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Dream Job: Movie Critic

Everyone's a Critic

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Everyone's a Critic

"I wouldn't be able to afford my habit," said film critic Dan Kimmel. He sees more than 300 films a year. The flicks are free, and come with all-you-can-eat popcorn and occasional interviews with top-end celebrities.



Plus, he gets paid for writing about what he's seen. "Why should someone pay for my opinion? Because I can write in an eloquent manner; it's a coherent essay," Kimmel said.

"I couldn't believe anyone would actually pay me to go to the movies," The Metro's resident "Movie Guy" John Black said. He also enjoys meeting big-name celebs. "It's a bigger kick than most reviewers will let on. It's fun to be sitting in a room with John Travolta."

Some turn this hobby into a day job
"I started out in a small weekly paper. I got to have an editor and be edited; I got published, which is such a kick," Black said.

Black's golden movie ticket wasn't handed to him on a platinum reel; he started at the bottom. "My first assignment was a local profile on a guy who carved whales out of telephone poles," Black said. Such stories typically earned him $25 a pop. "And the pay for freelancers hasn't gotten much better," he added. Current freelance rates are often less than $1 a word.

Unlike Black, Kimmel isn't a writer by education or trade - he went to law school. Then he got a chance to write for The Christian Science Monitor. Through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, he landed a gig writing a hodgepodge of articles. Now a columnist for many New England print outlets, as well as the Boston correspondent for Variety, Kimmel recognizes the struggles of an aspiring critic.

"You take each step and try to build on it," Kimmel said. However, he doesn't recommend the lifestyle for everyone. Kimmel supplements his movie critic income through teaching at area colleges and speaking engagements. "How do you get a full-time job doing this? Damned if I know!"

Kimmel isn't the only critic who dabbles. Screen Queen Lois Demko lends her Hollywood-style voice and "Screen Queen" persona to radio shows. She favors broadcast over print. "I like radio. It's easiest because I can project personality into a review. I can say the 'oohs' and 'ahhs' you can't read in my newspaper reviews."

Criticism goes beyond opinion
Anyone can write about the highs and lows of a Hollywood offering, but to perfect the art of criticism takes a deeper understanding of the industry. A movie review shows an opinion, but critics can't just say, "I hated it." Understanding what it takes to make a film allows critics to craft opinions into informative reviews.

So you want to try your hand at movie reviewing? Start by watching as many films as you can to form a basis of comparison. Frequent your local video store and troll cable channels for a wide selection, but don't limit your intake to moving pictures. "Read as much as you can about movies, including serious books about the business, genres, and the industry," said Kimmel.

Loren King, entertainment writer for the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune, recommends taking movie reviewing one step further into artistic criticism. She feels it's important "to understand the purpose of critical analysis and how to combine it with something fresh that you have to say."

Studying the industry allows critics to tell a Foley artist from a cinematographer, and combined with an understanding of the science and art of criticism enables good reviewers to articulate why they liked or hated a movie.

Saying thumbs down once in a while does everyone a favor
Of course, negative opinions get the most attention. When movie guru Roger Ebert declares "thumbs down" on a film, you can be sure the box office takes a hit. But why be negative when you're enjoying complimentary Goobers?

"I don't know how to phrase this...but I'm a professional bitch," said Black. "All we do is complain. We critique everything."

Kimmel cites what he calls "Sturgeon's Law," based on the idea that "90 percent of everything is junk." He said, "Movie critics hate most movies because we have to see them all. I gave up my freedom of choice a long, long time ago."

At least critics can do something about seeing a terrible movie. "The only way I can get over the pain of a bad film is to warn people in an educating fashion," Kimmel said.

Black agreed. Yet for every sappy romantic comedy, sleazy teen flick or stupid action film, he holds out for a hidden treasure. "Every time you have to sit through a Jamie Foxx movie, you get to go to a festival of shorts, independents, or animated movies, which is great," he said.

Viewers critique the critics
Like meteorologists, film critics are followed closely by the public and pounced on when they slip up. With movie prices skyrocketing (some major cities charge upwards of $10 for an evening show), more and more people are turning to reviewers for guidance.

"Readers care passionately about movies, and you're putting yourself and your opinion out there," Black said.

He's no stranger to criticism. When he lambasted The Perfect Storm, a film about a boating disaster in Gloucester, Mass., his New England-based readers attacked him mercilessly. One retorted, "I had to wonder if you weren't having this hissy fit while adorned in your official Star Trek uniform."

Most people take critics' opinions to heart - and the bank. Kimmel sees himself as a public service provider, helping people decide where to plunk down cash. "Someone is being asked to give up money to go to a movie, and if they're reading my review, they want to know if the movie is worth it."

So if free movies, all-you-can-eat popcorn, and an unlimited supply of Goobers sound appealing to the critic in you, grab your notebook, invest in a lighted pen for those dark theaters...and dream on!