I’m fairly confident there is nobody out there with the slightest interest about how I write these reviews, but I’m going to prattle on about it regardless…
Thanks to Plague 2.0 and all our cinemas being closed, I’ve been tending to review pre-release, independent films. When I get sent the link there is usually some accompanying blurb which can include artwork for the DVD case, a mock up poster, links to the trailer, some stills, and a précis of the main feature.
Now, obviously, these are written and produced by the people who have made and are going to distribute the film, so they can be expected to have a slight bias. However, I’ll read/watch/look at everything first.
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Then I’ll do the obvious thing and watch the film.
Lights, Popcorn, Action…
When I watch a film that I’m reviewing, I have a notepad and pen out. Even if it is one of our rewatch reviews and I’ve already seen the film a dozen times. What for? Well, a couple of reasons really. First off is the obvious one of making a note of something that I’ll refer to in the review; something I particularly liked or disliked, or something I just thought worth a mention in the review.
The other reason I have the notepad is to save me from going mad later on.
While I’m watching a film things will pop into my mind which I’ll think may be informative, interesting, or entertaining, and I’ll make a note. When I started reviewing I never made any notes and would be sitting there thinking “hmmm… interesting” or “I can work a joke around that” but then, later on, when I sat down at the keyboard I’d get the old guy’s version of writer’s block… staring at the screen, knowing there is something to write, but I’m buggered if I can remember what it was. A cheap notepad and a biro helps… a lot!
If anybody is wondering how I make notes in the dark of a cinema, the answer is that I treated myself to an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. I turn the screen brightness right down, turn the screen sleep mode off, and set it to white ink on black background.
Enough free advertising for Apple! Having said that, if they are feeling generous, one of the new M1 MacBook Pros wouldn’t be refused…
Where Did I See Them Before?
My next step is to find the IMDb page. I’ll have a scan through and see if there is anybody I recognise, and have a look and see if they’ve done anything in the past that I may have seen. Sometimes I’ll actually search out other things that they’ve done. My argument is that it gives me a context to place the latest piece of work into.
In reality it’s because I’m retired, in lockdown due to a global pandemic, and I’ve nothing better to do.
Then I look at the body of reviews. Not the ones written by the “professionals,” but the ones done by ordinary watchers of films. This may seem a bit like cheating and, perhaps it is, to a greater or lesser extent — but I suppose I’m only human, and do sometimes wonder if I’m on the same wavelength as the rest of the species.
Incidentally, if you check the viewer reviews to help you decide what to watch, do be aware that some distributors don’t play with a straight bat. If someone gives a film 10/10 and is full of gushing praise, take a quick look at the account of the person who wrote it. It’s surprising (No it’s not! Don’t be so naïve!) but, sometimes, they have only been created at the same time as the film was released and haven’t commented on anything else.
And now the magic begins… I sit at my keyboard with my notes and start tapping away.
There isn’t usually a target for the number of words, so I just keep going until I’ve done what I think is enough to get everything said. Very often I’ll watch the trailer a couple more times to make sure I am not going to be giving anything away that’ll spoil your fun when you come to watch the film but, ultimately, it’s as simple as that… sort of. At least it is, until my ever so slightly Aspergerish/OCD personality takes over and I start to over research minutiae. I always type up these articles on a laptop, mainly for the convenience of being able to write anywhere in or, indeed, out of the house. If I were battering away on an old manual Smith Corona things might be different.
Concentrate… Concentrate… Ooh! What’s that?
Usually I’ll have in mind something that I remember from ages ago, which might be appropriate or amusing; it could be a particular word, phrase, quote, song lyric, or any number of other things. Whatever it is, I’ll have a niggling little itch at the back of my brain — which means I have to look it up and check that I’ve got it right; exact phrase, correct punctuation, are there any accents, etc.
Sometimes I end up wandering down a rabbit hole which can keep me fascinated and amused but totally unproductive for hours. For instance, I’ve just spent a few minutes checking that “down a rabbit hole” was from Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland rather than Through The Looking-Glass; I already knew the answer: you probably didn’t give it a second thought, and it made absolutely no difference to what I wrote but, well… I do feel a wee bit better for it.
So then it’s all done. I read through it looking for mistakes. I look out for any red underlines in the text, which are usually there because of language differences. Then I cut and paste into the email handler and look again. This time for blue underlines which tend to be there because Gmail’s grammar checker doesn’t appreciate my florid, whimsical writing style. And off it goes. The marvellous RunPee people (Dan and Jill) work their magic and, shortly afterwards it is published and appears, well, here, on RunPee.com.
And that’s usually when I spot the mistakes…
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!
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Jill Florio Administrator
Rob, I love hearing your creative process. We all do different things here at RunPee when we write our reviews, so it’s neat to see behind the scenes to your insights and tricks. I take notes too, usually just memory-jog flotsam.
One big difference is that I don’t read any other reviews until after mine is done. I don’t want to be influenced by the Hive Mind. 😉
I might be persuaded to change my original views on something — and I can write a re-watch review if I do, later — but I can only have a fresh opinion once. I’m not telling you to change your ways, just noting different things. I know RunPee Mom enjoys reading ‘critic’ reviews first and bouncing her ideas off of those, essentially critiquing the critics. Which is also valid and interesting.
Dan seems to do a bit of science research when he pens up his sci fi reviews, and often posts a link to a related science YouTube short — deepening and strengthening his thoughts, offering something unique to the body of movie reviewing.
I mostly try to look for patterns and connections between things, and offer what I hope are unique insights between characters, settings, symbols, and motifs.
One thing I like that we DON’T DO is waste space recapping the film, or use boilerplate from the press releases. That information is out there already (and we do link to the IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes for those needs on the RunPee app). I’m proud that we’re a unique mix of personable, chatty, and insightful in our postings.
And sometimes even funny. Rob, your stuff always makes me smile.
Remember, Jill, I have zero experience in any form of journalism. Even calling what I do journalism feels desperately pretentious!
Maybe I would be used to illustrate the ‘before’ or the ‘how not to’ examples for a text book on writing. I’m not actively seeking reassurance, just being realistic; this is something I enjoy and wish I’d had the opportunity to do forty years ago.
In short, I probably do everything arse about face. Very often I will have one idea, one statement, one quote, or one joke pop into my mind while I’m watching a film and then write the rest of the article around it.
So, I know I don’t do it properly but, on the plus side, I’m cheap and can spit out five hundred words thinking about it.
Sadly, the last part is usually obvious!
Jill Florio Administrator
I’m serious – I love your style Rob, and seeing your process. I don’t tell anyone how to do their own reviews, as it’s their POVs and insights. I very much love to see everyone’s voice on RunPee. Don’t change! I’m so proud of what we do and how we do it.
In some ways I think my style comes from not knowing what the “right” way to do it is. I just put down what I find interesting or entertaining and don’t know if I’m doing it incorrectly so don’t try and change it.
Ignorance, as they say, is bliss.
Thanks for sharing your process, Rob…even if it was to fill the time between various rabbit holes and shiny objects. I’m curious how much, or how often, your opinion has been changed by reading other reviewers reactions. I can see the plus and minuses to taking a poll like that, especially given your audience and intent. Or does it more often just highlight a gem or reference you may have missed?
Thanks for the comment Harold.
Usually, I’ve pretty much got the article written in my head by the time I check the user reviews. I will occasionally see something interesting and feel a twinge of envy but, as all those reviews are in the public domain, I’d hate to be caught out cribbing off another writer!