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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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Deadpool (Film Review)

I’m still working on my other site; newtocomics.com, but before it’s up, I thought I’d showcase some of the stuff that’s going on over there. First off, my ‘NewToComics’ review of Deadpool.

Release Date: 12th February, 2016

A 20th Century Fox Film, Directed by Tim Miller

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarino, Ed Skrein, T. J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand and Stefan Kapičić

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Review: If you scan the internet following the release of Deadpool, you’ll be faced with countless articles about how it has changed the comic-book film industry by successfully releasing a R-Rated film which toys with continuity as much as it wants whilst still adhering to the much coveted cinematic universes that everyone is chasing after.

Whilst this is untrue, as it ignores the earlier releases of films like Kick-Ass and Super, it tells you one thing you should know; Deadpool is a hugely popular and very enjoyable movie.

Currently ranking in the top ten of a lot of comic-movie ranking lists, Deadpool tells the story of Wade Wilson; a former soldier who is confronted by the fact he has terminal cancer. Approached by a shady government type, Wilson undergoes a procedure that awakens his mutant gene; granting him a healing factor to rival Wolverine’s and a face that, in his own words, is completely “unfuckable”. But when his ‘creator’, the sinister typical British villain, Ajax, kidnaps his girlfriend, Wilson must don a superhero suit, and slice his way through Ajax’s grunts so that he can get revenge.

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If we’re honest, in terms of storytelling, the plot doesn’t really break any boundaries. If you reorganise the non-linear film, you’ll see that it is your basic ‘guy gets powers, fights bad-guys, saves girl’ story. This is highlighted particularly by the villains; neither of whom ooze personality, but this film isn’t about them.

No, the beauty of Deadpool comes from the title character himself. For those of you unfamiliar with Deadpool, he is known as the ‘Merc with a mouth’ due to his capacity for non-stop witty banter and crude jokes. It is probably one of the funniest comic films to date, with near every line the character utters having some sort of joke or hidden meaning in it. Does it always work? Of course not. But that’s true of most comedies. But with his ability to break the fourth wall and talk to the audience directly, Deadpool gives us something a bit different; whether that be commenting on his own film’s lacking budget or the smoothness of Hugh Jackman’s testicles; it which makes for interesting confrontations with established X-Man Colossus, and his protege Negasonic Teenage Warhead (the latter of whom was chosen entirely because of her name).

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It’s hard to believe that this is Director Tim Miller’s first big-screen outing, because on top of the hilarity brought on by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s script, the film also has beautiful choreography, a great sound track, and is beautifully well-paced. He’s been given great tools to work with, and he’s utilized all of them well.

Ryan Reynolds has spent around a decade campaigning to make this film made; whether to see Deadpool in a film or to correct his previous failings in the previous films X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern (both of which also get little in-jokes) and the result is one of the most enjoyable, comic-accurate and nonsensical characters ever to hit the big screen.

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(Although, that probably depends on your sense of humor, my hairdresser, for one, wasn’t a fan of all the swearing, so be prepared for that).

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Comic Books, Film & TV

 

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