Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Taking A Review Break

I haven't posted a written movie review for two and half weeks now.  I could probably chalk this up to writers block, but the reality is much more scary: I needed a break from writing reviews.  Honestly, this is far worse of an admission for most film critics to make than that they have writers block.  With writers block you can honestly say you can't write anything, the words aren't coming, anything to justify why work isn't getting done.  When you have to admit that you need a break you are essentially saying that you aren't enjoying the job at the moment, you can write but you don't want to, and for those reasons you need to just stop for a little while.

This can be a dangerous thing, but I think it's necessary once in a while.  After all, this is your livelihood you are talking about.  Your main draw to your website, YouTube channel, and Tumblr account.  For some, it is even what puts food on the table.  Needing a break from analyzing movies may be natural, but shouldn't a critic just keep pushing forward if this is what's paying their bills?  After all, that's what most people have to do anyway, right?  Well, yes and no.  While it is true you have to work many mundane jobs whether you feel like it or not, the key difference is your real job doesn't always depend on you being invested in it to be done properly.  Writing, on the other hand, can suffer greatly when your heart isn't in it.

When your writing suffers, your audience notices, and if the mediocre writing goes on too long, you could start to lose visitors.  Plus, real jobs do allow for employees to have time off from time to time, because people do need to recharge, and they do need to take a breather or else do work that will suffer as a result.  Critics, thankfully, tend to have understanding readers who will understand the need to step away for a moment.  So just be honest with your readers.  Explain why you need to step away from the reviews for a few weeks.  They'll understand.  Not only that, but as a writer you can do other things for your readership so that you can funnel your traffic into something else.  Remember, you are suffering from review burnout, not writer's block.

Personally, I've been writing more articles for Examiner, mainly about animation.  One article I worked on recently (which broke my heart to work on) was about behind the scenes drama for a website I like to visit called Channel Awesome.  The article is very different from most things I write in that it was mainly about people, not content.  I also had to do some research and send out e-mails asking for comments to see if I got my facts straight.  These are the sort of things that you normally don't do when writing reviews, and changing up the flow of writing can be fun.  It prevents the job from being stale.  The other break a critic can take is from PUBLISHING reviews!  That too, I feel, is a valid thing for us to do.

This is where you don't necessarily stop writing reviews, but for a time period you stop publishing them.  Why would a critic do this?  Easy: Because that deadline can be so stinking intimidating.  When you take a break from publishing reviews you are essentially giving yourself the freedom to write reviews for the films you want to review, when you want to write them, without stress of having to have something up by a certain date.  When I'm on one of these breaks I save the reviews I do write in a folder to be edited and published at a later date.  They may be late, but you put yourself on the break so that you only write what inspires you, and when you return to reviewing full time you've done nothing but writing stuff you want to write.  This, somehow, can help make the job fun again.

So yes folks, I put myself on a review writing vacation.  It was so hard to write that "Furious 7" review that I just knew that if I didn't force myself to have some time to myself I was going to crash and burn, and then my break would result is something much worse.  So I evaluated the situation.  April is typically a bad month for movies.  Most of the movies are terrible, and most of the movies people have little to no interest in seeing anyway.  I decided to take the month off publishing, work on other projects, and whatever reviews I wrote would be stored in a folder and saved for my return.  I decided a month would be long enough, and when I return on May 1st I'll be returning with my review for "The Avengers: Age of Ultron."

That sounds sensible right?  I'm confident my reviews will return to their usual quality now that I've had this time to work on other things, and it's not like you needed a forcefully written review of "Paul Bart: Mall Cop 2" to know not to see it (though I have done a quick video review to fill the gap).  Now then, while I have just written about why it is healthy to take breaks in reviewing when you feel fatigued, there are some sensible restrictions and rules to keep in mind if you decide to do this.  That will be the focus of my next post, which I will have up by either the end of this week or early next week.  Just depends if any major news pops up about "The Simpsons" DVD situation pops up that needs to be covered.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Film Critic on YouTube

This is the first blog post I've had time to write in a few weeks.  There are a couple reasons for this.  The first is that, starting in May, I want to be able to have new content available to publish on a near daily basis (minus weekends), and I've decided the best way to achieve that goal is to write a series of articles that are not time sensitive so that I can have a buffer ready when the month starts.  Wouldn't it be nice if, in addition to the weekend reviews of the new movies, I can have a review of an archive movie every day?  Or at the very least an article that will be the basis of a weekly series?  At the very least I'd like to get the monthly "Great Directors" feature back on track (I love Ang Lee, but he's hogged my home page far too long).  The other reason is because I've decided to get serious about making videos on YouTube.  So far they've been, well...

...let's just say I've still got a long way to go.  The truth is, I'm a much better writer than a video performer.  I've always been introverted and even when I had dreams of actually making movies it was as a director or screenwriter.  The only time I've ever made videos are on occasion when I had something I really wanted to rant about, and even then the rant had to be heavily edited because I would just pause and take too many deep breaths.  So why am I focusing some of my efforts on YouTube?  Well, partly because the few videos I do have uploaded bring in pretty good money, and if I had more there'd potentially be a bigger financial payoff.  The other reason is that video reviews have been a force in this business since "Siskel & Ebert" was popular, and in some ways, it's the only reason there still IS a review industry!

Yeah, Rotten Tomatoes might calculate written reviews and there is no doubt that written reviews tend to be more insightful and thoughtful, but people are watching more videos than ever before.  Mobile devices and video game systems with streaming capabilities have more or less given people access to tons of video reviews with quirky critic "personalities" and sound byte blurbs.  The reviews on these videos are even more animated than any writer could be (and they have to be, since many of their reviews are going to be viewed on six inch screens).  It might not be real film criticism (though Chris Stuckman and Doug Walker are exceptions to the rule), but it sure is entertaining.  To ignore it would be to ignore what has been the crux of the business for the past forty years.

What happens if, like me, you aren't much of a video editor?  Well, much like writing a review, there isn't a right or wrong style in composing your review, just an effective one.  So long as the argument is expressed in a way that is well thought out and spoken clearly out it should work.  While the above video review I did might be weak, I'm much more happy with a recent editorial rant I did...

...which I feel works much better despite there being even less editing involved.  Chances are because I was more passionate about making that video, it came out better than a couple other videos that felt forced.  I'm writing this post as much for me as for people who are interested in getting involved in this business, but video content can't be ignored.  To ignore it would be to ignore a huge chunk of the market this market is built on.  Video reviews are NEVER going to replace written reviews, and in many ways we critics would prefer you read our pieces than watch our videos!  Also, while I will work on my video reviews, I think I'll be focusing on making videos that are poor retreads of my written stuff.  Focusing on rants and cool stuff commentary seems more logical.  So here's to my YouTube career: Hopefully it won't be TOO embarrassing!

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