Ali Plumb's Guide to Becoming a Film Critic
How to become a film critic in one sentence: work hard, get lucky and watch A LOT of movies. That’s it, really. Okay, there’s a bit more to it than that…
I’m not kidding about the watching A LOT of movies thing. You’ve got to have a good knowledge of the classics, be they cult favourites or critics’ darlings, and fortunately streaming services are here to help. With access to iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime and others you’ll be able to binge on everything from Citizen Kane to Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol nestled at your leisure instead of circling the five-star reviewed movies in Radio Times and/or trawling through your local DVD rental shop. And remember: so many blockbusters now are reboots, remakes and sequels that if you’re not totally in the know, you might not get everything that they’re referencing. Additional pro tip: get into comics, and put the Marvel and DC wikis in your bookmarks ASAP.
Film criticism on the radio is rooted in film criticism on the page. Read your favourite reviewers’ thoughts on the films you watch – once you’ve allowed your own opinion to settle, of course – and consider their points of view, their turns of phrase, the knowledge they bring to the table. Reviewing a movie isn’t just saying whether it’s good or not: it’s entertainment and education too. A review without a sense of humour or context is just a star rating and a film title. And don’t just read film critics, read everything. Newspaper columnists like Caitlin Moran and the late great Alan Coren are a good start, but memoirs generally are also brilliant for tone and wit and warmth – things you’ll definitely need. That said, be yourself. Don’t just mimic Charlie Brooker or Robbie Collin or Mark Kermode or whoever you end up reading the most of – let them be influences, not idols. But read, man, read and read and read. Develop your tastes and know what’s good.
I mentioned Mark Kermode there, the king of radio reviewing, and he’s a God when it comes to appraising movies on air, so make sure you’re up to date with what’s he’s been seeing. But there are many, many, many movie podcasts out there, just waiting for you to download them. Not just reviewers, either: there are documentaries and life stories and much more besides. Making confident, knowledgeable, witty film fans part of your commute - part of your life, even - will not only introduce you to your competitors but to your audience too. Getting comfortable listening to and talking about all sorts of movie nonsense is all part of the game, and podcasts and radio shows are an invaluable resource and a brilliant community to be a part of. You’ll be competing with a lot of other clever, bright, passionate people, just like yourself, so throw yourself into their world utterly and don’t look back. You do love films after all, right? Right? Phew.
A blog is a must. A broad social media output is a must. Of course you must take your time before you spit your thoughts out online, before you post that meme taking the mick out of that actor, but you mustn’t be afraid of writing and writing and writing and tweeting and posting and vlogging and letterboxing and EVERYTHING. You’ve got to overcome any shyness you might have about expressing your opinion and just crack on. You will discover so much about how you feel about a movie when you’re actually confronted with a blank Word document and the key questions of “What did I like about the movie?”, “What didn’t I like about the movie?”, “How will this movie land for fans of the franchise / the genre / the director / the star?”, “How was it marketed and how did it end up making me feel?”, “Did it make me laugh? Did it scare me? How did the rest of the audience react?”, “Would I pay a tenner to watch it in the cinema?” You want to tell people whether it’s worth watching, and whether it’s worth paying for, in a fun and informative way. And you’ve got to enjoy it, because if you’re not confidently enjoying expressing your firm, well though-out, entertaining opinions about movies then a) the audience / readers WILL know and b) there’s no hope for you. It can seem daunting but you’ve got to invest time and love into it, and even if you don’t end up becoming the next Mark Kermode, it’ll improve your enjoyment of the films themselves.