We’ve talked about making a living. We’ve talked about the specifics of getting paid, and some red flags along the way. But how about the job in the first place? Where do we go to find these jobs? How do we get them if we don’t already know producers?
Let me give you the short version of the column you may be expecting. Take a deep breath. Ready? Here it is.
Go to networking/film events. Go to film festivals and film festival forums. Get on Twitter. Facebook. Spidvid. Stage32. The Black List. Any local “Film Job Groups” that are on places like Facebook. Here’s one for Vancouverites like me. And don’t hesitate to skim over groups that aren’t local to you; you might find someone who’s willing to work with you long-distance even if they’re posting in a local group. Just be upfront about the fact that you aren’t local. There are other sites cropping up all the time; hit Google or stay up to date on Twitter and see what’s new.
That’s it. That’s the column. Thank you, try the veal, tip your server! What the heck, shove them right over.
“Jeff, WHAT THE HELL??? You’re supposed to write a paragraph about each, saying what the strengths and weaknesses are, and what the magical formula is for finding work on each one!” Yep, that’s what some columns would do. They’d go into details about Twitter vs. Spidvid, about The Black List vs. Facebook groups, but you know what? All of those pages have perfectly good FAQs and ABOUT links and they’ll tell you about themselves, all of them going into details I couldn’t fit into multiple columns. All of them are valuable and you should check them out, find what works specifically for you.
But I am going to give you the secret formula for getting work, regardless of whether you are online or off, and regardless of whether you’re working a room or a website.
Three principles. 1) Connect. 2) Be a Pro. 3) Maintain. That’s it.
As sad as it is, no one is going door-to-door looking for screenwriters. Even Cinderella had to get off her butt and go to the ball, and that was a fairy tale. If you stay home, physically or virtually, you don’t meet anyone and you don’t work. So get out there. Go to networking events (I’m bad at this, and trying hard to be better). Get online. Engage. Don’t sit and wait, because THEY DON’T KNOW YOU’RE SITTING AND WAITING. And here’s the most important part.
Don’t always be about your work.
That’s boring. And boring writers make for boring scripts. Be a person. On Twitter, engage in discussions, talk about things you believe in, make friends. I’m going to be shooting a short with a bunch of Twitter people, and each one of them is a relationship that built up over time first. So talk, converse, engage! However, do NOT make it your soapbox. This is about meeting people, and just like real life, we don’t want to just hear about your work or just hear about saving baby seals. If you love baby seals, that’s fine to mention. But if all you tweet/FB/talk/post/write about is the evil of baby seal culls, I’ll assume you’re an animal rights activitist and a pretty damned dull one at that. Don’t get me wrong, I love baby seals, but the world is ALWAYS more than one topic. If I’m a producer, I want a writer, not someone waving a placard. Show me your brains. Don’t be an endless tidal wave of snark, but don’t just tweet inspirational bumper stickers either. A good writer is an interesting human being, so let us see that. (And for the love of all that is holy, don’t tweet/post grammatical chum unless you’re making a joke. If you can’t write 140 characters, I probably don’t want to hire you to write 110 pages.)
You hear “it’s who you know, not what you know”, and to a certain extent, that’s true. But who you know is dependent on WHO. YOU. ARE. “Who you know” isn’t just about someone saying “yes, I am cognizant of that individual; they do indeed occupy space on the planet.” “Who you know” means someone saying “Hell yes, that person is AWESOME, hire them!”, or that someone immediately wanting to hire you when they have a new gig available.
Don’t forget, being awesome isn’t just about your deft structure, deep characters, or brilliant themes. It’s about you, and what you’re like to work with. So whether you are in person or online, be yourself; let people know who you are and how you stand out. Just don’t stand out as a gimmick… not the “glitter in the envelope” or “spy spec delivered in a ticking briefcase” kind of stand out. That stuff gets you passed on/barred from submitting/arrested. No… the secret is…
Be A Pro
Be on time. Respond to emails/DMs/etc. Be flexible. Take notes well. Have a tough skin. Accept rejection. Write lots. Have a body of work. (Don’t even think of starting a career with one script. If a producer says “It’s great writing, but I’m not looking for that, what else do you have?” and you say “Nothing,” then you are DEAD to them. You are a rookie, and great writing or not, you’ve just proven you don’t understand the business and they’ll move on). Don’t ever, and I do mean ever, expect THEM to adapt to YOU. They won’t, unless you are critical to their film being made, and you almost always are not. And even if you are for some reason, they might not think you are, and you’ll get fired before you can enlighten them.
This is a business. It is a highly competitive, usually-low margin, constantly changing business. Every single indie film is a brand-new startup company with new management, new staff, a new business plan, and most likely an issue with being undercapitalized. Nervous? No reason not to be. Being an indie film producer is juggling thirty running chainsaws without much gas to spare and every one of the chainsaws is explaining to you why it absolutely HAS to have the rest of the gas supply or the whole act will fail. A producer will deal with every pain in the ass from financing falling through to prima donnas on set to the hot lunch being cold while it rains on their one exterior day. Don’t be one of the pains in the ass. Be the break from the pain. Be the stable pro.
When you work for someone, your job is to provide them solutions, not more problems. Don’t forget to submit drafts, and if you can without compromising the work, get them in early. Don’t fight with the person who’s paying you. If they want you to change the script in a way you don’t agree with, explain your reasons for opposing it in a calm fashion based on your experience, and then do what they tell you, one way or another. You work for them. That’s the deal.
I handed in a script last year and the studio didn’t change one word. The word they didn’t change was on page 87. – Steve Martin
So don’t get precious. Is my credit on the screen? Did the cheque clear? Then fine. Being a pro means knowing your place in the pecking order, and honestly, most of the time it’s pretty damned low. Pick your battles. Most of the time producers listen to me when I make script suggestions, because I know my craft and because I make suggestions based on understanding their situation as producers. I don’t yell and stomp my feet about how this 15-car pileup is critical to the protagonist’s arc when the production budget is $100K. But sometimes, they just want to do it differently. Sometimes, I later see why they were right. Sometimes, they later see why they were wrong. Sometimes, we’ll go to our graves not agreeing, but so what? They were signing the cheque. They get the call. So be professional; treat it like the job it is.
Oh, and one word on actual WRITING: learn your craft in detail. If your producer mentions Vogel/Truby/Save-the-Cat-God-Help-Us, then you better know it too. Blank stares don’t get you hired.
And finally, pros think long game. You WON’T sell your first script. Or your third. You might sell your tenth. Maybe. So skip the get-rich-quick BS and settle in for the marathon.
Which leaves us with…
Connecting isn’t the end. I’ve been attached to projects with $7M budgets, I’ve been optioned for co-productions with myself attached as an executive producer, I’ve been a central part of three-picture deals. The part of my screenwriting career I’m most proud of? That producers hire me back. One producer has hired me seven different times. Seven. He hired me once, and then six other times thought, “Yes, we need to get Jeff for this.”
That’s what you get when you a) connect with someone, b) do your job like a pro, and c) maintain that relationship. I don’t mean phoning them on their kid’s birthday or sending them a bottle of scotch each Christmas (although, depending on the contact, you may want to); I mean just staying connected, staying present in their minds. With Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, there are ways to connect and stay present in their minds without being a stalker. Occasionally favourite a tweet of theirs. Periodically comment to a Facebook status, or congratulate them on some new development on their website or on LinkedIn. Above all, be cool about it. Don’t gush, don’t ramble, and don’t do it daily. Did I say periodically? Did I say occasionally? Did I say DON’T BE A STALKER? Just be a pro. And you might find yourself working for them again next time.
Next, I’ll be talking about getting your own work out there, either as a filmmaker or as the writer/producer on the team. If you want people to see your work, there’s no better time! We’ll also talk about that mystical new beast… crowdfunding.
- More Indievelopment articles by Jeff Richards
- Balls of Steel: Shifting Network to Relationships
- Write, Direct, Repeat: Film Festivals and the Short Film, Part 2
- Balls of Steel: The Social Media Stage
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