Why I Don't Review for Free
You want me to WHAT?
Today I got an email from a filmmaker, whom I won't name, because he represents many with a similar idea. He's desperate to get the word out about his film, he thinks I might like it, and he knows from looking at Rotten Tomatoes that I am Tomatometer-approved, so if I do like it, that'll give my review extra visibility. He made his movie probably on credit cards, at great expense, and hopes I too will have that love of cinema he has, and do him a favor.
I will not.
It's this simple -- asking me to review a movie is asking for at least three hours of my professional time minimum. I've worked for 24 years to become the kind of professional whose written opinion is worth something. And because I am not salaried, but paid per assignment, Time I take reviewing your movie for free is time taken away from articles I could be writing for money. And not a lot of it, these days, but whatever the market rate is, at least. Why is my professional time worth nothing to you?
The filmmaker told me he does not believe and paying for reviews and can't afford to. My dude, what do you think PR is? You or your distributor pays publicists to help get the movie reviewed. One of the services I work for is a company called [redacted], that gets independent movies in front of Tomatometer-certified critics. I tried to point the guy there, but he wasn't having it. I assume they charge a fee, but I don't honestly know how it works except to say that some of the movies have been such cheap, barely edited, shot-on-home-video messes that they can't have charged that much.
Have I done reviews for no money in the past? I have, but in almost every case I got "paid" in some other way. In some cases, it's part of rebuilding a reputation after getting laid off. In others, I trade my services for access to something I need. Do I write for free here? Of course, but what goes here is just drafts and short thoughts. Maybe even "reviews" of three sentences or so of something I happened to catch for fun. The kind of spitballing I do on social media -- just trying to move it here for a bigger audience. How's that going? Bad so far. LOL.
There are situations in which it might make sense to review a random filmmaker's movie. If I were paid by salary rather than by assignment, and needed to make a quota, for instance. Unfortunately with most writing moved online, every single article now has to do traffic, whereas a newspaper could mix esoteric articles with sexier headline pieces, all in one big bundle.
So what I tell most filmmakers is this, and it's my pinned Tweet on Twitter as of this writing: my editors choose my assignments. This is also true of most film critics. Hit them up rather than the writers. Because you know what? Some of them actually have, and indeed got their movies in front of my eyeballs that way. And I got paid. Everybody won. They might not have liked my reviews in the end, but that's the chance you take. A fair opinion, for good, ill or in-between.