Writing Film Reviews: You Too Can Be A Critic

Learn about writing film reviews. Learn what to look for in movies so that you can analyze them as a film critic.

"Anyone can be a film critic," French director Francois Truffaut writes in his book "The Films in My Life." Whether you watch movies as soon as they arrive at your local theatre or wait for the video or cable version, your number one reason for being a critic must be your love of movies. If you're a real film buff, chances are you'll like all types from Hollywood blockbusters to subtitled films with no special effects.

Be objective:

When watching a movie, be it a cartoon or an epic, remain objective. Don't be swayed by who's in it. Pay no attention to the director. Ignore any stories or rumors you might have heard about the filming of it. Be completely absorbed in the movie, concentrating on the events unfolding onscreen.

If you're launching a career as a film critic and want to use the first person, then use it right from the start. Make your opinions count and do so in a way that's forceful. Be stern and unwavering! Or be funny. Just make sure you can handle being the "I" behind all your opinions. You'll gain many admirers and detractors, but if you've comfortable with writing in the first person then go ahead""you're the critic!

Comparing movies:

To compare the current movie you're reviewing to one that is already on video/cable or has been around for dozens of years is a very common practice. This shows that A) you know about movies and B) allows people who have seen the earlier movie to know what you're writing about.

Assume nothing:

Depending on your audience, whether it's a college newspaper, a local daily, weekly or monthly publication or an Internet website, use your clearest style of writing. You never know who'll happen to read your review. That person might be the president of a movie studio or a grade-schooler. If you're doing a comparison, be precise but not overly so. Not everyone in the world has seen the movie "Psycho" so should you use this movie as an example, you might want to preface it with: "classic horror film" or "director Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 movie starring Anthony Perkins," etc. Add a few words to introduce a new reader or refresh an older reader's memory.

The story:

What is this movie about? After assigning a category such as drama, action/adventure, horror, comedy, etc., you must give a synopsis of the tale. Is it a man vs. man saga of "Apocalpyse Now" proportions? Man vs. nature: "The Perfect Storm." Man vs. the supernatural? "The Haunting" and any horror flick. Man vs. himself, any western with the proverbial "Ëślone gunslinger.'

The actors & actresses:

Without them, we wouldn't have a movie""or much of one! Don't get their personal lives mixed up with what they do onscreen. Analyze their performance in relation to the story. Mention past films if appropriate, as this gives the reader an opportunity to explore their earlier works. Respect the thespian for what they've done, but not excessively. If an actor has destroyed an otherwise good film due to many situations such as being inappropriately cast, wavering accent[s], wrong age/size for the part, etc. point it out in a diplomatic way. Not every actor/actress is cast in the right part!

If the actor/actress steals the movie, please indicate this. If you should favor one actor over another personally, don't allow this to ruin a critique. Stay rational! You may think a certain performer is wonderful, that they can do no wrong. They're still just human beings! Keep your perspective. You're writing a review, not a love letter!

The director:

The leader behind the movie, this person has enormous responsibilities and can range from being invisible to being in the movie. Directors can also be hyphenates such as director-producer, actor-director, director-screenwriter, etc. Analyze the hyphenate the same way you would the average one-titled director. Keep in mind that this person has a huge undertaking but oftentimes not the complete power over the project that he/she would like to have. Things to watch for: how the director interprets the story. Are there lots of close-ups or is the camera kept at a distance? Is the film in color or black and white - or both? If color, does one color stand out? Does the camera move around or remain stationery? If the movie takes place in an earlier time period, do you feel like you've stepped backwards through a time machine? In science fiction, do you get a sense of a future world that's very different from our 21st century? If this is a contemporary story, do you feel as though everything's accurate?



The screenwriter:

More invisible than the director and usually under-appreciated, the writer is finally getting a little more recognition for their screenplays. When watching opening credits, you'll notice that [since 1998] the screenwriter gets credit just before the director, rather than before the producer. Think of famous movies from any decade -- whether it's an epic like "Gone With the Wind" or a comedy like "Groundhog Day." Every movie originates with the writer. Not only must a writer be able to describe the action you see on screen, it must be done succinctly as the powers that be [producers, agents, directors] like to read scripts that are preferably under 130 pages. The screenwriter has to be able to write dialogue that moves the story along and also sounds realistic.

The producer:

This is the person(s) who gets the movie made, has all the money contacts and ranges from hands off to being involved in all facets from pre-production to post-production and even publicity.

Some common terms:

Genre: action/adventure, comedy, drama, horror, romantic comedy, science fiction, tragedy, religious, historical, documentary, film noir, thriller, western, war, martial arts, teen or musical.

Longshot

Flashback

Narration

Cinematography

Editing

Montage

Soundtrack or score

Lighting and composition

Close-up

Tracking shot

3 types of movies:

Foreign. Always mention whether it's sub-titled or dubbed.

Mainstream: Big budget Hollywood.

Independent a/k/a/ Indie: Low budget.

Your rating system:

You've seen those number ratings, the stars, and the thumbs up or down, letter grades. You need to come up with something unique""something that represents your love of movies as well as your own style.

The MPAA rating system:

If you'll be reviewing movies for those under 18 and/or are concerned about the amount of violence and sex in a movie, make sure you emphasize this. The rating system is:

G- general audience

PG-Parental Guidance suggested

PG-13-parental guidance suggested; suitable for those over 13

R-restricted to those over 17 [or must be accompanied by an adult]

NC-17-You're not getting in to see the flick if you're under 17

X or a series of X's - porn.

Some reviewers highlight a movie's rating and the amount of violence/bad language/sex or adult situations it contains. Other reviewers don't care to do this, they're only interested in reviewing the movie.

Sample reviews:

A. Tips of what to write about""first or third person review.

Summarize the plot in a few sentences.

Comment on accurate information about the production that you may have read about in a legitimate source ["Variety" and "The Hollywood Reporter" are two trade magazines that are recommended""they're not gossipy, they're factual].

Mention how you felt about the main and supporting actors/actresses performances.

Did you feel the director's presence? Was the dialogue real? If the cinematography strikes you - say so. The same for any pattern of editing you notice. Did the musical score enhance or detract from the movie? Are there any plot holes or gaffes? Do the special effects seem adequate? How did you feel right after seeing the movie? How did you feel a few hours later after analyzing it?

B. Simple review

Name of movie, year of release

Starring:

Directed by:

MPAA Rating:

Reviewer's Rating:

Studio:

Running Time:

Genre:

One or two sentence summary of movie.

Create your own movie review website:

This is an easy way to start getting your reviews out there for people to read. It's advisable to start with a free site such as those hosted by major search engines and host services.

Write for a local paper:

Write reviews in a local paper whether it's daily or weekly. Make sure you read lots of reviews before writing your own. A good source of practice is to review older movies and then current ones.

Writing movie reviews is a fun job and not only does it allow you to really appreciate movies but you can help others do so also. Your reviews might convince people not to see a movie and therefore save them money. You might also launch a career for yourself.

© Demand Media 2011