Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 4: Networking & Marketing
by Geno Scala
I was recently involved in a discussion with several screenwriters regarding the importance of networking and marketing one’s projects and/or themselves. One of the screenwriters debated the effectiveness- or, in his opinion, ineffectiveness- of a networking and marketing strategy. I couldn’t develop the right words fast enough to respond, and even if I could have, I wouldn’t have been able to utter them due to my lower jaw slamming against the floor. He followed this mind-numbing point of view with the comment “I just work on my script. A great story always finds its way to the screen!”
I realized then that there is yet another myth about screenwriting- the myth that all one needs is a great screenplay. Now, having an excellent screenplay is a great goal, and should be the number one goal of the screenwriter. But, it’s still only number one. There have to be goals to set and goals to reach. One of these goals has to include the development of both a networking strategy and marketing strategy. What you do AFTER writing that wonderful screenplay is EQUALLY important to writing that screenplay. Let this sink in for a second- marketing your screenplay properly, with an effective, well-conceived plan, is EQUALLY as important as writing a great screenplay. Recently, one of my student/clients reached out to me asking this very question- “Where do I go from here?” I provided her a ten-step marketing process that is really the basis of a 40-50 point, full-scale marketing and network plan.
STEP #1: Understand that your script is NOT ready to be marketed.
Once you accept that, you’ll breathe a bit easier. The reason is simple- you have but one chance to make a first impression. One of the reasons there are so few “new” success stories is usually due to violating this very rule. Ninety nine percent of the hundreds of thousands of writers blow their first opportunity by rushing it. However, for the process of developing the rest of the steps, we will just ASSUME the following is true:
You’ve written this screenplay the best it can possibly be, and your family and friends love it! (your cheerleaders, or “CHEERS” for short!)
You’ve received a number of extremely positive feedbacks from your PEERS those other writers whom you respect and whose opinions and advice you treasure.
You have entered and won, or placed well, in several screenwriting contests, including several of the most respected, highly regarded contests.
You’ve received one (preferably more) “recommend” from a highly-regarded script coverage service, script doctor, consultant or mentor (your “ROCKETEERS”)
STEP #2: Enhance your networking opportunities. By now, it is assumed you have hundreds of business-related connections, to include fellow screenwriters, filmmakers, script readers, executives, producers, marketers and almost anybody affiliated with the entertainment business. These connections are often made through the Internet at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and a host of different sites. Work on spending at least one hour a day at these sites, cultivating relationships through discussions, and inquiries. Avoid getting political or too personal. Comment on a photo, ask what their latest project is, and learn about their likes and dislikes before jumping in and talking about yourself.
The worst thing you can do is turn a personal, comfortable relationship into an obvious means to a stepping-stone to get introduced somewhere else or TO someone else. Btw, if you are NOT on these mediums, you are far behind the rest of us!
STEP #3: Post your script. Sites like Moviebytes (www.moviebytes.com), Talentville (www.talentville.com), Triggerstreet (www.triggerstreet.com) and Ink Tip (www.inktip.com), allow you to post your script for marketing purposes, while others may give additional feedbacks, in exchange for script reads.
STEP #4: Determine which movies are like yours in genre and/or subject matter, and research them. This is a great technique that many writers fail doing correctly. If your high concept movie is similar to “Star Wars”, you’ll want to research Star Wars through IMdbPro, and find all of the key players from the movie- the screenwriter, director, producer, the talent, etc. Through IMdbPro, you can then find out what other movies they’ve worked on, and create a talent tree. You will find that some of the same talent usually work with each other picture after picture; this is especially true with Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, and Judd Apatow films. In IMdbPro, you can trace back all the way to their representatives, including managers and agents. Again, it is not unusual for an agent representing Daniel Craig (James Bond) to also rep other “action” stars. Therefore, if you have an action script, you would want to target those who are probably most interested in that genre.
STEP #5: Prepare you query letter. This letter is quite different from most other business or marketing letters. Much like your logline, it is designed to develop a “taste”, some intrigue, some interest in your project.
STEP #6: Create a Facebook “like” page, Twitter account and other networking pages for your projects. This keeps the name out there, and also keeps your supporters up-to-date on any happenings involving you or the script.
STEP #7: Attend any and all “pitch fests” and conventions possible. Include film festivals, producer conventions, director conventions, etc. If you are not in LA schedule a future visit and center it near these important events. Through networking, you may develop an opportunity to stay with a fellow writer for a period of time, in exchange for them piggy-backing to a producer’s lunch or meeting with you. It will help defray the travel cost, and the lunch bill when it comes time to “pick up the tab”.
STEP #8: Sign up for Skype. You may be able to schedule face-to-face meetings through Skype without having to make the trip.
STEP #9: Have multiple projects prepared when the meeting is scheduled. Most producers will ask to see or hear additional projects that you might have, so be prepared to at least discuss the logline and/or a synopsis with them. They want to see if you are in this for the duration, and not just a one-trick pony. They’ll get an immediate feel as to the way you and your creative mind works.
STEP #10: Be someone everyone would want to work with. Don’t be argumentative, picayune, difficult, demanding, overly sensitive, overly shy, embarrassed, overly humble, not humble enough, outrageous, outlandish, over-the-top, unprofessional, or boring.
Be perfect- just be yourself.
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.
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“Screenwriter Will Fetters knew heading into adapting Nicholas Sparks’ “The Lucky One” that he wasn’t necessarily heading into any unexplored territory.
"There’s certain beats and moments you have to have in a Nicholas Sparks movie, which I learned," Fetters says of the film about a Marine (Zac Efron) whose life is saved when he finds a snapshot of a girl (Taylor Schilling) on the battlefield then tracks her down to her Louisiana kennel. “I wanted to write a lot of stuff about the war, and I had all these flashbacks. But it’s just the nature of doing a Nick Sparks movie,” Fetters adds. “I did a ton of research [about the war]. And then people were like, ‘Where are all the dogs?’ But that’s just the nature of it.”
So what are those certain beats you have to include in a Nicholas Sparks movie?
"You know you’re going to have a date, you’re going to have a moment that they kind of first get to know each other," he says. "Some people are going to get naked, people are going to get sexy. Somebody’s going to do something wrong, and people are going to have to choose love over something. Not to be glib, but you do know to a certain extent when you go into this that you’re treading on familiar ground."
That familiarity with Sparks’ body of work even seeped into Fetters’ writing process — or at least how he saw the film in his head. “When I first wrote it, to be totally honest, Zac wasn’t who I was thinking about. It was older, and it was more like a Ryan Gosling,” he says. “Anyone writing a Nick Sparks movie, it’s Ryan Gosling. You could be writing anything and it’s Ryan Gosling.”
Working in such familiar territory proved to be a great warmup for Fetters’ next gig, penning the Clint Eastwood-directed, Beyonce-starring update on “A Star is Born,” which is yet to go into production. Of course, updating the story of a singer emerging out of nowhere provides its own challenges: “You have to navigate ‘American Idol,’” Fetters explains. “How do you have Beyonce undiscovered? If Beyonce walked by right now and she was not Beyonce, I would try to sign her. I’m not an agent, but I would be like, ‘You should do … something. And I should … make 10 percent of it.’”
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“In addition to acting and directing, Clint Eastwood is quite an avid music lover. He’s composed the score to a number of his films and was even awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Berklee College of Music. As such, it came as no surprise when it was announced that Eastwood was planning a remake of A Star Is Born with Beyonce Knowles set to star as a burgeoning young artist. Production was pushed back due to the star’s pregnancy, but now that Blue Ivy is alive and well, Eastwood is working on casting his male lead.
Our correspondent Sheila Roberts got to speak with A Star Is Born screenwriter Will Fettersduring a roundtable interview at the press day for the romantic drama The Lucky One, and the scribe took some time to talk about his approach to the remake—including a heavy inspiration fromNirvana frontman Kurt Cobain—and the casting of the male lead. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.
For those unfamiliar with the story, A Star Is Born concerns an aging alcoholic star with a career on the decline who helps a young talent rise to stardom. Romantic entanglements and tensions arise due to the close quarters and fading starpower of the elder artist.Leonardo DiCaprio, Will Smith, andChristian Bale were all considered to star opposite Beyonce, but deals with the actors never materialized. Last we heard, Warner Bros. was courting Tom Cruise to take the male lead, but formal discussions have yet to begin.
When asked about the status of the project, Fetters said Eastwood is still on the hunt for his male star…..”