Writing reviews isn’t the only way for aspiring film journalists to get their work in print, but they are a cornerstone of the critic’s art and need nothing more than your own opinion and good sense.
There are essentially two ways of thinking about film reviews, both of which reflect the kind of publication they appear in. First, they act as a consumer guide, designed to let readers know what an individual film is like, and whether they should part with their hard-earned cash to go and see it. This approach will find favour, more often than not, with listings guides and mainstream film magazines, which aim to directly connect their readers with the film product.
The second way is the more academic: Reviews as interpretive criticism, analysing films in depth, thematically and theoretically. If that’s what you like doing, you’ll find it harder to get into print – specialist and academic publications are your most likely outlet.
The first step is to get organised. Film companies operate pre-release screenings to enable journalists to see their films before they hit cinemas, and it’s vital to get on their mailing lists.
In the film industry food chain, distribution companies deal with the process of actually getting films out, so these are the outfits you need to contact.
To state the obvious, you’ll have to keep an eye on what’s coming out to know what to review. Depending on their size, distributors operate differently in regard to press screenings.
The big, studio-affiliated ones (for example Warner Bros, or 20th Century Fox) will often hire out a large London venue ahead of release and pack it with journalists to generate a buzz, before putting on a string of screenings at smaller private theatres. Companies which release foreign-language and specialist titles have less exposure, but may send out a DVD ‘screener”.
The other side of the equation, of course, are the publications themselves. More and more papers run film reviews, so the opportunities for writers are correspondingly greater. But editors are picky about who they take on, and all will have different requirements.
There are a few specific tips I can offer. No one can make you funny or clever, and there are no rules as to how much plot you can give away. The main thing to remember is that journalists can suffer as much from hype as the public; being over-celebratory of a particular film-maker or performer is not a good idea.
The more films you see, the more insight you will have into the environment that films operate in, and this will improve your work. On the other hand, no one likes a film nerd.
Balance, as in most forms of writing, is all.