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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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Avengers: Age of Over-saturation

I’m allowing myself a break from my screenplay assignment for two reasons: the first being I’ve already written four drafts, and I need to move onto other things, and the second being I have Avengers: Age of Ultron constantly on my mind.

You all know the story, but here it is anyway, as narrated my Mr. Samuel L. Jackson:

All those (three) years ago, it was necessary to hype up such a thing as the Avengers. Sure, it was always going to do pretty well, but then nothing like this had ever really been done before. There were the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, but they built all their characters up in their own films, it wasn’t an ensemble piece like Avengers Assemble.

Now here we are, three years on, and the Avengers are reassembling to fight Ultron, a villain of their own making. But just like the market is getting slowly over-saturated with super-hero movies and television shows, our screens are way past saturation point with commercials and advertisements. The first Avengers film guaranteed that people would go see the second even if there was pretty much no marketing done for it, beyond a little info-drop about when it would be released.

But despite this, we’ve already had countless previews thrown at us, to the extent that, by the end of this post, I believe I can pretty accurately lay down the plot of the film. Fortunately for me, I live in Britain, so I only have to wait nine days or so, unlike all you unlucky Americans who have to wait until May.

So, obviously, if you’re adverse to trailers, look away, and if you’re worried I may be right (which at this stage shouldn’t be hard, considering we’ve all probably seen a good half of the film in two-minute snippets) then again, look away, because here goes nothing!

So first, we’ve got the main trailers:

In those alone, you get a pretty hefty look at the film. And then you’ve got the TV spots, which are packed with details:

Already, that’s a lot of info. Although it has neglected a lot of details about Paul Bettany’s Vision character. But as if all those weren’t enough, there are clips as well:

I’ll admit I hadn’t seen all of that second one before. I can’t say Im a fan of the way Ultron’s lips move; looks too cartoon-y. I always thought that was the worst part of the Transformers franchise as well (y’know, apart from the abominable plot), but I digress.

After all that, then there’s still all the promotional material like the Audi adverts. But frankly, I can’t be bothered with all those. I’d say this bulk is more than enough.

So, what have we got so far?

Going off those videos and any promotional interviews, we know the following:

  • The film starts with The Avengers as a unit; they’ve been together some amount of time since the end of The Winter Soldier, acting as a fill-in for S.H.I.E.L.D. and funded by Iron Man.
  • Together they stage an attack on a Hydra cell in Europe, and in the process come into conflict with Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who have been empowered by Baron Strucker.
  • The Avengers take down most of the cell, and reclaim Loki’s staff from the first film. Black Widow reveals a deeper relationship with Bruce Banner as she calms the Hulk. Meanwhile, the twins escape.
  • The team regroup at the Avengers tower, after struggling with what they have just faced. However, they are one step closer to ending all the problems they have collectively caused over the years and going their separate ways.
  • Inviting War Machine and some other friends to the tower, Tony holds a party. As things begin to die down, Ultron (the combined brainchild of Tony and Bruce, now empowered by the scepter) reveals himself, and exclaims that the only way to achieve the peace they have all dreamed of is to wipe-out mankind.
  • After taking down his original form, Ultron’s A.I. escapes, but not before wiping out J.A.R.V.I.S. Rebuilding himself, he crosses the Atlantic and seeks out the twins, who are hateful of the Avengers due to their standing as a representation of American power.

Another potential death here could be that of Rhodey, seeing as he doesn’t appear in anymore promotional material.

  • The team come to blows, as they now realize they cannot trust Tony, despite the fact he funds the whole operation. Eventually, they set aside their differences and reunite to go find Ultron.
  • The Avengers track Ultron and the twins down to somewhere around Africa, where Ultron has come to collect a metal known as Vibranium from a man named Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis). They engage them once again, as the Scarlet Witch reveals the true extent of her powers, altering the minds of several of the team.
  • Whilst Captain America and Black Widow see their pasts, Tony see’s the destruction of the Avengers, and the Hulk is driven into a mad rage. Activating a fail-safe, Tony summons his Hulk-buster armor to the scene, and engages the Hulk in Johannesburg.
  • Now scattered and in disarray, the Avengers retreat to a cabin (possibly owned by Hawkeye‘s family) where they must once more put aside their differences. Cap and Tony enter a heated argument, seeding Steve’s next film, Civil War.
  • Whilst the other Avengers are at Hawkeye’s cabin, Thor has returned to Asgard, to seek out his own solutions, and perhaps confront Loki/Odin.
  • The team are brought together once again by Nick Fury, who insists they are humanity’s only chance of surviving Ultron.
  • Meanwhile, the twins come to blows with Ultron, when they realise the true extent of his plans.

This next part is pure speculation, but I’m not sure where else it would fit in.

  • Reuniting at Stark tower, the team reassembles, as J.A.R.V.I.S. manifests himself in a physical body, code-named: The Vision.
  • Thor returns, and engages the Vision, whom he sees only as an agent of Ultron, and drives him off.
  • Now mostly reunited, the Avengers team-up with the twins, as Ultron plans to raise a city into the sky, and hurl it back at Earth as a weapon. Boarding the floating city, the Avengers engage Ultron’s army of… Ultrons.
  • Eventually, they win, obviously, as the Vision returns and kills his father/mentor/brother/whatever that is Ultron.

Another potential death? Quicksilver, as a means of cementing Scarlet Witch’s allegiance to the Avengers.

  • The Avengers have saved the day, but realise they can no longer trust each other. Iron Man leaves the team, as does Thor, who must return to Asgard to halt the upcoming Ragnarok. Oh, and the Hulk’s probably lost in space when Ultron raises the city.
  • Without their main players, Captain America forms a new team of Avengers, consisting of Hawkeye, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, with Black Widow and the Vision as possibilities. Black Panther is also a possibility, although I doubt it.

So yeah. That happened. Or will happened. I’ll tell you in a week and a half. I’m kind of curious to see how I did, but also kind of annoyed that there’s this much out there.

I’m sure Joss Whedon will have found a way to stick a whole load of extra material in there, but as a person with no self-control, it is rather annoying that I’ve watched all this stuff. It’s probably why I drink and smoke so much. In my future I see gambling problems, getting in with the mob, and dying young. But at least before that happens, I’ll be able to tell my killers that I accurately predicted a film, and perhaps they’ll let me hang around as an informant.

I’ll tell you how that goes too. Assuming I survive the experience.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2015 in Comic Books, Film & TV

 

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