Writing film reviews

Dann Gire, the movie critic for the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, offers some terrific advice on writing reviews. Read it. Know it. Live it. (But don’t be it – – he hates the ‘to be’ verbs.)In the concrete and deadline-ruled world of print journalism, space that once looked vast and wide-open has become like Manhattan apartments: scarce and competitive. In print, every word counts. Every thought must be concise and well-articulated. In short, print stories must be be air-tight. (So should on-line reviews, by the way.) With that in mind, I present the following suggestions on how to improve writing skills, based on the most common problems I spotted in the contest materials submitted in the Movie Review category:

Never fall back on “wind-up leads,” where it takes a paragraph or two or three before you get around to telling readers your real subject or point. We now live in the era of technological and cultural ADD. Get to your point.

Burn off the literary flab. Eliminate redundant verbiage. Just because you have time to read the same information over again doesn’t mean your audience does.

Dump space-wasting, mind-numbing filler phrases and weird idiomatic expressions. When people “find themselves” in a bad situation, did they get lost first? Why do people always “manage” to do something? Why don’t they just do it? How about those classic clichés “on the other hand” and the ever-popular “race against time”? This kind of writing can kill reader interest deader than a doornail.

Other suggestions:

If you ask a question in your copy, you must answer the question in your copy. Otherwise you create confusion and disinterest in the reader.

Can’t find your lead? I found five stories with their leads plastered to the bottom. Writing tip: When you think you’ve finished your story, take the bottom graph and paste it on the top. In most cases, you’ll find your true lead.

Free yourself from the tyranny of easy, slothful verbs such as IS ARE WAS and WERE. Kill them. Before they kill reader interest by sucking the action out of your sentences.

Do not command your readers to do your bidding. Don’t tell them they must see a movie, or avoid a movie. If you have properly done your job as a critic, they can make up their own minds, thank you.

Never praise a movie with faint damnation, such as calling a movie “worth the price of admission.” What does that phrase mean? Admission can be 10 cents or $10. Besides, admission prices have no relation to the level of quality in a motion picture.

If a movie sucks, it sucks. Period. If a Mandy Moore movie sucks, how does being a Mandy Moore fan make the movie suck less? Don’t pander to readers by undermining your critical analysis with caveats such as “Even though this movie sucks, Mandy Moore fans will probably like it.” Critics write criticism. Not predictions of what consumers will like (or won’t like).

The movie critique belongs to you, the writer. It should reflect your views, your education, your values, and be presented in your voice. If you use outside sources for the criticism (other critics, authors or authorities), you have written a feature report, not a critical review.

Never use abbreviations such as etc., et. al, e.g. or i.e. Your review should present a fascinating story for your readers, not sound like a legal brief.

Finally, take this pop quiz: How many times do the lethargic verbs IS ARE WAS WERE appear in the text of this memo?

Now ask yourself this question: Did you miss them?

Respectfully submitted,

Dann Gire


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