If you have dreams of becoming a professional film critic, then you’re certainly not alone! If you love movies, then what could be better than watching new releases, telling the world what you thought of them, and then getting paid for it? We all have an opinion on the films we watch, but there’s a big difference between telling your friends what you thought about the last big title you saw, and making a living from writing about them. The good news is that becoming a critic is more accessible now than it’s ever been before. All you need to do is set yourself up on a good blogging platform, and start publishing your reviews! Having said that, there are certain rules to follow that will make you a better critic from the word go…
Be an Active Viewer
For most people, even those of us who consider ourselves movie buffs, watching a film is usually a passive activity. Being told a story as it’s played out to you on a screen is something that happens to you, rather than something that you do. However, if you really want to be a movie critic, you have to learn how to be an active viewer. Pay attention to everything. Yes, that means everything! Pay attention to how the actors are placed in each individual shot, the cinematography, the soundtrack, and the sets and costumes. All of these different elements play a key role in the way the story flows, and if you want to write truly compelling reviews, they’re important to cover in the writing you compose. To make this easier for you, you need to…
Take Copious Amounts of Notes
The next time you’re putting a DVD in the player or watching movies online, have a tablet, laptop, or a notebook and pen with you. These things can get you ejected from a cinema, unfortunately! You’ll be able to double-check actors’ and directors’ names easily enough with a quick Google search. However, you don’t want to spend too much time skipping through a film, looking for a certain shot, plot device, or highlight of the soundtrack. While it’s more or less a given that you’ll be taking physical notes when you first get started critiquing movies, you should be trying to make more and more of your notes mental instead. If all your wildest dreams come true, and you become a highly successful critic, you may be attending advance screenings in the future. You won’t be able to see these films again before your review has to be submitted, making it absolutely necessary to take solid mental notes that you can lean on for writing about important elements of the film in question.
Summarise Without Spoiling
Being able to summarise a film for your readers without spoiling it is absolutely essential, especially when you’re just starting out. You may have learned the hard way that there’s nothing worse than reading a review, and suddenly coming across a massive spoiler, that leaves you with no real reason to actually watch the film. Film critics are paid for their opinion, not for being that insufferable guy who blurts out plot twists! A very basic summary of the plot is all that’s necessary for a good review. From there, you can talk about the strong and weak elements of the plot, or whether there was much of a plot at all. When it comes to the big turning points and details of the plot, leave them for the readers to discover for themselves. Of course, if there’s some kind of spoiler that you feel you really need to talk about, you can warn your readers beforehand with a big paragraph break and some kind of eye-catching “spoiler alert” graphic. Plenty of people will watch a film first, and then see what the critics thought about it.
Get Good at Analysis
The main difference between the movie reviews that barely anyone reads and the ones that are not only paid for, but get people clamouring to read them, is analysis. If you’ve got a poor method of analysing a film and presenting what you found, your dreams of being a movie critic are quickly going to crash and burn. Think back to those essays you had to write in English lit. The teacher wasn’t interested in you telling them what the book was about; that’s just skimming the surface. They wanted you to dissect the themes of the book, and how these tied in with the overarching plot and subplots, the characters, and so on. The same principle can be applied to writing movie reviews. While a summary of events that make up the plot should make up part of the review, this shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of any film review. Good film reviews should pick apart the themes and points that the film raises, and go over how well the directors and cast executed those themes and points.
Write Nicely Balanced Reviews
Nobody wants to read critics who are too soft on movies, and waffle on about its merits like the film in question is the best thing since Goodfellas. On the other end of the spectrum, no one wants to read critics who completely mutilate a film, insulting every little element from every little angle. In truth, some critics have made a pretty decent career out of the latter, but only those with an incredibly sharp and accessible sense of humour in their writing! When you’re just starting out, your main focus should be growing your audience, and writing reviews that more people will enjoy reading than not. Obviously, it’s fine to have a summary opinion of a movie. There’s good stuff and there’s bad stuff. Whichever way you lean on a film, make a point to cover both the pros and the cons of everything you watch. There’s no such thing as a perfect film, and there’s no such thing as one that’s terrible through and through. Well, maybe perhaps The Room.
Expand your Palate
If you’re serious about making a career out of being a movie critic, then you need to approach it with an open mind. If you’re an expert in horror movies and little else, you might be able to bring in some money on the side through a moderately successful blog, but the chances are slim that you’re ever going to be a pro. Take a proactive approach to branching out a bit. If you love black-and-white foreign art films that are full of symbolism and poetic dialogue, then watch the latest superhero flick to come out. If you’re crazy about superhero flicks… well, you’re probably not reading this article!
Finally, try to develop your own unique style. Like any creative endeavour, you’re going to have a very hard time making a living out of film reviews if all your work reads like everything that’s already out there. There’s nothing wrong with taking the time to read the reviews of different successful film critics, and taking elements from the writers that you like. While there’s no shame in imitating the critics you look up to in the early days, sooner or later, you’re going to need to develop your own unique style. This is something that comes naturally with time for most writers, but the sooner you nail it, the better. One technique that you may find helpful is writing two reviews of the same film, imitating the styles of two different critics you admire, then writing a third review where you try to fuse those two styles.