Film Journalist

If you can write but you're still waiting for your big break as a screenwriter, film journalism may be the place for you. Where else can you spend days on a film location, wandering around as if you're not doing anything, and still get paid for it? Don't think too hard because, unless you're a producer, this is the one and only.

Dan Persons has been doing it for some time. He's a regular contributor to Cinefantastique magazine, and he's had the chance to spend time on some of the hottest sets in Hollywood.

For Dan, who graduated from New York University Film School, writing about films came naturally, but he says that having some background knowledge of film technology was a definite plus. "You'd be at a serious disadvantage if you didn't know films aren't shot in sequence."

The way to start a film journalism career is, like film itself, to start with a story. For Dan, it was an introduction to the people responsible for Toxic Avenger, Part 2. Just having the meeting and the possibility of an interview was enough to get his foot in the door over at Cinefantastique. He told the editor about his connection with the film in the form of a query letter, which is a short pitch of the article idea. The editor liked the idea enough to buy it.

Since Dan started writing for Cinefantastique, he hasn't stopped. Rarely does an issue go by without his name appearing somewhere above an article. That first article ran around a thousand words—about four typed, double-spaced pages. Dan recommends a shorter piece when trying to break in, but once established, articles can run anywhere from one thousand to ten thousand words, including sidebars (short companion stories with the main feature).

Now that you've got the assignment, though, how do you go about getting the information to make it all come together? Well, when you're on the set, absorb everything. Usually, a reporter will only get to spend a day, or at most three, on location, so it's best to get as much information as possible. Dan keeps a small notebook handy to jot down details or record conversations among the film's crew. Then he'll get his chance to do interviews. Sometimes, those interviews include the film's stars, but since Cinefantastique is geared primarily toward the technical aspects of filmmaking, specifically effects, Dan mainly gets to interview the craftspeople about what they do. He's interviewed directors, writers, production designers, and effects people on films ranging from Toxic

Avenger, Part 2 to hits like The Silence of the Lambs to films that may go straight to video, such as Robocop 3. It was in these interviews that Dan's film background helped out. By knowing what these people did on the job, he was able to ask them questions that focused on their abilities and their special contributions to the production.

The great thing about writing about films is that you never have to lose the sense of wonder and fascination that first brought you to the field because there's always something new going on, and you're always a part of it.

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