I have been regularly choosing my reviews to correspond with theme months since 2013 and I thought I would talk about how I select my themes and why I feel that theme months have helped me expand my knowledge.
If you’ve been following my Twitter, you know that I have been sick again and my writing schedule has been all over the place.
I started writing about silent films on the internet in March of 2009. That means March of 2019 will be my ten-year anniversary, which is kind of mind-boggling. Well, I mean, not the fact that such a stretch of time equals ten years, just that I have been at this for so long!
This is a second peek behind the curtain. I’m going to talk about how I go about researching and reviewing films. You can read about how I select films for review here. Enjoy!
This is a peek behind the curtain. I’m going to talk about how I go about reviewing films. I hope you find it interesting!
One of my big goals for my site this year was to improve the pictures that accompany my food posts. Starting with my Anna Q. Nilsson recipe, I started using more professional techniques and equipment and I wanted to share a few things that I learned along the way. Continue reading “Things I Have Learned While Trying to Improve My Food Photography”
Vintage recipes always provide a sense of adventure. Will you find a forgotten treasure or something that is better left buried? However, it’s not all fun and games, much research is required. (I lied, research is half the fun.) Today, I’m going to discuss how I plan and shop for my vintage recipe taste tests.
With a new year come new film blogs, which is a very good thing. When it comes to opinions about movies, the more the merrier. I’ve been in this business for almost a decade, so I thought I would share seven tips for newcomers. I hope they help and best of success in your endeavor!
“Your review just isn’t fair! You didn’t give the film a chance! You just don’t like the genre!”
If you review films, you’ll eventually get correspondence like this. I thought it would be fun to discuss the process of reviewing and the decision to lay on the snark.
The internet is forever… until it isn’t. Sure, there are a thousand ways to dig up embarrassing posts written by celebrities but too many writers have seen their work disappear without a trace.
Being a blogger with an opinion may be many things but it is not boring. When I hit the “publish” button on a review a few years back, I had no idea it would lead to some of the most baffling correspondence I have ever received.
Are your reviews dull, lifeless and lacking that certain something? Then you need screencaps!
If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ll know that I skew heavily toward mainstream American silent films, which, ironically enough, are now more obscure than European art films.
So yesterday I logged into my computer at about 7:30 local time and discovered some overnight commenting, which is pretty normal. We’re all in different time zones and on different schedules. One of those comments, though, was not exactly in the realm of normal for me.
Readers of this site know that I get more than a little annoyed when silent film heroines are dismissed as screaming damsels tied to the tracks. Not only is this a myth, it is a damaging one, erasing the many bold and brash silent movie heroines from film history.
Uh oh! Here’s another post of personal factoids. Prepare to be shocked, angered and horrified! (Well, not really but it sounded good.)
While film reviews in traditional media must have a limited length, bloggers have no such limits. This leads to an important question: how long should a review be?
I have discovered that generally speaking, people who write about the movies (film bloggers and/or professional critics) generally handle the real world one of three ways.
Today, we’re going to talk about a little pet peeve of mine: lists. Not just any kind of list, no, I’m talking about lists that purport to name off the best films of all time.
I’ve had some weird comments in my day. I am still particularly tickled about that time I was accused of being in the pay of Louis B. Mayer’s family and I have had to deal with infestations of overzealous Valentino fans but this particular comment takes the cake. All the cake. There is no more cake because of this comment.
As is often the case in online writing, one thing leads to another in the comment section and we are left with a dangling question. I don’t like unfinished business and so let’s talk about the difference between importance and enjoyment.
I’m not super open about silent films in the real world. It’s not that I keep my interest a secret, it’s just that mentioning a love of silent films often requires more explanation than I am prepared to give.
I know this will come as a complete shock but it seems that people are actually wrong about things on the internet. And in print. And then they’re wrong when the internet quotes the in-print errors. Sigh.
I wanted to take a minute to discuss a nasty little red herring that shows up now and again in discussions of silent film: the notion that criticizing a silent film from a modern viewpoint is somehow wrong and naughty and will just blow up the earth. (faints) I’ve been wanting to cover this for a while so here goes…
As my site gets bigger, it’s easy for older content to get lost in the shuffle. I have almost 250 silent film reviews and hundreds of other posts besides so I decided to make a list that will help newer readers dig through and find posts that are on the more mature side. Enjoy!
I’m not really a tech blog but I occasionally wander into the technical side of blogging. This time around, I am going to share a trick that should make your blog more attractive and increase page views. After that, we will discuss links in WordPress.
So you’ve built a blog, you’re getting some traffic but you want to take things to the next level. That’s a great goal and I am here to share some tips on how you can grow your blog and your brand.
I seem to have inadvertently caused some confusion. About a week ago, I announced that I was stepping down from a blogathon gig and was taking a hiatus from videos due to health issues. However, the daily posts kept right on coming. How is that possible? I have a reserve of posts at the ready. A reserve? Yes, indeed.
I thought it would be helpful to share my process for blogging. I hope it will clear up some confusion as to how I am able to build up content for daily posts and create a buffer for vacation, illness, etc. Not many solo movie bloggers keep up a daily schedule for posts (Lindsey of The Motion Pictures is one in the classic film category) but if you can manage it, it’s a great way to build up a devoted readership.
How do I do it? First of all, know that even though I post every day, I do not write every day. In fact, I did not write at all for most of the month of October. I was in South Korea and did not have my laptop with me. Instead, I wrote like a maniac in the months before my vacation and planned a post for every single day that I was gone. The WordPress app is not perfect yet but it got the job done and I was able to control the site with relatively few hiccups.
Since announcing my slowdown, I have been dipping into my post reserve. Perhaps only one or two posts since the announcement have been entirely new content. The rest were posts that I had created weeks or months before and kept in reserve. I have a few reasons for holding back posts. First, I may write something that will be more relevant later. (For example, I held back my 1960 Peter Pan review for several months so it would publish just before the recent live broadcast of the play. My William S. Hart theme month was planned almost a year in advance.) Second, I tend to write in bursts and it makes no sense to publish five posts one day and nothing for the next week.
A post reserve is important as my job has unpredictable hours and my health is usually so-so. I don’t know if I will always have the time or energy to create content so I plan for the worst.
There are two exceptions to all this: blogathons and videos.
Blogathons by their very nature are done in real time and require quite a bit of TLC to pull off. Participants need their questions answered, rosters need to be updated and the event needs to be marketed. This is not something that can be done in advance.
Videos take an entirely difference set of skills from written reviews and they do tend to take over my life when I am working on them. Plus, my voice needs to be in shape to narrate. My immune system is not the best and I am prone to throat infections, getting several a year. You see the problem.
So, while I can build a reserve of reviews, GIFs and other goodies, videos and blogathons are not really meant for that sort of thing.
But let’s focus on the positives. I am going to share how I create content for a daily blog.
First, I have two categories for posts and they are very similar to the classifications used to by silent film studios. I have the programmers, the small items, that are much faster to create and I have the specials, the longer content that takes a lot of time and effort. Fun Size Reviews, GIFs and shared YouTube videos are programmers. Specials are full-length reviews, After the Silents, Silents in Talkies, video reviews, long articles and the Cooking with the (Silent) Stars series. Generally, I try to have at least two specials every week and one of them is always a full-length silent film review.
As I watch silent films for review, I keep track of the times of sequences that I think would make good GIFs. After I have watched the movie, I go back and create the GIFs. I generally try to make three GIFs or more from every movie but I always make at least one. These GIFs go into my reserve for later use. At any given time, I have between 50 and 200 unpublished GIFs on hand.
Usually, GIFs will debut in one of my quippy Animated GIF posts. After that, it may be reused to illustrate a humorous point, to embellish a Fun Size Review or be published as a Silent Movie Rule or whatever else I think of.
I try not to publish too many GIFs from the same film in a row because I like to keep variety on the site.
Fun Size Reviews, Trivia Cards, etc.
With shorter posts that follow a particular format, I like to use an assembly line approach. For example, when I make Fun Size Reviews, I generally write anywhere from five to ten in one sitting. I have a master list of all the movies I have covered (no film gets a Fun Size Review before a full-length review) and use it to make sure I do not skip or repeat a film. The trivia cards use the same Photoshop template and I also create between five and ten in a sitting.
My master list tells me whether the film in question has GIFs (some of my older reviews do not have GIfs to go with them so I have been going back and creating them), whether it has a Fun Size Review, a trivia card and whatever other related series I might create in the future. This is a great way to draw attention to older content that new readers may not have seen before without boring established and long-time readers.
Unlike my shorter posts, silent movie reviews are a definite risk when it comes to time spent. Some movies make it a challenge for me to even write 1,000 words (my minimum review length) while others have so much juicy detail that I have to cut myself off. There are also (seemingly) simple films that send me down the research rabbit hole.
Cough cough, Surrender, cough.
Oh, all right. I’ll tell the story. I was happily writing away and decided to add a few details on Ivan Mosjoukine, the film’s leading man. When researching something or someone, I often stop by Wikipedia to see what the average Joan is going to have read on the subject. Something seemed off with the narrative being peddled and down the rabbit hole I went.
Here is the article as it appears at present. I have highlighted the errors in green.
I thought this was supposed to be about Ivan Mosjoukine. Someone has a little Valentino fixation and it sure isn’t Carl Laemmle. (The whole debunking is in my Surrender review.)
The problem is, I don’t know when a Surrender is going to come my way. I generally try to keep at least a month or more of reviews in reserve but if a I fall down a rabbit hole, I burn through that reserve quickly. As a result, I try to keep a mix of films I have never seen before and films I am already familiar with. That way, I know what I am letting myself in for at least some of the time.
Longer articles on myth-busting and general silent film knowledge are written on an as-needed basis. When the topic is fairly non-controversial, I post them soon after they are completed. However, if the topic is a hot-button issue or if it reflects badly on a beloved star, I may hold it back so that it can “cool down” and perhaps be revised so that it is not unnecessarily inflammatory.
Does it always work? No. I did lose subscribers over my discussion of The Wind and its “bastardized” ending (spoiler: Lillian Gish is a great actress and a shameless fibber) but I don’t really think they were the sort worth keeping. While I try not to give offense, there are some fans who definitely prefer a black and white narrative filled with heroes and mustache-twirling villains. I’m sorry to be curt but there’s really no point in conversing with people who hold such a childish outlook.
The Cooking with the (Silent) Stars series is the most expensive and time-consuming series on the site. It involves purchasing ingredients, preparing them, taking photos and videos and finally writing up the article. In order to minimize expense and time, I try to plan out cooking days. Basically, I choose recipes with overlap in ingredients and then I get cooking.
In June, I ended up house-sitting for a friend. Their house is relatively remote and it was just me and the dog. I took it as an opportunity to make some of the weirder foods in the cookbook. I purchased ingredients and had a marathon cooking session. My tummy did not appreciate it, believe you me, but I ended up with a fat selection of cooking posts all ready to go. I still have several in reserve and you will be seeing them over the next few weeks.
Taking the plunge
So, maybe you have decided to try daily blogging. I hope knowing my method has helped you. Here is one more piece of advice, one I give to all would-be bloggers.
Before taking on the task of a blog, don’t post anything yet. Instead, write as though you already have a blog and save those posts. This will allow you to see if you are able to maintain a regular post schedule and it will give you a nice collection of posts to share if you do decide to launch.
If you are a blogger who wants to pump things up to daily posting, try keeping your current schedule (whatever it is) and also writing the number of posts you would need for daily blogging. Test drive this for a month and see how you do. If you decide that it’s not for you, fine. You have a stack of posts in your reserve and no harm was done. If you decide that it is something that you would like to continue, make an announcement that you are adopting a daily post format and get cracking!
I hope all of this has clarified how the blog runs behind the scenes. Thanks for reading!
Welcome to the second half of my two-part series on blogathons. Last time, we talked about blogathon participation. This time, I will give you some tips for hosting your own blogathon.
So, you’ve decided that you want to host your own blogathon. You should go find Managed web hosting services! But first thing’s first, though.
Choosing your topic
You may already have a topic in mind but here are some tips that will ensure maximum participation.
Your topic should be broad enough to allow a variety of participants
There is nothing stopping you from announcing a Trigger the Wonder Horse Blogathon but such a specific subject would severely limit the number of potential participants. The Movie Horse Blogathon (which I am using as an example for these articles) allows a much wider variety topics to be explored.
Does this mean that you must avoid more obscure topics? No, but there are ways of making them have a more general appeal. (This is, of course, assuming that you want a larger pool of participants. Some hosts prefer a more intimate event.)
For example, I wanted to create a blogathon centered around Lon Chaney. Now Chaney is very popular, as silent stars go, but he only made one talkie and this fact would reduce the potential size of the blogathon. So, I expanded the event to include Lon Chaney, Jr. as well. Chaney Sr.’s extant films range from 1914 to 1930 while Chaney Jr.’s credited filmography stretches from 1932 to 1971. This gave participants over 50 years’ worth of films to choose from and resulted in a richer event.
Co-hosts, do you need them?
Now that you have an event theme, it is time to consider whether you want to have a co-host or co-hosts for the blogathon. Let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages:
- You have someone to bounce ideas off of and to ask for advice
- You will expand the number of potential participants with your combined readership and contacts
- You can split the hosting duties
- Your co-host may supply expertise in the topic that you lack
- You have to consult with your co-host before making changes
- You may not have the same ideas about running the event
- You will divide the traffic generated by the blogathon
- You can turn on a dime, making any changes you wish
- You will get all the traffic generated by the blogathon
- You can fine tune the personality of the event
- You won’t have a co-host to consult or commiserate with
- You will have to shoulder all the hosting duties
- You will have to sign up all the participants yourself
I have both co-hosted and solo hosted blogathons and I enjoy both styles. Of course, I have had the advantage of working with wonderful co-hosts, which makes all the difference.
How do you ask someone to co-host? Contact them and ask them if they are available. Ask as far in advance as you can. I try to ask my co-hosts 4-6 months before the event launch date and I usually have blogathons planned at least that far in advance.
Duplicates. Duplicates. Duplicates. Duplicates.
No matter what your blogathon topic, one thing is certain: Some subjects will be more popular than others. If you host a Marilyn Monroe blogathon, you can be sure that The Seven Year Itch is going to be snapped up quickly. If you host a regency fiction blogathon, Jane Austen will surely be claimed immediately.
So, will you allow multiple blogs to host on the same topic? Or will you ask that there be no duplicates? What are the pros and cons of allowing duplicates?
- More bloggers will be able to write on popular topics
- Get multiple takes on famous subjects
- Too many participants writing on the exact same subject may become tedious
- Bloggers may hesitate to sign on if they see that their chosen topic may be claimed by someone else
- Not as much topic variety
Note that there are some cases when you almost have to allow duplicates. For example, duplicates may be necessary for a James Dean Blogathon due to his extremely brief film career.
When to say “no”
You will, of course, have to set content boundaries for your blogathon. Will it be about a specific movie star, author or musician? What is acceptable and what is off-limits?
For example, I may decide that the Movie Horse Blogathon is only for live-action movies and TV episodes, no cartoon horses need apply. Other boundaries may include limiting eligible release dates (example: no films made before 1980), banning certain types of films (example: nothing rated above a PG), etc.
You and your co-hosts should decide these limits in advance. However, there is usually someone who will come up with a really off-the-wall topic during the course of a blogathon. It’s up to you whether to accept more unusual submissions. Just know that the subject will come up and you will have to make a decision.
If someone wants to submit something that is just not a good fit, thank them and politely let them know that you would love to have them aboard but you’re afraid that the topic is not quite right. You might also want to suggest a similar topic that they can cover.
For example: Let’s say that for the Movie Horse Blogathon, someone wants to write about the film Legend, which features unicorns. Since unicorns are not quite what I want, I will let the would-be participant know (politely!) that their choice does not suit the topic. I might then suggest another fantasy film that features a horse, such as Ladyhawke.
Banners are essential for hosting a blogathon. Participants will place them on their own blogs, spreading the word to all of their readers. But how do you make your own?
The Techy Stuff
First, you need an image that catch everyone’s eye and immediately show what your event is all about. You may have just the right image in your collection but if not, you can find lots of free images on the Wiki Commons, Doctor Macro, Morguefile and Stock Exchange.
Next, you need to add text to your banner. This should include:
The name of the event
The name of your blog and any co-hosts
The date(s) of the event
Optional: A tagline describing your event
Bloggers use a variety of programs to make their banners. Here are some links to tutorials that work for assorted programs. Please note that most of these tutorials are for header banners (short and fat) so be sure to make your banners taller and narrower. 2.5 inches by 3 inches is a good size to aim for.
(I am just offering links, not tech support.)
*GIMP is a free, open source alternative to Photoshop
The Artsy Stuff
Now, let’s talk design! I am going to give you a few examples to show you how to get maximum bang for your buck.
Here are the two most common mistakes for blogathon banners:
This first image showcases a common banner mistake. The image is good and all the information is there but the bright primary colors are difficult to read against the background. And keep in mind that your participants might have smaller areas in which to display your banner, which means it will end up looking like this:
Not too easy to make out, is it?
In this case, there is better contrast between the image and the text but the fancy-pants font makes it very hard to read. And, remember, it probably will be much smaller once it gets plopped into a sidebar:
This is not the best use of your banner.
The Simple Solution:
Here is a simple solution that will produce clear, easy to read banners. It’s not the fanciest banner in the world but it is readable. Simply take a solid color rectangle and place it at the top or bottom of the header image.
Use dark or bright colors against white and pastels and brights against black. A basic, bold font. Easy, readable, done.
Works like a charm.
But what font should you use for your banner? (I am calling them fonts so that people know what I am talking about.)
Unless you are confident in your design skills, this is about clarity, not beauty. Impact is certainly used a lot online and Times New Roman is pretty vanilla but both will get your message clearly across, which is what your banner is all about. When you have to choose between fanciness and legibility, choose legibility. (Both are ideal but…)
Conclusion: You can get as fancy as you like with your fonts but always be aware of contrast, readability and the fact that the banner may shrink in a blog’s sidebar.
Remember, fonts have personality!
This is my all prettied-up design. Note that I used a pale gradient at the bottom and a drop shadow on the top text to ensure that there is strong contrast between the image and the text. I also used fonts that are decorative but not too squiggly.
And the shrunk-down version:
This is all basic Photoshop stuff. You can use your search engine of choice to find tutorials for all of these techniques. As I wrote before, I won’t be able to offer tech support but there are a ton of great articles and step-by-step instructions on the web.
Getting the word out
Participation is the key to a successful blogathon. Getting the word out can be a challenge but here are some methods that I have found helpful.
Your announcement post
A month or two before your launch date, post an announcement with all of your blogathon particulars. This is where you describe your event and let people know the rules for participation. Most hosts also post a roster of participants, updating as more sign on.
Here are some examples of announcement posts:
The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon (shameless self-plug)
Most blogathon hosts will tell you that there is an awful stretch of time between your announcement and your first sign-up. Don’t stress! Here are some ideas to help you get some participants.
(If you are really terrified of this, get yourself a co-host as you will be guaranteed at least one other participant.)
Do not be shy! Plug your blogathon shamelessly on whatever social media you make use of. Post your banners, make announcements whenever someone signs up, make noise!
Open up the old address book
Personally invite bloggers whose work you enjoy. You can also look at other blogathons and make contact with participants from those events. Send a friendly message inviting them aboard. Not everyone will be able to make time (some bloggers have their posts planned weeks or months in advance) but quite a few should sign up if your topic is within their writing target.
Use your memberships
If you belong to blog associations, see if they will allow you to make a small announcement on their homepage. Some blog hubs even have dedicated blogathon pages where you can spread the word.
The big day!
The culmination of all your hard work! Here are some things to keep in mind on the days of the event.
Your roster page
On the day of the blogathon, you will want to post a list of all the participants. As your participants post, they will (you hope) send over links to their contribution. You can then add those links to your roster.
If you are hosting a multi-day event, it may make sense to post a list of that day’s participants. The disadvantage is that is can be harder to keep up with the event if you have to look through multiple posts. Let’s take a look at some well-run events.
The Mary Astor Blogathon (two hosts, each with one post for all participants)
Children in Films Blogathon (one host, one post for all participants)
And multi-post rosters:
Dynamic Duos of Classic Film Blogathon (two hosts, each one taking a turn at posting the participants for the day)
The William Castle Blogathon (two hosts, each taking a turn at posting the participants for the day)
Reminders and no-shows
A popular blogathon can have dozens of participants. Should the host remind them of the event?
Two schools of thought on this. The first group feels that we are all big boys and girls and it is the duty of the participants to show up. The second group feels that a friendly reminder is always a good idea.
Both positions have good arguments so decide in advance which one you want to embrace.
Read, read, read
This is the most time consuming job you will have as a host. It is also the most important and the most rewarding. You need to read all of the posts that have been contributed to your event. I also like to leave a comment on each and every participating blog (if they accept them). First of all, it is a great pleasure to read everyone’s take on your topic. Second, the success of a blogathon depends on the participants and it is important to show them that you enjoyed their work.
Thank you and good night!
Another nice touch is to close out your event with a “thank you” post for your participants and any co-hosts you may have had. You can put this up the day of the blogathon or a few days later. It’s by no means a requirement but it is rather nice.
I hope this article has helped you know what is involved in hosting a blogathon. Be sure to leave a comment if you have any additional suggestions!