The following is a blog (of sorts) where I discuss movie-related and site-related thoughts that I can't express within the confines of a normal review.  Some of them may be responses to e-mail I've received, trailers I've seen, or just an overall theme not specific to a movie.  Most of these writings are meant strictly for me, but I do consider them of potential interest to those of you that love movies or are just interested in the running of the site in general.  I welcome any feedback you might have on any of the subjects listed in this (or any other) section of my site.

7/25/2006 -- Tips for amateur critics, pt. 1

As my site has gained popularity, especially in recent years, Iíve received quite a number of emails from authors of newly-hatched film review websites requesting my opinions of their sites and what suggestions I have on how to make them more popular.  I usually do my best to offer some constructive criticism, but I try not to be overly critical of the actual writing, since I remember all too well the early days of the site, with its scant critiques, improper grammar, and typos galore. 
Due to the fact that I receive these requests for pointers with increasing fashion these days, Iíve decided to offer up some things to think about for those that have a desire to make a site of their own.  Although Iíve been at it long enough to have some degree of knowledge as to what it entails, my experiences will differ from others, so keep in mind that these are merely my own opinions and not gospel as to how to go about running your own film review website.

Step One: Introspection (Ask yourself, ďWhy do I want to write movie reviews?Ē)

Although this would seem like a no-brainer, I think that many, if not most, people that write movie reviews on a regular basis never really ask themselves this fundamental question before actually sitting down to type up that first review.   While there are many reasons to be an amateur film critic, the two basic ingredients for nearly all authors of film reviews are a love of films and a love of writing.  If you arenít insatiable about both, I would say that youíre likely to give up the site shortly after the conception phase.  Iíve seen many review sites shut down after only a couple of months because the desire to continue in the author wasnít particularly strong when they realize that building a readership takes a very long time.
If youíve established that burning desire to write and also that love of constant movie watching, youíll now have to dig a little deeper within yourself to find out just why you really want to have a review site.  Based on the kinds of review sites Iíve seen, there are several basic types that crop up.  There are many fan sites, niche genre sites, and personality-driven sites of widely varying nature.  Some critics write just to feel like they are part of a world they love (i.e. movies); others do it out of pure egotism.  Before you embark on what is sure to be a colossal time-suck, you should find out just what youíre going to get out of it.  Itís certainly not likely to be money.
If you feel you want to do it purely because your love of watching movies, you should probably take a look at your viewing habits to determine what kinds of movies you watch.  If you watch movies of many varieties, you probably will want to have a general movie site that covers most of the major releases.  The most popular sites are of this variety, although you probably will end up plunking down a chunk of coinage in trying to keep up with new releases. 
If you find you tend to watch movies of only one or two varieties, such as mostly horror, sci-fi, action, fantasy, etc., you may want to make a genre site that reviews little else but those kinds of movies.  The primary reason for doing this is to keep yourself from getting bored or spread too thin watching movies that you have no personal interest in.  If you find watching a romantic comedy to be tedious, youíre going to find writing about them equally tiresome.  Itís best to stick with the kinds of movies you actually would watch even if you didnít review movies.
Then there are the sites made by people that do it, not to inform or educate, but strictly to feed their own ego.  Although these are the kinds of sites that youíd think would suck, and most certainly do, a handful of them actually manage to be very entertaining "dessert" sites.  Although their sites are about movies, the main focus of their site seems to be more about the author and his/her writing style than they are about passing along knowledge of cinema or even basic critiques on the actual movies themselves.  I could point out which sites are like this, but the authors of these sites would find it unflattering to be lumped into that category, primarily because of that ego Iím talking about.  More often than not, these film reviewers also have blogs and write essays on a variety of subjects that have no relevance to films Ė they just want to be listened to, as well as for you to appreciate their viewpoints and their ability to write in clever fashion.  Some of them even shill their own merchandise with their site's logos on it. 

Basically, theyíd rather you write them an e-mail saying, ďI just LOOOVE your site!  Your reviews are always remarkably intelligent and funny, and I stop in often just to read what you have to say.Ē rather than ďI want to thank you for pointing out that movie you reviewed on your site. I decided to watch it based on your recommendation and am glad I did.Ē   The emphasis is about them and their cleverness, and not about movies, or frankly, about helping others find worthwhile movies to watch.  If you want to be admired for your thoughts rather than for your knowledge about films, perhaps you might try one of these personality-driven sites.

Most review website authors do it for a combination of reasons, but their emphasis is different.  While I try my best to write about movies and not about myself, I also realize that the site is merely an opinion site, and of course, they are all my opinions.  No matter how much I try to avoid it, there just is something egotistical about asserting that oneís opinions are worthy enough that others would want to read them.  Itís just a matter of figuring out why that matters to you that is important.  If you just want to feel the love for your opinions and writing style, youíll definitely have to have the skills to back it up if you're going to meet with success.  Iíve seen sites where the author will make claims of brilliance or greatness, but they have no clue how to write effectively.  In my opinion, these sites are the worst that are out there.  However, if you are a reasonably effective writer, enjoy writing about films ad nauseam, and have a perspective that differs from most others, you probably have what it takes to be a reasonably good movie reviewer, if thatís what you want to be. 

Here's the dirty little secret of review sites:  Due to the vast amount of film sites out there, most new review sites will have almost no readers.  It take months, if not years, to build up enough reviews to be substantive enough to keep people coming back, and if you don't offer new content all the time, readers either forget your site or just move on to others. Most people that come to your site will only read one review and never return again, and most of those people won't read the whole review.  Even some review sites that have been at it for years have virtually no readers outside of the author's immediate family or friends. 

If you're lucky, you will find an audience out there that looks forward to seeing a new review whenever you post, but don't count on it.  Not to be overly cynical here, the reality of it is that if you aren't prepared to write reviews just for the love of writing them for yourself, you're going to be frustrated that you're spending countless hours working on the site and no one is reading it.  It helps to be in it because you love doing it; if you're doing it because you want people love you, you're going to feel very unloved for a long, long time.

©2006 Vince Leo