Think Like a Playwright

The experience of sitting on Sunday’s panel at IFFF is still resonating and reverberating deep within me.

One thing that startled me was the reaction of the audience, in regard to my sharing that our team is currently bypassing representation and taking our script straight to producers.

The reason that I was so surprised is that before I wrote for film, I wrote for the stage. Playwrights continually take this market approach.

For the playwright, there are two goals: production and publication. The former could be seen as a script sale, but the latter is more akin to a script sale turning into production and distribution. Publication offers prestige; it also offers continuous monetization of one’s work – not unlike a script going all the way to completion of project and realizing distribution can offer a screenwriter residuals – and a higher probability of future sales and write for hires.

There is a Catch-22 existence for the playwright in that s/he will not realize publication with a name house – Samuel French, Dramatists – without production. So, it is the responsibility of the playwright to put his/her work out there – through contests, through calls for submissions, through negotiating for commissions.

Eventually, through such labor, a playwright will receive production, and, through continued knocking on doors and self-marketing, that playwright may see more productions of the same script, and, eventually, if the script is well-received, the playwright may achieve both publication and representation.

There are several playwrights who self-publish, and use very strategic viral marketing campaigns to get their work out into the world, and some, such as Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights Co-chair Jonathon Dorf, and NYC’s Robin Rice Lichtig, who monetize their works quite nicely.

Considering the above, when the time to take our script to market came, it seemed only natural to me to go this route, and, as my partner has produced for film, it made sense to him as well.

However, at the panel session, I saw more than a few astonished faces in the room. Perhaps the reluctance to go “straight to” is an esteem issue for screenwriters – the world of theatre is a world of one, large – albeit dysfunctional (but it’s the fun in dysfunctional brand) – family, while in the world of film and television, we seem content to float about in a world of “us versus them.” This notion of separate and inequal is laden with problems; it is not only self-defeating, it is, by and large, fiction.

Try to see the top-tier producers as the equivalent of Dramatists and Samuel French. They might be interested in your work, but they need to have you vetted. They need to see your work ethic; they need to determine if your stories and your voice resonate within the masses. Is your work consistent? Is it quality? Can your work reach the four-quadrant market? If so, then you will eventually become a good investment for them.

This top-tier, however, represents only about 8% of the industry. The rest are searching high and low for that next great story, which will translate beautifully into a film that everyone will want to see. Or they are looking for a script with market potential that they presently have – or can obtain – funding for, and, through either theatrical, on-demand, digital downloads or direct to DVD sales, or a combination thereof, will realize a robust return on their initial investment.

It seems crystal clear, at least to me, that going direct to producers makes perfect sense.

Feel free to visit Jonathan’s and Robin’s websites – and notice, that while he engages in strong viral marketing campaigns, he does so without turning himself into a brand. He brands his scripts – but he does so in a way that does not limit him to genre.

Now, go write.

HRH, Princess Scribe

What I am reading: Round Up the Usual Supects – the Making of Casablanca.

What I am watching: MARIE ANTOINETTE. I will never comprehend the lemming like response to hate the works of Sophia Coppola. The woman is a gifted artist. Sour grapes, perhaps?

A Royal Shout-Out: To scribes everywhere, for the trials and tribulations that you endure, and yet still, you keep the faith. I love you. You. Yes, that means you.

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About princessscribe

#Filmmaker. Living with #Cancer. #Animal lover and foodie.
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6 Responses to Think Like a Playwright

  1. I’d also like to invite any and all to place links to their favorite playwright sites, in order to provide all with excellent examples of how these scribes for the stage self-market well.
    HRH, Princess Scribe

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  2. Would I also have to drink like a playwright? Stink like one too? 😉

    I joke, because I love. Tried this once. It’s hard. Stage. Screen. Of course, the one act I wrote basically became my award winning screenplay, Diamond is a Girl’s Best Friend, so, what do I know, really.

    Sir William of Goldman was right.

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  3. Good article and it makes total sense to me.

    It’s becoming more common in Europe for writers to market themselves, rather than waiting for their agent to take care of that. This is mainly because agents tend to focus on their “hot” clients. I’ve managed to broker meetings with Oscar nominated directors and their producers just by walking up to them at Cannes and asking for a meeting. From my perspective it’s just about seeing script sales as a business. Directors and producers need good projects; there is a shortage of great projects to chose from; if I take a business like approach to the way I pitch there is very little to lose.

    After many years of doing this I took the next logical step and became a writer/producer. I decided to package my own scripts by attaching talent and directors to my scripts and bypass the whole idea of writer as employee. At that point having an agent became illogical. It took me three years to go from that decision to being a showrunner. These days I spend more time talking to distributors and broadcasters than I do talking to producers.

    The downside of all of this, is that I missed out on a lot of reputation building “gun for hire” work. The upside is over the period of ten very hungry years I have built up my own contact book, a contact book that won’t suddenly disappear if my agent moves on or finds someone “hotter” to push.

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  4. Great thoughts, Clive. Methinks we all have a great deal to learn by following your model. Great to see you on the blog. I promise not to use the word f*#ktard. 🙂

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