Do you want to learn how to be a movie critic? Believe it or not, it’s easy to get started. What’s harder is sticking with it, learning the ropes, and deciding what kind of film critic you want to be.
There are those who work exclusively in print, others who combine their work into multiple platforms crossing multiple media streams, professional broadcast critics, and many amateurs. How do you become a movie critic? We explore the options below.
The old adage is true; a writer is someone who writes. Daily. That also applies to movie criticism. If you don’t do it every day, you won’t grow. It’s like training for a marathon in that you don’t start running the full mileage every day. Building up to the full process is important.
If you start your own film blog, like so many new critics do, you open yourself up to a wide range of possibilities to learn and grow. The strength of starting your own film blog is that you can “grow up in public” so to speak without having to add too much risk to your income, your livelihood, or your time.
Starting your own movie blog means being able to write about whatever films and cinematic movements you want, rather than trying to meet expectations of a seasoned editor or senior critic.
Once you have established your own film criticism writing style (this is actually harder than it sounds) with your own blog, you can seek other opportunities to write for other publications.
Self-publishing your film criticism work via Amazon or other indie publishing options is a way to ramp up your street cred as both a writer in general and as a movie critic. Writing a book is harder than it sounds, which is one reason it’s a great thing to do if you want to learn how to be a better critic.
Some become movie critics by skipping the first step and going straight to this one. That is not a bad approach if you already know your writing style and approach to film criticism and feel confident in your abilities.
Writing for others could mean a lot of different things including showing up on podcasts, contributing columns, or doing live social media events. The key here is visibility and exposure–the more you do criticism work for others, the more your reputation may potentially grow.
Some local film societies concentrate on specific aspects of the movies. In California, the American Cinemateque’s screening series included many showings of classic 60s and 70s-era Japanese films such as Black Tight Killers, Stray Dog, Onibaba and many more.
One film programmer there, Chris Desjardins (also known on the California punk scene as Chris D.) wrote a massive tome about classic Japanese gangster cinema called Outlaw Masters Of Japanese Film. It’s a great example of how someone turned their passion for a specific genre of movies into LOTS of great print matter.
In Chicago, there are plenty of small and medium-sized film societies and festivals to explore. The annual Chicago Underground Film Festival is an excellent choice for anyone looking to start doing film criticism as well as supporting the local film community at the same time. The Chicago Film Festival, the Chicago South Asian Film Festival and many others provide budding critics with plenty of chances to explore more cinema.
Some are tempted to start a section like this by stating the obvious; you do indeed have to watch a lot of movies in order to start working as a critic. But it’s NOT just about VIEWING the films. You can watch all the Marvel superhero titles you want, but if you don’t understand the context of these movies in the larger history of cinema, you won’t go far as a movie critic until you do.
Becoming a movie critic means having to separate your natural enjoyment of a film from its more technical details; the writing, pacing, editing, direction, sound design, and even the film stock or digital process used may be important in the critical process.
Newcomers read the above, misunderstanding this advice as some kind of a checklist to follow when critiquing a film. But there’s no real formula to follow, the same as cinema itself. What you are after as a film critic can be broken down into three basic things while watching a film for the first time:
- Is the film entertaining?
- Is the film well constructed, well acted, and well-written?
- What are the film’s major strengths and weaknesses?
- Does this movie have an ending?
- What is this film’s place in the larger context of the genre it’s in?
Where many new would-be film critics miss the boat, so to speak, with that list above? Not having seen enough other films like the one currently viewed to know its context, its place in cinema history, or whether it holds up as good compared to similar works.
That does NOT mean you have to have a degree in film history to properly critique a movie. But it does point to a larger range of experiences you will need to be a well-rounded film critic. Remember, nobody starts writing or discussing the movies knowing all of these things–this is an occupation you grow into over time.
The moment you give this advice, someone is out there waiting to tell you that all they DO with film criticism is generalize.
But the key to making film criticism work is your passion for the subject matter. If you hate rom-coms, you have three basic choices–either make ALL your criticism work about how AWFUL they are and attack them consistently and directly for what you feel are their flaws and shortcomings, or embrace them and try to enjoy the good and critique the bad.
The third choice? Don’t even bother with them. Stick with genres you have passionate opinions about. Love or hate is great when it comes to critique. Lukewarm, on the other hand, just isn’t very interesting. Nobody pays any attention to a middle-of-the-road talk show host who doesn’t have strong opinions. And that is an important part of this business–getting people interested in your ideas.
Got no feelings about CGI characters blowing up other CGI characters with fake explosions and green screen effects? Don’t bother reviewing those movies! Take what you feel strongly about and use that as your early work. You can save more dispassionate reviews for when you are a more experienced critic and writer.
Here is some advice about learning how to be a movie critic that is based on actual lived experience (as is all the above, but this is more specific):
- Nobody does a good job at film criticism the first few times out. Give yourself permission to fail and to grow up in public.
- Pick a movie genre to review. Folk horror, silent Russian sci-fi, Universal horror movies from the 1940s, Bogart movies, Pauly Shore comedies, anything at all. Then try to find the OLDEST movie in the genre and compare it with the NEWEST. This is a great way to find your chops as a critic over time.
- Reading film criticism is one of the most important things you can do. Consider books about cinema to be textbooks and learning opportunities.
- Pick a director and watch their BEST film, then watch their WORST. Compare.
- Start a cinema club–this is like a book club where you watch a movie on your own and gather to discuss it with others. You’ll learn a lot about how OTHER people consume movies, which is one of the most important things you can know about reviewing cinematic experiences.
- One of the BEST ways to learn about the movies is to try to MAKE ONE. The author of this article did that multiple times–it’s a GREAT way to learn.
- Film festivals are a GREAT way to break into film criticism work. Why? Because many publications need film festival reviews and very few people realize that sitting through an entire festival with the goal of writing a review on it can be a gateway to more criticism.
- True fact; the writer of this article had their very first professional newsstand article printed in Indie Slate Magazine, and it was a film festival review of the San Antonio Underground Film Festival. The advice above WORKS.