When one is a blogger, it’s natural that from time to time one blogs about blogging. I’m fairly sure any writer periodically thinks about the writing process itself. And being a blogger leads to being part of blogging communities, which in turn leads to discussions about blogging. It’s all very circular.
As I am mostly a movie blogger, and read movie blogs, one of the questions I see come up often is how we all go about writing our reviews. I’ve generally just given a few short lines, but I thought I’d do a full post on my process here. People might find it interesting, and other bloggers might find it useful — or have suggestions that I’ll find useful. Either is good.
Selection & Viewing
Obviously the first thing to do when reviewing a movie is to select a movie to watch and review. Sometimes this is easier said than done, of course. Obviously, like anybody else reviewing movies, I like to check out the latest releases. But truthfully my theatre budget is pretty small at the moment; other than The Hobbit (which was a 2012 film held over), I haven’t even managed to get to a theatre so far in 2013, and here it is, mid-May. Not good. But fortunately, there’s an abundance of alternative sources for somebody who watches and reviews classic and vintage films.
Hulu, Crackle, Amazon, the Internet Archive and recently DishAnywhere provide the bulk of my viewing, with TV, cheap DVDs and the occasional theatre trip filling out the rest. Like I said above, I try to watch a lot of the bigger recent releases, and I watch a lot of classic films. I’m also drawn to films of the 1980s, since that’s the era of my childhood — it sort of leaves a permanent mark on one’s sensibilities. I favor sci-fi, action, and 80s comedies. I tend to avoid rom-coms and documentaries, but otherwise most genres are fair game. Priority is given to major films or movies which are on my “need to see” list (currently 759 items long). I’ll usually give a quick look to a synopsis to see what a movie is about and who is in it before I decide to watch it. And if I’m short on time, I’ll also factor in how long the film will take.
If I’m watching a movie that’s new to me, it’ll almost certainly get a review. Short films I’ll occasionally “hang on to” to accumulate for a larger group post, though. When I’m doing a Favorite Films review, I’ll watch the film and possibly watch it again with the commentary on as well.
When it comes to actually watching the films, I prefer to watch them late at night, with the lights off. This allows for a minimum of distractions. I’ll occasionally watch a film during the daytime, but it’s more likely to be an old short film in those cases — there are simply too many things that can interrupt a person during the day, as well as too many things to do.
Most of the time, my reviews have anywhere between 1 and 4 images, depending on the length of the review. Favorite Films reviews will have a lot more. These are mostly there to help break up the “wall of text” effect, and also to give me a chance to make smart aleck remarks (whether the jokes actually work or not is variable.) For movies I watch on TV or in the theatre, I usually just grab promotional images that the studio has put out. It’s a limited selection, but what can you do? For movies on my computer, however, I take screen captures.
When I first started doing that, I did it the hard way. If I was watching a DVD (using PowerDVD), I pressed the screen capture button when I thought it was a good time to do so. If I was streaming a film, I pressed the button to accumulate images in a small (and rather limited) clipboard program I had downloaded. Either way, it wasn’t all that great. I had a limit of about 20 images in the clipboard program before I had to do some manual shuffling, and regardless, pushing a key is distracting. I don’t want to think “Screenshot Now” when watching a movie, I just want to watch the movie.
Fortunately, I’m a programmer. Coming up with arbitrarily complex computed solutions to minor problems is practically my job description. I wrote a couple Java programs to take care of things for me. One for the DVD films simulates a keypress on the C key, which PowerDVD uses for screen captures. The other, for streaming and downloads, takes a screenshot, saves it to a folder, and labels it with the prefix I’ve selected and a number. The first time I did this was with Desperado, and I had a mental glitch while writing the code, which is why the numeric suffix on those images have a lot of zeroes…. The programs run off a config file which tells the stream screencap bot where to save and what prefix to use, and tells each bot how long to run and how frequently to activate. I usually have them set to fire every 5 seconds. This allows me to sit back and watch the movie without worrying about getting screenshots. Sure, there’s a chance that some great screenshot will be missed… but it’s a relatively small chance, and odds are something else great will be gotten.
And to be frank, I wind up with plenty of choices.
As to which comes first, the quip or the chosen screenshot, sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other.
Writing & Posting
Ah, yes, writing. I think that was related to the topic here, wasn’t it?
Generally after I watch a movie, since I watch them late at night, I fiddle around with other stuff for a little while and then go to bed. Yes, I literally “sleep on it”. There are a few reasons for this. One, just for the sake of clear writing; I know by that point I may not be at my best when it comes to writing. Two, waiting allows me to think more on the film and to evaluate whether it was good or I just got “caught up in the moment” from a few good scenes (such as with Superman Returns, which I really liked after I saw it, and then had a gradually lowering opinion with each subsequent day.) It also lets me think on different things I want to talk about, and to reevaluate whether my mood at the time was affecting my enjoyment of the film. And third, in the case of the Halloween Haunters, this gives the films the chance to give me nightmares. None of them have actually succeeded yet, but should any do so, I want to be able to note it properly in a review.
I generally write my reviews (and other articles) somewhere between mid-afternoon and late evening, when I’m at my most alert. I load up IMDb for cast info, grab the poster, and get started. I don’t take any notes during the movie; I keep it all mental. I’ll still usually have an idea of what points I want to hit, though. The beginning is usually the toughest part, for some reason. Once I figure out an intro, the rest generally comes fairly smoothly. I’ll usually try to give a summary at the end as well. I rate movies on a 5-star scale based almost entirely on how I feel about them from — how entertained I was, how much I enjoyed it, and how well done it was. Historical context is seldom a factor. I generally decide on the rating before I start writing the review, but occasionally I’ll find that by the time I’ve finished writing, I’ve talked myself into raising or lowering the score by a star.
Once the review is written, it’s scheduled for the next available day. Thus the way it works out (when the buffer is at its usual levels) is if I watch a film on Sunday, I write the review Monday, and post it on Tuesday. Favorite Films reviews have a longer lag time between viewing and posting — both because there’s research involved, and because they take me longer to write. A typical review is the work of between 30 and 60 minutes. A Favorite Films review takes several hours.
And you thought these things took a long time to read.
I typically schedule the posts to go up at 5:30 am Pacific Time. This makes it an early morning post for people on the East Coast of the U.S., and still not super-likely to be lost in the shuffle by the the time West Coast folks get up. This is to help it be visible in WordPress’s feed, to attract new readers. Not sure how well it works though.
The posts are automatically publicized through Facebook and Twitter. I’m subscribed to my own blog, so I also get an email when the post goes up. I’ve rigged Thunderbird to highlight it in red so I can remember to take care of a few last minute things. I post a brief review on Letterboxd with a link to the full review, and I also add it to the external reviews section of the film’s page on IMDb. These don’t bring in a lot of traffic, but it’s enough to justify a moment’s effort. And finally, I add the link to the review to my review indices. And after that, then I start reading and replying to comments.
And that’s pretty much the (very) long and (not so very) short of it. Fellow bloggers, what do you do?