You Are Not a Brand

I had planned to blog about last night’s Academy nominated shorts screening; however, when I rose and checked my email, I began to turn purplish in hue. Steam funneled from my ears; one could imagine me next to Warner’s Tasmanian devil, with the caption “Separated at Birth?”

You see, I’m tired of all the bullshit.

I follow many blogs on writing; I’m quite fond of several: Scott Meyer’s Go Into the Story, John August, William Martell’s Sex in a Submarine, Julie Grey’s Just Effin’ Entertain Me, Laurie Hutzler, Save the Cat!, Unknown Screenwriter, The Story Department… the list goes on. I read these blogs because I respect those who contribute to them; a combination of wisdom, knowledge, and good, practical common-sense reside within their sites.

Note – several of the above blog sites, as well as many others, can be found on my Blogroll and Sites listings.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I received an email message about an organization that was running a month long “special” – one free script tip delivered to your inbox each and every day!

Note – so do they charge for their tips the other 335 days of the year? Not to mention that the aforementioned bloggers post daily thoughts and tips for free. #imjustsayin.

Some of the advice has been good; certainly nothing to write home blog about, but generally decent articles. However, tip 15 left my jaw hanging open and blood on the verge of boiling.

The tip was (commence drumroll): Brand yourself as a screenwriters.

Screenwriters are not brands. Films are brands. Franchise novelists are brands. Screenwriters are not.

You are not the author of the film

Screenwriters are not the author of the film; they write the template for it. The creation and execution of a film is a process of collaboration between multiple artists, working both above and below the line.

The article mentioned several writers to defend its premise: John Grisham (novelist), Aaron Sorkin (primarily a producer/writer hyphenate), J.J. Abrams (primarily a producer), Quentin Tarantino (auteur), Diablo Cody, Christopher Nolan (oh, look, another hyphenate!) and, in a mind-boggling series of defense-based gymnastics, J.K. Rowling – who has never written a screenplay in her life.

Diablo Cody might arguably be considered a brand; however UNITED STATES OF TARA shows little similarity to JUNO and JENNIFER’S BODY. Abrams wrote dramas such as REGARDING HENRY and FOREVER YOUNG years before he created LOST and CLOVERFIELD. As for the rest, the ones who are not novelists are not just screenwriters – they are filmmakers. There is a vast difference between the two.

If screenwriters were brands, the brands would not be comprised of the list above, but of names such as Akiva Goldsman, Paddy Chayefsky, Dana Stevens, Susannah Grant, William Goldman, Francis Marion, Simon Kinberg, Alice Guy Blache, Robin Swicord… you get the picture.

Style over branding

You don’t have to brand your voice in order to be unique. If you are writing authentically, your voice is already unique. It has its own style. And, that style should be malleable; you should be able to alter it to fit the project. David Mamet certainly has his own unique style, and yet he ghost writes and rewrites other projects without leaving his indelible stamp on the pages. Writing for hire – often uncredited – is the bread and butter for the working screenwriter; if you cannot learn to fix the story problems without over-applying panache, then you won’t get hired. And, as of today, with the number of spec sales from this year totaling a whopping six, it is doubtful that the masterpiece locked away in your drawer is going to launch a bidding war.

This branding shit makes me mad. Mad, I tell you, mad as a hatter sucking on a broken thermometer. No, more mad. Mad like Howard Beale on the six o’clock news.  I’m mad because an article like this is a lie. I’m mad because desperate screenwriters are drinking this Kool-Aid. I’m even madder because these same desperate screenwriters are pouring money into this lie, taking class after class on marketing, branding, networking, instead of doing what they should be doing – Reading and Writing. Writers write and writers read. If you need to take classes on structure, character development, rewrites, please do. You can certainly gain insight and improve your skills, but BRANDING? Marketing? For screenwriters? Really?

The industry is (for this country) an old one, and the same practices and caste systems that were in effect in the early days are as firmly planted as a redwood. Nobody cares about your brand. You are a screenwriter, not an actor. You want a business card with a flashy logo? Go into sales. You want to earn a living as a screenwriter? Cut the gimmicks and the associated crap that comes with them and write. Then, rewrite. Again. Repeat.

Now, I have to share today’s tip, which had me guffawing my chai out of my nose. Apparently, if you want to make it in Hollywood, you should “make your script so good, it improves your agent’s reputation!”

Ah. That’s where I’ve been getting it wrong. See, I’ve been purposefully writing shit that is so bad, even the likes of Jack Scagnetti wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. Sheesh.

Snark aside, I’m sure that this organization means well. The man who runs it seems to be a stand-up guy; his reputation as a writing teacher is excellent. Perhaps he should stick to that instead of dropping buzzwords like “branding.”  Heed the advice, if you wish, it’s a free country (unless you are in Wisconsin) … but you’d be much better off simply working your pages.

Now, go write.

HRH – Princess Scribe

What I am reading: Busy client week. Two story notes and one editing job.

What I am watching: Netflix just added old Star Trek episodes to their inventory. I plan to start with season 1 and muddle through. All hail The Menagerie. In my feckless youth, I so wanted to be one of those sexy green badass sirens and marry James T. Kirk. Or at least sleep with him.

A Royal Shout Out: Story coach Patrick A. Horton is offering his “Mastering the Power of Story” seminar at the Beverly Garland, February 26th. It’s an all-day event, and well worth the budget friendly price – the profits of which are being donated to the WGA and SAG foundations. In a time in which we’re seeing an attack on collective bargaining, unions need support. Thanks, Patrick, for being an all-out nice guy – and great coach. For more information, email Patrick at info (at) thestorycoach (dot) com.

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About princessscribe

#Filmmaker. Living with #Cancer. #Animal lover and foodie.
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8 Responses to You Are Not a Brand

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention You Are Not a Brand | Princess Scribe's Blog -- Topsy.com

  2. As a screenwriter AND an advertising/marketing professional for whom branding is not a dirty word, I’m still RELEIVED to read this. I was told when I started screenwriting (by my manager and others) that writers do tend to get pigeonholed in genres at least so it was smart to just go with that and stick with romantic comedies (in my case). But I’d hope that I could write what speaks to me in my own voice and that whatever brand I “am” would grow our of that — hopefully a diva of distinctive dialogue and well-observed characters, whatever the genre.
    Thanks
    Lisa

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  3. I think that the problem is in distinction; if comedy is your strong suit, then, by all means, write it.
    But if you write-for-hire, you may find yourself executing a rewrite on a war film – and one that is not TROPIC THUNDER. 🙂
    If you are a commentator, or write op-ed, sure, you’re a brand. Keith Olbermann is a brand.
    He is, however, not a screenwriter.
    J.K. Rowling is a brand.
    She is, however, not a screenwriter.
    Akiva Goldsman is not a brand.
    He is, however, a screenwriter.
    *******
    What I object to mostly, is this sense that if you package your little script – and yourself – just so, that you’ll be the next Superstar. Everyone out there seems to be selling some kind of shortcut-to-success. I suppose that, in today’s ADD-addled society, this kind of schtick is inevitable, but their are no shortcuts when it comes to writing. Not to mention that filmmaking is completely collaborative. The script is a small part of the picture, not the picture itself. This is not meant to minimize the significance of the screenwriter, for without him/her, there would be no movie to film.

    Writers are, by and large, anonymous. Always have been, and, I suppose, always will be. This seems to be disconcerting to the struggling masses; the result – hard earned dollars being thrown at such nonsense, the action borne out of the desperate need to be seen as a success, instead of knuckling down and Doing The Work.

    Oh, and to the guy that sent me the comment about what he’d like to do to me with his script – many thanks for the invitation. Might my husband watch? I don’t think either of us have seen a script used in such a fashion. Does it come with batteries?

    ~ HRH

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  4. Jamie says:

    Hey Anne, loved your heart-felt, or is that boiling blood felt blog post. Thanks so much for your perspective on this branding subject. Part of the reason I switched from writing novels to writing screenplays was that I didn’t want to have to market myself along with my writing. I want to write stories, not build a brand.
    Hats off to you for speaking your mind.

    Jamie

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  5. 🙂 Thanks, Jamie. Nice to *see* you here.

    It’s just my opinion; I am certainly crying it loud. Screenwriting is such a specialized form of writing; we’re all best served to tune out the chatter and focus on the craft. Let the business people – representation, studio marketing – worry about the rest.

    And, as I’ve said before, I think that people are confusing style with brand. Alright, if one wishes to use Sorkin as a branded example, I might concur that he is branded – but this branding was placed upon his shoulders by the public (THE WEST WING) as well as networks and studios. You can’t become a branded screenwriter if you have not had your work produced; why, then, spend any time or money on trying to achieve that? If you are entering the market, no one will care about your brand – because THEY have not determined it yet.

    Develop your voice. Build strong stories, interesting characters and great plots. The rest will take care of itself. Ultimately, for a writer the proof is in the pudding script. 🙂

    HRH

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  6. Jamie says:

    Ah, I love your comment. Just like my other businesses you don’t have a brand if your product isn’t in stores. Build the right product that people want to buy, then worry about the rest. And as a screenwriter, the rest should be writing the next thing people want to buy.
    Thanks for your thoughts Anne.

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  7. Delayna says:

    Oh my God, THANK YOU! I just discovered your blog, and I already love it! I signed up for those tips, and I can’t tell you how much that one stressed me out! I couldn’t figure out how anyone could “brand” me since I don’t have one genre I concentrate on. Then I was like, “Does this mean I won’t be marketable? Will an agent not want me even if I have great ideas?” (Or at least I think so.) 🙂 Now I feel so much better. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  8. Pingback: Think Like a Playwright | Princess Scribe's Blog

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