Entertainment writer Andy Hunsaker, Fancast, live-blogged both the Film Independent Spirit Awards and Academy Awards® last weekend. He speaks with Write On! about entertainment writing, his career path, and some of the things he learned along the way.
How did you get involved writing entertainment?
I worked at Yahoo! Movies for about 8 years, helping build it from the ground up, but I didn’t get a lot of opportunity to write creatively, beyond the occasional funny photo caption. But I did get a chance to go to advance screenings of movies, so I started writing my own completely unprofessional movie reviews on a crudely designed website of my own in my free time–I was inspired by the need to angrily vent after seeing the abysmal American attempt at Godzilla in 1998, and it built from there. After I had enough of them, I was accepted into the Online Film Critics Society and had some of them featured on Rotten Tomatoes for a while. Then, after the five billionth Yahoo re-org, I was laid off at the end of 2006. After doing some freelance work for most of the year, I landed at Fancast as the editor/writer for all the movies content and blogging. Needless to say, there’s a lot more creativity involved.
What was it like to live-blog the Oscars? And the Spirit Awards? How were the experiences similar/different?
Exhausting. The press rooms are active and taking questions at the same time the shows are still going on, and it’s hard to follow both at the same time, and still comment on both as well. The Spirit Awards don’t force you to wear a tuxedo, but the Oscars have commercial breaks to allow you to catch your breath from time to time. Doing them both in one weekend really makes you fear carpal tunnel syndrome.
What was your favorite part of live-blogging? The greatest challenge?
The hardest part is splitting your focus between the people in the room with you and the telecasts that everyone sees and expects commentary on and figuring out how to balance that. The fun part is just getting to riff on events as they happen, tossing out off-the-cuff remarks. It’s a bit more unfiltered when you don’t have time to edit and over-think.
What do you find the most exciting part about covering entertainment?
After months of press junkets, the novelty of talking to celebrities begins to wear off, but it’s still pretty cool to occasionally meet people whose work you really enjoy. And every once in a while, for the big blockbuster movies, the massive marketing budgets will go towards flying you somewhere cool for an exotic junket to try and make you more pleasantly disposed towards their film.
How important is it for a writer to have a niche?
It can certainly help. When I was writing movie reviews on my own, I think part of my extremely modest success was that I clearly defined my take on how people can best utilize film criticism–the point is not to be right or wrong, it’s to find a critic whose opinions tend to closely match your own to get the recommendations and warnings that will work best for you. I went into great and perhaps excessive detail into my own rating system, and I’d also be up front about any biases I might have–like being a comic-book fan or having an irrational hatred of Keanu Reeves or something. It’s possible I overdefined my own niche until it was individualized.
Advice for writers who want to break into entertainment? Any general writing tips?
Write your own stuff even if you’re not getting paid for it, and organize it online somewhere. It’ll give you something to show to potential employers. Also, for the love of god, make sure you can spell, punctuate, and have a grasp on proper grammar. If you have to use internet abbreviations, do so judiciously and not at the expense of the English language. I still refuse to accept “totes” as an acceptable version of the word “totally.”
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
There was a blurb in The Onion recently entitled “90% of Waking Hours Spent Staring at Glowing Rectangles.” I’m still disturbed at how accurately that describes my life. I wish I could have developed a more rigid schedule of making sure I pulled myself away from my computer enough to be in the real world a lot more often. It might have saved me from the slow erosion of my own attention span that was already being worn down by the internet and cable television. You need that attention span if you’re ever going to focus enough to get things written. Also, I wish I could have realized how prone I am to the run-on sentence and broke myself of the habit early on.
How has covering entertainment helped you in your other creative pursuits?
It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, meeting all these creative people, successful screenwriters, actors, producers, directors, etc., helps to break down that barrier of mystique that always feels like the huge obstacle for anyone trying to get their foot in the door. It drives home the point that they’re all just people, no matter how many cameras are around them or how big their entourage. It’s inspiring and it makes you feel more like you could easily jump that fence. On the other hand, entertainment news flows so constantly and demands so much of your days that it’s often hard to find the time and energy to actually devote to your own projects that would get you over said fence.