critics. Even if you don't agree with the critics, you can usually get a pretty good idea of whether or not you'll like a certain movie from reading a variety of reviews with different perspectives. My original goal for Rotten Tomatoes is for it to be a movie guide.

     I had the idea a while back, but what eventually inspired me to create Rotten Tomatoes is my favorite all-time actor, Jackie Chan. Every kid has their hero(es), and one of my heroes is Jackie Chan. Since I discovered him in 1988, I would beg (and pay) my older brother to take me to Chinatown, San Francisco - a two hour drive from Sacramento - just to see a Jackie Chan movie. When "Rumble in the Bronx" eventually opened in the States, I wanted so much to support my hero that I went to see the movie every week until it was out of my local theatre - which I think ended up being about five to six weeks. On the day the movie opened, I went to my nearest magazine stands, and read up on all the reviews from every paper I can get my hands on. I would follow that by going through the web, searching for the nation's papers for reviews. Every time a Jackie Chan movie opened, I would repeat this process. After four movies - "Rumble in the Bronx," "Supercop," "First Strike," and "Operation Condor" - I had bookmarked on my web browser a collection of the nation's papers. When "Rush Hour" was about to be released, I had already spent a year as creative director for Design Reactor, an interactive web design studio that I helped started. By then, I've learned a thing or two about making web pages. I wanted to launch Rotten Tomatoes on the opening date of "Rush Hour," Jackie Chan's first american produced film since "The Protector" (1985).

     "Rush Hour" was originally scheduled to be released in August 1988, so I started working on the site in early summer during my free time. I must have spent a couple weeks just thinking about the name. Originally, I just wanted to pay tribune to one of my favorite shows on TV, Siskel & Ebert, by calling the site either "Thumbs Up" or "Thumbs Down." Unfortunately - or fortunately for legal reasons - every domain name with the word "thumbs" was taken. Popular names, and variations of them, like "critics," "moviereviews," and "reviews" were also taken, so I tried my best to come up with an obscure name. I thought about a very bizarre movie that I've seen years ago called "Leolo" in which a woman was impregnated by a tomato. I thought the quality of a tomato would be a great rating system - rotten, maggot-infested tomatoes for bad movies, fresh, juicy tomatoes for good movies. The domain name "rotten" was taken; "tomato" and "tomatoes" were also taken; "rotten-tomatoes" was not. So "Rotten Tomatoes" it is.

     As far as the look and format of the site goes, I wanted the front page to spoof grocery ads from Lucky. Instead of fresh, sparkling tomatoes, I would have rotten, maggot-infested tomatoes; instead of the slogan "Freshness First," I would use "Freshness Last." In the original design released around August of '98, it did look like an ad from Lucky, but it was kinda boring to have the same picture on the front-page everyday. That's been replaced with a movie collage that changes weekly. I wanted the review pages to look like a movie ad from a newspaper. The big influence here was a full-page ad I saw for "In the Line of Fire" when it was released in 1993 (funny how these things come up when you need them). The ad had what must have been over fifty something blurbs from critics. It's the first time I've seen so many blurbs on an ad!

     With the name, format, and look finalized, and the pages coded, I was ready to launch the site on August 20th, but to my disappointment, "Rush Hour" was pushed back to September 18th. I launched it anyway on August 18th because the site was ready, and I was anxious to do a reviews page. The first reviews page on Rotten Tomatoes was "Your Friends and Neighbors," and the second one was "Blade."

     The immediate response to the site was great. Within the first week, Rotten Tomatoes was the recipient of many awards and commendations: Yahoo! Daily Pick, Netscape What's New, Netscape What's Cool, and USA Today Hot Site. (Recently, Roger Ebert picked Rotten Tomatoes as the "Best Movie Reaction Site" on Yahoo! Internet Life.) So almost immediately after the site lauched, it had attracted 600 - 1000 daily unique visitors. Many of those visitors wrote me complimentary letters - which makes me very happy.

     Throughout the year, I've added several new features. The tomatometer was first implemented on the "Star Trek: Insurrection" page around December, and proved to be very popular. The movie info box on the right was also added at the same time. I had ideas for several new features, but I just didn't have the time to implement any of them. I was working 25 hours a day at Design Reactor, and it's really hard to squeeze any free time from that to work on the site.

     Early this year, I think I burned out and decided to take a break. It's been a year since I got my BA from UC Berkeley in Interdisciplinary Studies - my emphasis was art, film, and computer animation. When I graduated from Berkeley, the first thing I wanted to do was get into movies. I wanted to be a director. During this break, I had decided to quit my position as Creative Director in Design Reactor to pursue a film career. Design was fun and all, but we all need to pursue our dreams. And my dream is to direct a Jackie Chan movie before he retires.

     I moved back to Sacramento, CA. I was kinda sick of Berkeley after staying there for about six years. It was kinda late to apply for film school, so I bought a digital camcorder and started playing with it. During my break, I've also received a lot of complimentary letters from visitors of the site urging me to continue with the site. I was debating whether or not I should, but my high school buddies, Bobby and Ben, convinced me to continue, and offered to help out with the site.

     Bobby Lee graduated from UC Riverside with a BS in Business Administration. Bobby loves watching and talking about movies. Ben Ngo graduated from UC Davis with a BS in Biochemistry. Although he doesn't like to admit it, Ben is a movie buff. Currently Ben and I are making a 15-minute short. When we're done, depending on the quality of the short, we might put it up on the site. Anyway, you guys should thank Bobby and Ben for keeping the site alive.

     Bobby and Ben help out with everything on the site including gathering news, reviews, and movie info for the review pages, and writing their own reviews. With their help, we've added new features to the movie pages like a 'preview' and 'articles' section. With the 'reviews' section, you get the critics' reaction to the movie on the opening date; with the 'preview' section, you get the media's expectation of the movie before it opens; with the 'articles' section, you get the media's reaction to the movie after it opens; with box office stats, you get the people's reaction to the movie.

     A couple weeks ago, I talked my college buddy Wilson Wang, an architecture major from Berkeley who's currently getting his masters in computer animation from USC, to help out on the graphics. I also recruited another high school buddy, Hung Truong (a programmer), to help automate some of our tasks.

     How much time do we spend on the site? Bobby, Ben, and I work on the site full-time; Wilson and Hung work on the site whenever they have free time. With all this help, the site's daily unique visitors grew to a steady 10,000; it was as high as 30,000 during some of the more popular movies. Not bad for our first year.

     Bobby, Ben, and I watch and talk about movies all the time, so working on this site is pure joy for us. I use to visit magazine stands daily and go through all of their e-zines (Premiere, Entertainment Weekly, Movieline, Cinescape, Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and just about everything else they have that's movie related), so this is not much different for me. Ben and I are also working on a movie in our spare time. We love movies, we're working on a movie site, we watch movies for free, and we make movies (well, kind of), what else can a movie freak ask for?

     I like to take this opportunity to thank all the other people who had help to make Rotten Tomatoes possible. I like to thank Stephen Wang at Design Reactor for taking care of the server side of Rotten Tomatoes. I also like to thank the many critics out there who contributed to make this site possible, but in particular Edward Johnson-Ott, Harvey S. Karten, Steve Rhodes, Mark Halverson, Jim Chastain, Dave Forsmark, Alex Sandell, and others we forgot to mention. And finally, thank you everyone for visiting and contributing to the site. It's been great serving all of you. This year is ROTTEN - hehehe, in a good way! - Senh

Ben

     Hello everyone, I'm Ben. I want to express my gratitude to all the visitors of Rotten Tomatoes. It has been a very interesting couple of months since I joined Rotten Tomatoes in early May. What is my motivation for joining up with Rotten Tomatoes? Well, it's not very often that a person gets the opportunity to work and grow with long time friends. When Senh asked me to work for the site and help him make movies, I was kind of unsure. I have very limited experience maintaining a web site, and I have never made a movie before. I'm not even sure if I know how. But the idea sounds interesting and exciting, so I quit my job at a vet lab and jumped in. The rest is history.

     Again, thank you for making Rotten Tomatoes what it is today. Keep those suggestions and compliments coming. Happy anniversary Rotten Tomatoes!

Bobby

     I enjoy watching movies - it is one of my favorite hobbies. When Senh and I were in high school, we went to watch movies quite often and talked about them for hours afterwards. After high school, Senh moved to Berkeley to attend college and I moved to Riverside. We could no longer go to movies together but that didn't stop us from talking about them through the phone. Honestly, we are quite obsessed with movies.

     When he told me about this movie site he had started last year, I was intrigued. I visited the site often. Later, he caught me by surprise when he called me and said that he had quit his job at Design Reactor to pursue his dream in making movies. He moved back to Sacramento shortly afterwards.

     When Senh haven't updated the site for a while because of the lack of time, Ben (a close friend of ours) and I offered to help. Senh agreed, and you know the rest of the story.

     I discovered that I really enjoyed working on Rotten Tomatoes because my previous jobs at an accounting firm and at a high-tech company were really boring. Finally! I have an opportunity to do something I enjoy with close friends.

     Thank you everybody for your support and interest in Rotten Tomatoes.

© 1999 ROTTEN TOMATOES

Thank you Senh, Ben and Bobby! - We will report more on this talented team.

In addition to Rotten-Tomatoes.com Senh and Bobby's next adventure is making a 15 minute short film. Equipment: Senh bought a Sony digital camera, a RAID drive and a video capture card. Actors and Actresses: Friends and Family.  Storyline: A comedy about two filmmakers who are ready to shoot their first film, but everything goes wrong on that day. Sounds like fun. Check back soon! -- AC Team

 

 


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