Being a film writer often seems like it’s the best job in the world: you watch films all day, and then get paid to write about them. If only it were so simple.
There is no hard and fast rule that makes a good film writer. Writing an Internet blog uses a different set of skills than needed to write for trade magazines; writing reviews is quite different to writing film features and conducting interviews. So one of the first tasks for anyone writing about film is simply to understand what they are writing and for whom they are writing.
When it comes to film criticism, context is king.
It’s invaluable to know the biographical details of the director, stars, and the previous work of all the cast and crew.
Learn about genre. Understand what genre the film is operating in. What are the key components of a genre? Who are the key players? How does this film stand up to past examples of the genre? This is all part of having a good grounding in film history, knowing the key movements and players that have lighted up cinema ever since the Lumiere Brothers filmed a moving train.
The business aspect of cinema is also important. Films are made for different reasons, some to make money, some to complete a director’s vision, some to document life around us, and some as propaganda. Where a film has been made, under what conditions and the budget spent on it, are all other factors that affect how a movie is watched.
As well as understanding the roles on a film set and the process that goes into making a film, it also pays to understand how technology affects film from type of camera used, to how it is edited.
Yet as with all writing, having all the information at your fingertips is meaningless if one cannot relay the information in a clear and precise manner. Most writing is limited by space (even on the Internet) and the need to relay information in the most expedient manner is paramount to good writing.
Also important is the need to have an opinion about a film and to be able to defend it. The last thing that writing about film should be is just an elaborate synopsis, no matter how well it’s written.
Kaleem Aftab – Film Critic