More than 40 writers contribute to this publication. Each of them lead different lives, derive from different backgrounds, live everywhere from Poland to New York City to Australia to India. What connects these writers, aside from this outlet, is their individual affinity for the movies.
Every writer has a story. Below is our attempt to tell some of those stories, to share with you how a whole bunch of us became film critics. It is our hope that by the end of this article readers have a better understanding of the writers they read. With transparency and sincerity in mind, we give you the following …
My story begins, like many, with Roger Ebert. Freshman year of high school came as quickly as it went, spending the better part of those 12 months watching Roger and Gene Siskel vigorously debate about the movies in a way I had never been privy to.
Eventually Roger’s writing, which I read religiously and obsessively on just about every film I had consumed to that point, pushed me to create a blog. It was called Duke & the Movies back then, and while the quaint site may pale in comparison to what we’re doing here today, it was undeniably the start of something wonderful. Each comment from dedicated readers propelled me to watch, write, and read more.
At the end of the day it make sense that I became a film critic: it takes a certain sort of fool to believe he or she could thrive in a creative field with a paucity of job opportunities and a surplus of talented writers. I am that fool.
I’ve loved movies’ since I was a kid. My first film review was for a student run newspaper in my penultimate year of high school. The ill-fated publication only lasted two issues, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to keep writing, first using the “note” function on Facebook (remember that?), before eventually biting the bullet and starting a Blogger account around Christmas 2008. Now look at me! The co-founder of a somewhat successful film website and his very own Letterboxd account (rarely updated), earning a pittance off of freelance writing jobs and the scorn of my friends and family. Dreams really can come true! Honestly, I’m mostly in it for the free movies. Back-up job if this doesn’t work out? Plumber.
My mother used to sneak my sister and me out to the movies Fridays after school under the guise of “shopping,” so my father wouldn’t think we were “wasting money” at the theater. As the eldest, I read the movie reviews and picked our weekly film. I’ve been a lifelong film fan, but it was always hidden behind my ambitions for a medical career. But during a terrible week in college, I lost my boyfriend, my roommate/best friend, and my major. In an effort to cheer me up, a friend sent a movie article from the school magazine I so vehemently disagreed with; I wrote a rebuttal longer than the piece itself. The web editor offered me the chance to write about film, something I never tried before. At the end of my first film festival the following year, I decided to become a film critic. The rest, they say…
Writing and movies are the only two things I’ve ever liked even a little bit, or shown any aptitude towards. When I discovered that you could combine writing with watching movies, and this thing was called film criticism, I recognized it as the thing for me. Luckily, I’ve developed a high tolerance for intermittent poverty and the disdain of relatives and peers, and carefully cultivated the self-loathing-cum-know-it-all-
James Blake Ewing
When I saw Peter Jackson’s King Kong, I felt compelled to write a rant about why it was so bad and post it on Xanga. A year later, I took a dual-credit literature class in film at the local technical college; I thought it would be an interesting way to pick up a literature credit. I started writing about movies for the class and I haven’t stopped since.
After finishing the class, I read Jeffrey Overstreet’s book Through a Screen Darkly for the first time. His book pushed me outside the multiplex and into the wilds of the art-house, which has become the bulk of my cinematic diet. The book has informed a lot of my own perspectives on film. Overstreet asks his readers to look closer and delve deep into films that are challenging, but ultimately more rewarding and fulfilling than films that require little effort to understand and enjoy.
I became a film critic because when I fell in love with cinema, I also fell in love with the conversations about cinema. I would believe a man can fly, yes, but more intriguing was if the person next to me believed so too, and for the same reason. I wanted an avenue to talk about film, and criticism provided me with that.
Growing up, The Simpsons was verboten in my household. But when I was 12, I started watching the show in secret, and fell in love with it. A few years later, the DVD commentaries revealed how many of the show’s jokes are movie references. I wanted to understand this stuff, so I started watching all the films they name-checked. Then I wanted to understand the movies that influenced THOSE movies, and it all snowballed from there into true-blue cinema love. And then I was introduced to Internet forums and started writing about movies a lot. And THAT snowballed into a love for writing about film. And then I started reading criticism so that I could argue better on these forums. And eventually, I realized that I liked writing about movies more than most other things in this world. And there you have it.
My love for films bloomed early, way before my interest in boys, fashion or any other thing. I remember buying a 1994 film magazine (sadly, not longer on the market) called FILM and devouring texts about Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. I knew this was it! Years later, after 10 semesters of film studies, a film lover with no defined direction, I met a teacher who told me I was a good writer. His faith and support allowed me to think I can pursue this career. And I did. We became friends and writing about film became more that my passion – it became my work. I very often think about how lucky I am to be doing something that never seizes to excite and amaze me.
I was writing movie reviews for my elementary school newspaper when I was nine years old (4 stars for Driving Miss Daisy!), but my road to professional film criticism was a long and crooked one. In fact, I have had several careers already: bartender, out-of-work musician, independent filmmaker, political campaigner, and Washington lobbyist. But two years ago, I re-committed to writing about film for one simple reason. In the twenty-plus years since I wrote that first review for the school paper, my love for the movies has never waned, nor has my appreciation of their importance to our society. Ultimately, I write about film for the same reason I work in politics: because I want to be fighting the battles that matter. Whatever else happens in my life, the movies will always matter to me.
I had an unhealthy obsession with Roger Ebert when I discovered his writing, and was inspired by him to expand my cinematic vocabulary. However, I didn’t start writing until, believe it or not, the Game Informer forums added a Blog option. This let me live in a delusional state in which I was the most knowledgeable person about film in the room, as most of my readers were more knowledgeable of games than film and thus turned to me for recommendations. Regardless, I enjoyed blogging about movies so much that I decided to start my own website and start a podcast with friends (which I still do). Because of this, I also started a Twitter account, which was more instrumental in getting me to be more serious in my writings on film than I could’ve ever anticipated. Being able to discover and find more critics who put my limited knowledge to shame while also constantly discovering recommendations for films I would’ve never heard of, it forced me to really think about the films I watched more seriously. The important thing to learn is that I would’ve never been a film critic without other, better film critics always up-ending me and pushing me to be better, and being part of that community is the best part of being a critic. Aside from all the great movies, of course.
Cinema has never been about entertainment for me. It’s far more nourishing than that. When it becomes something that merely passes the time, that’s when things get complicated. Because then what’s the point? Go bounce a ball for two hours. The entertaining part is in how it sparks new thoughts, how it mirrors old ones, how it produces a visceral reaction from the viewer, both good and bad, but vital and cell altering. Cinema has always been the entity I worshiped most, the thing that took up the most space in my brain. Talking about it was a way of elongating the experience, of giving a film or a body of work a long, mutating life. But conversations with those within earshot can only go so far. Writing about film has always been about keeping that conversation going in infinite directions.
I became a film critic because I had to. While that no doubt sounds melodramatic, there is no paucity of writers (talented or otherwise) willing to ramble on about the successes or failings of cinema. In order to be a critic you must face countless rejection and you will most likely have to settle with your byline functioning as your compensation (at least I do…for now?). If however your passion for film feels like the Brood attempting to erupt forth from your lower intestine, then all of those potential negatives wont matter because just writing about film is enough.
On a more micro level, I began my own little film blog in order to store my musings and thoughts. After polishing my writing and finding a singular (at least I like to think so) critical voice I took to social media in order to connect with the film crit world. Through the power of Twitter I have had the opportunity to make friends and mentors that criss-cross the globe and span the professional spectrum. Never underestimate a tweet or judge a person based on their outlet. This is truly a community that helps one another, and there’s always room for more – unless you steal my byline in which case I’ll cut you.
My love for cinema past blockbusters began when I discovered 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. It introduced me to foreign films past Amelie, silent gems and directors like Kubrick and Lynch.
That fueled decisions for university study after I found out just about everyone else wanted to become a sports journalist like me. I decided to instead focus my sub-major on film and television, which paid off greatly. Among other things I learned about Italian cinema and then global cinema, sucked into the theory and discourse never to emerge.
My networks led me to work with website Cut Print Review (now Moviedex), where I was given the chance to continue my studies by way of interviews and reviews. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to have reviews published in print for two years across four papers and stumble along this crew!
I was in college when my enthusiasm for movies couldn’t be contained to just watching anymore. Urged on by others, I became the go-to-guy for recommendations, organizing marathons, etc. Feeling like I could still do more, I started a website, Never Mind Pop Film, writing DVD reviews to share with friends and family. As my writing developed, so did my interest in expanding my viewing to foreign cinema and forgotten classics. In the five years since, I’d managed to go from writing reviews to contributing to awards sites before moving on to serving as a critic at GotchaMovies and newswire editor here at Movie Mezzanine. My readership wasn’t just family and friends anymore, people across the globe were reading now. Of course with that platform comes responsibility, each new release review or essay adds something to the conversation and getting the opportunity to spur that discussion is a gift I cherish.
There has always been a critic in me, from the young age of 10 when I started writing extremely embarrassing film reviews on IMDB. Film has always meant a lot to me, and so many movies that are still my favourites I first watched when I was 13 or 14 and had no clue what was going on. However, I always had the desire to learn more about these obscure films I would watch, and this led me to reading movie reviews, and watching Ebert & Roeper’s “At the Movies” religiously.
I wrote a few film reviews here and there for my high school paper, but it was only in University that I really got into it. It was my friends who pushed me; they knew how obsessed I was with movies and everyone referred to me as “the movie girl”, so I started to feel like my opinion had some merit. I wrote for two different University Newspapers as a film critic, and then started my own blog that included both written and eventually YouTube video reviews. My review of the movie Margaret caught some attention that led me to some amazing opportunities with the coolest, most talented people. Through all of the connections that I made, I decided that writing about film is a pretty awesome job to be doing. Now I write for a variety of different websites, I still do my video thing, and most importantly, I get to talk about film with incredible people who broaden my mind on a daily basis.
I don’t consider myself a critic.
That sentence looks strange considering how many hours I’ve spent writing about film, and especially strange considering I’m a part of two different critics’ groups. However it’s the truth. I believe part of it comes from the study and training I see in all of the critics I admire (both of which I lack). Likewise the experience and perspective they have with what they have already consumed in the medium, and seen in their own lives (here, I’m making up ground…but still lacking).
Thus, I’m not a critic. In the past, I’ve taken to the term “Pop Culture Vulture”. In more recent days latched to a phrased coined by Tina Hassania; “Writerly Person”.
But no, Virginia, I’m not a film critic. Not yet, perhaps not ever.
As for why I began, it’s simple: I love to write. I get a quiet satisfaction in putting my thoughts in one place and releasing it to the world to be disagreed with or agreed with at will. The conversations it sparks can be valuable, and the people it introduces us to can be even more valuable. In the age we live in, any writer who doesn’t take advantage of this is missing a huge opportunity. In the past, to be published took a great deal of connections, effort, and money. Now anybody can do it in moments with a device they keep in their pocket.
Around that time, I caught a lucky bounce by way of an interview I saw on TV about blogging. When the blogger was asked for their best advice about getting people to read their words, the answer was “Write about what you love: Odds are others out there love it too”. Considering that my love for writing was equalled by my love for film, it seemed only natural to marry to the two, and hopefully reach a wider audience than only my friends and family. After those first few posts went up, I was hooked and there was no turning back.
It’s hard to go back and pick out a single moment that propelled me towards film criticism, but I suppose if I had to give anyone credit, it’s the late Roger Ebert, who I grew up reading and watching on TV. His presentation and way of criticizing was unique in that it was detailed, but accessible to the common reader or viewer. It started out as sort of a hobby, as I’m sure is the case for many others. I remember writing reviews for my high school paper, which looking back, were just awful. I did the same thing in college, much more frequently, but still, failed to find my own unique voice. It’s one thing to write about film and know what you’re talking about, but if your words and ideas don’t function as a concise conduit to the reader then you haven’t done your job. I’m always learning, watching and reading in order to become a better writer. I’m glad to be living in such a fantastic age of film criticism where there exist so many personalities and outlets of getting ideas across. Writing and discussing film is my favorite thing in the world, and I’m just grateful to have the opportunity and platform to do so every day.
I became a film critic because I’d always been interested in discussions about aesthetics, because I was a bored arts journalist, and because film academia and criticism was more interesting to read than any other kind of arts criticism. But I hadn’t grown up watching movies. So at the tender age of 25, after a life-changing screening of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-up, I took out a government student loan and enrolled in a second undergrad to study film. You could call it a mid-twenties crisis, but it was a vital learning experience. Reading film theorists helped me learn how to think critically about film. Two years ago, I started reviewing films and one day, I hope to do it full-time professionally.
2 thoughts on “How We Became Film Critics”
Like Ryan, I wouldn’t call myself a film critic. Still, I love writing and talking about movies, so maybe an “enthusiast” is a better term.
Back in my senior year of high school, I had to choose an arts credit, and I figured that a History of Film class would be fun. It was definitely one of those big decisions; I got obsessed with it and wrote crazy-long papers for our class projects about films like Goodfellas and Aliens. Admittedly, the writing wasn’t very good, but it started my interest in that side of movies. I took three more film classes in college and have written for a bunch of sites ever since, including my current blog. It’s been a great experience, especially with so many enthusiasts like your writers at this fine site.
It’s a long story, but it’s one that I don’t get to tell very often, so here it goes…
I grew up across the street from a movie theatre, so the actual means of getting out to see films couldn’t have been simpler. I would see anything and everything that came out, even R-rated films since my mother knew the manager and neither of them seemed to care that I was seeing them. Like any youngster, I wasn’t very discriminating (I saw Stay Tuned no less than 6 times, The Wedding Singer and Buffy the Vampire Slayer four times each, and the long forgotten Matthew Broderick comedy Out on a Limb twice.), but I do remember the first time I saw a movie that was outright awful and that I felt betrayed by. It was the Keanu Reeves movie Chain Reaction. My lord to I hate that movie. It inspired me to read more criticism than just snarkily observing that these guys didn’t know how to have fun.
So from there I honed my skills, writing for my school newspaper and a few teen oriented newspapers/newsletters/magazines around New England. I still loved fiction more, and I had become enamored with the desire to actually make a film rather than passively engaging with them. Cut to university when I decided to major in film and I realized that I had zero technical skills whatsoever. Not a single one. I couldn’t even take a still photograph to save my life. Disillusioned (and admittedly going through a rough patch in my life), I took a year off from school and reemerged as an English major. I focused on my fiction and essay writing instead, and I’m actually quite glad now that I did.
I did almost no critical work outside of academic papers, but when a friend asked me to cover for him at a website he was writing for while he was out on maternity leave, I jumped at the chance, and I found that I really did love being a critic. I loved the discourse and the ability to talk about a world of different films with an equal amount of enthusiasm. It was almost like I had never left, but I had come back better and stronger than I had been six or seven years prior. Now I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.