How to be a film journalist

11 10 2011

By Paul Bradshaw

Paul Bradshaw

This time last year I was temping in an insurance office – slowly dying in front of a spreadsheet and making a trip to the coffee machine the highlight of my day. I had to take a paperclip off every bundle of work that landed on my desk, and by the time I quit to join the Brighton Journalist Works I’d managed to fill five plastic cups. A few hectic months of lessons, exams and internships later found me working as a freelance writer for Total Film magazine. Sure, talking to movie stars and going to glitzy premieres is all good fun – but I’m never going to get those paperclips back.

Following on from Al Horner’s excellent advice for anyone wanting a career as a music journalist, BJW asked me if I had any tips for students wanting to get into film criticism.

Get Writing (again)

I’m going to repeat Al’s point because it’s so important. Months before I started the fast-track course I begged every editor in the country to let me write for them. Of course, they all ignored me. Building a quick website and filling it with what looked like a few months’ back catalogue of movie reviews, I eventually got the attention of The Argus – who gave me enough regular work to turn up at Total Film a year later with a fistful of clippings. As long as you don’t mind working for free (and you shouldn’t) there’s always going to be plenty of people willing to exploit your time and talent in exchange for some invaluable experience. Blogging and tweeting is all good stuff, but don’t expect editors to be too impressed with a random collection of irregular musings. Try and be as focussed as possible. Set yourself a word limit and a deadline, and always try to avoid the first person – especially if you’re writing a review.

Book your work experience…now

Editors are busy people. So busy, in fact, that all those cleverly written emails you keep bombarding them with are probably not even getting read. Luckily, there’s a pretty easy way to get your foot through the door. You might be unlucky enough to turn up during a hectic press week, find all the bigwigs away on holiday or get stuck pouring coffee all day – but making the most of your work experience almost guarantees you an opportunity to get yourself noticed. Most magazines have a regular supply of interns booked out months in advance. The advantage you have over everybody else is the same one that gets you through an intensive NCTJ course. You’re not there just to give it a go and you’re not there just to put it on your CV. You’ve read the last few issues cover to cover, you know the sections and you know their style. You know the names of the editors and you’ve got a stack of ideas for features or stories to pitch them. There probably won’t even be a job going, but treating your work experience like a two-week interview instead of a gap year filler is never going to be a waste of time.

 

Make yourself valuable

 

As a newbie freelancer, I’m always competing for work with a list of names on the editor’s desk and you don’t want to give them any reason to not call you first. It goes without saying, but the quicker you submit the work – the more chance you’re going to get given something else. If you get asked to write about something obscure at a moment’s notice, or offered work over the weekend you already made plans for – make sure you never say no.

Any other tips? Keep up to date with the news, always make sure your voice recorder’s charged, don’t try to interview a film director the day after you come back from a music festival and if you’re still wondering whether BJW is the best thing for you or not, you shouldn’t be. Unless, of course, you really think you’re going to miss those paperclips….

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