The DIY Writer

9 02 2012

I have a confession. I thought I’d be a millionaire by the time I was 30. When I was 22, an overworked development assistant and aspiring screenwriter, I was pretty convinced that if I just came up with one good idea, knocked out a script (after my 15 hour work days), it would miraculously hit the spec market, cause a bidding war, and sell for $500,00.00. One of those every year or two, I was guaranteed millionaire status and a house in the Hills before 30. (And don’t forget my successful marriage and cute babies that were supposed to come with that package. Ahh…22 was a great age.)
Back in those days, there actually was a spec market, and I did know a few people who hit such a lottery number, but, it was still a far-fetched pipe dream.

Cut to the present day. Nothing sells easily. Scripts need attachments, product tie-ins, viral marketing plans. Execs need sizzle reels. Showrunners and writer’s rooms are expected to tweet about their shows, interact with the audience, write webisodes, and go to Comic-Con.
Gone are the days where the writer can write something and let their agent handle the dirty work that comes next.  Especially in TV, the showrunner has become a personality. Josh Schwartz. Kurt Sutter. J.J. Abrams. Bill Lawrence. Liz Meriwether. They have to play the part of the willing Wizard, allowing the audience to take a slight peek behind the curtains of their shows. Or at least, give the audience a sense that they got a peek behind the curtain.

Thankfully technology has caught up to make some of these things easier to come by, but still, it more incumbent on the writer these days to find a new and inventive way to promote their project BEFORE anyone has given them money to make said project.

All of which brings me to the point of this: what are you going to do to stand out from the pack?
Sure, you already came up with an idea that no one has done, in a way that no one has done, with a voice that no one has heard. Yeah, yeah…that’s the easy part. (Please note the sarcasm here because the majority of writers get stuck on this phase because it is VERY difficult to do well.)
But how will you get anyone to read your amazing project? How will you be remembered after you leave a meeting with a potential producer, exec, showrunner, agent, manager?

Writers are wearing more hats these days, one of which is getting smart about making sizzle reels or trailers for their future projects. It makes it harder to forget a project when a script is accompanied by a trailer, sizzle, poster, website, twitter feed, etc.

Books even have trailers now. I found that a little shocking, but that’s where we are. I’m already throwing around ideas for the trailer for my YA book.

I came across one of these DIY writers, who is calling in favors and thinking outside the box to give his pilot script an extra boost. Adam Gaines is a writer who teamed up with a childhood friend, Ryan Lathey , an animator who also wanted to create a calling card, and together they made a potential title sequence for his pilot, ORGANIZED.

ORGANIZED Concept Titles from Adam Gaines on Vimeo.
Does the title sequence give away the pilot story? No, not really. It doesn’t have to. I haven’t read the script, but I can extrapolate that this is about the dark underbelly of high school. Add the title, “ORGANIZED”, and we are probably in the area of  ‘organized crime in high school’.  (I’m going to go out on a limb and assume this isn’t a show about how to organize one’s locker.)
Do I totally know what the show is? Not necessarily. But, there’s a voice or tone that’s coming through through that gives us a sense of the show. I’m closer to knowing who my audience is, the tone of the pilot, and I can already think about which outlets this would be right for.
There’s something tangible for an agent or manager to get excited about beyond the script. Especially when agents bring home stacks of scripts for a weekend, wouldn’t it be nice to give them something different to look at that still sells your project?
This is also a great way to circulate the project to create your own momentum. And it speaks well for the writer that he wasn’t sitting around waiting for someone to come knocking on his door…he took action and made something.

I for one am a major fan of those risk-takers. The It’s Always Sunny crew is being rewarded for their risks. Louie CK’s recent stand-up act that he sold on his website, also a risk, and definitely one that paid off. (Plus, it was f*cking hilarious!)

That’s really what it boils down to. There isn’t a storm of sales and “Buy! Buy! Buy!” orders around town. It’s up to us, especially in this hands-on day and age, to do something different to get noticed.
BUT, I also caution you to not go so far overboard that you creep people out or do something totally inappropriate. This is still a business. So that idea of giving your script to a producer’s kids outside their elementary school first? It’s creepy. Don’t do it. And leaving your script on an agent’s windshield on their car outside their office….also creepy. Oh, and avoid anything that requires you to dress in costume.  That usually never works out as well as you thought it would.

What about you guys? Any other suggestions for getting noticed?



2 responses

12 02 2012

Glad to see a new post. I’m in the midst of writing a pilot right now (okay, a few pilots) and the the thought of doing something else (sizzle real, filming a scene, etc) terrifies me. It takes to do something like that. And as a struggling security guard/ aspiring screenwriter in SoCal money is something most of us don’t have.
One idea, would be to hire actors, because we all know at least one actor down here, and let’s say you have a pitch meeting with that person…somehow have that actor interact with the person you’re having a meeting with. If your script is about a massive conspiracy, have the actor warn the person about the conspiracy as if it’s real. That might be considered stalking, however.

12 02 2012

I did not “sneak” into the Suburgatory location shoot overnight and accidentally leave a spec pilot on one of the lawns, because that would be crazy, right, and anyway I’m sure it got thrown out.

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