What Inspired Us to Write About Movies

By  · Published on May 13th, 2016

The Rejects go around-the-horn about their respective starts in this industry.

To cap off our first – though certainly not our last – Personal Stories Week here on FSR, we’ve brought the team together to talk about how, when, and where we all got started. From time-to-time, we’ll curate these kinds of discussions to give our readers a more intimate look at who the writers of this site are and where they come from.

Our topic this week: How did we get here?

We asked members of our team to talk about their beginnings in the world of cultural criticism. Here’s what they had to say:

Matthew Monagle

If you exclude my first published film review – a breathless write-up of The Mothman Prophecies that ran in a community newspaper when I was still in middle school – then my freelance writing career began in earnest after I finished my undergraduate degree. The first outlet I ever called home was a small genre publication called Paracinema Magazine. I submitted an essay for the print version and, with a little bit of persistence, found myself writing a regular column for the website. When I moved to New York City in 2011, I added press screenings and festival coverage to my responsibilities. None of it paid, but at that point I figured film criticism was divided into two categories: those who get paid to write about movies and those who don’t. I just figured I was part of the latter.

The more I wrote, though, the more I realized that my skill as a writer was… well, it certainly wasn’t bad enough to exclude me from major publications, so I started to pitch. I picked up an article with Film School Rejects, then another, and slowly ingratiated myself with the editors at this site. When Scott Beggs took a leave of absence, I was asked to pick up a weekly column; I added a second column once Scott made his break from the site more permanent. Since then, I’ve written articles for a handful of new publications – such as Playboy, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and Fangoria — and learned to view my development as a writer as an ongoing (and holistic) process. I have no idea what the future will bring, but as long as people want to talk about cinephilia at Film School Rejects, I hope to have a home here.

Christopher Campbell

I never planned to be a movie critic. It wasn’t a dream of mine or even an idea until I was in my 20s. I had dropped out of film school because collaboration wasn’t my thing, and my attempts at going it alone as a screenwriter didn’t pan out, either. Plus, I came to a realization that I love watching movies, not making them in any capacity. A brief stint working in the music industry led me to writing CD reviews and then movie reviews for zines – the glossy cover kind you could find in Tower Records – but that was just a slightly compensated-for hobby. My next career focus was movie theater management, and while there I again started toying with writing about all the movies I’d see for free. I began aggregating reviews for a movie guide for customers at the multiplex I worked for and set up my own movie review site from which I could add my own blurbs to the book. Still just a hobby.

Even in the early 2000s, the Internet seemed to me the death of professional criticism. The blogosphere and scope of online movie reviews hadn’t even exploded yet, but the way everyone on the web was a critic was already abundantly clear. I wrote to Roger Ebert what I’d thought would be a question for his Answer Man column. I don’t recall the exact wording but I asked something like, “Now that the Internet has made everyone a movie critic, how can someone make a mark in the field today?” He replied by email only that “quality writing will prevail.” Sadly, he was very wrong about that, but it still encouraged me to keep improving my writing and eventually, after sending myself to Sundance to cover the festival for one of those zines (with accreditation!), I sought out more regular professional work and in the fall of 2005 became a regular on Cinematical, my first contracted freelance gig. And it’s been my career, for better and worse, ever since.

Alisha Grauso

It’s not a stretch to say that I fell completely ass-backward into this industry. I had a Masters in English lit and, to that point, had used that degree to do several jobs in marketing and teach community college. I’d always loved storytelling, particularly in movies, but I thought that covering the movie business was something meant for people far cooler and more glamorous than me. And probably involved living in Hollywood. I now know that writing about movies mostly involves living in old t-shirts and being pants-optional most days, but at the time, it seemed an unattainable career completely unrelated to my life.

So imagine my surprise when I got the chance to move to Berlin and do exactly that. A good friend had just gotten a role as the editor-in-chief of a brand-new, German-based site named Moviepilot (now Movie Pilot). He needed someone with my exact combination of writing skills and ability to teach those skills to others. Off I went to Berlin. I later took over as EIC and then moved back to LA to build up the editorial team in the U.S. Since then, I’ve settled into a role as editor-at-large, which has enabled me to expand my horizons. I now write for Film School Rejects, Forbes,, and a few other outlets here and there. I’m still relatively new to the industry and the massive good luck I’ve experienced has not been lost on me. Most days I still feel like I have no clue what I’m doing (don’t we all?). But on the good days, I remind myself that, holy crap, I get to write about movies for a living. I’ll figure out the rest.

Jacob Oller

My first big break in the industry was a story I sold to The Guardian. I’d been freelancing film criticism part-time for about a year, constantly frustrated by the limitations of my geography (I was then living in Oklahoma City). Our press didn’t get to see anything first. We were beaten by at least a week by the East and West coasts, then beaten by a half-week by the REAL big cities. So you can see why, even ignoring experience level, I didn’t have a lot of leverage when pitching criticism to publications outside of my state. Isolation and ambitious hunger caused me to sit down and figure out “what can I bring to the table that’s different?”.

The apartment complex I was living in at the time was right next to the main highway through the city, which was right next to an industrial complex that made billboards. It sounds a lot sketchier than it was. Driving home one day, I saw a few guys loading an advertisement for a movie called Woodlawn onto a crane. It featured a penitent football player, head down and victorious arm raised, next to the tag “Dare To Believe”. I’d never heard about this before, so I looked it up. A Christian football movie. Oh boy. But hey, it’s opening here before anywhere else, so I might as well wear this Bible Belt while I’m here. I bought a ticket, sat next to a couple of devout grandparents who cried the entire time, wrote up an essay on it, and cold-called my dream publications. I learned the best lesson about pitching I’d ever had and dove into a truly interesting topic with the guidance and support of an editor that helped my writing by treating me like I’d been writing for him my whole career.

Danny Bowes

I started making movies before I started writing about them; a couple experimental shorts in college, a couple afterward. None of these experiments were terribly successful. I had a bit longer run as a playwright and actor, before I took an unpaid gig writing about theatre so I could see plays for free (and, of course, deepen my thinking about theatre from the remove of the audience as opposed to always being in the thick of making it). It wasn’t until I took a hiatus from acting, and had gotten in the habit of writing lengthy rants on Facebook about all the movies I was watching in my spare time, that a friend made the obvious suggestion that I start a blog (and stop clogging everyone’s Facebook timelines with unhinged profane rants). Within a year, I was writing film reviews and articles professionally.

It was bound to happen, though. For most of my life I’ve been “that guy who’s seen every movie” (an exaggeration, if slight; my movie-mad mom took me to a movie or two in the theater every weekend growing up and we watched at least one movie every night on TV or VHS/DVD, and most of the rest of the time I was watching everything I could get my hands on) or “that movie guy,” and given my love for sitting around and thinking about stuff, not to mention writing, it’s only surprising it didn’t happen sooner. I’m glad the inevitable was forestalled until I actually knew some stuff, though.

Neil Miller

Blogging was in its infancy when I began doing it. And no, we’re not even talking about Film School Rejects. That came later. My initial foray into the world of blogging was a lifestyle blog. I was barely 21 and I thought I had a lot to offer other grown men. I was a delusional idealist, even back then. After a few relatively successful movie reviews on that site, a spin-off site, The Columbus Movie Guy, was born. I lived in Columbus, Ohio, I wrote about movies. At that point, I wasn’t thinking of any clever names for websites. Toiling around with those two sites proved to be futile – one was about something I had no right commenting on as a freshly minted adult, the other was too locally focused – but it also sharpened some of the skills that would later help Film School Rejects get off the ground. A knowledge of WordPress, a growing sense of presentation, and a budding interest in the art of writing about film.

I remember reading a book by founder Christopher Null titled 5 Stars! How to Become a Film Critic, The World’s Greatest Job! My first thought was “Wow, that does sound great!” Years have passed and both the focus of my writing and the industry of film criticism have changed dramatically. What I wanted to be early on was anything but a blogger, as that was a bad word in serious circles. I wanted a legitimate critic. What I’ve come to realize is that the world of blogging, while different, is more fun. So I made it to the promised land – World’s Greatest Job – it just came with a different title than I initially expected.

Rob Hunter

In a very real sense, and without knowing it in advance, I traded the woman I love for two very different loves. My girlfriend of six years went her way, I went mine, and suddenly I had time in my life that needed filling. There were other friends and other dates, but my search for a new focus led me in two directions – onto the tennis court, and into film criticism. I’ll save my thoughts on the former for an upcoming article in Freeballing magazine, but the latter brought me to Film School Rejects.

I had written one movie review before FSR for a college class. (It was for the Jim Caviezel film, Frequency, so of course I opened with a long introduction comparing it to the house of cards episode from The Brady Bunch.) I browsed movie blogs online, spotted and enjoyed the FSR attitude, and sent over that review along with a personal essay called “The Island of Loss and Pancakes.” They said yes, inexplicably, and sent me the new (at the time) dvd of David Fincher’s Zodiac to review. To celebrate, I asked out the woman I love on a date, and I’ve been in a threesome with her and FSR ever since.

An author similar to Hydra. Its articles have many authors. It has many heads. Please don’t cut off any of its heads, we’re trying to work here.