Critics 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

TCA comiccon period drama Crackle crime thriller CBS All Access casting talk show blaxploitation Winter TV dragons Cannes Walt Disney Pictures Opinion technology PBS richard e. Grant Trivia harry potter Pirates dceu Heroines Christmas DirecTV teaser Awards Tour Quiz cults CBS Ovation Lucasfilm Photos science fiction cars zero dark thirty Brie Larson Drama Comedy spinoff Food Network cats zombie Spring TV Holidays SDCC CNN A&E GIFs space Amazon Prime Video game show TCM Red Carpet crime 2019 nature hist Shondaland Mindy Kaling streaming animated true crime Emmys stand-up comedy Teen Sneak Peek Musicals LGBTQ FOX Calendar Mary Poppins Returns Ghostbusters Mary poppins National Geographic TruTV robots PaleyFest boxoffice DGA Polls and Games 2017 Infographic NYCC Rock spider-man biography children's TV TCA 2017 finale dc Rocky LGBT Nominations Dark Horse Comics Premiere Dates Elton John movies VICE Syfy quibi Lifetime what to watch sports Showtime Logo political drama Awards tv talk unscripted Summer Fantasy APB Esquire Binge Guide Disney President BBC justice league TNT Tumblr SXSW SundanceTV comic Cartoon Network Star Trek New York Comic Con politics Martial Arts strong female leads revenge Amazon Prime cooking The CW Year in Review San Diego Comic-Con medical drama transformers ITV CMT VH1 Oscars Kids & Family Country Writers Guild of America DC Comics X-Men Rocketman Schedule Chilling Adventures of Sabrina thriller Thanksgiving Shudder singing competition Stephen King Trailer First Look facebook Action MCU Fox News adaptation OWN FX Freeform Emmy Nominations ratings police drama Paramount Network Netflix USA Network Nickelodeon mockumentary Music witnail theme song Pixar See It Skip It Box Office sequel Hulu jamie lee curtis Columbia Pictures Set visit MSNBC Anna Paquin Biopics zombies Comedy Central Paramount WGN Captain marvel Sundance RT History Family romance Universal Creative Arts Emmys ESPN Comic Book Winners BBC America discovery green book 2018 IFC Films Reality Tomatazos Mystery GoT Character Guide Mary Tyler Moore golden globes Valentine's Day Musical Vudu Trophy Talk E3 Pride Month natural history TIFF Reality Competition elevated horror docudrama TV Land Amazon TV mutant Acorn TV Extras 2015 ABC Family Podcast Sci-Fi Britbox Superheroes sitcom anime Certified Fresh The Arrangement miniseries El Rey E! Star Wars anthology psycho FXX YouTube Premium TLC award winner serial killer Lionsgate spy thriller Film binge Chernobyl GLAAD Apple Black Mirror Fall TV USA Pet Sematary aliens Pop television Marvel crossover Film Festival Song of Ice and Fire Sundance Now 21st Century Fox Western HBO Toys CW Seed RT21 Spectrum Originals adventure toy story Mudbound HBO Max 007 social media NBC Rom-Com Sony Pictures psychological thriller Starz vampires 2016 dramedy kids war composers supernatural Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt AMC Countdown Horror Interview YA Watching Series WarnerMedia History YouTube Red festivals cinemax diversity crime drama Cosplay Masterpiece Animation Disney streaming service Ellie Kemper The Witch historical drama IFC American Society of Cinematographers Superheroe cops Comics on TV Warner Bros. Bravo DC Universe ghosts Marathons Tarantino disaster Super Bowl 45 TBS Nat Geo Women's History Month Epix book 20th Century Fox MTV doctor who BET 24 frames series Spike Best and Worst based on movie DC streaming service Video Games travel Grammys Election Disney Channel Adult Swim ABC