You’ve heard the old saying: “Everyone’s a critic.” And that especially seems true when you’re exiting a movie theater, where, to some degree, you’ll hear a great number of people weighing in on the film they just plunked their hard-earned cash down for.
For some, that’s as far as the criticism goes. They’ll think it’s either the best $10 they’ve ever spent, or they’ll complain that it’s $10 (and two hours of their lives) that they’ll never get back. Others will be half-hearted about it, and lament how they kind-of, sort-of liked the movie, but should have spent $6 on a matinee instead. But then there are viewers who are already established journalists — folks who have a leg-up as writers thanks their experience as hard news reporters, sports reporters or feature writers — who may fancy the idea of branching into film criticism.The problem is, while they have the passion for movie viewing, they’re at a loss when it comes to establishing themselves in the film press as they switch gears on their career paths.
While your sensibilities change from a writing standpoint (you’re going from being an objective writer to one with an opinion), fundamentally, being a film critic is no different than any other job in the newsroom because you’ll need to build a base of contacts to help lay the foundation for your stories. In the case of film criticism, you’ll need those contacts if you want to take the next step, which is gaining access to advanced screenings of the movies you plan to critique.
Of course, the easy way is to buy your ticket and see the movie the day it comes out. But in this ever-competitive age of digital journalism and copywriting services, where publishing embargoes are often broken so any of number of outlets can vie to be the “first” with its opinion, you’re immediately at a disadvantage because other reviews have already been published. Readers’ accessibility to reviews around the time of release is key, since generally, a movie will likely get its biggest audience in its opening weekend (if it opens weak, it will go away fast). So if you’re late to the game with your review, the chances of it actually being read will likely be diminished.
While the digital age may pose a disadvantage for newbie film critics initially, it should also be considered a blessing, because it will ultimately increase your chances of getting on a press list since journalists can often access press materials online and receive advanced screening notifications via e-mail. In the days before the Internet, studios would mail paper press kits (accompanied by glossy still photos) and advance screening passes to media outlets, and with the cost of postage to bear, costs had to be justified (1,000-reader circulation weekly newspapers weren’t a high priority).
Gaining access to advanced film materials and press screenings is generally achieved one of two ways: If you live in New York or Los Angeles, you should be able to contact studios directly to make arrangements; and if you’re in someplace like the Midwest, studios will direct you to a regional publicity office to accommodate your press needs.
While writing movie reviews for a smaller, weekly publication may not immediately qualify you to be included on a press list (again, studios need to justify your access and audience size is usually a major factor), don’t ever be discouraged.
Generally, the reason you are reviewing films in the first place is because you have a passion for it — and passions aren’t easy to give up. Plus, with every review you write, the more experience you gain as a writer. As long as your skills continue to develop, you will get noticed, and those notices will lead to bigger opportunities. Never forget that a four-star career as a film critic is always within your reach.