Recently Dhania asked me a question that, I have to admit, was kind of difficult to answer. She asked me whether or not I could give her a tip or a suggestion on “becoming a film critic/journalist/whatever it’s called” and whether or not she “should take film lessons”.
This kind of question always stumps me because… well, how do you advise someone else about writing about movies when you yourself feel like you still have a lot to learn?
(Also, I do kind of dislike the term “critic”. Just… no. Don’t use it. Not with me, at least.)
I’ve decided to give this question an answer – finally – and to do that I shall draw from my own experiences.
So, you like movies and you want to write about it? Then just do it. That’s what I did. I set up a blog (Livejournal), I created a tag (cinema) and I wrote about movies. I didn’t only review films (which is, giving my opinion about a movie in a creative way, trying to be as objective as possible) but I also shared news, ranted about silly celeb things, made lists of films I want to watch/have watched/do not plan to watch/recommend to my friends who can’t be bothered to check out movies on their own, post pictures and everything else under the sun. I guess I just like writing and I like writing about my hobbies and one of them happened to be about movies.
You know how sometimes people go, “Oh, I want to have a blog and write about movies” but then they don’t because blogging seems to be a hardship and they just can’t find the time to do it even though they procrastinate a lot? Well, I can already tell you that these people won’t ever become a film critic/journalist/writer/whatever. If you really want to write about movies, then just write it. It doesn’t matter if your blog’s layout is elementary or if your grammar is poor, just write. You watch movies and then you write about them. That’s all.
I didn’t study film per se but I made a short while I was studying in university (I have a degree in Italian language because I wanted to become a football commentator but my professors were movie buffs and one of them gave us an assignment to make a movie in Italian. I wrote the script and we filmed it.) My final paper was on Ettore Scola, the great Italian filmmaker, who also happened to be one of my professor’s cinema heroes. So in a way I know how to make movies, but it’s not like I’m a total expert on it. Sure, go to a film school if you want to… in the long run, though, it’s not absolutely necessary for anyone to study film if they want to write about films.
What helps is your passion for films. I got this job as a film journalist who writes about movies because of Harry Potter. Seriously. No joke. My former chief editor (who was then working at another movie magazine) offered me a chance to write about the sixth Harry Potter movie – The Half-Blood Prince – because I know the topic inside and out. I lived and breathed Potter so writing that 12-page feature only took me, like, 3 days. The research part was already halfway done because I was in the fandom and I knew people and I kept up with every single news piece about the movie. Former chief editor only had to hear me talk about the importance of Draco and Harry’s rivalry/relationship before he said, “Why don’t you go and write about it for me?”
After that, it’s just a matter of expanding your horizon. You like fantasy and sci-fi movies? Good. Now go watch something else – horror, supernatural, thriller, drama, comedy and everything else that is outside of your comfort zone. You cannot make yourself “a fantasy film expert” because what if you have to write about directors like Ang Lee? To write about Ang Lee, you can’t just know about spiritual movies, but you also have to know superhero blockbusters, historical dramas, LGBT films and Mandarin-language films.
(In TFI, we do like to joke about having areas of expertise, though. I’m pretty much the go-to person for anything geeky but my friend is über passionate about indie and small films. And there’s another guy who’s into horror movies and we just send him to all the horror screenings because he can stomach it better than the rest of us.)
Anyway, recapping all of that: blog and/or write a lot. Understand (a bit) about how movies are made. Find your passion and personal taste; cultivate it. Then expand your horizon.
I think that’s it. There’s nothing else I can suggest. This is all I know.
Well, I could get technical and tell you how to review movies – that is, according to the standard we apply in the magazine – but I won’t. Everyone’s different when it comes to reviews. This is a topic for another day.
(I hope this helps, Dhania. Sorry if it’s not much.)