“I became quite successful very young, and it was mainly because I was so enthusiastic and I just worked so hard at it.” -Francis Ford Cappola
by Fin Wheeler
Most aspiring filmmakers, directors and screenwriters read quotes like that and think why not me? You champion yourself any chance you get and/or you work at your craft every day. So, why haven’t you broken in yet?
Back in Cappola’s day, while many dreamed of Hollywood, only a tiny fraction of the population dared to take steps to make those dreams a reality. Today, we live in a world where roughly 99% of all humans feel entitled to a well-paid career in the entertainment industry (or so it seems). Simply “being enthusiastic and working hard at it” isn’t enough these days.
So, how do we get noticed and get ahead?
The first step to becoming a professional screenwriter is accepting the lack of fame and fortune that comes with it. According to the Writers Guild of America, only half their members make a living wage from writing each year. The rest of the time, professional screenwriters make their mortgage payments and pay bills by pick up teaching gigs and working in unrelated professions.
You’re far more likely to make money and gain a little celebrity by being a contestant on a reality show. To remain motivated, a screenwriter needs to have a realistic view of who they are, what they want and what success will look like once they get there.
Marketing Yourself and Your Brand
We’re all much more market savvy than we were even just a few years ago. Social media platforms allow us all to market ourselves and our brand. The nobodies who intuitively understand their own brand and their unique appeal are the ones who become instafamous. They use their own social media marketing to stand out from the crowd.
To be a screenwriter you certainly need to understand the fundamentals of the craft, but you also need to know how to stand out in the sea of other hopefuls.
Regularly completing new specs, sending out query letters, and attending networking events are all important elements to getting yourself noticed and working towards attaining a professional set of writing skills. But, producers are extremely unlikely to invest millions in unknown screenwriters. If you do get onto the radar of a producer, they’re far more likely to watch your progress from afar for a year or two, to see how you perform and develop, so it is essential to have an online presence.
Know What You Want
A lot of aspiring screenwriters I meet feel that they’ll have more luck if they slap a range of labels on themselves. When they introduce themselves, they say their name and that they want to write, and direct, that they like the idea of being an auteur but they also wouldn’t mind trying their hand at stand up and they haven’t ruled out starring in their own movies either.
Too many labels are confusing.
To producers and agents, you are an unknown quantity. If you want to build brand recognition with them, you have to give them a clean identity/brand they can remember. The blonde guy wants to write action, the woman with the long brown hair wants to write indie drama.
Once you’ve got your first feature credit, you can explore other options. Until then you need to decide on one label and focus on building your brand and marketing towards achieving that. Only when you decide what your primary focus is can you market to that.
Show You’ve Got the Skills and Attributes
Once you’ve worked out what you want to be, think about the key attributes and skills that the producers will be looking for, and work out the best ways to illustrate that you’re a great fit for the job.
You need to show that you
- have a distinctive aesthetic
- have the technical skill set
- are capable of completion
- are capable of collaborating (easy to work with)
- have high production values
You also have to show that you’re comfortable mixing with actors and investors (that you’re presentable, polite, respectful, and can carry on an interesting conversation).
TV Staff Writer
In television you have to
- be talented
- be easy to get along with (TV days are very long)
- be able to keep confidential information confidential
Every TV show is taped months in advance. Producers looking at your social media presence will be trying to discern just how much of a gossip you are, as much as anything. Also remember that every contract these days has a morality clause. Just because you want to work on a Breaking Bad spin-off doesn’t mean it’s okay to post about your drug use on Facebook.
A lot of aspiring screenwriters are in two dozen different writing groups and have legions of other aspiring screenwriters and ‘mentors’ in their online social circles.
A professional screenwriter is most often the only writer on the project. They work independently with relatively few meetings and little support and/or contact. Surely, an aspiring screenwriter’s online presence should indicate that they’re self assured, and able to work without constant reassurance from dozens of other people.
As with television, screenwriters have to sign NDAs. Producers also need to know that you’re emotionally mature. If someone trolls you online, do you lash out at them and exacerbate the situation, or just delete and block? Are you forever posting about how great life will be when you have an A-list actor as a BBF, or do you come across as respectful and level headed?
If a producer spent ten minutes looking at your various online profiles, what conclusions would they draw?
Another thing to remember when developing your social media strategy is that producers and agents spend all day every day reading scripts and talking on the phone to their existing clients regarding their current projects. Discovering new talent is something they try to fit in between other things. If they’re all read out, and they have to keep the computer volume off so they can stay on the phone, how can you get their attention and create a positive impression with your social media presence?
You need to present your marketing in a way that is instantly understood and easily digestible.
Take a few days to think about where you want to head, career-wise. Then you can start to plan how you can use your online presence to achieve that.
Next week: Screenwriters Guide to Social Media Platforms
Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.