How can I become a professional film critic? It’s a fairly straightforward question with a fairly straightforward answer but the journey is far from easy…
There’s no hard and fast way to becoming a film critic. Like all professions you need to learn your craft and hone your skills. However, the internet has opened up a lot of possibilities for the freelance writer and film criticism is one of the most popular.
The great thing about the internet is the fact you can reach an audience before you’ve really perfected your writing skills. Through blogs and user-generated review sites (like letterboxd.com and Imdb.com) you can practice writing film reviews as you publish them online. This is a great way to practice. And practice does make perfect.
However, the most important advice with film reviewing is: watch as many movies as you can. A film reviewer’s capabilities are enhanced by a sound knowledge of film theory, the industry, and cinema’s history. Of course, no one, not even the late Roger Ebert has seen every single film, but you wouldn’t know it. The best reviewers write as if they know everything about the movies, which gives the reader the assurances they need to know they are getting good advice.
For instance, if we take a film such as 2007’s zombie sequel 28 Weeks Later. No critic worth his salt could write a comprehensive review without referencing or mentioning in passing its resemblance to the films that inspired it. You have to mention the original film, you’d have to mention Night Of The Living Dead and Dawn Of The Dead, you may even benefit from mentioning genre directors like Romero or Sam Raimi. You may not have seen all these other movies, but a considered, high-quality review would be written in the knowledge that they exist. So either go out and watch the films or research carefully to make sure you’ve covered all bases.
Watching lots of movies helps provide you with a historical knowledge of genre, its conventions, the actors, the directors, the production houses, and the big studios. The more films you watch the easier it gets to decipher between the good ones and the bad ones, between what works and what doesn’t.
Once you’ve built a firm foundation of cinema don’t be afraid to approach editors (look for contributing editors) in print magazines and prominent websites. Don’t fear rejection because most of the time you won’t even get a reply. But remember, all editors need to fill their magazines so there’s every chance if you keep trying you might get through to them. You might also consider applying for work experience at leading publications.
While you are sending out work to magazines do consider working for free for respectable film review websites. This will help you see more films and become a better writer, while you reach a ready-made audience and get published. Most review websites that can’t afford to pay for contributions will give free review discs so you’ll save some money seeing films on DVD before they are officially released. Most review discs are ‘keepers’ but they usually arrive in a simple CD case without cover art.
Don’t forget, if you have the courage and the ability, to consider podcasting or doing video reviews. This is a great way to build up your profile and these audio and/or visual reviews can help you complement your written work.
Becoming a good film reviewer writing for respected, high-profile media is only achieved through dedication, learning and watching lots and lots of movies. We become film critics because we love watching movies. It’s easy to write film reviews, but it’s a little harder to write good film reviews.