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** This article first appeared in movieScope, issue 19 **
This autumn, as sellers set off to MIP in Cannes and the book fair in Frankfurt, we are all looking more carefully at what we are selling. As an agency, we try to reflect back to our clients what the market tells us it wants. Of course, the market does not speak with one voice and is usually contradictory; while saying there is too much crime drama on TV, for example, they are busy developing more of it than ever before.
The market famously once said ’Give the public what they don’t know they want!’ So in this time of turmoil, what can writers—and those who work with them to create ideas—do to maximise chances of success?
Having writing as your only source of income, has meant becoming more flexible about what to write and for whom, and what the bottom-line payments have dropped to. I have several clients who have greatly increased their spec output, with detailed proposals, first acts or opening chapters, even with completed screenplays and novels.
Allowing a producer to run with a project for effectively no money can be turned to your advantage in some respects—except cash up front, of course. You become a partner, a co-producer. You get to participate in all the decisions (even those you don’t understand, where your reticence is appreciated); you are no longer the forgotten contributor to the team.
Being good at interviewing is an art that is very much part of being a good writer.
I do not share the view that if writers did not exist there would be nothing for producers to produce. If writers did not exist, wannabe writers would flood in to fill the vacuum. What we should all be looking at is ‘added value’: how can you add value to your output and potential so that you get the gig?
To start with, you need to understand more about the marketplace than you thought possible. There is always more to learn because it is based on constantly shifting sands. Secondly, you need to know more about the buyer’s needs than even they know themselves. With the web and schmoozing all this is possible; being good at interviewing is an art that is very much part of being a good writer.
I estimate that the biggest change over the last decade in how writers spend their professional time is that less is spent on writing and more is spent on marketing yourself on social media sites, following other people’s blogs and attending networking events. Time should also be spent studying the trade papers and their email equivalents for every crumb of information. And since less is being developed by producers and broadcasters, you have to invest in developing it yourself. Make sure that anyone you sign material to only has it for a short time and that you get a bonus if it goes ahead, and you will be in good company with a number of writers who are making the recession pay.