So You Want to be a Film Critic?

““No good movie is too long and no bad movie is short enough.”

(Rodger Ebert)

EVERYONE’S a critic nowadays, everybody’s got their own opinions on the latest movie they’ve seen and nowadays thanks to social media it’s never been easier to get your voice out there. The problem then is how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? How do you make yourself engaging to your readers and ensure they’d be interested in what you’ve got to say?

My main advice to anyone starting out as an aspiring film-critic or blogger is to simply be yourself as you write, try to find an interesting and entertaining way to get your opinion across; believe me this isn’t as easy as it may seem, I’ve been writing for around three years now and I think my style has changed drastically throughout that time.

At the beginning I was more interested in showcasing my cinematic credentials (pretentious I know), comparing and contrasting a film to another and trying to put it into some sort of cinematic context; whilst I still do that nowadays I’m much more confident in expressing my own opinions within my writing. At the end of the day that’s what people really want to know about the film, did you like/dislike it and more importantly why!

Tell people what it is you really liked or didn’t like about the movie, what really worked for you, performances, dialogue, cinematography, editing, score etc. or vice-versa if you really didn’t like anything about the film it at all; If watching it made you feel like you wanted to throw your shoes at the film screen (trust me I’ve been there), then tell people that’s exactly how it made you feel.

Never be afraid to express yourself, just as long as you back up and explain your opinions, more importantly be prepared to stand over them if you find yourself queried. It’s your opinions readers are after, not a glorified blow by blow retelling of the film’s entire story and I really can’t stress this enough, DON’T GIVEAWAY ANY SPOILERS WITHIN YOUR REVIEWS (sorry, but it’s a real bug-bearer of mine!)

If you’re a huge fan of one specific genre of cinema that’s all well and good, write about what interests you after all, but in doing so you might risk pigeonholing yourself into one specific category and limiting any potential readership; although I must admit there are some fantastic genre specific film-critics around, Kim Newman comes instantly to mind within the horror genre. Personally I’d recommend trying to broaden your cinematic horizons, watch as many different movies as you can, whether it’s the latest releases at the multiplex or catching up with older films on television or online.

Take me for example I’m a huge fan of schlocky horror movies from the 1980s, the schlockier and gorier the better, but I don’t want to just write about those kind of movies all the time; admittedly though my love for all things John Carpenter related does creep into many of my reviews, but I’ve always tried to broaden my cinematic palette by watching as many different films from around the world as possible.

Open yourself up to world cinema, there’s an amazing array of fantastic movies being made by talented filmmakers throughout the globe. Despite the obvious language barrier many of these films share similar themes and issues that are fairly universal, believe me after you’ve been watching a foreign film for 15 minutes, you’ll soon forget you’re reading the subtitles at all. Introducing yourself to world-cinema is a fantastic way to expand your cinematic horizon and improve your own cine-literacy; I myself wouldn’t be such a huge fan of Guillermo del Toro if I hadn’t watched his 2006 Spanish masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth.

Try to set yourself a word count as you write, I usually aim for somewhere between 500-800 words, I’m not a fan of overly wordy reviews where the critic goes on for paragraph after paragraph, gushing repeatedly about how much they loved or hated the movie. It’s a difficult self-discipline I know, particularly one when you’re a blogger with no such constraints, but if you’re writing for a newspaper or magazine there’s usually a word limit, so it’s a good habit to get into earlier on with your writing.

I’d strongly recommend checking and rechecking your draft before posting it online as well; if you’re self-editing, I’d strongly suggest getting someone else to give it a once over as well, because no matter how many times you reread what you’ve written, you’ll always read what you think you’ve said rather than what you’ve actually written down (trust me I’m as guilty as anyone in that regard).

My last piece of advice might sound so stupidly obvious it seems silly just mentioning it, but never write a review for a film you haven’t actually seen. I’ve seen it done before and sooner or later you’ll get caught out, any respect your readers might have for you and your blog will be gone in an instant.

So that’s really all my basic tips for starting out as a film-critic/blogger, go set yourself up a blog and get writing: tell people about the films you’re passionate about, tell them about those cinematic moments that will stay with you for a life time, tell them about the movies you really can’t stand – but don’t forget the ‘WHY’ factor when you’re doing so.

Review by Jim McClean @legcurrylad
Review by Jim McClean @legcurrylad

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