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"Watching Movies for a Living..."


"Watching movies for a living" does seem like a dream job. Whenever I run into people who discover that I'm a film critic, this is one of the first things they will say, a statement often loaded with a twist of envy and a touch of naïveté. Movie critics don't simply watch movies for a living. In fact, it's very difficult to make a living from "watching movies"... maybe not quite as scary as this nightmarish image, but still.

The profession has evolved over the years, graduating from a situation where journalists were based at a newspaper and able to specialise, focusing their attention on film almost exclusively and writing for publications that were able to pay them a salary. This model has changed for a number of reasons. With newspapers downsizing, it's become a case of entertainment journalists rather than film critics.

While reviewing movies is a very specific commission, papers aren't getting the advertising monies that they are used to, also under pressure to slowly migrate from print to digital. Being able to measure digital more accurately, it seems that advertisers are gravitating towards specific measured results over the more general feedback of readership demographics and simply being in the paper. Distribution of newspapers has also diminished with many people finding the news they need online, not requiring as much in-depth reporting and older newspaper reading generations dying out.

Nowadays, film reviewers almost have to have a day job in order to support their love for movies and writing. While there are still instances where movie critics who are connected with newspapers are able to write about film almost exclusively, the next generation isn't quite as fortunate. With print media being one channel, the Internet and expanse of digital has created a number of channels for film critics to feature on.

Accessibility has certainly played its part in limiting the importance of a film critic, allowing just about anyone to get an opinion about any film critic from anywhere in the world. Consensus film rating sites such as IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes have also made it possible for moviegoers to get the raw basics and a rough idea of what to expect from a film. Having this information at your fingertips, means that you don't have to go and buy a newspaper to find out what films are showing, what's worth seeing and give you a rough idea of what to expect.

This has made the role of a movie critic less important in the public sphere, forcing these entertainment journalists to broaden their writing across theatre, television and gossip. Moreover, they've had to diversify their types of reviews, keeping one foot in the domain of writing for print, online and in the same breath shifting over to the digital medium of podcasts and video. The idea of an intellectual pontificating on a subjective viewpoint has become an even more niche area, despite the ability of the Internet to spread the message further.

In terms of making a living, it's quite rare for film critics to be able to find one source of income to get by on. Journalists are traditionally underpaid, often undermining their peers and themselves by working for less or next to nothing. This has made it easier for struggling newspapers to underpay their full-time staff, to cry "no budget" to freelancers and generally get content for next to nothing. This collapse of the entertainment journalism world has made the content and quality of the writing less important through syndication deals and getting content almost gratis.

Nowadays, commercial publications and radio stations have come to rely on a jack-of-all-trades for gossip, TV, film and theatre news. While this approach has its benefits, the lack of specialisation makes for superficial reporting, pressuring the entertainment correspondent to try and know a little bit about everything rather than a lot about something. Writers who were used to getting paid a salary are now finding they have to operate in a more freelance capacity, peddling their services to multiple companies and even embracing the entrepreneurial spirit in setting up their own income streams independently.

It's a little bit like being a struggling actor some days, where you are trying to win new gigs and cement long-term working relationships with companies in order to keep your head above water. For many, their passion for writing about movies forces them to actually get a day job making the film writing a sideline passion project instead of a full-time pursuit.

The idea of filmgoing is now seen as an infrequent activity. Years ago, going to the movies was more of a weekly occurrence, whereas it's now seen as more of a monthly thing. This has relegated the importance of reviews in the general media and made it more niche. Thankfully streaming services like Netflix, Showmax, Hulu and Disney+ have once again opened the floodgates in terms of the importance of entertainment.

Instead of illegal downloads/sharing, people are subscribing to streaming services and finding themselves at a loss when it comes to figuring out what to watch next. With so many options at their fingertips, it seems that the idea of getting a review from a pundit is becoming more and more important again. Having many people simply reviewing films as a hobby can give audiences a better idea of what to watch. For the more discerning viewers, getting a voice that is tried, tested and trusted is the way to go.

Watching movies for a living isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Sacrifice is definitely felt in terms of income and often the work continues after hours with many screenings and events taking place in the evening. This means that you may actually be working much longer than the average person, yet getting by with less. So the trick is either to find a general entertainment journalism job and try to focus towards film with a reasonable salary.

Otherwise, the freelance route requires you to build healthy working relationships around you, using your content to leverage better returns and reach more people. Also be open to the possibility of broadening your skill set, offering your services to write more general film content, broadcast online or via radio or TV or even act as a judge.

The fact of the matter is that while watching movies for a living sounds amazing, very few employers are willing to actually pay someone to be a film critic. It's a tough profession with perks, which has been made much more accessible thanks to the Internet yet undermined by societies where art and culture is deemed less important. If you truly want to become a film critic, just like acting, you need to get a part-time job in order to cover the basics and then branch out from there.