5 Essential Items for Writing a Movie Review (+ 1 Bonus)

Having recently overcome a long stretch of writer’s block, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and re-thinking lately of how I go about the task of writing film reviews. The truth of the matter is, ever since beginning this blog it’s been difficult for me to watch classic films “for fun” without feeling guilty if I don’t write about it for the blog. This has become an extreme source of frustration, making it difficult for me to enjoy both viewing and writing about films, and it’s something I’m actively working to correct. Gathering my latest set of materials in preparation for penning Monday’s review, I thought I’d take a photograph of my setup and share a little bit about the tools which I have come to define as “essential” to my process.

1. The Movie. But of course! Here I’ve got a copy of Three Smart Girls on the Deanna Durbin Sweetheart Pack I rented from Casa Video (the best local video store in the world!). It also helps to have something to watch the movie on, like a television or computer (not pictured).

2. A Notebook. When watching a film I’m always sure to note down what I am liking and not liking about the movie, the plot, the characters or the performances. This really helps when I go back to write the final review.  The notes are usually fairly casual in nature but I’ve only just recently decided to start formally recording them in this cute little snail notebook.

3. A Pencil. I typically use pens because they’re usually more available, but I have issues with actually writing in cute notebooks (sounds weird but I’m sure some of you can relate) so I thought pencil would make it a less stressful experience. This one in particular is a Halloween pencil, and it’s my favorite because it’s lefty-friendly. (When I’m using it, I can easily read the words “Happy Halloween” without them being upside down. I bet this is something you right-handed people would never notice in a million years, but us lefties appreciate these small victories!)

4. A Pencil-Sharpener. Mine happens to resemble a hedgehog, but this is of course optional.

5. Erasers. I was being super neurotic about “despoiling” the notebook and brought out some extra erasers as a security blanket.

6 BONUS. A Viewing Companion. Of course it’s not entirely necessary to have the cutest dog in the world to watch the movie with you, but from personal experience, I must say, it certainly helps. :)

How do you write your reviews? From memory? From notes? If you take notes, do you do it on a computer or on paper? What are your essentials? How about when viewing a movie in a darkened theater? Share your tips with the class!


  1. I’m with you. I need 1 movie, 1 Moleskine notebook, 1 papermate flex grip fine point pen (in blue), and 1 puppy. Sometimes I have 2 puppies plus 1 cat, but the extra puppy and cat is optional.

  2. 1. Movie
    2. Hot cup of tea
    3. Inexpensive notebook that reminds me of my schooldays
    4. Easy grip pen with black ink
    5. 2 beautiful and supportive kitty cats
    Bonus: a deadline!

  3. dunyazad

     /  April 19, 2012

    I generally don’t take notes. I write impressions from memory, unless I’m doing something super detailed, in which case, I usually have the movie queued up while I write. If I’m writing about something I saw in the theater, I make due with my memory and resign myself to the errors I’m surely going to make.

    I do like having someone to bounce ideas off. I hate watching movies alone. Not that that stops me.

  4. I like your setup, especially the puppy! Hope you enjoyed Deanna. :)

    I’m a minimalist, I guess – when watching at home, I do like to have my Kindle Fire or iPhone handy so I can pause the film and double-check bit players or locations via IMDb, but otherwise I never take any notes — in my case I think it would distract me from simply immersing myself and watching.

    I typically write my reviews immediately after watching a film, or if it’s late at night (especially if I’ve been to a theater up in Los Angeles), I’ll write it up the next morning — that way it’s all still fresh in my mind. For me writing about a film is part of the “closure” process before moving on to watch the next movie. Before I was a blogger, at different times in my life I similarly used to jot down post-film thoughts in a journal or on 3 x 5 cards, so I guess I’ve always felt a need to capture and process my reactions in some format, and blogging a review has been a natural extension of that.

    My viewing companions typically are random combinations from among two dogs, two cats, one husband, and four kids!

    Fun to compare notes on this!

    Best wishes,

  5. My essentials:
    1. My dog. I’m convinced that he loves classic film as much as I do… he actually stares at the TV! Plus, who doesn’t need a good cuddle at an intense moment in a crime drama?
    2. A pen and a marker. Pen for writing, marker for exaggerating the big points that I’ll want to make in the review.
    3. A notebook to write in, obviously. (This post actually reminds me that I need to buy a new one soon. My current film journal is almost full!)
    4. The DVD and DVD player. I don’t like to watch on my laptop because I feel like I’ll get easily distracted if the movie isn’t great.
    5. A cold beverage and an optional salty snack :)

    Your dog is completely adorable, by the way, and this is a really interesting idea for a post! I never though about it before, but I do use the exact same things every time I sit down to watch a film for review.

  6. KimWilson

     /  April 19, 2012

    After picking a film I want to review I watch it and take notes (pen & paper) while doing so. I then let it sit in my mind a day or so and then I strat typing away on my computer.

  7. I don’t write about every film I watch, at least not in-depth (I do usually do capsule reviews at the end of each month, for which i rely on memory). When I know I’m going to be doing a full review, I always take notes, largely because I don’t generally have time to write them up right away, and details get fuzzy after a few days or a week. If I’m watching at home, I use my computer and put the notes into Evernote, because then I can easily retrieve them on my phone, iPad, or work computer depending on where I end up working on the review. If I’m in a theatre, I use a Moleskin and pencil. Like you, I really dislike using pens in notebooks for some reason, unless they’re very, very good pens. I often can’t read all my notes later, but the very act of writing them down helps me remember the things I want to.

  8. Hmm, great idea for a post!

    1. The movie, yep
    2. Desktop – I usually watch on the tube first, but again on my comptuer so I can capture screen shots.
    3. Evernote – Recent addition. For taking notes and quotes during that second viewing. Previously I just used Notepad.
    4. Library – From my books to online searches including old newspaper archives, etc, for supplemental material inside the post.
    5. My feet – In between drafts, a little walk around the house or outside to mull things over. A casual tool, this isn’t planned but I like to stew on the details before sending it out to the world.

    Sometimes the old pen and paper gets involved, but I find I work much better from notes typed online … my fingers are pretty fast so I can catch a lot of detail that way. I will jot down a few things during that first viewing on TV, but not always and only the bigger overall ideas that I really want to make sure stick.

  9. “The truth of the matter is, ever since beginning this blog it’s been difficult for me to watch classic films “for fun” without feeling guilty if I don’t write about it for the blog.”

    This is probably very common. Don’t feel guilty. For me, however, the reason I started a blog is because I spent a lifetime analyzing movies in my head. Sharing them now through my blog is a tremendous release. I don’t talk to myself in crowds about the Fred Astaire movie I saw last night half as much as I used to.

    To blog, I require a stack of scrap paper on a clipboard (no paper gets disposed of in my house until every bit of it is used up). I might be writing on the back of first drafts (or second drafts, or 17th drafts) of novels or plays I’ve written, or junk mail.

    A pen. I have tried many kinds of pens over the years, none of them have magically improved my lousy penmanship.

    The movie can be DVD, VHS, mostly TV but sometimes computer.

    Nobody else in the room. I still talk to myself a little, and it’s embarrassing.

    Supplemental research if necessary from Internet search or library. I’m blogging on a movie next month based on a short story written in the 1970s, so I wanted to read it. Retrieved successfully from the bowels of a library archive in an old New Yorker Magazine. I love librarians. They are not always keen to see me.

    I may write the post hours, days, or weeks after the notes are taken (months after the first idea is hatched, because it may take me a while to round up the short stories or movies or whatever).

    Then screen caps, which I find even sharpens my observations of a movie because you are forcing yourself to take not just a second look, but a closer look. Love those closeups.

    Then we go to press. Then I have a cookie.

  10. All I need are the movie (be it on DVD, TCM, Netflix, whatever), something to watch it on, my laptop, and my trusty bottle of water. It seems I’m one of the few non-note takers. I normally write my posts right after watching a movie, so I’m OK going on memory. The only time I’ve ever taken notes for a blog post was the first time I saw the complete restoration of Metropolis and wanted to keep track of every new addition.

    If I don’t have time to do a whole post right after watching a movie, I like to start a new post in WordPress, do a quick paragraph with my impressions and critiques, and save it as a draft. I can always go back, fix that up, and add the summary later.

    Although now I’m considering getting a notebook and starting to take notes on the movies I watch, that might be interesting to look back on later.

  11. Great idea for a post, Caroline! And your dog is too adorable for words. Here are my musts:
    1. The movie (preferably on DVD, but definitely not a requirement, as I still have all of my trusty VHS tapes, and a VCR hooked up to every TV).
    2. My laptop. I don’t take notes, and I always write the post while I’m watching the movie.
    3. My bed. My favorite place to write is my bedroom, seating on the bed.
    4. My backrest. Because I am at the age where I need some back support!
    5. Several hours. I usually do all of my watching and writing (and posting) in one session, so I need a good chunk of time.

  12. Great idea for a blog! My tools:
    1. Laptop
    2. Chocolate

  13. 1. Using my desktop PC (movie-CD/DVD format, Downloaded)
    2. Notebook then transfer to notepad at my PC
    3. I have this outlined questioner, then I answer it one by one then summarize it and post at http://www.reviewsgoodbad.com.

  14. 1. Laptop – I’m faster typing than writing with a pen, and since I’ll have to type it eventually, I just cut out the middleman. Also, if the film is especially exciting (or boring) I can begin to search for behind the scenes trivia online while still watching the film. I also enjoy the freedom of being able to watch a film anywhere on a laptop.

    2. The movie – Although, sometimes if I’ve seen a film before, I will start to write a review from memory then later watch the thing again.

    3. Notepad and pen (occasionally) – If I am watching the movie on a television or at the theater I’ll need the pen and pad.

    4. Google News Archives – This database has been wonderful for my reviews. I get a more in-depth idea of what was going on for the filmmakers during the time of filming.

    5. Computer file folders – I have a long que of unfinished reviews tucked away on my computer. I finish writing them when having writer’s block or when my internet service is down.

    – Java

  15. I often decide which movie I’m going to review, get it out, and re-watch certain parts for optimum critical thinking opportunities. I wish I had the cutest dog in the world, but until I get an apartment that allows pets, my movie reviews will just have to suffer. :(

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