I remember way back 5 years ago when I was getting ready to launch my own movie blog (The Movie Blog officially launched on July 24th 2003) I did a quick little google search for “movie blogs”. At that time it said it came up with about 11,000 results. I did that exact same search eariler today and found that google was now giving me 17,200,000 results. That’s a growth of just a hair over 1563636%
The popularity of Blogging in general continues to grow exponentially, and movie blogging in particular is something more and more people seem keen on getting involved in. And why not? What’s more fun to talk, debate, speculate and comment on than movies?
Without the slightest bit of exaggeration I can tell you that I get AT LEAST 15-20 emails a week from people telling me about their new movie blog! Some telling me I’ve inspired them to launch one (which is always flattering to hear), most asking me to link to them or at least mention them… and that doesn’t even touch the hundreds of others that start up each week that don’t bother to write me.
Many times they write to me to ask for some advice on how to get started, how to run things, how to keep things going and how to grow. Over the years I’ve seen a lot (hundreds) of new movie bloggers start up, only to disappear a few days, weeks or months later, so seeking advice from anyone at all is a pretty good idea.
So I thought I’d put together this little post on 20 tips for starting, maintaining and growing your own movie blog. Many of these tips are transferable to generic blogging, or blogging about other topics, but they are meant specifically for blogging about film. I’m certainly not the world’s biggest expert on blogging, but I have been doing this for a while, so here are some lessons I’ve learned:
1) DO IT BECAUSE YOU LOVE MOVIES
I can’t even begin to tell you how many emails I get from people asking me how they too can blog for a living, or how to get invited to Hollywood studio events and stuff like that. “Hey John, I just launched my new movie blog over at www.GenericMovieBlogThatWontLastMoreThanAMonth.com. Can you tell me how to get on the Studio press invitation list?” Good blogging comes from passion, and passion looks for expression for its own sake. When I started The Movie Blog I had no intention of ever doing it for a living. I just started it because I LOVED to talk about movies. Plain and simple. If you’re motivated by anything other than a passion for what you’re writing about, it’ll show and show quickly.
The other thing is this… the harsh reality is that you will probably never get 500 readers a day. That’s not me trying to be negative, that’s just the reality of the numbers. If you start movie blogging because you want to be famous or rich, you’re going to find yourself very disillusioned pretty fast. BUT, if you blog because you love talking movies, you’ll have found a hobby you’ll love for life!
2) START WITH A FREE BLOGGING PLATFORM
Don’t bother with buying a domain name, buying a hosting service, installing wordpress or some other platform you have to license and install before you get your feet under you. Most people who start a movie blog haven’t ever blogged, or blogged on a specific topic before. You may find it’s a lot more than you can handle… or you may find after doing it for a while that you change your direction and better understand where you actually want to go with it. For those reasons and more, I STRONGLY suggest setting up a free blogging account at either and doing a detailed comparison:
Just start your blogging there for a month or two and get an idea of what direction you’re going to go in… find your voice… figure out if you’re going to stick with it more than 2 weeks or not.
I know I know… you already KNOW beyond all shadow of a doubt that YOU’RE going to stick with it and do it for years to come! Yeah well… I’ve heard that before and 99.99% of the time they were wrong and ended up wasting money in getting set up for something they didn’t actually end up doing. Explore the water a little before diving in. It’s a good exercise, it’s free and if you do decide to move to a full domain name and server with a more robust blogging platform, all your posts are movable without much problem so none of your early writing will go to waste.
3) START SMALL. 1-3 POSTS PER DAY
Walk into a gym for the first time and try to bench 200 pounds. You won’t be back in the gym tomorrow. I’ve seen a lot of new movie bloggers burn themselves out quickly because they let their own unrealistic expectations, or their enthusiasm get the better of them and try to post 10 posts a day right out of the gate. Find your voice first. Write just one or two a day to start. As you get comfortable with how you express your thoughts increase it a little… but start slow. I know there is a lot of movie news out there, but pace yourself.
4) DON’T FEEL THE NEED TO ACT LIKE A FULL TIME BLOGGER. DON’T THINK YOU HAVE TO POST 15 TIMES A DAY
99% of bloggers are hobby bloggers. So are you. Even after you start small, don’t get yourself to the point that you’re spending 6 hours a day posting to your site. Quantity doesn’t develop your writing. Quantity also doesn’t build your audience… quality and consistency do.
5) BE CONSISTENT
I have more blogs on my RSS reader that post 2-4 posts a day consistently than I do that have 10 posts or more one day, none the next, 2 the next, none the next… etc. etc. Being consistent with your posting isn’t just good for readers, it’s also good for you as you develop good habits. Yes it’s ok to take a day off from blogging and yes it’s ok to have a day or two where you post a little more or a little less… just make sure as you look over your month that you’ve been consistent in general. Readers like to know what they’re in for if they go back and visit your site today… give them that.
6) READ OTHER ESTABLISHED MOIVE BLOGS
If you want to be a better hockey player, you look at NHL players. If you want to be a better scientist, you read the works of scientists. If you want to develop as a movie blogger, then read movie bloggers who have been doing it a while… and NOT just The Movie Blog. I have no less than 15 movie BLOGS (not news site… I have lots of those too though) on my RSS reader and bookmarks that I read almost every day. I don’t read them to get the news (I like to get my news from NEWS sites) but rather because I like their blogging and have lots I can learn from them. Some good movie blog sites you should be reading:
www.cinematical.com (they’re also a news site, but more a blog)
There are many others, these are just a sample. Don’t bother trying to write a movie blog if you’re not actively reading other good movie blogs
7) STAY UP TO DATE ON WHAT’S HAPPENING IN THE MOVIE WORLD – READ MULTIPLE MOVIE NEWS SITES
Blogging and news reporting are different things (I’ll get to that in a minute). Keep up to date with what is going on in the movie world by reading multiple movie news sites. Different outlets have different sources and focus on different things. I’ve seen too many movie blogs that always seem to talk about stories from the same site over and over and over. Diversify your sources a little. You don’t need to read 40 sites… but try to have at least 4 or 5 solid ones that you get most of your news from. Some really good movie news sites that I personally like to read are:
There are many others and you should find ones that suit you best.
8) TALK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT INTEREST YOU
Remember what I said earlier? If you write without passion, it shows. If you really don’t care all that much about the fact that Pauley Shore just signed a deal to co-write 3 indie comedies in Japan over the next 3 years… then why write about it? Your lack of interest will come off to your readers in about 5 seconds. Don’t write just for the sake of writing. There are 50 new movie news items everyday… you’re a blogger, not a reporter. Find the things that you are interested in… for good or bad reasons. The things you have an opinion on. Focus your writing and your valuable (and limited) time to writing on these things. Writing on stuff you couldn’t care less about (unless you’re passionate about not caring less) won’t help your writing, won’t entertain your readers, won’t start any discussion and won’t help your site. Remember, quality and consistency over quantity.
9) UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MOVIE BLOGGER AND A NEWS REPORTER
Repeat after me: “Just because I write a movie blog dose not mean I’m a journalist”
Even some of the best movie bloggers forget that sometimes. As a blogger, you are a guy standing at the digital water cooler with other like minded people just talking movies. The pure, simple joy of yacking about the things you love and hate in the world of movies. You are NOT a movie expert. You are NOT a journalist… so don’t pretend to be or even try to be one. You don’t research stories, you don’t track down leads. Sure, some bloggers do a LITTLE of this, but it’s not the work of real journalists who will spend days, or even weeks doing nothing but researching, reading and chasing down one single story. They’re trained for that… don’t belittle what they do by being presumptuous enough to act like you do the same thing. You’re a blogger.
10) FOCUS ON ONE KIND OF FILM RATHER THAN TRY TO EQUALLY TALK ABOUT ALL OF THEM
By “kind” of film I don’t mean “genre”. I’m not talking about comedies or dramas or thrillers. I mean “kind” in a more generic sense. Do you want to focus on Hollywood films? Indie films? Asian and foreign films? Retro films? Documentaries? Don’t try to be all things to all people. Here at The Movie Blog, I still write about indie films, Asian, Documentaries and the like… but the clear focus of the stuff I write about is Hollywood films. Twitchfilm will still comment on some bigger Hollywood films, but their clear focus is Asian and Foreign films. Know your focus. Talk about other things that interest you here and there… but keep your direction clear.
11) ENCOURAGE DISCUSSION
Ask your readers for input. End some of your posts with open questions. Encourage people to jump in the comments area or your forums and give input. Blogs work best when they are truly interactive that way. Blogs are meant to be conversational in nature… take advantage of that. Respond to comments as often as you can (granted, that part gets more difficult the more popular your site becomes) not just because it’s good etiquette but also because it’s a lot of fun. Without conversation, blogging gets stale pretty damn fast.
12) DON’T BE AFRID TO BAN PROBLEM USERS
This is an important lesson I learnd from Leo Laporte. There are a lot of trolls and flamers out there who just love to ruin good conversation, so don’t be afraid to ban certain users who make your comments section a hostile environment to participate in. Commentors set the atmosphere of your site almost as much as you do. Don’t be worried about traffic… there are 99 good conversation people for every 1 troll… ultimately your comments section will be a better and more inviting place for new readers if you moderate. It’s YOUR site, you decide what the rules of your comments area should be… but keep in mind the enjoyment of other readers who will come to your site. Rightly or wrongly, new readers will associate the environment of your comments area with your site as a whole. It may suck to lose 1 or 2 readers, especially when you’re just starting… but TRUST ME, the long term pay off is well worth it. Your rules will be different than everyone else’s, because your site is unique.
I suggest you create a clearly laid out “Rules for Commenting” page that sets out your guidelines for participation in your forums. You can see mine here.
13) WRITE ORIGINAL CONTENT
Most of your posts will probably be about recent movie news items, and that fine, but every other movie website out there will have the exact same posts as you do. One of the things that will make your site more engaging and increase your chances of a first time visitor becoming a regular visitor is writing original articles that aren’t just based on current news items. These take more time and more energy to write, but I find they’re more satisfying to write too and well worth the effort. Some examples of original articles that I’ve done in the past are:
Original content is great for several reasons. First of all is starts great discussion. Secondly it gets the attention of other webmasters. Thirdly it usually gets you really writing about something you have a strong opinion on. There are even more reasons, but you get the idea.
14) IT’S A BLOG, SO MAKE IT PERSONAL
I really believe that as a blog, your site should be as much about YOU as it is about the movies you’re talking about. YOUR thoughts, YOUR experiences, YOUR opinions. You’re not meant to be an impersonal movie news site. Blogs by nature are personal things. Don’t be afraid to share bits of yourself with your readers and engage them every chance you have. The news is the same on every single site out there… YOU are the most unique thing about your site. Leverage that. Some will say to me sometimes that Blogs shouldn’t be personal at all… to them I say “Then you have no idea what a blog is”
15) START A PODCAST EARLY
When we started The Movie Blog Podcast almost 4 years ago, most people hadn’t even heard of the term before. Now, podcasting is insanely popular and very EASY to do. Remember how I just said to make your movie blog as personal as possible? Well podcasts are a great way to do that. It’s YOUR voice. It’s a wonderful way for your personality to come through and for your readers/listeners to get to know you. Podcasting has never been easier. With free podcasting services like:
You can be up and running in no time at all. It’s VERY fun, VERY easy and very effective too. There’s no reason not to start podcasting as soon as possible once you launch your site.
16) DON’T WORRY ABOUT THE LOOK OF YOUR SITE RIGHT AWAY
You can spend 3x as much time, energy and effort trying to nail the “look” of your site than you do on the content of it. The old saying is true… “CONTENT IS KING”. Find a decent template or theme to start with and just go with that for now. You have LOTS of time to think about the look and design of your sight. You can slowly evolve it as you go. Invest the majority of your creative efforts towards your writing and your content. The look will come… and then you’ll change it 100 times. Don’t sweat it right now. Get started, get writing and let the rest evolve over time. Hell… just look at how successful Ain’t It Cool News is, and that’s the most ass ugly site on the net! Content first… then look.
17) LEARN THAT IMDB IS YOUR FRIEND
The Internet Movie Data Base is the single best movie information resource site on the web and has several applications for those of us who run movie blogs:
a) Links to the appropriate IMDB pages give readers quick access to more information regarding an actor or movie. When you mention a movie or actor, try to link to their respective IMDB pages when applicable.
b) Doing simple checks on IMDB rounds out your articles more and gives you tons of info in just one page
c) Whenever you’re about to write a post on a particular actor, or reference them in some meaningful way, ALWAYS check their individual IMDB page. It’ll help you avoid little embarrassing mistakes like saying “Matthew McConaughey has never acted in a thriller before” when a quick IMDB check would have reminded you about “Frailty”.
There are a thousand other applications for IMDB information usage. Get acquainted with it if you’re not already and make it your most valuable online resource, not just as a blog writer, but also as a film fan.
18) LEARN THAT ROTTEN TOMATOES AND META CRITIC ARE YOUR FRIENDS
When writing a movie blog, it’s not only valuable to clearly communicate your thoughts and opinions, but also understand the context into which you’re communicating them. Sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Meta Critic are NOT the be all and end all of declaring a movie good or bad, but they do give you insight as to what the general consensus is about a particular movie. This information should NEVER change your opinion, but rather help you better express your opinion in the light of the prevailing thoughts other people have regarding your subject.
19) IF YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND FILM IS SUBJECTIVE, DON’T WRITE A SINGLE WORD UNTIL YOU DO
There is nothing more annoying then some guy who thinks he is the defacto knowledge depository for film. You know the type… they’re basically the guys from High Fidelity, except about movies. If you disagree with their assessment of a film, you just don’t know what you’re talking about. I HATE those guys. Don’t get me wrong, you should have an opinion (see next point) and stand by it if you believe in it… but…
You have to understand that film is art, and as art, different people will look at it, experiences it, engage it and ultimately have different reactions to it. 15 people can stand in front of a piece of art and see 15 different things even though they’re looking at the exact same piece. Have an opinion, debate other opinions, but understand that in the end, it’s all subjective and just because you think one thing about a movie doesn’t mean another person is an idiot for not sharing the same opinion or having the same experience as you did. Until you have a grasp of that one key truth, do us all a favor and don’t start your blog until you do.
20) DON’T BE SPINELESS! HAVE AN OPINION AND EXPRESS IT REGARDLESS IF IT’S POPULAR OR NOT
As I mentioned earlier, every bit of movie news you talk about on your site is also being talked about on about 17 million other movie sites and blogs around the web. The single most important thing that makes your site unique from theirs is not your design or your pretty graphics or your oh so cleaver slogan… no… the most unique thing about your site is…
Your opinion is the one thing your site has that no other movie blog in all of the interweb has. It is not the “news”. If your site is to be personal, and encourage discussion and be unique, you must express your opinion. Express it loudly. Express it without apology. Express it regardless if your opinion is the popular one or not. Damn it, if you didn’t like “Blade Runner” then say so and make no apologies for it. If you didn’t agree with the WGA during the writer’s strike, then to hell with what’s popular… SAY SO! Let your reasons become a part of the discussion. If you loved a movie every one else hates, shout it from the roof tops: “MY NAME IS JOHN, AND I LOVED ARMAGEDDON!!!”
Don’t become a “blog” that just repeats the news that has been repeated a million times already today on every other site out there.
Don’t be one of these spineless jellyfish that is afraid to say “I don’t like Star Wars” out of fear that others won’t take you seriously if you do. The truth is we ALL have a huge list of films we personally love that almost every one else hates and vice versa. The difference is that you’re someone who isn’t afraid to say the unpopular, as long as it’s truly what you think.
Blogging is about personal expression… so what use is expression if you’re not expressing YOURSELF?
So there you have it, my 20 tips for starting and running a movie related blog. I’m certainly guilty of not following all of these tips myself from time to time, but they are lessons I have learned over almost 5 years of doing this. So off you go. Start slow, find your voice and express yourself. Go and add to the online movie community and make it a better place.