Entertainment journalism has experienced a major boost in the last decade or so with the rise of digital media and culture. Gone are the times when only those with special qualifications could voice their opinion. Now, anyone with Internet access can express their thoughts, either in writing or video form. This has been especially useful to movie fans, who can now give their own reviews of new movies instantaneously. But how do you start? How can you, the average Internet user with a love for cinema, go about sharing your opinion?
Here are ten tips for making your own movie reviews. For this list, I have consulted two main videos: On Film Criticism by YouTube film critic Chris Stuckmann, and Siskel & Ebert on Film Criticism, starring acclaimed film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
1. Establish your voice
Video reviews in particular are dominated by loud, distinct voices such as Jeremy Jahns, The Flick Pick, and Doug Walker. As such, it can get easy to fall into the trap of emulating your favorite reviewer, because that’s what appeals to you. Understand that, while it’s okay to take influence from others, it is essential to find your own distinct voice, in order to establish yourself with some credibility.
2. Write for your format
Craig Kandiko, who writes reviews for FatMovieGuy.com, points out in Stuckmann’s video that, in order to perform well in a video review, you have to know how to position yourself and make yourself look and sound professional in front of a camera. “I have to really think about my sentence structure and grammar…”, says Kandiko, describing a much different issue for written critics.
Depending on what format you’re using, there is a different approach to how you carry yourself. Writing is typically formal, whereas video is meant to be more impromptu. You can certainly script a video, and, in fact, doing so might not be a bad thing if you tend to ramble or lose your train of thought. However, scripting can also come off as stilted or phony, so be careful.
3. Consider your audience
Critics are typically seen within the field of journalism, meaning that there is a reporting element in a review. You are certainly giving your opinion, and that is important to the core of a review. However, consider whether a particular member of your audience may enjoy this film. For example, if you’re not into the science fiction genre and, as a result, were not a fan of the latest Star Trek movie, it’s not enough to say your piece and be done. Take time in your review to think about those who may find enjoyment in the film. Offer a more objective aspect to allow people to make their own decisions.
4. Don’t be afraid of first person
Film criticism has traditionally been a very formal writing exercise: long, complicated sentences and no mention of first person. However, in today’s digital world, first person can be a necessary part of connecting with your readers. Don’t be afraid to say things such as “I felt…” or “I think…” when talking about how a film affected you. This sort of writing gives the reader an idea of what the experience of watching the movie is like, so they can better understand whether or not this movie is for them.
5. Summarize the film, but don’t spoil it
Have you ever had a friend tell you about a movie they saw, only to say too much and end up spoiling it? Well, the same can happen in reviews. The trick is to give the reader an idea of what the movie is about without giving away key points or spoilers that might ruin the experience. An easy way to do this, as Stuckmann points out in his video, is to consider what the summary of a movie might be on the website IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. This website offers extensive profiles on individual films, always including a brief summary of the film, which is usually only a sentence or two. This handful of information is just enough to hook a potential audience member without offering unnecessary details.
6. Start critique with positives
The temptation in today’s digital culture, especially with the rise of YouTube comments and message boards, is to jump straight into negative criticism, bashing the less enjoyable parts of a film in order to garner views or readers. This is a strategy that has worked well for many online entertainers, after all. However, if you are looking to be taken seriously as a reviewer, keeping a level head is essential. A good way to do this is to start your review by discussing the positives; what the film did right. This shows your audience that you are not simply there to talk trash about bad movies. Instead, they can see that you are giving the film a fair shake, which will make you appear more credible and trustworthy.
7. Be fair to the movie
Roger Ebert, arguably the most successful film critic of all time, said in an interview, “You have to give the film its day in court.” Once again, this has to do with keeping a level head. There are some movies you may come across which you feel immediately you will not enjoy, thus you go in assuming that your review will be negative. Likewise, there may be a film in which the opposite is true and your expectations are extremely high, as if you have already given the film a positive rating. This can be a dangerous mindset, because expectations and hype can color your opinion. Take each movie on its own merits, and try your best not to be persuaded by anything outside the film itself.
8. Be consistent
Simply put, there is no room for bias in criticism. If you point out a problem in one movie, but fail to spotlight the same problem in another, it can lead your audience to lose trust in your opinion. This is not to say that all films are the same or possess all the same issues. There may be, for example, a line of dialogue that sounds cheesy and fake in one movie, yet natural and compelling in another, and it can be based on the context in which that line was spoken. In these instances, be ready to defend yourself in terms of why and how such an issue is acceptable.
9. Opposition does not mean you’re wrong
Something I see all the time on movie websites and blogs is the notion that there are movies that “the critics got wrong”. This is the idea that, because a film got negative reviews upon release, but went on to become very successful and beloved, the critics must have somehow messed up when they first reviewed the film. I urge you not to get sucked into this sort of discussion. The job of a critic is to report on a film, and to give his or her opinion on that film. There is no right or wrong answer. If you have an opinion on a film that your audience disagrees with, that should be an opportunity for discussion, not protest.
10. Write what you know and love
The most important aspect of film reviewing, or any opinion writing for that matter, is to write from the heart. You must have a passion for cinema, and a love for dissecting and analyzing what makes film work as an artform. More specifically, however, you will be most successful when you are writing about the kinds of films that you love. If you are passionate about all different types of movies, there is a vast landscape for you to explore and the possibilities are endless. However, even if you have a specific niche that you would like to fill, the same things are true. Many online reviewers have made their living by discussing a certain aspect of film culture, such as Doug Walker AKA The Nostalgia Critic, who reviews movies based on the nostalgia of his childhood.
The world of cinema is immense, and all you need to do is put your foot in the door. If you love film and you wish to express that love, you simply cannot go wrong.
Do you have your own review blog or channel? Have any tips for beginners that I may have missed? Who’s your favorite online critic? Keep the conversation going down below in the comments!