Charlotte film critic Sean O’Connell and his journey to publish book on ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’

By Johnny Sobczak

March 19, 2021

Sean O’Connell is probably the biggest name in North Carolina entertainment news. The Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic is the Managing Director of CinemaBlend, the co-host of ReelBlend podcast, and is now the author of a best-selling book. 

O’Connell and his wife relocated to Charlotte in 1999. He started at Citysearch before moving on to publications such as Sports Business Journal and South Charlotte Weekly. He worked at the latter newspaper for seven years before leaving print behind and becoming a full-time freelance writer. Despite being born in Long Island and raised in Washington, D.C., O’Connell said their move to the Queen City felt like a homecoming.

Managing Director at Cinemablend and author of Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

“The speed of Charlotte, the people of Charlotte, like all of it just fit us like a glove. As soon as we landed here, we knew we were home,” O’Connell said. Citysearch even promoted him to national movies editor, which required a relocation back to New York. “We weren’t there but a month, and my wife and I were just like, “Nah, this isn’t for us.’ But we toughed it out for a year, and then came right back to Charlotte as quick as we could.”

While working at South Charlotte Weekly in 2003, an unusual media partnership opportunity came from WCNC. The local television station and other NBC affiliates across the country were taking notes from Katie Couric and Jay Leno, who traded places on The Today Show and The Tonight Show. They wanted to do something similar and have anchors trade places with field journalists. Morning anchors Colleen Odegaard and Chris Justice were O’Connell’s prime choices.

Sean O’Connell on the set of Charlotte Today with Colleen Odegaard and Eugene Robinson.

“I sent them an email and said, ‘Hey, I have a screening for the Matrix sequel coming, does anybody want to come and be a film critic for a day?’ And Chris Justice jumped at the spot,” O’Connell said. “They put me on the morning news, and I had a fun time doing it. At the end of it, Colleen, God bless her, she said ‘Boy, you should come on more often! You’re really good at this.’”

After a chat with the news director at WCNC, it was decided that O’Connell could make weekly appearances on the network. The added exposure opened doors for O’Connell to write for national outlets, like USA Today and The Washington Post, but he always kept his ties to CinemaBlend as a freelance writer. 

“I just like the way they ran their ship behind the scenes,” O’Connell said. “I really enjoyed the people I was working with over there, and then that transitioned into more of a movies editor role.” 

Sean O’Connell with Tom Cruise Cruise in Paris for the world premiere of ‘Mission: Impossible – Fallout.’

From there, O’Connell “climbed the ladder” and is now largely responsible for the site’s studio relations. As the Managing Director and veteran writer, O’Connell describes himself as an “oldhead” who is trying to train up the next generation of entertainment journalists.

“We have a tremendous news team that is basically running their own cycle,” O’Connell said. “I just stay out of their way. I do a lot of stuff with junkets and press interviews and sending people to those, but then also they come back with their content, and I help them sort of shape what their coverage is going to look like after the fact.”

Managing a news site is one thing, but O’Connell quickly learned that writing a book is an entirely different beast– one that’s had O’Connell in its grasp for nearly two years now.

The journey started a business trip to cover San Diego Comic-Con when he walked by a bus stop with an advertisement wrapped around it that claimed a long-lost cut of director Zack Snyder’s Justice League was hiding in the vaults at Warner Bros. “That whole weekend, they took over downtown San Diego with their advertising and their marketing,” O’Connell said. “They were passing out t-shirts, flyers, and I saw billboards. I was like, ‘Alright, I got to start paying attention to what these guys are doing.’”

In October 2019, the Snyder fans took over a massive digital billboard in Times Square, and that was the final (literal) sign that O’Connell needed to hatch his idea for a book that would chronicle the story of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and the army of fans that worked to make it come to fruition. That book is Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League and, as of this writing, it currently sits at the number one spot for science fiction & fantasy movie-related book sales on Amazon.

Sean O’Connell pictured with his book ‘Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League.’

O’Connell can’t take all the credit for how he settled on the angle of the book, though. During a conversation in late 2019, he gave his wife Michelle a rundown of the entire filmmaking debacle that brought the Snyder Cut into the spotlight. “I give her all the credit in the world for this, she was the one who said to me, ‘I understand why that’s interesting to you, but I’m a casual fan, and I don’t really care about that. I want to know who these people are that are doing this. What can you tell me about them?’”

Watching and observing the Snyder Cut movement had become commonplace for O’Connell, whether it was online or in the real world, but that didn’t automatically translate into an easy starting point. “Yes, I’ve lived through all this stuff, but I never really sat down to document it,” O’Connell said. And to make matters worse? The situation surrounding the Snyder Cut was fluid from conception of the book until the publishing, with the film moving from a whisper in Hollywood to a worldwide movement to the actual greenlight, completion and release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which by sheer coincidence is hitting HBO Max on the same month that O’Connell’s book goes on sale.

Sean O’Connell on the set of Justice League in 2016.

“Here’s one piece of advice that I can give to anyone who wants to potentially write a book: do not write a book about a subject that is still somewhat breaking news,” O’Connell said. “You are racing a deadline, you know, and constantly seeing the story evolve.” 

Fortunately, his years of experience and exposure in the industry gave him a much-needed boost when it came to reaching out to fans and members of the industry for interviews. O’Connell interviewed dozens of fans from across the country and the world, from Brazil to China to Qatar. It all culminated with a June 3, 2020 interview with Snyder himself, and O’Connell delivered his manuscript a month later.

Sean O’Connell in London in 2019 for ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ press junket.

After the whirlwind experience getting his first book published, what’s next for the journalist-turned-author? Yet another book, this one documenting the cinematic journey of his favorite character of all time. “My passion is the Spider-Man films and his journey through Hollywood, so I pitched an idea up the ladder to my publisher about a story that documents, essentially, Spider-Man’s history on film,” O’Connell said. “The book is called With Great Power, and it’s due to the publisher in January of 2022 so, God help me, I’ll be doing it.”

You can purchase Sean O’Connell’s book Release the Snyder Cut: The Crazy True Story Behind the Fight That Saved Zack Snyder’s Justice League on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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