Tips of the Trade: Film Journalism

Dan Jolin, features editor of Total film magazine

To be a film journalist, you must be able to write – you’ve got to be a good writer before being a film fan or movie buff. It’s most important that you are a good journalist – that you can write for a specific market and communicate your ideas to people.

A good idea to get involved with your student newspaper – write reviews and features for them. Student newspapers are a great learning ground. They really develop your raw skills and put you in a position where you can take a junior position on a magazine – that’s what I did. It’s also good to do work experience to find out whether being a film journalist is something you really want to do. It’s also a great chance to meet people and show them what you can do.

John Marriott, film critic for Five News and Chair of Critics’ Circle

You must have a love of film and a good knowledge of it. When you see a film, it’s important to have strong feelings about it. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, you’ve just got to feel something about it. You’ve got to be able to judge a film on its own merits. It’s no use saying the Vin Diesel film isn’t Shakespeare, because it’s not meant to be. You must be persistent – you can’t be a shrinking violet in any kind of journalism. When you e-mail or call people up, it shows you’re a self-starter. Hassling people shows you’ve got one of the qualities you need. If you want to review films, then practice. I think that magazines offer the best way in. Get your name in print – that will make you stand out much more than a degree in media studies.

Alan Morrison, Reviews Editor, Empire magazine

The key to being a good film journalist is being able to balance objectivity with subjectivity. You’ve got to be able to draw on your knowledge and opinions, but not let them take over. The review has got to have the people you’re writing it for in mind. You’ve also got to know a lot about films so you can put a film you see in a wider context. If you want to be a film journalist, you don’t need any formal training. You’ve just got to be passionate about the subject. A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time and when an opportunity comes along, you’ve got to recognise it and make the most of it.

Helen Bushby, senior broadcast journalist for BBC News Online Entertainment

A good film journalist is passionate about film, has an eye for a good news story and an encyclopaedic knowledge about film – the industry, blockbusters and independent film. It’s important to have a broad knowledge. It’s vital you get as much experience as possible. This might mean working for free, but it’s all good practise. Also, make sure you’ve got a good CV – no longer than a page and with all your film experience high up. Working for a local paper can offer a good grounding and then you can specialise later.

Tom Charity, Film editor, Time Out

If you want to be a film reviewer, it’s a must that you can write well and are knowledgeable about film, not just films post-Scorsese. If you want to be a film reviewer, the best thing to do is practise. If you want to submit work on spec, make sure you do your research – get the tone and style right. Most importantly though, you’ve got to be persistent.

Interviews by Claire Newell

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