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Secret diary of a part-time reviewer
3 May 2012

If you write about film for a living you're expected to turn reviews around in a heartbeat, but given that's only to be expected if that's what you're paid to do. But if, like us, you watch and write about films in the spare time you can find between work, family and other life duties, it's sometimes a miracle reviews get posted at all, particularly given the length of the articles we tend to bang out.

It all starts like this...

Get home from work, fed up and tired, and trip over three jiffy bags sitting on the doormat. Pause to recall if I ordered anything. Not this week. Bound to be review discs then. Glance at the sizeable pile of DVDs and Blu-rays already begging for review and inadvertently let out a pathetic sigh. Grab a hero-sized mug of coffee and tear open the jiffy bags. All have review discs in them. One of the films I'm familiar with, which is always good news. The other two I know but have never seen, but they at least look interesting. The discs we get sent usually are. Hang on, there's more than one disc in this one. A three-film DVD set with extra features. Do I know this particular director's work? Not as well as I should. Yikes.

Boot up my five-year-old MacBook Pro and repeatedly poke the bottom right of the screen to stop it flickering like a faulty fluorescent light. Today it shows the first sign that the screen will soon die. The timing couldn't be worse. Load up Mail and send out an updated list of available review discs to the other site writers and see if anyone bites, knowing that two of them are taking a temporary leave of absence and that a couple of others probably won't respond. Ponder for a second about how nice it would be to be able to pay the site writers for every review they submit, then guzzle down the coffee and decide which of the new discs I'll be able to cover and which will probably go un-reviewed.

Have put tonight aside to watch one of the films on the review pile. Before that I jump on the bike and go shopping and check on elder family members, then knock up some food and settle down for the film. Making notes while I'm watching becomes problematic because I failed to allow for the speed and quantity of the non-English dialogue delivery – every time I look down to write something in my notebook I miss a key subtitle, so have to keep stopping the disc and running bits again. Soon give up on this approach and try writing without looking down at my book. Half the resulting notes are shapeless scrawls. It's almost midnight by the time I get finished. Bollocks, I haven't even started on the extra features yet.

Up sharp the next morning, I squeeze one of the four extra features in over breakfast before scurrying off to work. I take the review disc with me for a possible lunchtime perusal. A morning of video editing grinds to a halt when the first cut takes an age to transcode into the required format. Take this opportunity to complete some artwork and mull over how the opening paragraph of the review will be shaped. Am interrupted to explain to yet another smiling fool why a two-centimetre wide picture grabbed off of the internet doesn't print well at A4, and to assure another that Comic Sans is not a "fun little font" and is never going to appear in any of my artwork.

Lunchtime arrives. Watch the extra features wearing headphones the size of two small dustbins because those stupid little ear buds that came with my iPhone won't sit in ears that are devoid of earlobes. Keep getting interrupted by dopey questions, the favourite being, "what are you watching?" Depending on who says it, I respond with "your mamma" or something wittier but equally dismissive. If they are sympathetic to this sort of film there's a good chance a conversation about it will unfold. My visitor departs and I realise that lunch hour is over. Arse. I still haven't finished the extras and have no more than the opening paragraph of the review complete.

Hopes of adding a few lines to the review while more video is importing are dashed when Final Cut Pro X refuses to recognise the supplied video files and I have to transcode them manually with separate software. Waste ten minutes badmouthing Apple for fucking up my favourite editing software and head off home in a small strop. There's another jiffy bag on the doormat. Place it gingerly on the pile then jump back on my bike and head off for a swim. Feeling rather better, I suddenly remember I haven't done the programme notes for tonight's film society screening. Quickly throw them together and print them out, then belt down to the cinema. Jot down ideas for the review while handing the notes to arriving punters. A few of them pause to tell me how much they hated last week's film and hope this one will be better.

Back home by 11pm. Watch and make notes on the rest of the extra features while shovelling a late meal down my hungry throat. The content of one of extra features changes my view of how the opening paragraph should play. Start the review again and lose track of time. In bed by 1am.

Stumble into work the following day and use the lunch break to work on the review. Fend off a few questions about whether I'm busy with glares that suggest that I regard the enquirers as insects that I will crush underfoot if they don't bugger off.

Am required to attend a string of meetings in the afternoon, and during one of the duller ones devise a structure for the review and quietly write it down. A colleague is pleased that I'm keeping notes on the what's being said and asks if he could get a look at them later. Well he can read the review when it's done if that helps.

Sit down at the flickering laptop that evening with the best of intentions but have three news stories to format and post, which always takes at least twice as long as I allow for. Get back to the review and my girlfriend shows up waving a legal document she can't make any sense of. Two hours of phone calls and internet searching later and everything is clarified, a reply letter has been drafted, and she goes away happy. It's now 9pm. An hour of writing and my brain starts to lose focus. Plod upstairs and stick my face in cold water, brew up a coffee, grab my notebook and sit down in front of another review disc, knowing that tomorrow I'll be starting on the next review while simultaneously trying to finish the first.

At lunchtime the next day, instead of completing the first review I decide to write this, promising myself I'll definitely get that first review finished this evening. Arrive home to an email from one of our writers with a new review attached. My review put on hold to format the new arrival. Tomorrow perhaps?

And so on. It's just as well we love what we do.