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Can you still make money from film critiquing?

Time was, when people wanted to know if a film was good, they’d look to the experts.

But nowadays, everyone and their aunt can watch a film, type out a review, and lay claim to the title of ‘film critic’. Furthermore, some moviegoers even argue that the word of the professionals means nothing. Using Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as an example; following a horde of negative reviews, claims came out that the film ‘wasn’t made for the critics’ and that the critics were following ‘an agenda’.

I’ve always been interested in this as a possible career path; but in a world where everyone has the tools at their disposal to write their own reviews and disavow anything career critics say, is that even possible anymore?

So when we started our ‘Research and Development’ module in class, and were told that we had to research a section of the industry, I instantly knew what I’d look into.

At first, I questioned how one would become a major film critic, but it was eventually whittled down to ‘Is film critiquing a viable means of making money?’

After agreeing that that was a feasible topic to research, my lecturer quickly interjected that the answer was ‘no’, unknowingly crushing my future prospects. My hopes and dreams were further beaten to a bloody pulp after a meeting with my supervisor, who told me to stay away from a portfolio of film reviews for my MA project. And a career in it.

I’m sure it’s not just me whose been told all of this. But I was determined to set the record straight. Obviously it must be possible to get paid for reviewing films, otherwise, who would write publications like Empire and Total Film?

The boundaries for our research were clear; the lecturers wanted us to talk to people in the industry and find work experience.

So, I started e-mailing around. If I could think of a blog, publication or prominent YouTubers who may be able to help me out or offer me experience, I messaged them.

Meanwhile, I began scouring indeed to see what sort of jobs were on the market. The first related results I came across were these:

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I applied to VultureHound and No Salt Popcorn, mostly out of curiosity.

I heard nothing from the latter. Likewise, I heard nothing from most of the other people I tried to contact.

But what I did get was a job offer from the former. As you can see from the advert, it was unpaid, but I took it anyway, painfully aware of the fact my lecturer and supervisor were still in the right, and that I was perhaps destined to work at Subway until the end of time.

Fortunately, as anyone who reads my blog on the regular will know, that was not to be the case.

Unfortunately, I still had to get by that whole ‘not getting paid’ thing. I searched on.

Still regarding Empire as the pinnacle of British film publications, I applied for a work experience placement. Empire don’t accept these placements directly, and so I was forced to do it through a company called GoThinkBig.
GoThinkBig were nice enough to let me know just the other day that I didn’t have a place on the program. Y’know, almost two months after I applied and after several of the allotted times for the placements had been and gone. Gee, thanks for that. I obviously wouldn’t have figured that out myself…

That was sarcasm.

I did figure it out by myself.

It was starting to seem like getting to a point where you could be paid to review films was an impossibility for anyone not already inside the review world. In fact, this was compounded by a little anecdote I heard when I attended a guest lecture by Mark Fisher, who revealed that he happened upon his career in journalism while he was renting a room from the former publisher of The List. With his job as a box-office assistant about to come to an end, Mark was offered a a job at that same aforementioned magazine as a production assistant, and soon began taking on editorial work.

He’s now a theatre critic who writes for The Guardian, Scotland on Sunday, The Sunday Times, The Herald and The Scotsman. He also gets the award for ‘fastest reply in regards to this assignment’, after I e-mailed him to confirm the details of that story. Ten minutes. Winner.

So y’know, he’s kind of a big deal.

Fortunately, the rest of the lecture was amusing and informative; perhaps one of the most interesting and enjoyable that I’ve been to in my time here in Falmouth.

Unfortunately (yes, I’m doing the whole ‘fortunately, unfortunately’ thing twice in the space of 300 words. What of it? It’s my blog. I’ll do what I want) it, unintentionally, suggested that if you really want to be paid to write reviews, you had to have connections and a lot’a luck.

Downer.

And that’s when I realised for the first time, despite having been collecting Empire for more than half a year, that they actually have their phone numbers on the intro page. No more faffing about in the hopes that someone would respond.

In other words: stalker time.

So I called the reviews editor at Empire, Nick de Semlyan. Initially, he sounded skeptical hearing an unknown voice on the other end of the phone, but he’s a stand-up guy, so he agreed to help me out.

His words provided some much needed positivity, as he explained how enjoyable it is to be a film critic; to get paid to do something that you love. In regards to becoming a prominent film critic, he stressed that practice was what it took. That one would need to be constantly reading (/watching) and writing to perfect their craft.

True words, and ones that reminded me of a speech we had been given by our lecturers at the start of the course. Words that they gave to all of us, whether we wanted to write novels, non-fiction, copy or script. We needed to keep reading (/watching) and keep writing.

He recounted his own journey; revealing his origins as a writer for Sheffield’s university paper, before eventually moving on to bigger publications like Rolling StoneFHMStuff and Time Out.

So Nick essentially confirmed for me that it was possible to get paid to review films, but
that it took a lot of practice and preparation.

However it was clear Nick was quite like Mark; he was already embedded in the system. But how would one get to their level?

It was following these encounters that I managed to get hold of a freelance critic by the name of Chris Edwards. Being a freelancer, Chris was able to look at this from a different point of view.

Chris explained being a film critic, for him, is fulfilling and claimed that being treated like the rest of the press was an odd privilege. But it wasn’t always that way, as Chris spent three years writing for a blog site for free. He described that part of the process as frustrating, saying he doesn’t think editors should use a writers words purely for exposure, as it’s a skill that deserves payment. He then went on to give the most decisive answer I’ve had. He said that he didn’t think it could be viewed as a viable means of making money. But when he said that, he wasn’t talking about film critics as a whole; so much as people just starting out, a.k.a. me; the guy whose blog you’re reading.

He went on to reveal that he’d built his entire career around Twitter; promoting himself and his work; and from a combination of experience and his social media profile, he was able to get to the stage where job offers come ‘thick and fast’.

So surely that’s the key then? Mark, Nick and Chris stressed how important a wealth of experience and practice is, and how social media is perhaps the most useful tool of a critic in this day and age.

Except, I guess… their words.

But it seems it takes time for those words to make an impact. As I stated at the start of this post, anyone can write a review if they feel like it. And a lot of them don’t ask for pay. I spoke to my own editor at VultureHound, Michael Dickinson, who confirmed that VultureHound doesn’t need to advertise paid positions because they know they can hire writers who are simply looking for exposure; a chance to make a name for themselves and write about things that they love.

Taking the other writers I’ve spoken to’s words into consideration; this is a necessary step. VultureHound itself is still growing; and so perhaps looking for big-time, well-paid writers might be slightly unrealistic. But by allowing people to write for free, as long as they can write to a good standard, it helps elevate VultureHound‘s status and give aspiring writers a much needed platform for their work before they get the chance to seek employment at bigger name publications.

The importance of this was further highlighted when a friend from my previous degree forwarded a job advertisement on Twitter to me the other day. The site, Polygon, asks for writers to submit previous examples of their writing, but highlights these pieces must not be from one’s own personal blog. Hence the need for magazines like VultureHound.

So at the end of the day you, obviously, can get paid to watch and review films. But firstly, it may well take a while. And secondly when you see these jobs advertised, you might notice that they’re not just looking for ‘film critics’, they’re generally looking for ‘film journalists’ or ‘writers’ or ‘article contributors’ as well (/instead).

Still, it’s good to know that I’m on the right track.

Also, I feel like the longer this post gets, the more frequently I say VultureHound.

So, speaking of VultureHound, keep an eye out this Saturday for my next feature and a review of The Tunnel: season two at some point next week [read: whenever I actually write it].

Thanks for reading, and good luck to any prospective film critics out there! We can do this!

And yes, the first film I chose to review for something other than my own blog was 50 Shades of Grey. Please don’t judge me.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2016 in Film & TV, Life

 

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The Justice League Movie Slate, Part Two: Overkill

So here we are again; I briefly talked about Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad in part one.
In part two, I’ll talk a bit about the other eight DC films coming to the silver screen, before capping off with my thoughts on what this means for superhero movies in general.

2017 follows through with Wonder Woman and Justice League, Part One.

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Now Wonder Woman, I’m not so sure about. It’s a must, that’s for sure. Wonder Woman is part of DC’s trinity; she’s easily as important as Superman and Batman; she just hasn’t had her time to shine. This movie needs to be made, and bringing it out before Justice League is important, I think. I also think it’s smart that DC have preempted that Wonder Woman doesn’t have as strong a following as Batman or Superman, and so have decided to introduce her in their joint flick. It gives the audience a chance to know what they are getting themselves into. And I think painting her as a child of Zeus is pretty cool too; it gives her a greater air of importance and highlights that she’s pretty powerful in her own right. She’s not just Superwoman with a golden lasso. Unfortunately, the only thing I’ve so far seen Gal Gadot in was Fast and Furious 6, and whilst I enjoyed it, the acting wasn’t exactly something I was wowed by, so this one remains a ‘wait-and-see’.

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Justice League however, I am much more excited about. I remember when Avengers Assemble came out, and for the first time, the world was treated to a superhero team-up film that had brought together separate characters who could all carry their own pictures. Essentially, what is happening now is that we’re doing that again, except this time Batman and Superman are in it. Don’t get me wrong, as I said before, I much prefer Marvel, but even I can acknowledge that Batman and Superman are infinitely more important in popular culture than Captain America and Iron Man. It’s a shame. But it’s true. They’re awesome. Even if it completely flunks, it’s still going to be the biggest, most iconic comic book movie, like, ever.

2018 gives us a break from Justice League-y stuff (sort of) by presenting Aquaman and The Flash.

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Out of the two, Aquaman is the one I would say I’m the most curious about. I don’t know too much about either character, but I remember finding the hooked, bearded Aquaman in the old Justice League cartoon to be particularly interesting. Or I probably just thought he was badass, because I was a kid, and that’s how I measured things back then; badass-ness. And to be fair, I think going in the direction the DCCU seems to be, that’s what Warner Bros. are aiming for. Not a prance-y orange Aquaman that everyone seems to think the character is, but an awesome, hulking brute who does whatever he wants, because he’s the King of the majority of the planet. And who better to portray that than Jason Momoa. He doesn’t look anything like Aquaman. And that’s important. It’s a shame people can’t seem to realise that Aquaman isn’t just a joke, despite his weird name, costume, and most obvious powers, but if Warner Bros. are going to change public opinion, Jason Momoa is the way to do it. He was Conan, for chrissakes.

TheFlash

I don’t really have much to say about The Flash if I’m honest. I didn’t think Ezra Miller really looked the part, but as I just detailed previously, that’s not especially important. One thing I’ve always thought when thinking about the Flash is that he’s the youthful member of the League, whether that actually be the case or not, and Miller definitely shows that. I’m going to try to figure out more of an opinion later though; might watch The Flash TV pilot after this is all done.

Getting near to the end, 2019 returns to Justice League-dom with Justice League, Part Two and Shazam.

And reading those two, my anticipation for 2019 sky-rockets.

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I don’t know whether it was a mistake on behalf of CBR, but I feel like that ‘Part Two’ is the most important part of the whole announcement, as it obviously indicates that the Justice League is a two parter, rather than a film and its sequel. In my opinion, that in itself shows that this whole Justice League plan isn’t going to be as rushed as everyone thinks it is, because it means that essentially, DC are taking three films to tell the story of the Justice League’s formation, rather than just one. Dawn of Justice see’s the League beginning to unite, Part One brings up the threat that unites them, and Part Two rounds them out as the World’s Greatest Heroes. Or so I assume. Either way, it’s one to watch.

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And then there’s Shazam! with Dwayne Johnson as Black Adam. Again, Shazam isn’t a character I know too much about, but from what I do know, he could be one of my favourite DC characters. More importantly, however, this film will most probably be the biggest detour from the dark, gloomy route that DC is taking with their other films, seeing as Shazam/Captain Marvel is a kid/teenager. You’re not going to have a superhero film starring a child end with a villain having his neck snapped. It just wont happen. It’s just bizarre that Shazam is so late in the game, seeing as Johnson has already been cast…

Finally comes 2020, which is where the slate starts to lose me somewhat, finishing off the decade with a rebooted Green Lantern and Cyborg.

I don’t have too much to say about either of these, really, except that I wish they came earlier on, so DC could save the best until last, which definitely isn’t the case here.

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Green Lantern will be interesting purely because it, hopefully, will be a big sci-fi epic, rather than your standard super-hero film, which was one of my favourite things about Man of Steel. It was the sci-fi film that I had been waiting for all of 2013, and the one that Star Trek Into Darkness turned out not to be.

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Cyborg, however, is the biggest disappointment in my eyes. It’s a good move because it means DC is giving a black super-hero a film before anyone else (not counting Hancock here), but that’s about it. I know Cyborg has been a founding member of the Justice League for three years now, but his inclusion means a lack of Martian Manhunter, one of the true founders of the Justice League, way back in nineteen-whenever. Martian Manhunter is one of the Leaguers that near everyone grew up with. The only way he isn’t is if you only got into comics in the last three years, and read exclusively new material, which is a shame. I’m not saying Martian Manhunter could carry a film better than Cyborg, I just think neither of them could do better than someone else, say Hawkman. There are other films I’d much rather see, especially seeing as how in my mind, these two are the Black Widow or Hawkeye of the Justice League. They should be in the League only, without a solo film. Better yet, take a few steps back and put Cyborg back in the Teen Titans where he belongs.

If DC want diversity, they can just use John Stewart for Green Lantern rather than Hal Jordan. After all, it’s not a new universe.

The biggest problem with all of this however is that there’s no way that comic-book movies won’t outstay their welcome so much quicker now.

Marvel and DC both have at least two films a year scheduled to 2020 and 2028 respectively, and then on top of that you have one or two films from Fox and Sony. And then there’s the unannounced Batman and Superman sequels. Oy, it’s just too much.

“This is the [Film Schedule the world] deserves, but not the one it needs right now”

God, how awesome was The Dark Knight trilogy. I miss that.

 
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Posted by on October 18, 2014 in Comic Books, Film & TV

 

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The Justice League Movie Slate, Part One: Entitlement

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Breaking News

So two days ago, something big happened the world of comic book movies; you probably heard about it.

DC announced their movie schedule up until 2020, not including the next Batman and Superman films. Mostly new film ideas, intertwining stories, and two films with a large enough scale to rival The Avengers.

A Comic Fan’s Sense of Entitlement

Now ever since Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice was announced, despite my preference to Marvel comics, I was always slightly more excited to see how DoJ would turn out than I was about whatever films Marvel was coming out with.

It doesn’t matter that Captain America: The Winter Soldier was one of my favourite superhero films ever, or that Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be out of this world. What matters to me was that this was something new. I watch the Marvel films because I’ve read the source material, and I’m interested to see what the adaptations will be like. However, whilst at this stage I have read a fair few DC comics, for the most part, it is still relatively unknown to me, and as such the movies come across fresher; I’m just interested to see what the story will be, what will happen, and how DC are going to fight back against Marvel’s constant kicking of their arse’s.

So I was listening to an iFanboy podcast the other week, in which one of the speakers pointed out that the worst thing about comic book fans is their sense of entitlement. As fans, we have enjoyed these characters far longer than everyone else. We were reading about them at a time when people didn’t even know who they were. I remember back in 2007, I, being the weird little nerd that I am, updated my Hotmail (how times have changed, eh?) status to ‘R.I.P. Captain America’. I quickly deleted that, because I was inundated with questions asking who Captain America was. It’s only been seven years, but now everyone knows who Captain America is. EVERYONE. But I digress.

My point is, that I could tell you excruciatingly unimportant details about the Marvel Universe, and from my perspective, I have a certain informed viewpoint about how the characters should be. As such, I’m not that up for debating a lot of these topics, because the majority of the time, (I think) I will know the definitive answers and reasoning’s to the discussion from a comic point of view. Discussing it doesn’t interest me that much, because unless I’m talking to someone who is just as nerdy as I am, then really I’m just having to feign lack of knowledge so that my conversee (?) can try to make whatever point they’re trying to make without me shooting them down because (I think) I know they are misinformed. It’s unfortunate and a bit arrogant, but for most comic fan’s, it’s the truth. And even when it isn’t, that exact sense of entitlement that comic fans have mean that I wouldn’t admit it when I was wrong because I and others like me are so sure of our comic knowledge that we wouldn’t claim to be wrong unless we were just doing it to make someone feel better. That and the fact that most people I know aren’t that interested in comic book news like I am. And yes, there can be some joy found in educating someone in a subject, but sometimes there’s just too much ground to cover, and it becomes a bit much. Especially when the other party doesn’t actually care all that much

Again, I’ve gone off topic a bit. I think what I’m trying to say is that with DC, I don’t have that overconfidence about what I do and do not know. On a basic level, I get downgraded from ‘know it all’ to a bit more than a ‘casual observer’. I can have my opinions, and I can engage in a more interesting discussion about it, because I know enough to maintain a conversation, but I don’t know enough where said conversation will be one-sided.

Ten Movies, Five Years

So with that in mind, here are my thoughts on each film announcement; what I understand about it; what I expect to see; and what I would like to see.

2016 brings us Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad.

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I’ll try to keep my thoughts on BvS:DoJ brief, because frankly, we’ve all known about that one for a while now. After listening to various things and reading various sources, I have come to realise that doing what Marvel is doing, but backwards, is in fact the right way to go about things for DC. Although to some extent they are copying Marvel’s business model somewhat, if they were to copy it in the exact same way as Marvel actually do it, it would seem like far too much of a rip-off. DC needs to get their products out fast, but don’t have the luxury of testing the waters in the way that Marvel did, because if they tried and failed on any level, everyone would just dismiss them entirely. Establishing that Superman was not the first part of the DC Universe is important, because it means you can just jump straight in. Not everyone needs an origin story, and the majority of Justice League characters are fairly well-known anyway.

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Suicide Squad, I think is also an interesting and smart move, especially considering that they’re looking to pull some big names to round out its roster. After the success of Guardians of the Galaxy, weirder properties have proven that they do have their place in the world of comic book film. More importantly, however, this would help hammer down the point that DC Universe didn’t start with Superman. To have a film about super-villain redemption, the super-villains need to have been around for some time in order for them to be captured and redeemed. This means, by extension, that unless all super-crime was dealt with by the authorities before Superman’s arrival, other heroes like Batman need to have also been around for quite some time. It reiterates that there is more going on than we’ve seen, and I feel like for DC’s approach to retain some level of uniqueness, that much is important.

But with that in mind, I’ll have to save the rest for part two, in which years 20172020 will follow.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2014 in Comic Books, Film & TV

 

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The Goyer Scandal: It’s Not Easy Being Green

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What Happened…

On the latest scriptnotes podcast, the presenters were joined by several screenwriters, including David S. Goyer (writer of Man of Steel), Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (writers of Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and Andrea Berloff (writer of the upcoming Legend of Conan). In said podcast, the team chose to play a game wherein each writer would take a card on which the name of a fictional character was written. From here, they would each have to describe how they would reboot the character in their own upcoming film franchise.

In the back-and-forth that ensued, such ideas came up as a mentally deficient Hulk and a Seth Roger spider-hybrid.

However, what most seem to have taken away from it were Goyer’s comments about She-Hulk being the equivalent of a porn-star and the Martian Manhunter being a ‘goofy’ character.

The Problem…

Admittedly, Goyer was out of line in what he said; insulting two long-standing characters; accusing one of being obscure and suggesting anyone who know about him is a loser, and just being downright sexist about the other. But such a large reaction such a small little thing is getting seems a tad unnecessary. The whole podcast is the group joking around with one another, and none of it is meant to be taken so seriously, and the way I got from it, Goyer was being more demeaning to himself than anything, revealing his true misplaced thoughts on the matter.

But I don’t really want to get into the whole debate, seeing as you can find people’s opinion of it covering Google, if you just type either characters name (for instance, there’s a rather interesting article written by Alyssa Rosenberg on the Washington Post). Instead, what this really made me think about just how careful people have to be in the modern age, where someone in charge of a property like Superman can say something that to him, seems highly insignificant, but gets a highly emotionally charged outcry from fans.

As someone who wouldn’t mind becoming some sort of screenwriter myself (although I realise a lot more practice would have to come before I ever reach that goal) I find it daunting that everything you say in public can (obviously) be held against you. Of course, a lot of reporting now is done to get a bad story on whoever their article features, but it also feels disheartening to know that the career paths I want to follow could put me in a position where the public is calling for my head.

I like to think that won’t be the case however, as Goyer doesn’t seem to have the best streak in being popular with the fans, and I could never see myself throwing out unnecessary sexist comments, or purposefully belittling a fan-base.

What Does it Mean..?

(Apart from People Continuing to Think Goyer’s a Douche)

First of all, if the casting of Cyborg didn’t make it clear enough, I think this highlights that the Manhunter isn’t going to pop up in the 2017 Justice League. Kind of a shame; when I used to watch the JL cartoon (as did pretty much everyone), the Martian was probably one of my favourite characters. Apart from Batman. Because Batman.

And on the topic of Batman, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What’s with that title? Bit of a mouthful. Another strike to an already wavering film franchise.

All-in-all, it looks like DCs quest for a cinematic universe is going to continue to go downhill in public opinion until they can prove it’s worth watching. The struggles of comic book fans, eh?

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Comic Books, Film & TV

 

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