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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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Accidentally published this without a title, and thus, this is now the title (Short Stories)

I figured it was about time for an update and the best part is, what with all the quick little writing workshops we’ve been doing on our course, there’s no need to write any new material. Huzzah!

#Laziness

Also, because although all these things are pretty short, together they add up to something mighty, I thought I’d just throw out a little plea here. If anyone has any humorous or interesting stories about Tinder, I’d love to hear them for a compilation of writing I want to try… uh… writing. The names would all be kept confidential, of course.

Anyway, the first piece is a short story I had to write revolving around the word ‘Malaise’ (don’t worry, I didn’t know what it meant either at the time).

Malaise

He sat there, un-moving, as he stared out the window. In the time he had been sitting on the train, many people had come and gone, but he had remained, like a lone sentinel, guarding the carriage. In time, someone decided to engage him in conversation. She was a friendly looking young woman, wearing a pantsuit and carrying a small briefcase. She was rather flustered as she explained to him that she was on her way to work.

“It’s my first day at the job” she blurted at him, blushing slightly. The excitement was rippling off of her.

In response, he simply refocused his gaze from the outside scenery and smiled slightly, before nodding, and looking back. The woman looked down, slightly put-off. She had thought the man handsome, and figured his encouragement would send her down a good path for the day. She tried again.

“Where is it you’re off to?” she asked him.

“Crewe” he muttered back.

“Oh dear” she started.

“Yeah, I know, I know. Crewe’s a horrible place” he said as he returned his gaze to the scenery outside.

“No, it’s not that, I meant to say that Crewe was where I got on; that was two stops ago” she explained to him.

“Oh. That’s a shame” he claimed. His attention still focused on the scenes unfolding outside his window. It had started to rain, and at this, a slight smile snuck onto his lips before quickly disappearing.

Before she could continue, the train pulled to a stop. The man made no effort to move; instead he now studied the people milling around outside on the platform.

“Don’t you think you should get off here and head back?” the woman asked him.

“You think so?” he asked, but again, before she could answer, the train pulled off once more. She looked at him uneasily. By this stage, she had stopped adjusting her clothes to look smart and presentable, and had begun switching between staring sadly at him, and trying to find what he was looking for out the window.

Meanwhile, from the back of the carriage, the conductor locked eyes on the man and began marching forcefully forward.

The man matched his gaze, before looking back out the window.

Next up is a short story written in parataxis format. We could write it about whatever we wanted. I promise it isn’t telling of my true thoughts.

There’s no title, but I’m sure you can figure out what it’s about:

It was too much. My housemates were rushing down the stairs. Someone was banging at my door. Blood stained the carpet. The banging continued. I looked at the knife. I looked at her face. She was motionless…  

The next short story is one we had to write using some instructions about either baking a cake or changing a tire. Being the manly man that I am, I chose the cake. And thus, it is aptly called:

The Cake

“Bit heavy on the sugar there”

“You’re not helping Jessica” I growled, secretly fearing she was right.

“I’m just saying, you don’t want to give the kid diabetes for his birthday. No one wants that”

I shot her the most hateful look I could, attempting to remind her that her presence here wasn’t necessary. She smiled at me devilishly, before pouring another glass of wine. She then poured a second glass and offered it to me. The wine was bright crimson; it fired horrid thoughts of splattering her blood across the room with my rolling pin. I took the glass and had a sip.

“Careful you don’t let that go to your head. You don’t want the cake to be even worse than its currently shaping up to be” she smirked.

I added the lemon zest, savouring the zesty aroma and hoping it would distract me from the incessant pestering my ex-step-sister was offering.

“Is there not something more useful you could be doing with your time? Blowing up balloons perhaps?”

She laughed at my question; a strong hearty laugh that descended into a fit of coughing. She then calmed herself with a sip of wine, before pulling out a cigarette. “Oh sweetie, you’re hilarious. I don’t have the lungs for blowing up balloons. Get Michael to do it”

She lit up her cigarette, whilst simultaneously lighting up another grin. I wanted to punch her in the face.

“Please don’t smoke in here” I asked, trying to hide my frustration as I beat together the lemon juice, water and vanilla. I paused as I reached for more icing sugar, only to be interrupted as she blew a huge cloud of smoke at me, driving me into a coughing frenzy.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t just order a cake anyway. That’s what Michael was planning to do”

“Well, I’m the one throwing the party, so I’m doing it my way. Not Michael’s” I explained to her, tipping in some more icing sugar and resuming my thankless beating of the mixing bowl.

“How old is Timothy, anyway? Fifteen? He probably doesn’t even care about the cake”.

“You’re seriously not helping, Jessica”.

This next story is called The Probe. I don’t think there was any specifications here; just my warped mind at work. We eventually had to whittle it down to 120 words, but that version really doesn’t make any sense. We did however generally have to have a ‘resolution’ that the story was about. This one, I suppose, is about knowing your limits when it comes to drink…

Oh God, my head. I drank far too much last night. I, wait…

It’s dark. Cold. Where am I? Metals floors. Metal walls. Oh God, oh God, what’s happening? Movement outside. Footsteps. Someone’s coming this way. ‘Okay, okay, what’s in here? A picture. A picture of—

What the hell? Is that a hard drive? How on Earth did it get up there? I really hope that’s not mine. 

Before I can check, the door smashes open. A man saunters in. He looks at me with intense fury.

“How did you do it?” he demands.

“Do what?! I don’t know what on Earth is going on!”

“The hard drive belongs to our employer. He wants it back. Give it to us”

“I seriously don’t know what you’re talking about” I blurt at him, although I’m starting to piece it together. It is mine. It is definitely mine.

“Look man. If this X-Ray is of me, I don’t know what happened. I just woke up here. That’s all I know. I swear!” I shriek at him, as he lumbers forward, ready to take action.

I feel an intense pain as he delivers a punch to my jaw and my head springs from his fist to the cold hard flooring. Blood splatters across it.

“Please, don’t–” I beg. He hits me again.

“How did you do it?” he screams at me, following through with another brain-shaking punch.

“I shall ask one more time, how did you do it?” He demands. He continues to stare intensely at me from his dark, seemingly lifeless eyes. I stare back. He’s a hairy herculean man. Not the sort you’d want to mess with. Not the sort you’d want making demands about how you woke up with an important hard drive stuck up your arse.

These final few extracts are less short stories, more just… extracts, I suppose. They’re just things. Good things though, I hope. Read away.

The first was one in which I had to write about a new place or person I encountered. Again, fairly self explanatory:

He was a rather burly man, with a thick handlebar mustache that marked him out as someone who would no doubt have undergone various masculine endeavors in his younger years. Had I not heard him speak, I could have seen him as having once been a cowboy who had misplaced his stetson and gotten lost in Cornwall.

Similarly, before I had properly engaged him in conversation, he had carried the air of a man of the community. In keeping with the idea of him as a cowboy, he would have perhaps been a sheriff, but instead of raising his hat like they do in the movies, he would instead raise his cigarette and nod as he walked past my house.

“What are you up to today then?” he asks me as I sit down on the bus. I tell him about my ‘homework’, where I essentially just have to go somewhere new. He laughs at this. “Alright for some”, he jokes, before telling me he’s just finished work in Truro. Turns out he’s a counselor, dashing my mental image of him wrangling animals and roughhousing in taverns. 

Damn. So close, right?

Next up is a piece about George Orwell being shot, which we had to rewrite as someone else. I chose Jack Kerouac (don’t worry, it’s nearly over now).

It was a fantastical sound, one that ripped through the sky, seeming to stop time in its tracks. I knew in this moment that I had been shot, for a most terrible pain ripped through my body. It was the most terrible pain in all the world.

I thought in that moment of all the people in my life, and how I would never see them again. I thought of New York, and those women that I had danced with and loved and who had a beauty that was not matched by any others.

I tried to move my arm, but shock and numbness had overcome me as I lay in the dirt, unable to move or speak. I thought of one girl in particular as blood poured forth from my mouth. A bright crimson red, that filled me with both awe and an intense sadness.

The final part of this is something I wrote today. We had to write a reference, for ourselves, using the voice of someone we admire. I chose my aunt Mary. There are several reasons for this, which I won’t go into here. You may have noticed her name pop up in a few news stories about the influx of immigrants in Calais.

The fake reference is as follows. I hope those who know her will appreciate it.

I believe my nephew would be a promising addition to your organisation. He is a kind and motivated boy who has the drive to accomplish any task that is set before him.

His working methods are stable and effective and despite his young age he has amassed a wealth of experience in dealing with people through his time at the Ruthin Tandoori takeaway, Café-R restaurant, Leonardo’s delicatessen, Homewood Bound shop and volunteering for the Nightline organisation.

All of these various jobs have given him the discipline to manage various tasks at a time, and I truly believe that one day he may be able to keep up with my routine of walking the dogs, looking after the kids, dealing with their humorous but slightly outrageous (and very, very French) father, cooking, building schools, looking after refugees, teaching English, studying extra degrees, hosting guests, taking in any animal I set eyes on, writing magazine articles, setting up a cafe and riding my horses all on a daily basis. He has potential, and may one day be as hardworking as I am. But probably not, because it may not be humanly possible.

Perhaps you should just hire me instead; I’ve managed to free up a spare few hours on top of all that; don’t ask me how, I’m just bloody fantastic at time management.

Made it all the way through? Well, it’s appreciated. Give yourself a pat on the back and know you have my thanks. I’ll send some positive thoughts your way when I think you need them. Don’t ask how I’ll know because I haven’t figured it out yet.

TTFN xo

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Life

 

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The Professional Writer, part two.

The course induction continues to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Our final project for the week of creating a radio show is coming together, as we named the show Something to Declare: Stories of Arrival. As previously stated, it will air on Source FM 96.1 FM on Friday, at two o’clock. Please tune in.

For said show, I have prepared a piece about my dog, Raggs, but I’m obviously not going to post that here, you can wait for that, you eager beavers, you.

Instead, I present to you two more warm-up exercises in the same vein as the ones we did yesterday, as well as a final exercise that the lecturer presented to us by ordering us to ‘tell the story of your shoes’.

Words: Flowers, Milkshake, Awful & Wine

Story #1: 
“Those flowers look awful” Jeff argued. I looked down at the flopping mulch in my hand and agreed, although not out loud. I couldn’t give him the satisfaction. God, he’s such a bastard. He knows I’m really trying here; why can’t he just let me do things my way.

But nonetheless, I continued on with my plan. I was to meet up with Sara later in the afternoon, where we would go to her favourite milkshake bar, and then indulge in her favourite pastime of wine tasting with some cheese bites.

“That’s also an awful idea” Jeff chimed in. “Cheese, wine and milkshakes? Why on earth would anyone consume those three things in quick succession? I mean wine and cheese, sure. But then adding milkshakes into the occasion? That’ll just make you feel sick”.

I ignored him and continued out the door.

A few hours later I met with Sara and presented her with the flowers. She looked at them disheartened.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Those flowers” she admitted, “They look awful”.

This wasn’t going well. Maybe she should be going out with Jeff instead of me. The pair definitely seem to think alike, and then they could sit in a little room and critique all my ideas whilst I went out and find someone who may actually appreciated dying flowers and sickening mixtures of fluids and cheese. That’s the dream, and maybe one day I’ll get there.

Words: Profiteroles, Smoothies, Pencil, Reincarnation

Story #2: 
This was a bizarre feeling, and one that I didn’t fully understand. The day before, I had been in the desert, the sun scorching down upon me, thinking of smoothies and profiteroles and what life might be like if I were a chicken. Things had become dire, the heat had become too much. I didn’t think I would make it. And I didn’t. I dropped dead right there in the desert, the heat and dehydration had become too much for me.

What followed this was a series of blurred senses, the wind brushing against me, what seemed to be soil encompassing my lower half, and after long periods of time, the feeling of a part of me falling off as the world grew colder. I could not witness any of these things happening, for I no longer had eyes. As far as I could tell, I didn’t have much of anything. No body. No real mind. Just a vestige of my soul having undergone what I can only assume to be reincarnation, and found myself in what I now have decided is a tree. Because it wasn’t truly yesterday I died, but instead many years ago, and my mind has been struggling to remake itself ever since.

And just when I finally was coming to terms with my new existence, something even more strange happened to me. I now believe myself to be a pencil, caught in the grubby little hands of a preschooler.

And finally, The Story of My Shoes:
Who does this guy think he is? Just because he got me fifteen percent off, doesn’t mean I’m a lesser pair of shoes. This jerk. This is clear abuse. If I had a mouth, I would scream the largest range of profanities at him that I could muster. It’s outrageous.

I was there when he was speaking to his new boss, the guy clearly said ‘comfortable shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty’. I remember it like it was yesterday. Come to think of it, it may well have been yesterday; being a shoe, you don’t have much of a mind for time-keeping. It’s a depressing existence.

It was bad enough when I spent my life in a boxes, eagerly waiting for someone to decide I would be the one they would insert their feet into.

And now here I am; olives, lettuce, pickles and jalapeño’s being mushed into my once perfect suede skin. He used to be good to me. He would scrub me down most days of the week. But I’m pretty certain I’ve only seen that brush once since we came to this new town. God, I hate him. If I had a body I’d punch him right in the face.

I’m not a pair of Subway shoes. This is not where I belong. I’m meant to be worn on nights out and to special events; I’m a good pair of shoes! I don’t deserve to spend my nights being caked in the reject ingredients from some drunk students sandwich.

But I’ll find a way to get back at him. One day, when he needs me the most, I’ll catch my zipper on something. Yes, that’s a beautiful idea. Perhaps I could take it a step further? I could catch on something deadly, and teach this punk that you don’t wear £75 shoes to work at Subway.

Maybe when he’s lacking a couple of limbs I’ll have a break from this horror. Maybe he’ll give me away to a new owner; someone who will treat me right. Someone who knows my true value. Not this prick. This idiot who claims to be a ‘reverend’, ‘sandwich artist’ and ‘professional writer’. He’s so full of himself. God, I hate him.

Taking his limbs is definitely the best course of action. Maybe it’ll teach him some humility.

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Life

 

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