What was the highlight of 2017 for you? For me, it was becoming a student writer for Take One, an online film magazine and the partner publication for the Cambridge Film Festival. I love (and also study) films and hope to one-day write as a job, so this was a perfect combination of my passions. This opportunity was made available for me through the university, and next year may be offered to some of you! So here’s what you could expect from the experience, and how I personally felt about it all.
In case you never knew before, the Cambridge Film Festival takes place mostly at the Arts Picturehouse in town (though some films are screened at other venues or in the mobile cinema!). They debut brand new, pre-release films, as well as re-screenings of classic films. My friend was emailed by one of her tutors, with the opportunity to be a student reviewer at the festival. She also asked for anybody else she knew who’d like to get involved, and she very kindly thought of me (You may get involved this way, or you may be emailed directly!).
However, I was concerned that this would get in the way of my studies, so I got into direct contact with the tutor. She assured me that this was a very low-pressure position, and she was right; throughout the experience, the editor was very flexible with deadlines and workloads, and in the end, she didn’t even need to be. You’d be surprised by how quick it is to write a review, once you get the hang of it!
Once I’d signed on, the next step was for all of us to have a meeting with the editor. We met in this secretive room, tucked away in the Picturehouse – it felt very professional! Then she assigned us all duties, asking us what our interests were; for example, some of us were more interested in managing the festival’s social media than in writing reviews, so they got to be in charge of the official Twitter account. As for us reviewers, we had two jobs before the festival even began – firstly, she recommended we do a practice review for her, on any film of our choice that was currently in cinemas. This felt more like a treat than a job!
The second pre-festival job was to look at the online programme and send her a top 10 list of the films we’d most like to review. I don’t know if anybody else necessarily came up with 10, but as a fan of lists, I had no trouble. One entry on my list was a compilation of short films. The editor was so pleased with my interest that she asked me to write a preview instead. This means I was emailed private links to all of the films so that my reviews were published before they were shown at the festival. This would hopefully generate extra interest for these wonderful shorts, all of which were directed and/or written by women; it was an honour to preview them!
Finally, it was time actually to attend the festival and review the films. In the end, I got to see seven movies for free, six of which I then reviewed. This felt fantastic, but I thought it was important never to forget why I was there. Every reviewer probably has their own method, but my tactic was to write notes on my phone AFTER every film. During the film, I allowed myself to be absorbed in the story but kept an eye out for specific positives (and negatives). Then, when the film was over, I would sit in the lobby of the cinema and write out my pros and cons in bullet points. After my twenty-minute walk home (giving my thoughts and feelings time to sink in), I went over those bullet points again, in case I had already changed my mind on anything.
It was usually the next morning that I would write the review, always aiming for around 500 words. I would read it aloud to myself a few times, to make sure it sounded right. Then I’d send that first draft to the editor, asking if any significant improvements needed to be made. It was surprisingly often that the first draft would be published! But one thing I learned and improved on, in regards to an early review, was to avoid merely listing positive adjectives. Don’t just say a film was beautiful or funny; describe specific scenes! You may be worried about spoilers, but so long as you don’t specify in too much detail, you should be fine.
The real treat of this whole experience was seeing those reviews published, whether it was online or in the physical magazines distributed at the festival. Seeing my words in official review articles was surreal, and seeing my name attached to them, though this may sound silly, made me feel very proud.
If you have any inclination to be a writer, and if you love films, then I would thoroughly recommend seizing this opportunity if it comes your way. If you’re lucky, like me, then the editor may even ask you to stay on and write more reviews after the festival’s over! I know what I’m now looking forward to in 2018!
By Ben Jones
29th December 2017
Two of the Cambridge Film Festival Team Members working at the Delegates Desk. As Take One interns, we even had our own official lanyard for the event!
Image Credit: Elle Haywood