How To Be A Film Critic

By  · Published on September 6th, 2016

Dear FSR

A little Labor Day industry insight.

At some point in your life, you’ve likely been faced with a question that has no solid answer. Some people may take such a puzzle to a trusted confidant, a friendly pastor, or the esteemed annals of Yahoo! Answers. But will they have the expertise needed to solve your most pressing film predicaments?

Think of Dear FSR as an impartial arbiter for all your film concerns. Boyfriend texting while you’re trying to show him your most precious Ozu? What’s the best way to confront the guy who snuck that pungent curry into your cramped theater? This is an advice column for film fans, by a film fan.

Dear FSR,

On Labor Day, the primary labor I’d like to know is how you become a film critic. What do you do all day? How do you get into it? Is there a union or a guild or is it the Wild West out there?


Critically Curious

Dear Critically Curious,

While some of us have listed how we broke into the industry, there’re certain interesting facets of movie-reviewing that the average moviegoer just doesn’t have experience with. This is made excruciatingly clear in comment sections the world over; there’s not a lot we can do to change that. But we can explain the process.

If you’re interested in joining our ranks, you can take a cue from one of us and throw your words and love into the ether, hoping that they’ll magically and improbably bump into the right place at the right time to foster more interest. Or you can have an uncle in charge of a local newspaper.

The idea that quality finds its own home still applies (and you’ll get better as you read more writers and plug away at a blog or school newspaper), but in the vastness of the internet, there’s an awful lot of quality.

Like with anything, you’ve got to find your niche and exploit it, which comes along with finding your voice. Some people are better at interviewing, some better at hyping up a nerdy fanbase. Others are more academic, while some gravitate towards queer perspectives made colloquial. No matter how you shake it, you should review within a framework that you define yourself.

Now let’s say things work out for you and you find yourself generating interest with local outlets about your writing. Maybe you pitched an arts editor (pitching is an entire article unto itself) or were approached by a festival PR coordinator that found you through your website and some savvy social media.

From here, you should learn about press screenings, publicists, and embargoes:

Press Screenings

Movie showtimes before the film’s release (could be a week, could be a month, could be the night before if it’s bad) that are exclusive to critics and (sometimes) members of the public that win radio/internet contests.


Either your lifeline or your biggest frustration. They set up the screenings, send out invitations, take RSVPs, and sometimes bug you for first impressions right after a film. Usually they’re great and want to help you see their movie, other times they’re roadblocks to getting your job done.


After you see a movie early you can’t just go running your mouth about it. Studios like to control every part of the release process that they can (fewer variables) so reviews will have a date and time at which they can be released and critical opinions can be publicly voiced. Break the embargo at your own peril – it’s a sure sign of an unintentional snafu or an unprofessional attempt at an ur-review.

Got all that?

You’ll be writing reviews in the middle of the night, writing in the morning, writing up until the very second a deadline expires or an embargo lifts – racing quality against the internet’s incessant desire for timeliness. This is fun and stressful, an adrenaline rush that’s some infinitesimal degree of the code-hacking or wire-snipping done by spies in the films we’re writing about.

After you get in the swing of things, introducing yourself around at screenings and meeting other film geeks who’ve inexplicably turned their love into quasi-authority, you’ll want to look into the professional organizations. Film critic organizations aren’t necessary, but they – like any other industry – help a career. You meet people, get your name sent to studios, get award screeners (links or disks to Oscars hopefuls), and learn from those who’ve made it work. If you meet a film critic who’s supporting kids, make them your sensei.

While these groups don’t offer any sort of protection or bargaining power like a guild or union, they make your job more efficient and less logistical (hunting screenings, scheduling screenings, harassing publicists).

If you’ve gotten this far, congratulations, you’re a film critic! You’re hated by most corners of the internet but someone, somewhere thinks that your opinion on the thing you love most is worth listening to.

That goes a long way,


Do you have a question for FSR? Tweet us with the hashtag #DearFSR, ask in the comments, use our member’s only chat, or e-mail us at [email protected]

We’ll be back answering your questions every Tuesday!

Jacob Oller writes everywhere (Vanity Fair, The Guardian, Playboy, FSR, Paste, etc.) about everything that matters (film, TV, video games, memes, life).