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Darren H

For the aspiring professional writer/critic

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There have been a couple threads over the past year that have touched on the problems of being a professional writer/critic today. How to identify the right outlets for your work? How to approach editors? How to get paid a reasonable amount for your labor? And so on. I've been thinking for a while that it might be useful to dedicate a thread to this topic,  and then last night I stumbled on this blog post by Michael Pattison. I met Michael briefly in Rotterdam and am really impressed by the approach he's taken to his career. The whole post is great, but it ends with this:

 

 

 

And if people are interested in becoming film critics, how should they actually approach the industry?

In person! Attend local festivals, wangle whatever freebies you can, don't be shy. Don't just talk about films. Don't hang out in the little cliques that gather between press screenings; the people you really need to talk to are already down the road to write their review or make an appointment. Make your first investment a batch of business cards, and get in the habit of handing them out.

Don't just talk to editors and people who will pay you to write. Meet festival directors - they're the ones who are going to invite you along to some beautiful pilgrimage town next month and arrange your flights and accommodation for you. Google names and remember faces, and look at the publications that your favourite critics write for - those are the ones that actually pay people to work.

More than anything, find out very early if the outlet pays.

 

And this related comment:

 

 

 

There's this terrible and growing assumption, in the UK at least, that writing isn't labour, that it should go unpaid. There are still some outlets out there that pay, but many of them are found in Europe or beyond. You have to seek them out. Speculative emails haven't worked for me. But follow-up emails after a brief handshake have.

 

When I was in Rotterdam I roomed with Calum Marsh, who's also relatively young and is also making his living as a full-time critic and essayist. I always describe myself as an "amateur, in the best sense of the word." I have a day job, and I'm one of those bastards who actually prefers to write for free because it usually comes without editorial obligations. I get to write exactly what I want to write. It's an expensive luxury, believe me. The difference between our two approaches was obvious from the first day of the fest. I saw five or six films a day, taking notes for the long essays I'd write after I got back to the States--essays that, frankly, very few people will read. Calum probably saw three films per day and then locked himself away in our hotel room. He published 10,000 words while we were there with the basic goal of making more money than he spent each day.

 

Like I told Calum and a few other critics at the fest, I felt like an old man at times because I envy these guys who have thrown themselves into this career, but I also wonder if the model is sustainable. Is there still a career path that will accommodate changing lifestyles as these writers move from their 20s into their 30s and 40s?

Edited by Darren H

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Watching *and* reviewing three movies in one day? Wowzers. One of the key points in my departure from CT Movies came when I didn't blog the local film festival as fast or as comprehensively as the editor wanted. It didn't help that I was doing it for virtually no pay, but frankly, there's only so fast I can get my thoughts out in an organized fashion even when I *am* being paid.

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Calum didn't immediately cover everything he saw, no, but he was incredibly productive during the festival. Even more impressive was Danny Kasman, who was sitting right beside me at nearly every screening and also managed to write 6,500 words for MUBI. I asked Michael, Calum, and Neil Young today on Twitter how many words they write each day, and it looks like they all average 500-1,000.

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How old are they? And do any of them have kids?

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Neil's about my age, I'd guess--early 40s. Calum and Michael are both in their mid-20s. None of them have children. And that's part of my point, when I mentioned earlier that I'll be curious to see if they can carve out a career path as they transition through other phases of life. Sometimes I think the future of film criticism is wave after wave of 20-somethings who write furiously while they're able.

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My youngest brother is always pushing for me to contribute more to Three Brothers Film. I'd love to develop my writing for other venues as well, but the reality is that as a full-time PhD who is (struggling) to finish a dissertation in a timely manner and with two children under 3 at home now and classes to teach I have no idea where I'd find the time to watch more films, let alone review them.

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It is now 11:44 p.m. and I need to write up something before I go to bed so that I can get up at 6:00 a.m. to catch the train and do it again tomorrow...

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A couple weeks ago Michael Pattison posted a follow-up to the piece I linked to earlier, this one about making the most of film festivals. It's a great read. I thought of this thread, though, when he edited the piece today to add this:

 

MEME.jpg

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