Film alumnus reigns in Variety’s Playback podcast

How did a film kid from Salisbury, N.C. — who first started his online writing on a personal blog as a college student — become a writer in the valuable niche of film awards coverage at an industry publication like Variety?

“By accident,” he says.

Today, Kristopher Tapley (Filmmaking '04) gets paid to write about nominations, predictions and contenders for the Oscars and other film awards, and to talk shop with stars like Seth Rogen, Amy Adams and fellow UNCSA alumnus Jeff Nichols for his Variety podcast, “Playback.” But the evolution from writing as a hobby to becoming an authoritative voice at an established trade magazine was somewhat unintentional.

“I started writing online in 2001 on a GeoCities site,” Tapley laughs, when he was an undergraduate student in the screenwriting program at UNCSA. “I would write about movies for fun and just to blow off steam.” He and his fellow students would also use the forum to predict Oscar winners.

Take a look at Tapley's most recent predictions:

In 2005, recently graduated from film school and just moved to Los Angeles, he says, “I thought I was going to leave that behind” in pursuit of his filmmaking career. He started the blo
g In Contention shortly after the move to chronicle his writings about the upcoming awards season. The site began to grow and, as Tapley puts it, “I started down this other tributary of journalism.”

What he was writing about happened to be of great interest to film studios, who were eager to place premium advertisements where specific members of their audience, like critics and Academy members, were likely to see them.

The web was a relatively new medium and blogs like Tapley’s were full of untapped potential. “I was on the ground floor of a burgeoning cottage industry,” he says. Soon, he started selling advertising for the site and, as In Contention continued to flourish, he went back for his masters degree in journalism at the University of Southern California.

Eventually larger names looking for the kind of specialized coverage he provided came knocking. From 2011-15, In Contention was associated with the website HitFix. And just over a year ago, Tapley announced the partnership with Variety.

This new affiliation has also led to new ventures, like the “Playback” podcast. For Tapley, it’s an opportunity not only to discuss the industry he’s passionate about, but a chance to have real conversations with some of Hollywood’s brightest stars.

The idea, for me, is that I want to have conversations with people that are illuminating, organic ... It’s a great opportunity for stars and creatives to pull that veneer down a little bit and be relatable.

“The idea, for me, is that I want to have conversations with people that are illuminating, organic,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity for stars and creatives to pull that veneer down a little bit and be relatable.”

Although his career veered in an unexpected direction, Tapley can trace much of his insight into film back to his days in the School of Filmmaking.

As a high school senior, he knew he wanted to go to school for filmmaking, choosing UNCSA’s conservatory approach over a traditional university. “I wanted to do something different,” he says. “It was very exotic and exciting to think about working on film sets.”

And he still recalls the teachings of his mentor, screenwriter Ron Stacker Thompson.

“He really broke down the craft of screenwriting,” Tapley says. Thompson taught the fundamentals in such a way that students learned the rules, he adds, in order to know how to break the rules.

It’s those lessons that have influenced his work as a film journalist. “I know how to make a movie, I’ve worked in every single position on a film set.” He knows when he watches a movie what went into making it, and it helps give him a certain perspective, a sense of empathy he finds important.

And, although his training in screenwriting was very specific in some ways, he appreciates the broad range of skills it helped him acquire. As a writer and a journalist," he says, "I recognize now that it's a valuable skillset.

In Tapley's Playback podcast with director and fellow UNCSA alumnus Jeff Nichols, the two discuss their time at UNCSA (around the 17 minute mark) and what it means to go to film school in North Carolina.