Critic Resources

Tips for Freelancers From Writer and Podcaster April Wolfe

With experience from the frontline, April Wolfe says preparation, flexibility, and passion are key.

by | January 22, 2019 | Comments

Rotten Tomatoes recently held its first Rotten Tomatoes Critics Workshop, designed to help freelance critics and journalists navigate festivals, develop industry contacts, and get their stories placed. We asked the industry professionals who spoke at our workshops to provide their top tips for freelancers; the below come from former lead critic for the L.A. Weekly, freelance writer, and host of the Switchblade Sisters podcast, April Wolfe.


1. Do the Research

The most arduous task of attending a film festival is putting in the research on films. Likely, you’re bombarded with press releases. Ignore most of those while you study the festival’s program. Otherwise, you’re going to overwhelm yourself. Be strategic with the movies you choose to see, especially with a festival like Sundance, where there are fewer screenings and long lines with priority pass holders. Ask yourself: Can I place a review for this big buzzy film, or would it be easier to place a review of a more niche film? The answer won’t always be the same. But know that you may stand in line only to be turned away and without an option for that time slot.


2. Pitch What You Love and Do It Fast

What are you most passionate about seeing? That’s what you should pitch. If you can convey that excitement, it’s a lot easier to get a bite. Once you know what you’re into, PITCH IT NOW. In terms of outlets, know that even though some outlets already have staff people covering the fest that there are usually still some holes in coverage. For instance, I covered Sundance for both Film Comment and Washington Post once, and while both outlets were already sending critics, I was able to become an accessory and fill in the blanks for them.


3. Don’t Be Afraid to Pitch Features

At a festival, interviews and profiles are an easy way to break in with an outlet that may have all the critics they currently need. Spend as much time perfecting your interview skills as your critic skills, and you’ll be in demand. Once you know who you want to interview, send the press rep your request ASAP so you can schedule to see the film. The best part is that you’ve already seen the movie for the interview you’re writing, so that means you’re free to pitch another outlet for the review. Don’t forget that there’s programming outside of film that needs coverage, like the VR gallery and the live performances. People always forget about those, so it’s easier to get interviews.


4. Learn to Navigate the Festivals

Every fest has its own rules and tips. For Sundance, one is getting that RSVP to the CNN Films Lounge and the Kickstarter house. I don’t mean this to sound frivolous, but do pay attention to where the lounges and parties are, because some will give you a chance to sit down and bang out that review (always hit a deadline!), and others will give you a minute to mingle with critics and publicists – do not underestimate how delightful it is to have a drink with a press contact and how that relationship might help you both. Mostly, though, you need to eat, and these places have free food that’ll sustain you through the gauntlet, and that’s more important than it seems. No matter what, do not be afraid to pose questions about festivals on Twitter. You’ll be surprised at how many prompt and thorough responses you’ll get.


5. File On Time

Hit every deadline. Learn to write fast. I bring my laptop in a tiny, waterproof case with me everywhere I go. Become immune to other people’s noise and just vomit your thoughts on the page to get started. If you’re in the theater with 10 minutes before your screening starts, that’s 10 minutes to write. You only need an internet connection when you’re sending your review or fact-checking, and that’s when you tether your computer wifi to your phone Wi-Fi. (Note: Bring a fully charged travel battery for your phone.) The faster you file, the more integral you are to the discussion of the film when reviews hit social media.


6. Find Your People

It’s still possible to carve out a joyful little corner of people you enjoy on Film Twitter. Depending on the fest you’re heading to, there’s likely going to be at least one veteran adding you to a Twitter list of attendees, which can be extremely helpful, say, if you’d like to make it a point to meet up with someone at the festival. Of course, it’s extremely difficult to make solid plans; your main priority should be seeing movies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make a point to hit certain meet-ups – keep an eye out on Twitter for when editors are announcing these informal get-togethers! DO reach out to people whose writing you admire and tell them so.


April Wolfe is formerly lead critic for LA Weekly. She currently hosts the Switchblade Sisters podcast, and has written for the Village VoiceAV Club, the Washington Post, and The Wrap. Follow April on Twitter @AWolfeful

Tag Cloud

mission: impossible zero dark thirty classics Fall TV Valentine's Day HBO Black History Month Quiz Legendary TCA 2017 psychological thriller FX on Hulu ITV medical drama Pixar screen actors guild Crackle Paramount Rocketman MGM leaderboard Podcast Holiday HBO Go American Society of Cinematographers video APB Logo critics Nickelodeon TruTV joker italian Tumblr Heroines 21st Century Fox TV japanese Music breaking bad scene in color LGBTQ Tubi Dark Horse Comics Winners renewed TV shows Musical Pop TV obi wan 93rd Oscars Food Network target scary movies WarnerMedia GLAAD Mary Tyler Moore Amazon Studios comics VICE DirecTV The Walt Disney Company facebook laika TCM Star Wars Ghostbusters FXX 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards Apple IFC Films royal family DC Universe anthology MCU Opinion foreign Emmy Nominations historical drama saw award winner Broadway Holidays rom-coms Amazon Prime Video OWN BET South by Southwest Film Festival sequel Year in Review Turner YA black book adaptation dexter 90s unscripted new star wars movies Toys Trailer biography twilight Reality Best Picture 24 frames war know your critic romance Hallmark LGBT Sneak Peek Disney Plus Horror disaster canceled women TIFF hispanic heritage month live event Peacock Exclusive Video heist movie BET Awards screenings emmy awards blockbuster monster movies TCA dogs Adult Swim DC streaming service BBC America Television Academy Sony Pictures hispanic Netflix Christmas movies Classic Film Cosplay 2020 Emmys Amazon E! Superheroe ABC Family jamie lee curtis slashers Disney+ Disney Plus Summer wonder woman National Geographic marvel cinematic universe cats TV movies zombie spinoff Spring TV police drama Christmas Funimation satire superman criterion Hollywood Foreign Press Association spanish name the review festival Extras Britbox Paramount Network tv talk casting The Academy 2016 Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Awards Fargo universal monsters films series what to watch king arthur NYCC politics hollywood parents rt labs critics edition justice league Film Festival comic miniseries 45 stop motion trailers adventure TV Land See It Skip It Pet Sematary Mary poppins marvel comics 2018 Nominations Anna Paquin 20th Century Fox pirates of the caribbean basketball kids art house Calendar FX 99% Nat Geo Family elevated horror movie Captain marvel Comic-Con@Home 2021 documentary spider-verse Winter TV live action Cannes crossover Grammys harry potter Universal Brie Larson Stephen King archives USA Network TBS best 2017 Fox Searchlight 79th Golden Globes Awards aliens Country GoT trophy ABC Signature Marvel Studios ABC Chilling Adventures of Sabrina HFPA SDCC Walt Disney Pictures Biopics political drama french thriller Box Office Marathons south america dreamworks BBC One TV renewals fast and furious Apple TV Plus nature Image Comics Tags: Comedy The Walking Dead Endgame franchise godzilla jurassic park YouTube finale lord of the rings New York Comic Con ratings streaming movies FOX El Rey comic book movies theme song AMC Plus cancelled comic books witnail talk show Showtime First Reviews stoner james bond nfl Masterpiece reboot TNT NBC Netflix Comics on TV golden globes Columbia Pictures movies revenge summer TV preview strong female leads Creative Arts Emmys Best Director Apple TV+ Syfy Disney Channel Star Trek diversity comiccon new zealand Teen dragons cancelled TV shows TV One Ovation mob Superheroes E3 genre CW Seed high school Comic Book Freeform Esquire Avengers vs. 2021 crime cops RT History Oscar Best Actress critic resources streamig Song of Ice and Fire Premiere Dates anime binge news San Diego Comic-Con 007 hidden camera Marvel singing competition scary Pirates A24 Sundance DC Comics Tokyo Olympics dc animated adenture Discovery Channel worst CBS free movies razzies serial killer Fox News Epix Sci-Fi stand-up comedy Hear Us Out Tarantino deadpool rotten movies we love psycho Rom-Com SXSW 2022 spanish language action-comedy AMC Character Guide OneApp CNN Comedy Western die hard book Starz Pop cinemax green book independent halloween tv Action indie Thanksgiving Ellie Kemper NBA Drama Schedule RT21 BAFTA cults batman sequels canceled TV shows Tomatazos venice ID adaptation MTV japan technology The Arrangement VOD SundanceTV IFC Lionsgate aapi Reality Competition international Amazon Prime Universal Pictures fresh nbcuniversal mcc Chernobyl telelvision History Turner Classic Movies chucky television mutant Trivia Black Mirror remakes doctor who sopranos asian-american Acorn TV The CW Hallmark Christmas movies TCA Winter 2020 blockbusters Lifetime Christmas movies cancelled television legend BBC game show 73rd Emmy Awards sports Sundance Now Trophy Talk Vudu dark TCA Awards Wes Anderson boxoffice Musicals Watching Series kong 72 Emmy Awards comedies Instagram Live concert Election Sundance TV PBS Lucasfilm Crunchyroll First Look dramedy scorecard composers Lifetime popular PaleyFest superhero children's TV Writers Guild of America rt labs Disney streaming service Television Critics Association young adult Mindy Kaling IMDb TV kaiju transformers christmas movies CBS All Access natural history gangster sitcom cooking Neflix USA VH1 Kids & Family mockumentary romantic comedy Certified Fresh X-Men football directors DGA obituary Animation cartoon Bravo suspense Arrowverse cars Video Games Pacific Islander biopic streaming versus zombies Rocky space spain supernatural king kong Photos toronto Best Actor black comedy robots CMT docudrama richard e. Grant YouTube Premium cancelled TV series a nightmare on elm street Binge Guide HBO Max Martial Arts Spectrum Originals toy story hist Warner Bros. Mystery documentaries rt archives debate 2015 YouTube Red A&E all-time 94th Oscars Infographic summer TV Rock Prime Video Super Bowl 4/20 spy thriller video on demand PlayStation Red Carpet rotten summer preview olympics reviews science fiction halloween sag awards golden globe awards President child's play new york MSNBC Disney Baby Yoda Travel Channel Academy Awards based on movie werewolf Mudbound GIFs 1990s period drama 71st Emmy Awards Marvel Television WGN Spike prank Fantasy quibi feel good Alien crime drama Pride Month Paramount Plus Countdown slasher ESPN vampires Comedy Central Set visit TLC Mary Poppins Returns The Witch Interview latino Best and Worst festivals boxing true crime SXSW teaser Cartoon Network comic book movie Oscars australia Polls and Games Shondaland dceu discovery Women's History Month spider-man game of thrones Awards Tour indiana jones blaxploitation worst movies crime thriller Hulu The Purge ghosts travel ViacomCBS Elton John Film docuseries social media posters 2019 Shudder