Cinefex Diaries – The Rhythm of Captions

Cinefex 156 Captions

There’s a rhythm to life at Cinefex. No sooner do you get your teeth stuck into a new assignment than the previous one comes knocking at the door again.

The new assignment in question is my article for our February issue. The movie I’m covering won’t be released until next year but my copy deadline is early December, so right now I’m trekking through my interviews and trying to bludgeon the material into some kind of order. If you’re wondering what the movie is, sorry, mum’s the word.

The previous assignment – two assignments, actually – is back because it’s time to write the picture captions for the print edition of Cinefex 156. That might not sound like a big deal, until you understand that Cinefex captions doesn’t just describe what’s going on in the pictures. In fact, they’re almost a mini-assignment in themselves. The idea is that, by browsing the captions in sequence, the casual reader gets a highly condensed overview of the main article.

My first job when writing captions is to study the collection of amazing images that our publisher, Gregg Shay, has selected for the article. Typically these include film stills, behind the scenes photographs and visual effects before-and-afters, all approved by the studio for publication.

Next, I’ll try to give the image context in terms of the film’s narrative, and write copy that explains the picture contents. If space allows, I’ll provide extra contextual detail that helps to illuminate things further. All this means lifting content from the final draft article, editing and rewording to present the information in fresh, compressed form. I have just 100 words to play with for each caption, so it’s a meticulous process where every syllable counts, and some captions cover more than one picture. My print edition article on The Shape of Water has 19 pictures and 11 captions; Thor: Ragnarok has 24 pictures and 19 captions. For the captions of both articles together, I’ve written about 2,500 words.

Occasionally, Gregg will throw something at me that demands additional research. Maybe there’s a photo of a bunch of sculptors in a creature shop, with no indication of their names (when people appear in the photos, we always try to credit them). Even when I do recognise faces, I always double-check – the camera does sometimes lie you know. Or maybe there’s a gorgeous-looking visual effects shot that didn’t specifically get discussed during the interview, or that was mentioned only in passing. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it prompts a hasty call or email to the supervisor concerned, something along the lines of: “Help! I have to write something intelligent about this shot and I have no idea what I’m looking at!”

My Cinefex 156 print captions are now done and dusted, but I’m still awaiting the pictures for the iPad edition. We always include more images in the iPad articles, and the rules for formatting the captions are slightly more complicated. No doubt those will land when I’m neck-deep in the final draft of my current assignment.

Like I said, there’s a rhythm to life here.

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