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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Understanding the Business of Hollywood

Business. The very word send shivers down the spines of most creatives. Ew. That's why we write. Right? Most writers fancy ourselves artists for whom the mundane aspects of business management is a conscious choice we made to avoid. We can't bother ourselves with the details of the entertainment business, our taxes or god forbid the stock market! Nooooo we're too busy being dreamers, schemers, liars and thieves.

But guess what? You ARE a business. You are Joe Writer, Inc. And if you would like to pursue success, shoot it with a poison dart, drop it in a puddle of mud and skin and eat it, you need to do a whole more than study the craft of screenwriting, rent movies and watch Entertainment Tonight.

Are you keeping careful records of your writing expenses? Your software, books and classes? Are you reading the trades and following the box office returns? What about the spec market relative to new media and the general economy? Know anything about that? Well - I know it sounds odious, but you should. If you don't become an autodidact and do it now, you will be woefully in the dark about the business of Hollywood. And as much as writing is a fairly solitary, internal act, selling your writing is not.

From a post in June 2007, I repeat my snazzy catchphrase for every writer's daily activity:


Live well

*side effects may include a robust feeling of creativity, increased imagination and sense of well-being, productivity and monetary gain.

WRITE every day. You might have more than one project you’re working on; tend to at least one of them. And yes, generating ideas and spitballing is most productive and falls under this category, absolutely.

PROMOTE your material. Write and send query letters, enter competitions, follow up on calls, meetings and queries. Stay very on top of who has your material, when you’ll hear back and what new opportunities have since cropped up.

both with other writers and with professionals where possible. If you belong to a message board about screenwriting, visit it daily seeking to build relationships. If you blog or read screenwriting blogs, visit and comment. Keep building those relationships. Are you signed up for a class? How about a one hour Learning Annex course? Is there a festival or film community gathering in two weeks? Sign up. Continually seek opportunities large and small to create, sustain and nurture relationships with other writers and filmmaking aspirants of any stripe. Networking is extraordinarily powerful. It is impossible to overstate that fundamental truth.

LEARN more about the craft and the business constantly. Follow the trades. If the Hollywood Reporter or Variety are too much to absorb regularly, read Entertainment Weekly – a quasi-trade with pull-quotes, box office and celebrity news. Subscribe to Creative Screenwriting, Script Magazine or Written By. Sign up for classes, read books and see a lot of movies.

LIVE WELL by taking care of your essential core. We writers are sensitive souls. We pour our hearts out every day. So be sure to exercise, get enough sleep, meditate or in some way return to your creative, essential self so that you can sustain and nurture the energy required to do steps one through four above. This one cannot be overstated or over-emphasized either. A burnt out writer doesn’t produce good material and isn’t fun to hang around with. Put your wellbeing before all else because everything you produce flows outward from that.

Why just today I had a business meeting with an investor and very successful businessman. As a small business owner do I get to whine in my coffee and say oh gee, I don't know how to write a business plan or think about LLCs and taxes? No. I do not have that luxury. When I have conversations with agents, managers or producers do I get to say oh gee, I don't know about what spec sold last week or how many movies Fox produced last year? No, I do not. Well - I do. At my own peril. And you do not have the luxury of ignorance either. Remember - you ARE a business. And your business in-sources to create product. Which you wish to sell. Right?

Then get busy livin' or get busy dyin' because if you don't take the time and trouble to learn the business end of things in this industry, you might as well put your script in a trunk in the attic when you're done.

Now get back to work.

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Midget Film Writer said...

Totally unrelated (gotta love those non-sequitur off-topic questions) question: in your business, do you read and do coverage for short script/film screenplays?

just me said...

I love this post -- although I try to "Live Well" above all else.

Unlike Hemingway, I can't write when I'm depressed and drunk.

...Well, I can, but it's usually just hate letters to ex-boyfriends.

Julie Gray said...

@midget - yes, we do read shorts. We read short scripts for both tall and short people. :)

In general, the charges for that fall under our Basic Cable for tv scripts. Whether a script is 15, 30 or 60 pages, the effort that goes in in terms of analysis is the same.

Seth Fortin said...

Julie, would you be willing to name your top three or top five websites/blogs for learning more about business trends in film? When you want to bone up on the business side, where do you go first?

Julie Gray said...

Hey Seth - many of what I consider very good resources are on the sidebar right here on the Rouge Wave.

Personally, I subscribe to the daily email from Hollywood Wire Tap, I also read Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily (on sidebar) and Wilshire and Washington dot com.

Seth Fortin said...

Hey Julie, thanks for these. Just bookmarked Deadline Hollywood Daily -- really interesting stuff.