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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Anthony Morris, Film Editor at Forte

27 March, 2024

Anthony Morris is a Film Editor at Forte as well as a Freelance Arts Writer-Critic. Anthony gives his insight as a journo who got his start in ‘street papers’ to how his career has been changed by the digital revolution.


AnthonyMorrisCan you tell me about your experience working for Forte back when it was still a street paper? How did you find out about art journalism/writing opportunities back then?

I first heard about Forte at university from a friend of a friend’s friend whose brother was one of the founders. I was very lucky to get on board early on as in the pre-internet days there were very few opportunities for arts writers (and fewer ways to hear about them) as most arts writing was done in-house within large established media organisations. 

Working for a street paper was a great way to learn the basics, especially the importance of meeting firm deadlines. There was no money for writers but you could write what you liked, which made it a perfect place for opinion pieces and reviews. The results were often somewhat self-indulgent, but there’s always a market for that kind of writing too.


The advent of social media, as well as platforms like Letterboxd, has democratised book/film/arts reviews. In your opinion, has this had a more positive or negative impact on the arts and cultural space?

Definitely positive as a reader! There are so many more voices out there now, and so many more perspectives on art that make the cultural conversation so much richer. That’s not to say every take on every film is worth paying attention to – far from it – but the good still far outweighs the bad. 

It’d be nice if this rise in diversity hadn’t come at a time when the opportunities for paid work have been in decline, but that’s a problem with freelancing across the board.


How has your freelancing work been impacted by the shift from print to digital?

For a while there the internet really expanded the possibilities for freelance arts writers. Prior to that, most successful freelancers were former journalists or publicists who had gone out on their own, and they were often more interested in promoting the industry than informing their readers. 

It wasn’t until around fifteen years ago that I started seriously working online, and the balance has shifted to the point that now I’m working entirely for online outlets; I think the last piece I wrote for print was maybe two years ago. In the arts world, print can pay better but it does sometimes leave you out of the conversation if there’s no online component. Some outlets in Australia still don’t have an online presence, and it’s a real hindrance to their writers as far as developing a profile. Making your opinions public is a big part of how editors find out about you.


Having just finished, and loved, Vampires and Violets by Andrea Weiss, do you have any film studies/criticism book recs? Alternatively, who are your favourite art/film critics and writers?

I’m a big fan of the British Film Institute’s (BFI) series of film monographs, and there are a number of other publishers who’ve released similar lines of smaller books – they’re a great way to do a deep dive into a single film. The 33 1/3 series by Bloomsbury is the same but for albums, and they’re also well worth a look. 

Sadly, the current decline in opportunities for local film critics means that many of my favourite critics and writers on film are no longer reviewing regularly. One of my favourite commentators on film is Thomas Caldwell and it’s a shame he’s no longer appearing on ABC radio. Rochelle Siemienowicz and Rebecca Harkins-Cross, both of whom I had the pleasure of working with at The Big Issue, also rarely review anywhere at the moment. As far as wider coverage goes, Richard Watts does an amazing job covering what often seems to be every possible aspect of the arts in Australia. And I’d be wildly remiss not to mention Mel Campbell, a film and television critic and cultural commentator who does consistently excellent work (and who also co-wrote two novels with me).


You’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been alive. Do you have any advice (or harsh truths) for emerging/aspiring arts writers?

I think I’ve already made it a little too clear that they’re all harsh truths! The central dilemma is that it’s almost impossible to make a living from arts writing (so you have to love doing it), but that the only way to make it work as a paying job is to take on whatever’s on offer (which means writing about things you may not love). 

I think it boils down to being curious about the arts in general: alongside films I’ve reviewed plays, books, live music, theatre and cultural events, and I’ve gained a lot from the experience even if they haven’t always been things I thought I’d find interesting. Even a terrible film can make for an insightful review so long as you go in with an open mind and a willingness to engage with what you’re experiencing on its own terms.


What can/should be done so writers can afford to earn a living with their work? What other changes do you hope to see in the writing community at large?

Critics are an essential part of any healthy artistic scene, but the pressures to marginalise them are on the increase. If anyone has any ideas on how to reverse that trend and turn criticism into something that pays a living wage, let me know! 

It’s difficult to argue the case for more local film critics when Australian films – and not just overseas films with an Australian actor or two – are increasingly rare in our cinemas. That said, the actual community around critics is as strong as ever, it’s just that nobody’s getting paid.


And lastly, what do you look for in content pitching?

A real awareness of the area you’re looking to cover is essential, which sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many people think they’re an expert on film and television just because they have a Netflix subscription. 

That also means you need to go beyond the basics; there’s always someone ahead of you pitching the typical take or the standard point of view. That doesn’t mean you should go too niche or highbrow though – you need to keep in mind that you need to appeal to the widest possible readership. 

Having an interesting take that nobody else has come up with that will appeal to a large audience is not easy, but the more you know about your subject, the better chance you’ll have.

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