Before we were so rudely interrupted last week by the collective voice of the angry internet boo-hoo-ing in tandem I promised a capping piece on a strain of discourse on the act and art of film criticism that has driven the shape and tone of this Summer’s Editorial articles. You can see the earlier articles here and here. While by no means an expert, and but a small fry in the world of what we do, I do feel as though I have something to offer up concerning the state of contemporary film criticism.
Watch films. Sounds obvious, but it’s amazing just how few actually do. And I mean actually watch a film, without distractions. If you’re streaming a flick with one eye on Twitter then you’re doing it wrong.
Watch old films. A specific note tying in to the above advice. Know your history. It’s an often rolled out truism that so many film critics know very little about the cinema from before the late 70s.
Watch new films. Again, an addendum to the first point. Remain contemporaneously aware of the ongoing film culture. It’s at times fairly depressing, but necessary to gain an understanding of the bigger picture.
Read. Were the first three points not so glaringly obvious then this would stand firm and centre at the top of this list. Reading on film is an increasingly underappreciated act. There’s nary a better way of developing as a writer than to read other peoples writing, nor there a better way of digesting bigger ideas that might need contextualising further than a film itself allows. Contextualisation is key, and you’ll notice it’s something that applies to all of these points so far.
Communication. While I’m all for the idea of a writer taking the responsibility for his work, I can understand why some websites choose not to have an open comment section. I’ve toyed with the idea myself in the past. Since the dawn of the micro-blog, Twitter has essentially taken over the role of the humble comments section. I’ve found Twitter to be an invaluable took, but there’s a certain decorum to be had there too. As is often shown, it’s very easy for a situation to spiral, and for anyone to come across poorly.
Education. As regular readers will no doubt be aware, I’m a stickler for formal education. Not only does one learn how to write on a technical, but it affords them the opportunity to spend a couple of years dwelling on what a former lecturer of mine referred to as “dream time”; it gives the opportunity to seek out and indulge on purely approaching their subject sans distraction. This isn’t to say that it’s the only route, but it’s my preferred option, especially if one is seeking a career in a particular area of film criticism. Education also serves as an career bedfellow for anyone keen to make a living from film criticism, as both areas are suffering from cuts at the moment, meaning one draw a healthy sum from doing both part-time.
Don’t fall in to the PR trap. It’s nice to he sent free stuff, but don’t let that influence your work. Not only does the PR circle distractingly dictate the discourse in many ways, it also raises a bunch of ethical issues that can be easily avoided.
Always say something you can back up. It sounds simple, but this is the sort of thing that always leads to trouble. The recent Total Film Top 50 Films That Are Too Long circus was a great example of someone typing something they didn’t necessarily mean or have first hand experience of, and attempting to pass off a controversial opinion on (see, the writer’s response to Andy Warhol’s Empire). It’s the sort of approach that attracts vocal dissent (note how the crux of the gossip columnist’s argument rested on that one point).
Register with a professional agency. Admittedly this is easier for those in a big city, but the OFCS exists for those of us outside of them. It helps to cement ones legitimacy, and brings with it valuable perks and access opportunities that one otherwise might not have, or would have to beg a PR team for. Even Rotten Tomatoes acts as a neat approach towards legitimacy (though is not for the faint of heart) as is, linking your work to the IMDB, via the “external reviews” tab on each films page; both are great for drawing in an audience.
Know when to stop writing for free. I was quite lucky in that there was a steep, noticeable spike in the rise of Hope Lies. This is more difficult if one doesn’t have their own website, granted. Which neatly leads me on to…
Have your own website/blog/outlet. Think of it as a CV. Write about what you’re most passionate about. You don’t have to worry about filling someone else’s remit and you might even be successful in your own right. It also makes for a handy back-up home for pitches and ideas that are rejected from other sites.
Try new things. The digital age has brought with it all manner of opportunities for experimentation and innovation. Technology is amazing, use it to inspire. Within moments of playing around with the iPad early last Spring a whole raft of ideas as to how that technology could be adapted for use within my own work (eventually Periodical was borne). The same goes with other similar areas, with podcasting and video-essaying just two very popular forms of technologically-driven communication.
Embrace rejection. It happens to all of us, don’t let it get you down. The vast majority of pitches are rejected. (That being said, if it does happen often it might be best to seek out external advice. As awful as this may sound, it could be that you’re just not very good).
Adam Batty – Editor-In-Chief
Rohmer And Contemporary Cinema. A brief piece exploring the recent renaissance in Rohmer-ing.
The CriticWire Survey. On binge-watching.