The Late Scott Wampler Was A Great Film Critic – And An Even Better Human

Before I knew Scott Wampler, I knew of Scott Wampler.

It was difficult, probably impossible, to work in my industry and not know about the guy. Even if you weren't familiar with his work as a writer and critic on the late, great Birth.Movies.Death or as co-host of the Kingcast podcast, you almost certainly knew him from Twitter, where he was a raucous, hilarious, and unpredictable presence who could shock and enlighten in equal measure (often at the same time). While Scott and I lived in the same city for many years, we spent much of that time acting as two ships in the night — we shared many friends, but our paths rarely crossed. Frankly, part of me was relieved about this. He seemed so smart, so funny, and so on-point that the thought of interacting with him left me feeling intimidated.

Scott passed away late last week, and I find myself regretting the years we spent not being friends. Because while his beloved online persona was an accurate representation of the man himself, the real guy I got to know was all of that, but ... more. Terrifyingly funny. Devastatingly smart. Profoundly empathetic. Just plain kind. In a digital media landscape that so often prizes homogeny, Scott represented the best of us, proving that a strong personality and unique voice could cut through the noise. When Scott spoke (or wrote), you listened. Because there was no bulls**t there. Even when he was joking or orchestrating an ambitious goof, he never told a lie. He was always him. Through and through.

The Scott Wampler experience

I worked with Scott Wampler. First, during his tenure as an editor here on /News, where he showcased his typical good taste and tendency to not pull punches when something deserved a smack upside the head. I was not surprised when he left the job for different pastures. Frankly, Scott was too forceful of a personality to not control his own destiny. He had reached the point where a single movie website wasn't going to contain him.

But I truly got to know Scott when I was asked to run a tabletop roleplaying episode for The Kingcast, the Stephen King podcast he hosted alongside fellow /News alumni Eric Vespe. What started as a one-off adventure for the show's Patreon backers — a King-flavored horror tale enacted by Scott, Eric, and frequent Kingcast guest Mallory O'Meara — took on a life of its own. We produced 18 episodes over several years. And it was during this time that I really got to know Scott.

Here's the thing about tabletop roleplaying: When you do it right, you bare your soul. When you gather around a table to roll dice and inhabit characters and make choices and engage in communal storytelling, the "real" you emerges alongside the persona you've created for the game. Perhaps it's slightly ironic that I got to know Scott, really know him, because we were engaging in acts of semi-professional fantasy. But like so much of the Scott Wampler experience, it was a contradiction that made total sense.

A powerful speaker, but an equally powerful listener

Everyone who knew Scott has their fair share of stories. Some of them are fairly outrageous (he courted chaos on a regular basis), but my Scott stories are mundane. Phone calls and zoom meetings to discuss creative directions. Casual chats at the Highball, the bar attached to the South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse movie theater in Austin, Texas. Late night text messages when a panic attack had sent me spiraling, and somehow, Scott was the only one who felt like the correct person to contact in that moment. The running thread throughout all of this was how kind he was. His acidic sense of humor and his inability to suffer fools coexisted comfortably alongside a powerful empathy. Lots of folks knew Scott the raconteur, but I feel blessed that I got to know Scott the listener.

Perhaps that was the key to why he was such an incisive pop culture critic — the man knew how to fully absorb what he was being told, and to process it thoroughly.

In my too-many years of working in the digital media space (I've been around long enough that I remember when we used to call these things blogs), I've worked alongside countless talented folks. Few of them could be described as a primal force, but I'd use those words for Scott. A volcano of wit, audacity, and creativity who would sooner ignite a Twitter firestorm than compromise on his values, he represented (and still represents) what I think is best and most worthwhile about the industry we both inhabited. I wish I could be as brave as Scott was as a writer and broadcaster. Since I was blessed to know him in the real world, I hope that a little bit of what made him so special has rubbed off on me.

Because it's not just the world of film criticism that needs more people like Scott Wampler. The world in general needs more people like him. I don't want to say we'll never see anyone like him again, because that's too painful. Instead, I'll say that I hope everything Scott represented as a person and as a writer, host, and online personality lingers. And that everyone borrows just a little bit from his example going forward.