In today’s guest post, film journalist Joel Meadows talks us through how to get started and become a success at writing about the big screen.
Considering the amount of time I spent at the cinema in my teens, it isn’t that surprising that I’ve fallen into writing about film. I read William Goldman’s Adventures In the Screen Trade when I was in college, so that may have sparked my interest in film. I also read Robert Rodriguez’s book Rebel Without a Crew, one of the most witty and entertaining books about cinema, in which we learn how Rodruiguez got his start in film by funding his early work through medical experiments!
Film is such an important and influential part of everyone’s life. It is one of the only subjects that you can guarantee everybody has an opinion on. The best films transcend their fictional settings and stay with you for life. I can still remember seeing Goodfellas by Martin Scorsese for the first time at Screen On The Green in Islington and being transfixed by it.When you begin writing about film, your connection to cinema will change and after you’ve been doing it for a bit, you’ll get the chance to meet and interview people whose work you’ve admired for years but you’ll have to treat them just like another interview. One of the strangest things about being a film journalist is the roundtable, where PR people stick you in a room at a convention or in a hotel, bring in talent from films and you are expected to throw out questions to these people in a short space of time. The first time you do this is terrifying as you are with a number of other journalists, but you get braver in time.
Stay up to date
If you want to get on as a film journalist, you need to keep up to date with cinema and find an area that really engages with you, so when you write about it and interview the practitioners, that enthusiasm and knowledge comes across.
You need to know the basics and know what you are talking about with some knowledge. With the internet a major outlet for writing, both film and in general, it seems that anyone can set themselves up as an expert on any subject.
It is useful when you start out to have a plan of where you’d like to see yourself published and you can aim very high. At the beginning, it is very unlikely you would sell anything to a magazine like Empire but if you look at every commission you get as a rung on your career ladder, then every piece you get published is useful and will probably lead to another feature or interview. The fact is that the more you get published, the more credible you will appear as a journalist.
Build up contacts
Your contacts book is key as a film journalist. Make an effort to remember film PRs when you meet them as they often move to other companies and this will bear fruit. Shows and conventions are great places to make PR contacts and set up interviews.
When pitching features to publications, find out the relevant commissioning editor and then contact them via email with a short two line pitch, a few of your cuttings and your CV. You have to make sure that you pitch to the appropriate magazine too as if you send something that isn’t suitable to the editor it will be an instant turn-off.
Try to update your cuttings from time to time but make sure that your most impressive recent work is included with your pitch. Many editors won’t get back to you, but as you gain experience your hit rate will get better.
You have to be prepared to send pitches out and then kill them and replace them with another pitch on something else if it doesn’t get you a commission. As with all journalism you have to become very thick-skinned and you can’t get too attached to a particular pitch. Sometimes an editor will turn you down for a particular feature idea but ask you for something else and you have to be prepared for this as well.
Film writing is very competitive and it has taken me years to build up my contacts list and the publications I write for. It doesn’t hurt that I also publish my own magazine, TRIPWIRE, that covers film. But not everyone can do this.
I supplement my film writing with sub editing and book work, although writing books is even harder than writing about film for magazines or newspapers. If you can find a niche you enjoy writing about and you battle through the rejections, then it’s a very enjoyable pursuit.
Joel Meadows is an experienced film journalist who has written for Time Magazine, The Times, Variety, Empire, The Guardian, Independent on Sunday and Sci Fi Now. Joel’s interest in film and cinema has grown over the years thanks to time spent at the cinema in his youth and his area of speciality is the production side of movies, something that continues to fascinate him. For more on Joel, visit Walls and Bridges or www.tripwire-magazine.com