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The Many Avenues, Offshoots and Roles of a Film Critic

Stephen 'Spling' Aspeling has been a film critic since 2007 when he decided to test the extent of his passion for movies by writing a review a day for a year. The experimental challenge proved his undying love for the multi-disciplined art form and led to Spling becoming 2Oceansvibe.com's first guest author after a 14-year stint of writing the weekly featured movie review.

Aspeling grew up watching Barry Ronge wax lyrical about movies on various TV shows and Leon van Nierop on Good Morning South Africa (G.M.S.A.). The blend of art and English made the idea of becoming a movie critic especially enticing but even though Spling watched these South African movie critic luminaries on television, he never in his wildest dreams could've anticipated just how many different avenues and roles being a film critic could and would lead to.

Writing for his blog over a year, the pursuit seemed to be tied up in the written word, so it came as some surprise when Spling considered the idea of broadcasting the spoken word as a radio presenter too. Having reviewed film as Fine Music Radio's resident movie critic over the last decade with 500+ episodes to date, it's been quite the trip. However, Spling's journey initially started as a guest expert interviewee for ad hoc live phoner or regular in-studio interviews for other community and national radio stations.

The Many Avenues, Offshoots and Roles of a Film Critic

Spling's review style proves invaluable to filmmakers, since he doesn't simply slam movies but tries to unpack how the film could have been better. Having advised on the second cut of a film that required some reshoots and fixes, this avenue became more feasible as a creative consultant. One director stated that he'd basically prefer to get Spling's review when he's still got the opportunity to make changes, prompting more developmental work and the origination of script consultancy reviewmyscript.com.

Spling started in his advisory capacity as more of an oversight, viewing the movie as laid out in the script and making creative suggestions from this standpoint. However, as useful as these notes proved to be to filmmakers, it appeared that having a more practical hands-on involvement could be even more beneficial. This prompted Aspeling to complement his experiential knowledge with more practical scriptwriting skills. Serving as a script editor enabled him to not only make suggestions but put them into action. Having honed these skills over a few years, script polishes and rewrites have often turned into full-fledged pursuits as a screenwriter.

Having accumulated a great deal of film reviews via multiple platforms, including SPL!NG, Aspeling became a go-to film writer for numerous online platforms. This proving ground led to Spling writing reviews and film sections for print publications such as The Herald and Techsmart magazine. A columnist for the streaming platform DEOD and a features writer and film critic for The Plum List, Aspeling has come to write articles for Showmax.

The idea of being a resident movie critic took root at Galileo Open Air Cinema for two seasons where Spling identified the Pick of the Week in terms of screenings. His role as a screening host took off when he oversaw the Cape Town leg of the national Movie Buffs initiative via Ster-Kinekor. Following this stint, which even landed a billboard announcing the screenings, Spling hosted a number of other pre-screening events - even his own lockdown online event, Bingeing with Spling.

As a podcaster, Spling has continued to see the conversion of the Talking Movies broadcast to online platforms, whilst heading Confessions of a Movie Critic for a season or two, serving as the host of The Three Wells of Screenwriting. Must Love Movies found Spling hosting interviewees at the 12 Apostles Hotel for a screening and lunch, which was curtailed by the pandemic.

Being a copywriter in his previous job, taking the odd contract from time to time, the jump to writing film synopses was fairly organic. Having done this for a major cinema chain, it also extended to building content calendars and custom campaigns for film promotions via SPL!NG channels.

Spling has experience as a substitute communications and information technology lecturer for CPUT but only really put this into action when called upon to guest lecture for a film school. His involvement with film schools has typically revolved around serving on critic's panels as a judge and speaking at graduation ceremonies but he has also done some work as an invigilator.

Speaking of panels, Spling has been called upon to serve as a panelist for open discussions as part of film festivals. He's also served as a juror for the Encounters Documentary Film Festival and is hoping to do more of this kind of film college evaluation work at international festivals in the future as part of FIPRESCI.

Having reviewed film for over 15 years, Spling decided to turn a selection of movie reviews into a book to ratchet up his first credit as an author. The Essence of Dreams: An Anthology of Film Reviews covers some of the best and most immersive films Spling's reviewed over the years, which is accompanied by sketches inspired by these films.

Having immersed himself in various film roles over the years without slowing down on his primary role as a movie critic, Spling has amassed invaluable experiential learning. More intimately involved in the developmental side of filmmaking, Spling is finding screenwriters and filmmakers are in a space where they can use Spling's aerial perspective to greater effect. This has prompted Spling to further his ambitions as a screenwriter with a view to becoming an executive or creative producer.

So while Spling initially had a very narrow view of where film criticism would take him, he's managed to accumulate a spectrum of film-related roles. This broadening of the horizon remains exciting as Spling checks items off the bucket list and becomes more integral to the actual filmmaking process. Having started on one side of the screen, it's going to be interesting for the movie critic to be on the flipside and have his creative endeavours open to deeper analysis and public scrutiny.

For a fuller picture of Spling's affiliations and various roles over the years, get the lowdown on his film critic adventures via SPL!NG.