Dr. Howard Suber, author of The Power of Film, teaches an extraordinary class on strategy, storytelling and strategic thinking at UCLA in the MFA Producers Program. During his course, he has an on-going email conversation with students present and past on the key topics of the class. We had dinner the other night and discussed the importance of online entertainment. He is a bit more of a skeptic than I am– I am a true believer, I admit it.
In his class emails he talks about the truism “it’s not what you know, but who you know” which reflects the nepotism, name dropping and almighty rolodex or contact list in Hollywood. He turns this notion on its head and says the more important thing is “who knows you.” In his class, Dr. Suber emphasizes the importance of having credibility and a stellar reputation. In my email to him, printed below. I reference his more accurate and useful truism and apply it to my experience and the importance of “being watched” in the context of making a deal or getting a job in the entertainment industry and how New Media affords you the best platform.
For several years, I have been a consultant for FreMantle Media, one of the leading worldwide media companies. I’ve met and worked with their executives, producers and writers across Europe and Australia. I recently started developing my own online series with them. The reason I got my deal was management had an opportunity to watch me work. They knew my work ethic, how I relate to their business and what my general approach to drama development was. They watched and knew me personally.
I think “being watched” is how any one gets any deal or any assignment in this business. It absolutely goes back to the principle you articulate about “who knows you.” No one is going to risk any kind of a substantial budget on someone they don’t know on some level. Spec scripts used to be the way people got to watch and get to know a new writer. But those days are pretty much gone. Budgets are too high and most everything is an adaption, a franchise property or a remake. There are plenty of better known writers ahead of a newbie. What a newbie brings to the table is a new eye, a fresh take and original ideas– not easily financed any more (with the rare exception). Then there is the nightmare of distribution even if you do get financed.
That is why I believe online comedy and drama is the future for talent. The barrier to entry is low. Productions values can be minimal because the screen is small. What makes a series successful is really clever, interesting and engaging writing. The online series is very much a writer’s showcase. All you really need is a distinctive voice. Distribution is equally available to everyone.
To prove how clever writing emerges in even the most minimal format– take a look at the article below from THR:
“Twitter sensation Shit My Dad Says is headed to television. CBS has picked up a comedy project based on the Twitter account, which has enlisted more than 700,000 followers since launching in August and has made its creator, Justin Halpern, an Internet star.”
“Will & Grace” creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick are on board to executive produce and supervise the writing for the multicamera family comedy, which Halpern will co-pen with Patrick Schumacker. Halpern and Schumacker will also co-exec produce the Warner Bros. TV-produced project, which has received a script commitment. The comedy’s title will change if it gets on the air.”
“Halpern, 29, had moved back in with his parents in San Diego, and on Aug. 3 he launched “Shit My Dad Says,” a Twitter feed featuring colorful — often profane — comments and pearls of wisdom made by his 73-year-old father during their daily conversations.”
Full article is here: Shit My Dad Says
So Justin Halpern got a deal based on 140 character Tweet depictions of his dad. He translated his ear for dialogue and sense of humor into a running comedy. The Powers That Be watched him do it. Believe me. They are watching everywhere! There are staff people whose only job is to troll the Internet for new talent. If you are talented enough to develop a following they will find you– guaranteed.
Don’t forget Juno scribe Diablo Cody first got noticed for her blog about being a stripper among other things.
From her Wikipedia page:
“Cody began a parody of a weblog called Red Secretary, detailing the (fictional) exploits of a secretary living in Belarus. The events were thinly–veiled allegories for events that happened in Cody’s real life, but told from the perspective of a disgruntled, English–idiom–challenged Eastern Bloc girl. Cody’s first bona fide blog appeared under the nickname Darling Girl after Cody had moved from Chicago to Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
“Then, Cody signed up for amateur night at a Minneapolis strip club called the Skyway Lounge. Enjoying the experience, she eventually quit her day job and took up stripping full-time. Based on the popularity of Pussy Ranch (her City Pages Newspaper blog) received, she was able to secure a publishing contract with Gotham Books. At the age of 24, Cody wrote her memoir Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper.”
As another site says: “she gonzo-blogged about the local sex industry until people with money began to notice. ”
Cody wasn’t the overnight success everyone depicted– she put in long hours developing a distinctive voice that got noticed online. She was being watched until they knew her well enough to invest in her.
Last but not least, the WGA has just admitted its first member for writing a self-financed online series– her name is Ruth Livier. Her Writers Guild membership is based entirely on her online credits. Livier is a 30+ actress who feared the roles were dwindling for her age range and for her ethnicity. Here is the story and a whole Guild issue about writing online series in general in WGA Written By Magazine
Here is what Livier has to say about creating her series:
“In the entertainment community there is typecasting. The ‘powers that be’ don’t really know what to do with you. In my case I am not dark enough to fit their Latina stereotype and not white enough to be white. That’s why writing and producing for New Media is such a fantastic option. It affords us the opportunities that traditional media hasn’t. Let’s be real, the opportunities to break in through ‘traditional’ channels are slim. Like my friend Dennis Leoni says, “The oldest form of affirmative action is the ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ network.” And he is right. Try breaking through that! If you are not a part of the GOB network, mainstream media is super expensive. I don’t know about other Hispanic Americans with similar upbringings to mine, but rich relatives do not abound. No one has the private money to fund theatrical projects. I am not complaining. I’m grateful for my life experience.
I’m just saying New Media, the vehicle we are now using for Ylse, is a fantastic resource and a wonderful opportunity for us. We have immediate and unaltered access to a world audience and are circumventing traditional media platforms which are controlled by a small few.”
Read the full article in Hispanic Tips: News and Ideas
As the old foundations of Media Empires crumble there is plenty of opportunity for talent willing to think and create in a new way. This is the good news in the Old Media Armageddon. My advice is don’t waste your time on a dying paradigm that’s more interested in excluding you than including you. This is a tremendous time to be a pioneer and create new ways to tell stories. As Gary Carter says in his lecture on Storytelling in the Digital Age, Old Media is based on exclusion (scarcity) and New Media is based on inclusion (abundance). I know which one excites me.