Writing Reviews for Print and online Audiences (paying gigs)
- Always structured – you will be given an assignment to cover a particular film and usually with a specific word count. Since you’re limited in how much you can say, be smart with the words you use. Understand how to use brevity to your advantage. You can also pitch ideas for reviews, but even with that your word count is usually locked in.
- Must meet deadlines – The deadlines are extremely important because most reviews hit the audience the day the film is released (or the day it hits a major screening release). If you miss a deadline, you may longer have a job.
- Know your audience (Rolling Stone, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, Twitter, Ebony Magazine, or Common Sense Media). This may determine your writing style and the films you cover.
- Follow the writing rules & film reviewing techniques. Don’t slam everything you watch; don’t praise every film you see; be honest; know your material; be able to defend your thoughts, etc.
- Supporting data. As a reminder, let your audience know about the director, writer, producer, and cast list if relevant. The MPAA rating is important for many film goers (especially parents). At times you will discover that there is a fine line between PG-13 and R rated films. As a critic when those times present themselves you should share why the film is rated what it is (profanity, violence, nudity); your audience will appreciate it.
- You should always offer your grade or rating for the film (and make sure it matches your actual reviewed thoughts). This is best done in the final paragraph or as a stand-alone sidebar/appendix.
- Other added details can also help your audience; items like the running time of the film and the release date could be useful. Decide what you want to include (and how you want to present it) and standardize that approach in each review. Remember the importance of being consistent when offering these extras (if at all possible).
- Show humor (if you’re good at it) – Have fun when writing, and if you have a gift for offering funny thoughts or comparisons, don’t be afraid to do it. If you think something is too corny, ask someone you trust to weigh in and ask them to read your work.
- Don’t Spoil the Film for Others! Never give away the ending, story secrets, or key plot twists (unless you’re a specialty reviewer focused on “spoilers”). Remember, if you give away everything, there’s no need for the audience to go watch it. Some film companies have actually been known to take away media credentials of some film critics who offer too many spoilers.
- Get feedback – find others who will offer honesty to you and let you know if you’re hitting the mark or failing miserably. Get that constructive criticism from a friend or editor (or professor), and break bad habits before they become routine.
- Read, watch or listen to other critics’ reviews (but not of a film you’re currently reviewing) – In doing so, you’ll discover tricks, tips, and ideas for your own work. You’ll also find what you love and what you hate in writing styles. This may help to shape you in formulating your tone and voice.
Writing movie reviews for radio audiences (or podcasts):
- Structured Reviews – You should use the same concepts and understandings we’ve engaged in throughout the semester so far. Among other things, remember to provide a nutshell synopsis, identify the key cast/crew members, message/theme, and strengths and weaknesses of the film (script, acting, camera, sound design, music, etc.). When offering a structured radio review, you may only have 1-2 minutes (only) to share your review – so it must be prepared, exact, and to the point (while also allowing your creativity to shine through).
- Freeform Reviews – These types of reviews provide more of a question and answer-type of interaction. Freeform reviews are usually not limited to a specific or exact time – but, you still need to have prepared thoughts and detailed notes. These can range from a 5-minute review segment with a show co-host to a 30-minute piece diving deep into the many aspects of the film (or filmmaking). Here is an example of freeform interview focusing on the Critics Choice Awards (2021) with Noel Manning interviewed by WCCB (Charlotte CW).
- Writing Reviews for TV (video audiences)
- Know your material (be prepared for Structured or Freeform Review).
- Research and be prepared to discuss several aspects of film (director, cast, genre, producer, running time, release date, MPA rating, etc.).
- Know your audience (will this be a review for the “60 Minutes” crowd, “YouTube” audience, “Local Access TV” or “Late Night TV”?).
- Your appearance is important (as it relates to your audience).
- Don’t wear all black or all white.
- Don’t wear stripes, polka dots, checks, or wild patterns.
- Don’t wear clothing with visible logos (unless it is for the sponsor or company you represent).
- Your audience CAN help determine what TO wear. Again, this is about knowing your audience’s expectations.
- Get someone you trust to tell you if you look like a loser on camera, and ask them what you need to do to change that opinion.
- Use the Electronic Press Kit (EPK) to your benefit. These kits have video clips, interviews, photos and audio. Studios provide these for critics.
- Be relaxed and conversational when delivering your review. You want to come across as knowledgeable, but not someone who is too stuffy or too academic in the presentation. You want to build a relationship with your audience. You are welcome to use contractions, slang, and pop culture references if relevant. Stay away from obscure words that you’d only find in a dictionary; be real in your delivery –and remember your audience.
- Avoid Film Industry Lingo – Try not to use too much film jargon that only film scholars would use – unless it is necessary for the audience to understand your review. Remember, this is not about trying to impress an audience with your abundance of film industry expertise, it is about you sharing why an audience member should or shouldn’t pay money to watch a film.
- Become great friends with your editor –(If it is a prepared package 2-5 minutes). With your editor’s help –you can look like a genius.
- Watch yourself on the final air version of your segment and continue to critique your own work (the more you do these reviews, the better, and more comfortable you will become).
Aveyard, K., & Moran, A. (2013). Watching Films: New Perspectives on Movie-Going, Exhibition and Reception. Bristol, TN: Intellect.
Barsam, R. M., & Monahan, D. (2010). Looking at movies: An introduction to film (2nd ed.). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Co.
Buckland, W. (2010). Understand film studies. Blacklick, OH: McGraw-Hill.
Cateridge, J. (2015). Film studies for dummies. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley.
Glatzer, R. (2001). Beyond popcorn: A critic’s guide to looking at films. Spokane, WA: Eastern Washington University Press.
Manning, N. T. (2020, October 4). Understanding the Critic [pdf].
Manning, N. T. (2013, November 9). Adam Long. On Long on film [Personal interview]. Boiling Springs, NC: WGWG.
Manning, N. T. (2016, September 19). Jay Forry. Reviewing Blind [Personal interview]. Boiling Springs, NC: WGWG.
Manning, N. T. (2016, June 7). Lawrence Toppman. Observing Film [Personal interview]. Boiling Springs, NC: WGWG.
Manning, N. T. (2015, November 19). Sean O’Connell. Gotta love movies [Personal interview]. Boiling Springs, NC: WGWG.
Manning, N. T. (2016, August 16). Matt Brunson. Getting creative [Personal interview]. Boiling Springs, NC: WGWG.
Null, C. (2005). Five stars!: How to become a film critic, the world’s greatest job. San Francisco, CA: Sutro Press.
Quiray, G. C. (2014). Under the tent-pole: A primer on moviesblockbusters, oscar winners, alternatives, and you. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt.