Thursday, February 09, 2006

Begin at the Beginning

I had a whole plan for how I wanted the blog to go. I've given that up in the face of an overwhelming schedule of commitments. Mostly personal ones. Today, and for the next few posts, I'd like to focus on some basic business skills that I've found need to be emphasized to people over and over again, but heck, if it ain't stickin' repeat it.

Planning ahead

I'm assuming that people who visit this blog are interested in becoming paid professionals writing, directing, producing or exec'ing in Hollywood. That said, many people have no idea what they want to do. It's a little shocking. For example, you say you want to be a screenwriter, yet you have no plan for what that means in your life. Trust that the guys who are making it do. They may not be aware that their plan is to work at one of the big studios writing movies for 18-25 year old males, specifically character-driven action or high-concept science fiction, but they have defined these things to themselves in their work. So, plan ahead. How are you going to make it? Are you a woman over 35 who likes to write thrillers and whodunits? Then, don't waste your time trying to get work at Disney. While their Touchstone label may occasionally venture into that genre, that's not what they do. Spend some time with yourself and a good movie guide (Variety does a good one with grosses) and get to know yourself. Who put together the movies you love and the types of movies you create? Those are the people you need to plan on meeting, and appealing to.

Making contacts

With a good plan you can find people who are sympathetic to your cause. Do not call people who most likely have no interest in you or your work. In the beginning that's going to seem like everyone, but persistent (read: working) writers know that triangulating on a set of folks who are going to be predisposed to like you works best. Contact those people. Get to know other people starting out like yourself. Over time, some of you will make it and some of you won't. I know several people who started out with me who are now either running major production companies or at or near the top of the studio and agenting food chain. Some of those folks are friends of mine, some of them aren't, but they know who I am, and they return my calls. And that is the name of the game.

Maintaining said contacts

This is a little tricky. You are balancing the line of pest and someone it's nice to hear from. If you really hit it off with someone -- you find movies you like in common, share a worldview, etc., then plan on calling that person as often as the relationship allows and no less. Remember, your job is to sell yourself. Your industry contact has a job. It's to read and find new material for the market. Have a little information loop -- nothing confidential or you'll get slammed -- and share out tidbits as you make your calls. If you do not live in town, see the next bit about postcards. If you do live in town, try to set up coffee dates, and screening groups.

Holiday and progress cards

These are absolutely essential if you want to stay in business. They do not have to be fancy, but they do have to feel personal. This is a visual art, people. Keep that in mind. I send my holiday cards out at the beginning of December and no matter how many people are on my list -- the last one was at 350 -- I write a personal message to the person recalling the last time we spoke or hung out. Shame on me if I can't remember because it means I need to call or set up some time with that person to make a new memory! It sucks, and I usually start them in October (not the personal note part, just the mailing list), but by Thanksgiving I'm smiling and happy as I pay for my postage and get those puppies in the mail. They always bring a phone call or return card, so it's nice.

Progress cards are important for young talent. Don't send out cards saying you've just completed a screenplay, film, or play. For writers, progress cards should mark awards milestones, publishing of pieces written outside the film world (articles, etc), agency rep changes (or if you get one to announce it to people you know so they can reach you), or if you win a prestigious writing fellowship. For directors, it is sometimes acceptable to announce the beginning or end of production since this a huge milestone in terms of actually making a film, however if the film doesn't have anyone recognizable in it, outside of your mentor or someone willing to critique or review it for a paper, this information doesn't help. Screenings for the public, awards, agency status, again, those are good things to announce. For actors it's important to let agents and casting directors know of upcoming performances, and any producers or directors you've worked for or had positive auditions for in the past (even if they didn't hire you, but gave good comments). For producers, the only people who care about your progress are writers and directors. So, if you get a movie set up, option a book, or have a screening have at it. Otherwise, your progress is best left in your diary. Sorry, it sucks, but no one cares about producers.

The irony.

My hands hurt from typing such a long post, so I'll leave off here. I'm going to follow up with two more short posts detailing some of the below.

Green, newbie and baby writers

Craft is craft, Art is something else entirely


writergurl said...

Great stuff in here on how to network in LA. Thanks!

Chris said...

Best laid plans of mice and men . . .

Please keep up the good blogging. This is great stuff for one who will be moving to LA in 45 days to start from scratch.