Advice for future film journalists

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siskel and ebert
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So, you want to be a film journalist? Whether that be looking into the news of the business or criticising new releases is up to you. Well, I thought I’d throw in my two cents worth of advice. At the time of writing I’ve written just under one hundred film reviews. But I myself have advice for others, and also advice that I have been told needs to be relayed to you. Some advice for future film journalists, that’s what this is.

This advice isn’t gospel, don’t follow it word for word. Really this is just advice from someone who has now been reviewing films for almost a year. That’s all this is, I’m not qualified to tell you what to do, but then again, nobody is. Who better to tell you how to pursue a hobby than some British guy who thought The Cat in the Hat (2003) was pretty good.

It’s okay to have an opinion

One part of film reviewing that I always find fun is comparing my score with the rest of my reviewer peers and friends. There are times I will agree with everything they say, for example, The Shining (1980). Other times I’m on the complete opposite in regard to their opinion. At first I found it very difficult to say what I actually thought of a film. I didn’t want to stick out amongst the crowd, conforming to popularity was the best idea.

Let me tell you, that is possibly one of the worst things you could possibly do. There is no problem with going against what other people think of a film. I’ve never caught onto the whole Marvel popularity. I didn’t like A Clockwork Orange (1971). Hell, I hated Wonder Woman (2017) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). As long as you can back up your opinion with a decent enough reason then you’ll be alright.

Some “critics” that I’ve seen on Letterboxd have some very terrible reasoning behind why they rated a film high or low. Some examples of this are as follows.

“It’s empowering for women” – 5/5 – Ghostbusters (2016).

“From the bottom of my heart it is the worst film I have ever seen” – 0.5/5 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

There’s nothing wrong with the above two reviews, after all it is an opinion. What the problem here is however is that there is no decent attempt at creating any sort of basis. No reason for why the review has been given this score. No attempt at creating a conversation around the review. Basically, don’t push your political aims or ideologies onto a film review. Your social ideas are void when it comes to a film, enjoy it for what it is.

Watch until the very end

I didn’t honestly think this would have to be advice I give, but there you go. Watch a film from start to finish. I’m not saying you need to watch the credits, but you can’t form an opinion until you’ve seen it all. Some films may be a boring drag but pick up towards the end. Other films start off strong and end on a terribly low note.

Regardless of how good or bad a film is you should always watch it until the end. You really think I wanted to sit and watch Suicide Squad (2016) all the way to the end? Of course not! All of my notes were finished by an hour and a half into the film. That remaining half hour was just a waste of time, right? No, you need to watch it all the way through just in case something different or new happens. Sometimes a film can build up to something so amazing it can change your positioning on the film.

Take a film I watched recently, Labyrinth (1986), I wasn’t too keen on it for the first ten minutes. But when you give the film time to expand and change, that’s when you begin to get an understanding of how great it is. Give every film the benefit of the doubt. Whether it’s an instant classic or an instant catastrophe, watch it until the very end.

Don’t compare ratings of films

I gave Lord of War (2005) four out of five stars. I also gave Aliens (1986) a four out of five. This does not mean these two films are on the exact same level. Surprisingly films can receive the same rating and be better than one another. Every film is it’s own unique product made for a specific audience. Comparing films, in my opinion, is completely useless because no two films are the same. It’s like comparing a souffle with cocaine, they’re two very different things.

Obviously it’s good to make reference to other films when giving a rating. For example you can give two films the same score, and then delve deeper into why that is. As long as you aren’t saying “these two films are exactly the same, as shown by the rating.” No two films will ever get the same rating as one another because they are two very different properties. You can’t compare an action film with a comedy film and talk about the same components.

Because films change so frequently it’s very difficult to make a comment on what is so similar between the two. Fair enough it does work for franchises, but even then it is fairly shaky ground.

The last few notes

Review whatever you want. Take recommendations from friends or family if you honestly have no idea what to watch. Is there a film you’ve been meaning to watch for a while? Great! Use it as an excuse to review it.

You don’t need to have seen every classic film to be able to actually review films. I haven’t seen all of the Star Wars films but am still just as qualified to make judgement on films.

Don’t use The Bechdel Test as a basis for rating films. That’s idiotic and outdated to say the least. You can read more on that here and here.

Watch something that you would enjoy or try something new. Either way just watch something you would want to watch. Try and mix it up every now and then. Don’t string together just one genre for review after review. Always try something new or something you didn’t expect you would enjoy.

Have fun as well, that’s probably important too.


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