Student start-ups: Reel Honey carves space for female & non-binary writers

How an alumni turned her pop culture passion into a burgeoning website

Sydney Urbanek.
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When Sydney Urbanek, ArtSci ’17, launched her online magazine Reel Honey in April of 2017, she never expected the extent of its current success. Over a year later, the crowdfunded film and pop culture site, which exclusively features thework of young women and non-binary people, boasts over 100 paid contributors.

Since its inception, Reel Honey has published weekly written pieces alongside one themed issue every three months. Each issue critiques films, television series, and cultural icons. Although the platform shines for its nuanced exploration of pop culture, what sets Urbanek’s website apart is its mission to help young, underserved writers hone their skills and gain experience for future careers.

Urbanek discovered her passion for pop culture writing during her third year of Queen’s film and media program, when she began reviewing movies for The Journal.

“I was shocked—in a good way—at how much easier it was to write about something that I already lived and breathed, not to mention studied,” Urbanek told The Journal in a phone interview. “That got me thinking about how I wanted to do more of that.”

“I was shocked—in a good way—at how much easier it was to write about something that I already lived and breathed,"

Already frustrated by the lack of entry-level opportunities for young people to write about pop culture, Urbanek came across several articles highlighting the scarcity of women in film writing. While women exist in the industry, they’re less likely than their male counterparts to belong to professional organizations, land staff writer positions, and be assigned bigger stories.

By the time Urbanek entered her final year at Queen’s, she’d already applied for the Reel Honey trademark, planning to create a film and pop culture website catered specifically to young women and non-binary people. When classes finished in April, she launched a platform which not only creates a space for marginalized writers, but also pays them for their work.  

In her first published Editor’s Note, Urbanek wrote that if Reel Honey inspired one writer to pursue a professional career in film criticism or journalism, she’d be satisfied. Since then, the website has connected her with over 100 young writers and visual artists—some of whom have used Reel Honey to build portfolios for graduate school and full-time positions at other companies. 

Urbanek believes a key part of the platform’s success is her willingness to connect with and learn from contributors. 

“I’m not a veteran film critic or an established person in my field,” she said. “I’m very much a peer who has grown as a writer myself, alongside all the writers whose work I edit.”

Although Urbanek is pleased with Reel Honey’s rapid growth, she’s even more proud of the quality of the writing, which has attracted the online attention of filmmakers and actors. When stars like Tina Majorino from Veronica Mars and Alyssa Edwards of RuPaul’s Drag Race connect with the site’s work, Urbanek is reminded of how far Reel Honey has come.  

“Almost everything that’s happened with the site since April of 2017 is not something that I could have expected or predicted beforehand,” Urbanek said. “I never even expected to be running it a year later, let alone almost two. I didn’t expect anyone other than my Queen’s classmates to be writing for it—but I was also proven wrong there.”

“I never even expected to be running it a year later, let alone almost two. I didn’t expect anyone other than my Queen’s classmates to be writing for it—but I was also proven wrong there.”

Going forward, Urbanek plans to continue raising money for Reel Honey, hoping one day to expand her site’s coverage to include music. Through founding and running her website’s online magazine, she’s discovered the importance of embracing the unexpected.

“Literally nobody knows what they’re doing. Not the influencer that you regularly checkup on [and] probably not the newest Silicon Valley whiz-kid,” Urbanek said. “I wish someone started telling me that when I was in high school … because my career trajectory seems to change literally by the month.”

“It’s really okay to be comfortable in just being uncomfortable and not having a sense of what exactly happens next.”  

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