A friend, working on a piece to pass on advice to young film critics, asked for one thing I’d tell someone entering the field — aside from ‘get out.’ I wrote, like, seven. Stuff like this always makes me feel like a fraud, but it also helped a little today — saying what you know for sure, as Gene Siskel would say, can help remind you of it.
“1) People die of exposure. In other words, don’t write for free. If you’re good enough to do this, someone will pay you to do it. And if someone wants you to do it but won’t pay you, then they can go to hell. And yes, I’m looking at you, Arianna Huffington.
2) Publish web, think print. A review is not an interactive document, and 9/10ths of commenters are just working out their strangulated impotent rage or deep-seated psychological issues, where your response just feeds them. Write it, publish it, walk away from it. And yes, I’ve broken this rule, and always to my regret. But while 9/10ths of commenters are usually insane, remember that 99 out of 100 people who read your stuff will take it in, think about it and go about their day. Also, remind your editor of this — if “number of comments” is the currency by which we measure a review’s worth, we’re all doomed. (And, finally, be aware that a small number of commenters will catch your factual errors, your lapses in knowledge, your blind spots — and you’ll be lucky for them, and should learn from them.)
3) A review is a conversation. Exclamation points are the equivalent of shouting.
4) Never forget that the film industry spends millions of dollars trying to make sure the only possible response to a film is a one-syllable “YES!” The critic’s job is to say “No … ” or “Maybe …” or “Yes, but …” ; we add clauses to the cultural conversation — make sure they’re informed ones.
5) As Orwell says , “The idea that a work of art should not have a political opinion is, in itself, a political opinion.” Anyone who tells you to leave politics out of movie reviews should be scrupulously avoided.
6) Write about everything. Don’t cherry-pick the stuff you love, the stuff you know; that’s not reviewing, and it’s barely writing, and it’s not even blogging, which as we all know is barely a step
above typing. Your readers aren’t just going to see what you love, and the industry isn’t just putting out what you love. And when you write a bad review, it’ll be tempting to just be funny. Don’t. Actually get under the hood of it, write about why the film’s bad, what went wrong, where the mistakes are. It’s harder, but it’s worth more.
7) You will invariably hear someone say “Well, that movie you hated? It made a lot of money. …” This isn’t an argument, it’s an insult. When a sports team wins or loses, we don’t qualify that with how much merchandise they sold or how many hot dogs they moved at the concession stand. If you want to worry about box office, write for the business press or a trade publication. You’ll make the industry much happier, and make a lot more money.”