How to Be More Creative With the Camera: Film and Video Tricks

Think about some of the most creative shots you’ve ever seen in a movie, television show, or video. What made them stand out to you? The composition? The movement? Chances are it wasn’t a standard locked-down shot of a talking head, right?

The reason these shots stick out is because they’re different. They’re creative. They were designed to invoke a feeling and make you remember it well after the fact. That’s where creative use of the camera comes in. Whether you’re mounting it in an interesting spot, using a specialized lens, or adding a little bit of handheld shakiness, it’s all a good way to get people to remember your work and enhance your storytelling.

Put the ‘Move’ in Movie

Adding movement to your shots is one of the easiest ways to apply some creativity to your cinematography. While some movements require specific rigs, others can be done with little to no investment at all.

The single most important factor you think about is, “Do I need movement in this shot?” A well-executed camera move means nothing if there’s nothing motivating the move. You can convey a tone or emotion, foreshadow, reveal or hide something in the frame, move between locations, or even force the viewer’s eyes to a certain area on the screen, all just by moving the camera in a certain way.

Once you become adept at moving the camera, you’ll see endless creative possibilities with your storytelling

A Glass Menagerie

The type of lens you attach to your camera is very important to the look and feel of your project. There are certain specialty lenses you can use to spice up your video — lenses like a tilt-shift, lensbaby, macro, or fisheye vary in price, but all add something different to the scene.

Another way to get interesting footage without actually having to buy any new lenses is by trying a few different techniques. Try rubbing vaseline on a UV filter attached to the lens (NOT DIRECTLY ON THE LENS!), pull some stockings or other sheer material over the lens, or try a technique called “lens whacking,” where you hold the lens just in front of the open sensor and distort the image with light leaks and selective focus to get a dreamy feel. (Always use caution when you try this!)

The Right Angle

Much like adding movement to the camera, changing up your camera angles can drastically improve your cinematography. But keep in mind that this also needs to be motivated. Experiment with your camera by varying your angles and utilizing the equipment you have available. Put your tripod at its lowest or highest setting, mount your camera anywhere it will securely fit, or get on top of a building or somewhere with a really high viewpoint.

You can also try shooting “through” objects to give a unique look to your project. Shoot through a window at your subject to make them look vulnerable. Try shooting through the flames of a fire or a candle to give viewers a sense of danger, or through someone’s angled leg to create one of the most iconic scenes in film history. (Wait, it’s already been done?)

Using interesting angles in your productions ensures that you not only get coverage of your scene, but also provide some variety, while telling your story in new and different ways.

Add a Filter

The most common way that lens filters are used these days is for simply protecting your lens, but there are specific reasons you may want to use a filter to improve your shooting creativity. A simple UV filter will cut down on the “haze,” or dust in the atmosphere, that can degrade your image. A polarizing filter will reduce reflections from water, help increase the visibility of clouds, and even boost the saturation of your images. And an ND filter will drop the brightness of your image a few f-stops, allowing you to keep your aperture open and giving you a more shallow depth of field without completely blowing out a bright scene.

These are the most common filters, but there are also filters that completely change your colors, give you optical effects (more on that next), or even an infrared look. You can have a lot of fun with filters while you’re shooting; be careful with these, however, because you may not be able to “fix” anything in post-production if it doesn’t quite work. It can actually be easier to add these effects and adjust your colors digitally in post, so keep that in mind.

Filters typically screw on to the end of your lens and run anywhere from $15 for a cheaply made, basic UV filter to several hundred dollars or more for high-quality, specialty filters.

Snap Into Focus

Depending on the tone and style you’re going for, you can do some pretty creative things just by changing your focus settings. Obviously you can experiment with basic techniques like “pull” or “rack” focusing, but you can also shoot at the widest aperture setting possible for a more shallow depth of field (DOF), creating a sharp difference between your in-focus subject and the rest of the frame. A shallow DOF puts more emphasis on your subject and will give your composition more layers, creating a cinematic feel. Just keep in mind that a more shallow DOF means more work when you or your subject are constantly moving.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can close your aperture down to its smallest setting and shoot in “deep focus.” This is marked as the infinity symbol on a lot of lenses, and is good (also necessary) for very bright scenes, or landscapes that take up the entire frame.

A very common deep-focus technique in films is called split focus, using a split-focus diopter. This optical effect filter will enlarge one portion of your image, while the other portion stays the same size. However, since you have a deep focus, everything will still be able to be seen clearly. It creates a different feel and look for your frame, but is a wonderful technique if you can master it.

It’s Okay to Be Jittery

Along with changing up your focus, you can adjust your shutter speed/angle and create some different looks for your project. Normally, the shutter is set at double your frame rate (or 50 on some DSLR cameras), but depending on what you’re shooting and the look you’re going for, you may want to try increasing or decreasing your shutter speed. Anything that’s high-intensity or fast-moving (sports, action sequences) can benefit from an increased shutter speed, allowing your eyes to see more clear, “jittery” imagery.

Slowing your shutter speed down is quite the opposite. It makes your footage more “dreamy” or blurry, and is good to use in low-light situations, or when you want to portray confusion or disorient the viewer. Think of a scene where someone is drugged, intoxicated, or tranquilized, for example.

To Shake or Not to Shake

When you think of shaky camera movements, you tend to think of found-footage films, horror films, or… found-footage horror films. What makes them stand out though, is the creative ways they shake the camera and still keep it (mostly) coherent and easy to follow.

You can implement a lot of the same creative techniques from these types of movies while going handheld (or on a shoulder rig). Move the camera around and get close to your subject, because it helps the viewer feel more immersed in the story. Explore your space and shoot different angles with the freedom that comes with handheld shooting. However (this is a big however!), going handheld without a proper shoulder mount or rig can be troublesome, especially if you’re inexperienced behind the camera, so be sure to practice. Having shaky footage because you’re bad with a camera is vastly different from having intentionally shaky footage because you’re shooting a fight scene in close quarters.

On the other hand, putting your camera on a tripod is the easiest way to avoid unusably shaky footage. You’re limited with movement, but if you aren’t planning on moving during the scene, it won’t matter. The basic moves are pans and tilts, but you can step it up and try a whip-pan if you’re feeling adventurous. And if you’re feeling even more adventurous and have a fairly steady hand, you can try using the tripod as a dolly: shorten the forward-facing leg and hold the camera so it won’t fall, then simply move forward or backward, adjusting the tilt on the camera to keep it steady. You can do this in any direction, really, as long as the camera is faced the right way.

Using these techniques appropriately and effectively can really put your viewers in the middle of your project, conveying a feeling or tone that will add to the end experience. Once again, the biggest factor with anything you’re doing is making sure that it’s motivated. Would your story benefit from your shot being from a bird’s-eye view? Would it make sense to have a dolly shot at that moment? Only you can answer those questions.


10 Zero Budget Filmmaking Tips

Firstly, independent fimmakers can make films much more cost effectively than the majors. Secondly, because the budgets are relatively modest, independent filmmakers can afford to make a movie that fails (unlike the majors). And finally, in this brave new movie world, everyone wants in – the studios want in, the websites want in, traditional TV want in, the gamers and app builders want in, the big banks, the big brands and hedge funds want in. Everyone wants in. The studios and distributors, websites and television broadcasters all have the hardware to play movies. What they lack is the software – the movies. And if you are able to make compelling content, you will make money.

Let me show you ten ways to make compelling content for next to nothing.

1. The Story Is Everything

Nothing glues you to the screen more than a good story. If the story is there, does one really care about the budget of the film?

Stories and screenplays have four main elements:

Firstly, your story must have characters with a specific goal. A specific goal is one that can be measured, so at a point in time we can see whether or not the character achieves or fails to achieve the goal. For example, if your character’s goal is to move out of London – this is a weak goal. We all want to leave London. It’s dirty, expensive and increasingly dangerous. But if the goal of your character is to leave London by noon tomorrow, or else… then we have a goal that is easily measured.

Secondly, your story has a setting. The setting can be usual or unusual.

Thirdly, there are the Actions of the main characters and finally what they say, or Dialogue.

The trick of a good storyteller is to weave these four elements together so the seams do not show. When a writer achieves this, we say they have mastered the craft of storytelling. But not necessarily the art of storytelling.

2. Location Location Location

There are two expensive components to a film shoot. Image capture (camera) and the locations.

Moving a cast and crew from location to location is time consuming, and expensive, regardless of your budget.

If you can reduce the amount of location moves, or eliminate them altogether, then you are a huge step closer to reducing your budget.

Locations in this scenario suddenly have a huge impact on the script. To learn how, we need only to look at some of the most interesting films of the last few decades: Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Kevin Smith’s Clerks, Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It , Orin Pelli’s Paranormal Activity and George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These films have one thing in common: limited locations. In fact, they would each make excellent stage plays. The trick, it seems, is to take a bunch of actors to a limited location and chop them up. When you do this, you will essentially be filming a stage play. But a stage play filmed as a stage play is boring. Turn your limited location script (which is essentially a stage play) into a movie successfully, and you will have, what the moguls in Hollywood call, Talent.

3. Image Capture

Choosing the camera that suits your script and your budget is simpler than ever before. Most likely you will be shooting on a digital camera. Two elements of any camera you should look out for are: compression and lenses. Remember that all digital cameras generate the same signal. What influences the image quality are the lenses you film through and the numbers of pixels per frame (compression).

Since the shooting of the Sundance sensation, Tangerine, shooting on cell phones is becoming commonplace. We’ve been championing cell phones as cameras since the early days of 2004 when we created the 15 Second Shorts competion with our partner Nokia.

The ultimate no budget camera trick is use a little known fact of British law: security camera footage can be recovered if you have been the victim of a crime. The UK is covered in security cameras, some private and some publically owned. By law, if you suffer a crime, the police will request a copy of the tape from the camera owner.

Recce the CCTV cameras in your neighbourhood, write a screenplay, re-enact a series of ’crimes’ and presto – you will have your movie shot – for absolutely nothing.

4. Sound

It isn’t the look of skin on skin that turns you on in a sex scene. It’s the sound of skin on skin. Professional filmmakers spend much of their time considering and creating the sounds that go with their pictures.

It is a fact too that our brains are wired in such a way that when we need to strain to hear what the actors are saying, the picture goes dim. Good clean sound with interesting effects added in is the quickest way to make your images, even those shot on your mother’s humble video camera, look great.

5. The Bucks Are In The Music

The fact of film revenue and distribution is that the main revenue streams are from the sound tracks for your film. This is because the musicians unions are much stronger than the actors, writers and film unions. After you film leaves the cinema (if it was lucky enough to get there in the first place) the main revenue streams a movie generates is for the mechanical copyright royalties for the sound track.

Filmmakers are usually the last to understand how music royalties are decided, registered and administered. Explaining music copyright law is something that falls outside this short article.

Briefly, filmmakers can get cheap or free scores by composing and performing it themselves. Remember that there are three music copyrignt streams: composers, lyracists and performers. Or, by getting an unsigned band to perform, or to acquire the movie rights to an existing band by contacting them through their agent, or estate if deceased. Research the track you are interested in through

6. Get Organised

Nothing is more disheartening than showing up to help out on a mate’s shoot only to spend an hour looking for a screwdriver. Disorganisation is totally unforgiveable and easily preventable by advance planning. Make sure you know where everything is, and make sure everthing and everybody shows up at the right place at the right time. If this is not within your organizational ability, partner with someone who is.

7. Your Friends Cannot Act

It is always tempting to get a few friends together to make a movie and use them as actors as well. This usually leads to peril because your friends are not trained actors. They may have spent hours and hours with a video camera in front of the bathroom mirror, but they will not know how to act in front of a camera on a set. When your friends think they are acting well on set, you will probably be so shocked at their hammy performances that you will be unable to direct them without running the risk of destroying your personal relationship.

Far better to advertise for actor/collaborators at local theatre and acting schools, hold rigourous auditions until you find a stellar cast of talented unknowns than use your friends.

If you have a suitable script and some money, you can approach a casting agent who will then pimp your script and your project out to established actors who might be willing to do it for nothing if they like the script, their role, and have been offered a suitable cut of the profits.

8. Build A Following

In the good old days (pre-Valentines Day 2005) filmmakers would submit their films to a series of film festivals and tour with their film building the hype for their film until they received sufficient distribution offers to finance their next project. By making and touring film after film, a filmmaker was able to build up a loyal fan base which would guarantee them and their producers a predictable revenue stream.

The explosion of social media has changed the landscape and created two types of filmmakers: those who loathe and abhor social media, and those who embrace it.

Contemporary filmmakers can use social media to create a following of people eager to sample and appreciate their latest work. Astute filmmakers employ two producers: one who deals with the traditional production work flow, and one who deals with social media.

A first step for any filmmaker is to register the domain name for their production company and film title, as well as Facebook and Twitter profiles. Often these are sold on to eventual distributors, as was the case with Paranormal Activity.

One way to build a following is to attend industry events, like the Raindance Film Festival, or our monthly drinks, Boozin’ N’ Schmoozin‘.

A great way to build your list is to comment on relevant articles, like this one. You can comment below.

9. Are You a Filmmaker, a Content Provider or a Communicator?

Whatever your goals are, remember that you need to decide what it is you are doing.

Filmmakers make films and hope to cruise the festival route until they are discovered and become festival darlings.

Content providers are professional filmmakers who deliver movies whether dramatic, corporate or documentary at a price per minute.

Communicators are filmmakers and content providers who have something to say using the power of moving images with excellent sound, well crafted stories and good sound tracks. Communicators will also consider a host of different mediums including short two and three minute episodes for mobiles (mobisodes) or internet (webisodes). Gaming and phone apps also provide interesting storytelling  possibilities with a host of different strategies for monetizing current content being debated around the world.

10. There’s No Such Thing As Luck

I believe that luck is earned through a combination of hard work and karma. If you maintain your integrity and your passion, success will surely visit you.

It’s A Wrap

Nothing is as powerful as a good movie. And by using the medium of cinema you are able to influence and change lives. It is people like you that can make a difference and make this world a better place.


Every composer knows this feeling. You just successfully finished scoring your last film and then another one brought to your table. Seemingly, the process should be easy hence you just finished scoring one. However it feels like you forgot how it supposed to be done and how you have previously done it. If ‘how the hell have I done it before and from where I’m supposed to start now’ is a question you found yourself asking at least once, here are 8 tips that will help you remember from where to start.

First thing first, there is no such thing as ‘a correct’ way to score a film. Every composer has his own technics of scoring a film and each of them can be super-efficient for one but dreadfully inefficient to the other. James Newton Howard once said “I wish I had some great words of advice. The only advice I have ever been able to give anybody is to focus on writing music, and if you’re writing a movie score particularly, don’t worry about the picture. Just write great music and the rest will take care of itself”. We will get back to James’ words slightly later to show you how right he is, but maybe most important – why. Before being able to just focus on the music there are couple of things to clear out first. Let’s begin:

1. Never skip the spotting session – to cut a long story short, spotting session is a meeting session with the director, the music supervisor etc., in which you sit in front of the movie and talk about the film, the music, the game from last Sunday, the characters in the movie and their stories, general ideas for the music etc. Why is it so important? Because that is the time and place you learn about what the director wants, his thoughts and expectations, and about his general vision of the music for the film. So what is the information you will want to receive during the spotting session:

  • What kind of film is it? It sounds obvious but actually it can be very tricky: This Is The End (2013), the horror-comedy feature directed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, was beautifully scored by Henry Jackman. On one of his interviews he said that although this is a comedy it isn’t actually sound like one. By listening to the music itself you would never guess that this is actually a comedy feature film. This example can be given for almost every film out there, so first thing is to stress up the attitude of the music.
  • Is there a preferred music style? Or is there a specific music style which is not welcome?
  • What is the deadline for handing over the final score file?
  • What is the budget?
  • Which scenes will include music and which are not (sometimes tend to change)?
  • What are the subtexts in each scene?

And those are only the tip of the iceberg. Oh and here is another small but important tip for you: never forget the film producer; he is the one who control the project and it is quite a bad idea to put his thoughts and ideas aside, once he brought them up – at least if you will ever want to cooperate with him again in the future.

2. Making time marks in your project file and writing timing notes in the Master Cue Sheet – A Master Cue Sheet is a worksheet we use to list the scenes we are about to score. In this worksheet, we have details such as where this scene is located in the movie, beginning and end time of when the music should kick in and out, and also important notes about the cues. Next step is to go back to your project file (using Cubsae, Protools, Logic Pro etc.) and mark those beginning and end points in the movie file itself. That way we won’t have to go back every now and then to look for those details and could only focus on making great music. Wait, we are not through yet. Inside of those time frames, it is very important to mark your vision regarding on how to address each scene, meaning how you will address the changes that occurring in the scene or a sequence of scenes. For example, let’s say that we have a scene in which our hero runs in the streets while it’s raining, in the middle of a New York traffic jam, only after he found out that the girl he loves is in trouble (sounds lousy, yeah I know). Now let’s say that the filming angles and the rhythm of those shots are changing every couple of seconds; in the first shot we see our hero leaves his car behind and start running from the side of the street, then in the second shot we see the whole big picture from above, and then in the third we see him in sort of close-up running as fast as he can between the cars. You can choose rather to compose flat music that will accompany the whole scene from beginning to end, or you could divide those segments in the scene by composing a dynamic cue which will change slightly in rhythm, attitude and even tempo according to the changes in the picture. Normally it would depend on the weight and attitude of the music that the film requires, but further to our example let’s talk about the second possibility. How do you plan this dynamic music to run through the entire scene? Simply by delimiting those segments’ time frames. You can use a sound like a single drum, and you then mark the beginning and end points of each segment. Now you have the ability to focus only on writing a suitable music to those segments, and to be synchronized with all the changes going on the screen without having to literally be destructed by messing around with the picture.

3. Full understanding of the scenes and subtext – It is immensely important to truly understand the movie, the scenes and its subtext, before you start writing even one note. This is actually rule number one: know the story, the dilemmas of the characters, their stories, what are the things that keep them going, what motivate them, what is the meaning of each face or reaction they do in the scenes, is there any subtext going on and how it inflects on the story or the other characters involved etc. There is a lot to know when it comes to scoring a film but understanding the dramatic is maybe the most important one. Composer Frank Ilfman said: “To convey emotions through music that touch the listener and ultimately unite the whole film, you must have a sense for the dramatic. You need to feel the music, not just hear it. That’s where the real gift is”. Composer Haim Mazar, who scored The IceMan, an American crime thriller film based on the true story of longtime notorious hitman Richard Kuklinski, told on one of his interviews that the score he wrote for The Iceman, defines the two aspects of Richard Kuklinski’s life: the Cello tells the story of Richard’s the family man, while the electric sounds tells the story of his career as a hitman. The understanding will help you with pouring content in the form of music into those time frame segments which I have wrote about in the last section. Bottom line is, the director will fall in love with the great music you will ultimately write, only because all the information you have collected through the entire process, suddenly came together and brought you to this creation.

4. Finding a great idea – It can be a main theme as it can be also short cues, intriguing sounds etc., that speak in the same language, attitude and the tone of the movie. Sitting in front of the film with the keyboard next to you but without having a basic idea of what you are about to try next, can turn out to be a perfect recipe for time wasting. Scoring a film can be a very horrifying process as it is for a composer, so sitting around while playing freestyle hoping to luckily fall on some nice tunes is simply to relay on luck. In other words, delimit the scenes you about to work on, know everything you can about the movie, know what the director wants, and then sit down and try to come up with great ideas that will take you further in the process. One of the best methods that I tend to use, after having as many information as I possibly can about the movie and the story, is to simply imagine myself in the shoes of the people in the scene. It can be the good guy, the bad guys, and even a crazy old lady who is being targeted for assassination efforts by Tom Hanks (The Ladykillers for anyone who has not watched the movie). Mark my words: Everyone has his own life soundtrack; we all hear music in our heads in almost any event or situation in our life – and so are the characters in the films we work on. The only trick is to find their certain music.

5. Focus on the music, not the film – So you had the spotting session, you now have that long list of the Master Cue Sheet, you have delimit the scenes and its segments, you have a really good understanding of the film, and even has a super great ideas on how the movie should be sound like. Great. Now forget about the film and start focusing on the music. Just like the quote of James Newton Howard from above, “…don’t worry about the picture. Just write great music and the rest will take care of itself”. Once you have all the pieces together all you need is to feel the music and you will see that it will work out fine. It is also brings me to the next section:

6. Work ‘restrictions clean’ – Choose two or three main scenes, those that you feel will be easier for you to start from. When you start putting all of your ideas into them, put aside any form of restrictions; mute the metronome, take off your quantize option, and just feel the music. Having any sorts of restrictions can block you from having full control and full attention to the most important thing in this business – writing music and fast. Working ‘restrictions clean’ will also help you to translate the emotions you feel while playing the music into the screen, and that is a gold winning ticket for a composer. After having the main idea of the melody, you can start shape it into a full music cue and to make any needed changes until you feel you nailed the scene.

7. Reuse the main theme more than once – The main theme of a movie is its musical signature. Movies can be amazing also with only a nice soundtrack; but a great soundtrack can turn the film to be memorable. For me, a great soundtrack has always been one that even hours after living the cinema I can still hear the music playing in my head. In order to etch the main theme in the people’s minds, there should be several references of the main theme, in different variations, along the entire film. For the convenience of the demonstration, let’s make up an action film; Bamm, Universal Studios’ logo went on the screen and the main theme starts to kick in. Through the next couple of minutes, while the opening titles are still running and the first action sequence run on the screen, the powerful main theme is still playing. Let’s go 15 minutes into the film; there’s a chase, an upbeat music plays in the background, something surprising happens and then there is a brief jump to the main theme melody and back to the previous up beat cue. Let’s go another 40 minutes into the movie; the partner of our poor hero gets killed by the bad guy. Our hero finds an old picture at his partner’s house of some fishing trip they went together years ago (damn, I won’t be a screen writer after all) and suddenly the main part of the main theme starts playing in a very different style and tempo to fit the situation and mood of the picture. This example can be found in many great movie titles along the years, such as The Rock, Speed, Point Of No Return, Days Of Thunder, Titanic, Home Alone, Jurassic Park, Bad Boys 1 etc. Look at it this way; if your main theme is very catchy, after 90 minutes (at least) of hearing parts of a very catchy main theme over and over again – people will hum your music all the way back home if they want it or not.

8. Conformance testing – Always keep in mind that our job as composers for visual media is to tell a story, define it correctly and then present it in a way that will highlight the movie and will make it even better. What we don’t want is the music to take over and by that destroying all the hard work of the people who worked on it. That is why it is important once in a while to do a conformance testing. Meaning we turn back to the beginning and watching the cut with the music without stopping. Sometimes when we are inside of a project too long it gets easy to be blurred about how the music reacts with a scene. Sometimes, while doing this test, you will suddenly find out that something won’t necessarily work for you in one of the first scenes as it has been earlier, and you will have to find solutions to bring back the same magic you felt back then. Most of the times the director will be a fair checks and balances factor for you, so scenarios like that often won’t happen so much. But it is still recommended to do that at least once or twice during the whole process.

That’s it for now. I hope I succeeded a bit to illuminate the darkness for you. Keep the great music rolling.

7 Tips for Writing a Film Review

7 Tips for Writing a Film Review

By Mark Nichol

When I wrote for my college newspaper, one of the assignments I enjoyed most was writing film reviews. And I was terrible at it, as I soon realized. Why? I was writing the equivalent of book reports: movie reports.

Fortunately, I came to my senses and realized that evaluating films and plays and the like (and, yes, books) is more complicated, yet more satisfying, that that. Here are some tips — not necessarily in the order in which they would be applied in your writing — for crafting movie reviews (which are more or less applicable for reviewing other types of composition, or even products like software or gadgets):

1. If circumstances permit, view the film more than once. It’s easy to miss key elements, or even the whole point, after just a single viewing.

2. Express your opinion of the film, but support your criticism. If you are offended or disappointed or embarrassed, provide a valid reason, even if you think it is obvious. A film review that comes across as a personal attack on an actor, director, or screenwriter or a diatribe about a genre is a failed review.

3. Adjust the style of your review for the readership. If you’re pitching reviews to a traditional publication, you’re expected to be fairly evenhanded (though even mainstream film critics are permitted — nay, expected — to gently mock particularly inept filmmaking). If your target audience is fanboys (and fangirls) on a movie-geek Web site, though, feel free to take the gloves off. Either way, though, support your criticism with valid observations; hurling invective is not the same thing as evaluation.

4. Avoid spoilers. One of the most pernicious fairly recent developments in the review genre is the careless, thoughtless revelation of key plot points. It’s a sign of professionalism to refrain from giving such information away. Exception: Reviews of previously released films don’t necessarily adhere to this rule, though it’s still considered sporting to warn readers or site visitors to skip to the next paragraph if they don’t want to read something. Some classy sites actually code spoilers to be invisible unless the visitor scrolls over the blank area to highlight that passage in the review.

5. Judge the story. Are the character’s actions justified, and are their motives plausible? Is there an internal consistency to the way each person behaves, or do some words, thoughts, or actions ring false? Does the plot make sense? Is the story line logical? Is the narrative arc well shaped, with an economy of form, or is it flabby or drawn out, with time-killing pointlessness?

6. Rate the actors. Do they meet the expectations dictated by the plot and other story elements? If not, is it their own thespian shortcomings, are they hampered by a poor script, or is there something about their performances that makes you believe the director is at fault? What could the performers, the screenwriters, or the filmmaker have done differently to make the movie work better?

7. Evaluate the technical elements. How do the cinematography, editing, lighting, sound, and other components support or detract from the film? Is music appropriate and effectively employed? You needn’t know film-technology jargon to share your thoughts about how these elements contributed to or detracted from the whole.

Writing film reviews is in one way a thankless task: Often, readers will disagree with you, and many people will go to see movies without your wise guidance. How to avoid frustration? Writing about movies, like writing about just about anything else, should be primarily an exercise in enjoyment: You do it because you like doing it. If anybody else out there enjoys the result of your exercise in self-entertainment, so much the better — but you’re your own primary audience (and your worst critic).