Being a Film Critic & the Massive Flaws in my Plan

If you know a bit about me by now you’ll know that my mind and life circulates around film. I love it. I did an A Level in Film Studies when I was 16, then I did a degree in Film Studies, then a master’s degree in Independent Film & Film Making, followed by a postgraduate certificate in film journalism. You would think, if I was primed for any sort of career, if would be for film criticism. And that’s always been part of my plan.

I was going to find some way to get paid for writing about film, and while I was doing that I was going to find some way to break into the film industry. So why then am I 33, and doing neither? Well, the film industry bit is the more difficult part, the film writing I always thought would be more accessible. But the thing is, it’s as hard as nails to become an actual paid film journalist, and here’s why…

1). London

The first thing I noticed, in my late teens and early twenties, when I would try to get work experience, was that if you weren’t in London you were pretty much screwed. Not only do all the big events, press launches etc. happen in London but the film reviews do too. I can’t tell you how many times people have suggested I offer to work for the local paper or something (believe me I tried). The fact of the matter is that those people who get to review the films in London, their reviews get sold on to other newspapers. Or, if they’re all part of the same publishing company, they just get dispersed into a major newspaper’s sister companies.

2). The qualified journalists get the work

The next thing I realised was that people who are film graduates aren’t the people who are sought out to write film reviews, the journalism graduates are. Or at least the people who have their NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualifications are. More than that, and rather disappointingly, a lot of people with the very good jobs, most of the time didn’t study either, and I’ve heard stories about people who ‘fell into’ or ‘ended up’ writing about film.

3). They don’t need me

When I was in my early twenties I had a bit more confidence and simply wrote a piece and sent it to a bunch of magazines. Mostly I was ignored, the guy who ran SFX (I think it was) sent me an incredibly long, patronising piece of advice. Which was more heavy on the patronising than advice. Total Film were quite sweet and said they’d pass it along, although I never heard anything back. I’m not to bummed out by all that, because the article probably wasn’t that great anyway. What really got to me is what I discovered later; that all these film magazines really didn’t care about having new writers. I came across bits of information/advice that suggested that there wasn’t enough work to go around. On one website (I think it was Empire) they bluntly (but perhaps kindly) simply said ‘we like our jobs here, we’re not leaving, sorry about that’. So, yeah, it was bit impenetrable.

I later went on to get my postgraduate certificate in journalism but by then I was burnt out by trying, and so annoyed at my teacher (who was incredibly unhelpful and so critical I actually thought I’d fail my course. I didn’t, I got a merit. Boy was I surprised.), I didn’t even try again. Or maybe I tried and gave up again quite quickly.

That was about seven years ago now. I turned on film criticism a bit after that because it seemed packed full of very negative people who were very keen on keeping jobs that I felt I’d been told I wasn’t even a bit capable of. Maybe I was even a bit jealous too. I definitely lost my confidence in talking about film. Until almost two years ago.

Confidence is a big thing when it comes to talking about film. And from point A as a 14 year old, to point B, here now as a 33 year old, I’ve always found three things abundantly clear. The men, who talk loudly, about obscure films, get all the attention. When they’re getting all the attention and you’re not, when even the mention of Richard Curtis gets you labelled as some sort of silly girl, that dents your confidence like nobody’s business. I occasionally forget that I know a lot about film, watch an incredible amount of it, or studied it to the nth degree, because there are a lot of people who treat me like I don’t know anything. And sorry to the lovely men in my life, but those people who put me down are always guys. It’s enough to make a girl give up on romcoms completely because guys take the piss out of you if you even utter the words Love, Actually.

But that was then, and this is, well, now. It had probably been building for a long time, but I decided I didn’t give a shit what people thought of what films I liked. I also decided to have the courage of my convictions. So I started a film twitter account, I followed that with writing for Film Inquiry (where I also edit articles), and now my podcast. You’d think that would put me on a course to getting paid work. And indeed, since the internet has now become part of everyday life the possibilities have really opened up. Not only are there endless avenues to write about film, but the major magazines now actually have websites with contact pages should you want to write or even want advice on writing. But that brings me then to the last and major flaw in my plan.

4). Everyone is writing about film

It can’t have escaped your attention how many film websites there are, and how many twitter accounts and podcasts too. I can’t argue with this. Film has always been a great democracy and it’s only right that if someone wants to state their opinion they should. Some of the greatest film critics we’ve ever had never studied film, or even got published in print. But there’s still a gigantic problem. And that’s that everyone, and I mean a huge massive pool or everyone, is talking about film. It’s a big slushy pool as well, as everyone is going on about the same thing, and most of the time not even writing or articulating themselves that well. (Not that I can judge everyone’s writing, but I can make a rough estimation.) Film has also always been a klaxon for people wanting to sound cool. So while you might have a lot of people who actually want to write, what you also have is a huge pile of show-offs as well. But they are free to do it, I’m not saying they’re not. The only problem is, I’m in that massive pool as well. My hope, and I suppose your advice for me as well would be, that if I’m a good enough writer someone will notice and I’ll just rise to the top. But is that enough? What if I’m just too far down the food chain? Too quiet? Too small to be perceived?

17 years and I’m still trying to write about film, and still trying to find some way into the film industry. It’s exhausting. And I know the thoughts and feelings of most people around me, and most of the people I know is that this isn’t going happen, and the sooner I give up the better. But the thing is… I don’t know how to do anything else. Most importantly, I don’t want to do anything else.

So I’ll whine, and I’ll get my hopes dashed, and I’ll try again. I’ll even write blogs like this, just to get all the frustration and negative energy out. But I’ll keep at it. Not just because I want to but also because, what so many people don’t realise, is that I know that if I gave up now I wouldn’t know what else to do. I can’t say that I would spend the rest of my life regretting giving up, because I’d actually find it impossible to leave in the first place. I don’t know what to do if it’s not about film. So I’ll keep trying, because trying and getting knocked back time and again is so much better than not trying at all.

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