An Introductory Guide
Based on largely anecdotal experience
By Hannah Woodhead (@goodjobliz but I don’t really tweet anymore so email me if you have a burning desire to speak to me)
2. Sourcing films / contacting PRs
9. Other Questions
10. Useful Links
Given the lack of accessible resources for newcomers to film journalism, this guide is intended to help people just entering the industry with tips about starting out. Please note that as I am based in the UK, some advice might only apply to UK writers, but hopefully it will be useful to others too.
Please also note that this guide is written based on my experiences and those of people who were willing to add their own advice - there are no ‘cardinal rules’ as I see it, and every publication, every editor, every circumstance is different. This is what has worked for me, and given that I’ve had some success so far in my career, I hope it will work for you, or at least point you in the right direction. I would also recommend you read Roger Ebert’s Little Rule Book – an essential text for conducting yourself as a critic.
I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that film journalism is one of the most competitive and saturated industries out there, so you have to be scrappy and tough, and ready for rejection, and more importantly, ready to learn from rejection. Read as much as you write, and watch everything you can. Take notes when you like something you read or see. Writing well is about developing your own style rather than imitating others, and being confident in your opinions, but think about the tone of a publication and how your style fits into that before you pitch - you have to be able to adapt. If an editor offers feedback, take it on board, but don't be afraid to push back if you feel strongly about something and can back it up. Passion makes for the best criticism. Most of all be prepared to compromise. I spent two years writing about babies (definitely not my specialist subject) and doing film journalism in my free time before film became my full-time job. It's hard-going, but if you love writing about film, it's the only job in the world. And if you don’t love film, this isn’t for you.
If you have anything you would like to see in this guide, please contact me! I’m happy to try and clarify points or answer questions, or find someone who can. I don’t tweet so much anymore but I’m @goodjobliz or you can email me and I’ll do my best to get this thing updated. I might not be able to write an essay in response to you, but I will try.
Finally - you’re under no obligation to give me anything for this, I wrote it because I didn’t get told anything about this sort of stuff when I started. Please share it with whoever might find it helpful. (Though I did write this from scratch so please credit me!) But here’s my ko-fi if you want to chuck a few quid my way. It would be very much appreciated. Also - let me know if this has been helpful. I’d love to read your published work!I hope this is useful!
2. Sourcing films / contacting PRs
How can I find out what films are coming out when?
You will 100% want to keep an eye at all times on https://www.launchingfilms.com/ as this is updated regularly - it’s the FDA (Film Distributors’ Association) list and contains opening dates for every film in the UK, sometimes months in advance. Of course this is all subject to change, but it’s an essential tool for tracking releases. Also, being on mailing lists for distributors is very useful - oftentimes if you just email a distributor, stating that you’re a film journalist, they’re happy to add you to a list to receive press releases about forthcoming titles.
How can I get screeners/invites?
This can often be a very laborious process, so if you really are just starting out, your best bet is to make some contacts with smaller distribution companies who handle small or independent releases which will welcome potential coverage. If a film is only going into a handful of cinemas, or releasing on digital-only, the marketers/distributors might be happy to give you a screening link/disc/invite in exchange for some coverage.
With bigger releases, you may need an outlet for your coverage confirmed before you’ll get a link/invite. The big studios (Universal, Disney, Warners etc.) and even some smaller ones often work with PR companies who coordinate their releases and handle publicity for them. You’ll need to work out which PR company - and in turn, which of the company’s account managers - is working on that title in order to contact them about invites. Again, these are often very in demand, so you might have a tough time at first convincing people it’s worth their time. You may also find this website helpful for media contacts: https://www.themediaeye.com/
Another way to see films early is by signing up for screenings at Show Film First; I think O2 and Sky might offer preview screenings too. Of course many cinema unlimited cards also do this, which can be a canny way to get into a big screening before everyone else if you’re determined to review a film before release.
Then there’s film festivals - and not just Cannes, Toronto, Sundance and Venice. Smaller festivals take place all over the world all throughout the year, and some even get pretty big titles. It’s definitely worth seeing what festivals take place near you and if they have any press scheme or even volunteer schemes. (While at university, I volunteered as a runner for a film festival, in exchange for free films. I then reviewed them for my student paper.) I highly, highly recommend you get involved with your local film festival community, not just because it’s great experience, but because it helps you meet fellow film fans, and you’ll want that morale-boosting support if you’re entering this pretty tough industry.
How do I find out which PR/distributor is handling a release?
Part of being a film journalist is being a good detective. If a film has a release date, the distributor will usually be listed on the FDA list, and if you contact them, they can tell you the best person to ask about screenings and access. If it doesn’t have a release date yet, you might need to do some digging. I recommend checking up on Twitter, Deadline, Variety, Screen International - the ‘trades’ will often publish news stories when a film lands a distribution deal.
THEN you want to figure out if the release is being handled by the distributor directly or by a PR on behalf of the distributor. It can be harder to figure out which PR company is handling a film’s release because oftentimes distributors work with different companies on different titles. You might have to do some sleuthing.
A Non-Exhaustive List of UK Distributors:
Curzon Artificial Eye
Entertainment Film Distribution (these guys get a lot of A24 stuff in the UK)
Park Circus (rereleases and anniversaries)
Peccadillo Pictures (LGBTQ focus)
And the big US/global ones you need to know:
A24 (US Only)
Disney / 20th Century Studios
Neon (US Only)
Some of the big PR companies who handle film releases for distributors:
Cinetic Marketing & PR
How should I approach a distributor or PR about a screening or release I’d like to cover?
Politely :) These people are used to getting emails from journalists, so won’t think anything of you emailing them and asking if it’s possible to be added to their mailing list! You can then get email announcements about upcoming releases which usually include information about requests for reviews, or invites to screenings. If you haven’t received information but you know a title is coming out and you know who is releasing it, do politely enquire as to if there are any screenings you can attend, stating who you will be reviewing the film for. Again, oftentimes they will need evidence you’re actually covering the film and not just trying to get to see it for free.
If you’re writing about a US film release or for a US title, you might want to look into who is handling PR/distribution in the US to secure screeners/access.
Advice: Reviews can be hard to pitch to websites as so many already have films covered by their own staff or trusted freelancers. If you can find a site actively looking for film reviews that’s great, as oftentimes they can help you secure access, but I really wouldn’t get your heart set on just reviewing films for a living. Very, very few film writers solely concentrate on film reviews. The exception to this is if you have special access to a title, which might be because you’re at a festival or because you have a specialism in a particular sort of film. Or!! If there’s a smaller film coming out that you think is particularly interesting but might not be on someone’s radar, maybe pitch that!
Well, what should I write if not a review?
A guide, an opinion piece, a personal essay, a humour piece, a history piece, a list piece, a feature, a profile...there are so, so many things beyond interviews and reviews. Read any website and you’ll start to notice.
There’s a rarefied art to pitching and you only really get good at it by practising, and for me, it’s got a little bit easier and a little less scary, but it’s never going to be a walk in the park! You can have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t sell it, that’s use