The Artist Versus The Businessman:
Knowing is Half the Battle
In screenwriting and filmmaking, much like in the original G.I. Joe cartoon, knowing is half the battle. If you have not done your research, you’re not ready for Hollywood – and neither is your project. Timing, research, talent and luck – that’s what this business is about. If you’ve only got talent, you’re not ready. And if you’re banking on luck, you’re screwed. That’s why the first two are so important.
I can’t tell you how many writers at pitchfests are shocked – SHOCKED, I say – when they pitch me a project they think is completely original and I tell them they are the 3rd writer to pitch that story to me that day. And they are equally shocked to learn that their big budget sci-fi action movie about alien robots that transform into other objects was already done.
Doing your research is one of the biggest keys to success in this industry. Give yourself the best chance at success – and this means pitching the right project to the right people at the right time. It means knowing who the players are, which companies produce what, reading what’s in development and what’s in production, reading what scripts (and genres) are selling and what is making them sell, knowing what’s doing well at the box office this year and what is tanking, what types of movies are playing overseas and what kind don’t fare well over the pond. If you’re a director, it’s about knowing what shooting styles and equipment are the best and most used and what the new trends are.
And if you think all of this isn’t part of your job as a writer or director, you’re in the wrong industry. The key to being successful is blending both artistry and business sense.
Book writers, when completing their proposals, must write 2 pages on other books in the same vein to prove they know the marketplace, the competition, and how their book is difference. Lucky for you, screenwriters don’t have to do this with each submission, though they should!
Writers constantly say to me, “I’m an artist, not a business man.” Well, my friend, if you want to be an artist, buy a canvas and a paintbrush, grab some street space in a park in Paris or NYC and artist yourself away. But to succeed in the film industry, you better learn how to be both. It’s not called the Artist Colony – it’s called the Film Business. This industry is inundated by artists but run by businessmen – and guess who sticks around longer?
The first part of becoming a good businessperson is knowing what sets your project apart and making sure it can sell. To do that, you have to know about as many other projects out there as you can. Writers, especially those outside of LA, often ask how they can learn about this stuff. And while it’s true that you don’t have access to the tracking databases that execs do, you DO have access to a number of sites and news sources that can give you what you need.
Read the trades and news sources every day. Deadline Hollywood, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc. Cut out articles, keep a running tally of what scripts (in what genres) are getting made by whom, who’s writing them, what packages (actors, directors, etc) are attached. And in the article is usually the projects’ logline. Write these down too so you can see what loglines are selling.
Read blogs and articles from industry insiders. I try to blog as much as I can on my website, www.nobullscript.net, and there are obviously many more out there. Listen to great podcasts and radio shows (like Film Courage of course). There are screenwriting publications like Script Magazine, Movie Maker Magazine and Creative Screenwriting Magazine that give insights on the business, script sales, writer interviews, etc. Sign up for their newsletters. Also, Moviebytes, Baseline and the Logline E-Zine have newsletters that give out some great information, so subscribe if you can. It doesn’t matter if you’re outside of LA, there’s no excuse for not doing your research!
The second part is getting your project into the hands of the right people, at the right time. If you see that Bruckheimer just sold a project about time travelling frogs, then don’t call him about your time-bending Toads project. On the other hand, if you see that a development exec just got divorced, send her your man-hating comedy about how all guys are pigs – she’ll probably connect with it more. Genres and tastes are cyclical, so if you can’t sell your project right now, put it in a drawer and work on something else, and pull it back out when the time is right.
If you’re at a pitchfest, read those little booklets they give you with the company profiles, credits, what they are looking for, and most importantly, what they are NOT looking for. I assure you, a company that says they do not do horror movies, is not going to make an exception for YOU just because yours is “special.” Don’t waste your time or money, but just as important, don’t waste their time.
Executives appreciate writers who have done their research, seem to know what’s out there, what’s working, what isn’t, etc. It tells us we’re dealing with someone who has put the time and effort in and is serious about not only their craft, but the business as well, and this will give you a better shot at success.
This is what inspired me to put together a great new class series starting May 3, 2011 in Los Angeles that truly blends both the creative and business aspects of Hollywood called “The Executive Series for Screenwriters: Making Hollywood Work For You.”
It’s a comprehensive 4-week, 8-class series taught by Top Hollywood Executives ready to bring their extensive expertise to YOU! Each 90-minute in-depth workshop taught by a Top Industry Insider tackles a different topic on aspects of screenwriting and the Ins & Outs of the business of Hollywood. And you can pick and choose which courses you’d like to take (only $50 each!).
For more information on each of the classes and to order tickets, please click here.
PLUS! Sign up for ALL classes and you will receive a FREE copy of “No B.S. for Screenwriters,” and $10 off at Script-a-thon, along with a chance to win a FREE copy of Final Draft 8 and a free script consultation at No BullScript!
And always remember – knowing is half the battle…Go Joe!
Check out Daniel Manus on Film Courage – listen to the interview here…
Daniel Manus parlayed his career as a development executive in Hollywood to becoming an in-demand script consultant and founder of No BullScript Consulting. Creative Screenwriting Magazine named him one of the Top 15 “Cream of the Crop” Script Consultants in 2010. Before launching No BullScript, he also worked as a freelance script analyst for companies such as ScriptShark and Script Coach. He is the author of the E-Book “No BS for Screenwriters: Advice from the Executive Perspective” and brings a new voice to the classroom, teaching seminars and workshops to writers around the country.
Daniel is currently a contributing writer and columnist for The Business of Show Institute, VirtualPitchfest.com and Script Magazine’s website. He has also written articles for Moviebytes.com and was published in the 2010 Screenwriter’s and Playwright’s Market. He is currently writing the full length version of his E-Book. Raised on Long Island, NY, in an amusingly dysfunctional household, Daniel holds a B.S. degree in Television with a concentration in Screenwriting from the Ithaca College Park School of Communications.