How to write better movie reviews in 3 easy steps

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Movie reviews are an easy first step towards professional writing. When I was a magazine editor, I let a lot of first-timers try their hand at movie reviews as a test.

But sadly, I’ve also had to edit a lot of movie reviews that failed to do that one key task every movie review is meant to do: help the reader decide if the movie is worth watching.

However, it’s an easy fix, and you can write a compelling movie review by following three easy steps!

Start from the End

The most important step towards a better movie review is to figure out the key takeaway in your review. It’s like the key argument in an essay; without it, people don’t know what you’re trying to say.

Since you’re probably writing your movie review in a blog, an easy workaround is to scroll down all the way to the bottom of your blogging screen and find the Excerpt section. Most people write this last, but you’re going to write this first.

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Most people work their way downwards, so they’ll write their review train-of-thought style, come to this portion, and then ponder for 20 mins trying to summarize the entire incoherent review. By starting from this section instead, you’re challenging yourself to establish the one key takeaway of your review from the get-go.

At it’s simplest form, your review’s key takeaway can be something like: “This movie sucks.” But a more interesting review might have a message like: “The Shining sucks because of its self-indulgent director.”

Think about the movie you just watched, and try to figure out the one big takeaway from it. I promise you, once you know what you want to say, the rest of the review will be more focused and interesting to read.

Here are some examples of key takeaways to get you thinking:

  • A supporting actor’s performance saves an otherwise boring movie.
  • Insanely good chemistry between lead actors took this rom-com to the next level.
  • Immersive visual effects made me feel like I was in another planet.
  • Not sure what the buzz is about because this feels just like any other horror movie. Haizz…
  • Ben Affleck is the most thought-provoking Batman ever.

Structure your review

Here’s how most movie reviews are structured:

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It is like clockwork, even if some of the steps are switched around. Movie reviews tend to follow this template because movie reviewers think they need to cover all the major attributes of the movie or else they might come across as film industry noobs.

But the sad thing is that while these can help a reader grade the various departments of a movie’s production team, they don’t necessarily answer the question: “will I enjoy it?”

So remember that key takeaway in step 1? Take that and roll with it. Structure your review around that takeaway, and set up sub-sections that elaborate pointers which are relevant to the message. Write a conclusion that revisits the key takeaway, so the reader is clear what you want to say.

Again, it’s not unlike the essays you wrote in school.

You should end up with a structure like this:

  1. Key takeaway
  2. Supporting point 1
  3. Supporting point 2
  4. Supporting point 3
  5. Conclusion and reiterate key takeaway

If you color-code the content in your review, it will look a bit like a juicy burger with warm soft buns.

burger

Edit it with fresh eyes

The wonderful thing about a structure is it keeps you focused. If you’re trying to say that you enjoyed a movie because it had epic visual effects and a powerful soundtrack, don’t include a paragraph about the supporting actor’s affair with the director – unless your message is about the supporting actor getting more screen-time and better lines than the star.

Undoubtedly, your first draft will have plenty of these off-topic tangents and you will feel pretty proud of the punchlines or the tabloid research you put into them. So don’t do anything about them now.

But take a look again the next day, when the novelty wears off. Is it still an entertaining paragraph with wit that rivals a Shakespearean sonnet, or maybe you just want to quickly put on your pants and sneak out of the room before it wakes up?*

Edit, edit, edit. Edit all of that crap out. If it doesn’t serve the message, it doesn’t belong.

Remember: you’re writing to help someone decide if they want to watch a movie, not so you can show off.

Stay on target, and you’ll be fine

That’s it. Three simple steps to a better movie review. If you figure out your message, and you stick to the point, you’ll already write a movie review that is better than most of the stuff floating on the Internet.

If you have any good tips of your own, share them in the comments below, thanks!

Good luck!

If you’re interested in writing for magazines, I’ve got some advice in this other post.

*Here’s an example of something that can be edited down the morning after.

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Kerrigan Makes New Friends

My daughter turned 5 recently, and this year I wanted to give her a special one-of-a-kind present. So I slaved away at my computer for a couple of months, writing and illustrating a children’s book for her that features our favorite StarCraft character.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy with any project I’ve ever done. The look on her face when I surprised her was priceless, and watching her read it herself makes me so proud!

Anyway, since this book isn’t for sale or anything, I thought I’d share it with you guys in case you like StarCraft too!

Writing without plotting

When I was 18 or 19, I read a Syd Field book and instantly fell in love with the concept of the 3-act structure and properly plotting out your story. Since then, this ideal has dominated all my creative endeavors.

My writing always follows a structured plan, be it a screenplay, press release or magazine article. Recently, my blog posts are now plotted out using headers as chapter guides*.

When I was young and copying out drawings from comics, I’d draw a character’s eyes first and then draw outwards from there. I’d frequently draw myself into a corner or edge of the page. Continue reading

The life changing magic of tidying your friends list

When I was working at Carousell, I did a lot of research into this tidying guru named Marie Kondo. You might have heard of her and the KonMari method of tidying before.

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KonMari might write a lot of weird stuff about talking to your clothes and touching stuff to see if they “spark joy” but there is a lot of truth in her method. If you keep your life tidy, you’re able to focus on the things you really want out of life.

And I’ve come to learn that this isn’t exclusive to clothes and old books; it works for your social media friends list too!

Continue reading

Millennial Aristotle teaches Social Content Marketing

Since the beginning of time, brands have been confounded by social content strategy. What do my customers want to read? How do I effectively market my products to a generation with no attention span?

Unfortunately, a lot of content strategists are young, cocky ex-journalists who love to spout buzzwords like virality, engagement potential, and the Internet of Things.

I get it: nobody likes being lectured by some smartass millennial who is barely past puberty and uses content creators like Taylor Swift, Gary Vee and Grumpy Cat as case studies, so here I am to explain the same concepts using the irrefutable wisdom of ancient Greece dressed up in millennial slang.

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I am Aristotle, and I was a student of Plato until he died in 347 BC. I’ve extensively researched the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and my bae Homer, and written a whole crap-ton of works that you might have heard of, like Poetics, The Art of Rhetoric, and Metaphysics.

So that pretty much makes me the ideal guide to show you how to engage the modern world’s content-thirsty audience. Continue reading

You’re never too old to learn

There’s a perception that older folks are stubborn and stuck in their old ways, refusing to acknowledge the shift towards cloud computing and emoji-based punctuation. While that stereotype exists for a reason (and you’re part of the reason, mom), I’ve worked with plenty of older people who are the complete opposite.

During my stint in visual effects over at Industrial Light and Magic, the veteran VFX artists were revered by the younger artists. Not just because they were the ones who built the original plastic models of the Death Star and the giant AT-AT walkers and figured out how to composite these creations onto live-action footage, but because they continually push VFX boundaries with new ideas.

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When I was in advertising, my boss was probably the oldest person on the team but she displayed a voracious appetite for learning matched only by my 4 year old daughter and her classmates in play school. I’ve never met anyone who spends so much time consuming information about new tools and consumer trends and figuring out ways to apply them to our campaigns.

I was as comfortable talking to her about Snapchat and Instagram demographics and user behavior as I was with my Gen Y peers; I didn’t have to downshift my vernacular or anything.

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Sure you’ll meet plenty of older workers who will use their “years of experience” and prior success as a defense mechanism to mask a complete drought of new ideas, but let’s be honest here: there are plenty of younger workers who display an equal level of inflexibility.

1msf4vCan anyone not name an intern or junior exec they’ve worked with who will tenaciously insist that their microscopic experience of life and insular world view somehow supersedes generations of learning and development?

Pro-tip: You can’t disrupt what you don’t understand just because you watched a few YouTube videos.

I’m constantly inspired by the humility displayed by my seniors who are constantly reinventing themselves and their work, and you should be too. If we don’t learn anything else from them, we should learn this: you should never stop learning and improving. As the founders in my current workplace love to say: “We’re always less than 1% done.”

So before you write off that older colleague as a has-been complaining about those rascals on their front lawn, talk to them. If you find that they’re open to new ideas, it will serve you well to put on your listening cap too.

In the meantime, here’s a song that’s only ever sung by really old people like my dad: The Young Ones by Cliff Richard and the Shadows.