Hitting a Moving Target That Sits Still

Where does your entertainment dollar go? Online streaming? Video on demand? The actual movie theater?

If you read the Los Angeles Times, you’ve noticed that they’ve spent a lot of ink over the last few days on what they call “The Blur,” referring to the number of platforms on which we can now view our entertainment – and, more importantly, how media companies are adapting to both the changing technologies and viewers’ preferences.

Movies are no longer just for movie theaters. I mean, we’ve been able to watch movies on television for a while now (either on DVD, or when the movies finally made it to cable or all the way to broadcast TV), but thanks to the Internet, streaming services, and VOD – not to mention the innovations in home theater – the viewing public has the choice of venue when it comes to watching movies. Mary McNamara’s article asks, given the multitude of digital platforms and the various productions made for them, whether there really is a line between television and film anymore. After all, these days I can watch movies on my television, and I can go to a theater and watch an episode of a television show. What could easily have been called the “death of the ancillary entertainment market” is actually a promotion: everything is now part of the mainstream.

Another article interviewed Chief Content Officer of Netflix Ted Sarandos, who explained that the entertainment playing field has broadened, but that no one platform should feel threatened. Netflix isn’t trying to remove the theater-going experience, he explains, but they do offer another venue for content. What I liked about this article was his statement about the content: “We have to make the movie that is so good you can’t ignore it.”

That’s not to say that these changes haven’t sent certain groups back to “safe zones.” One article reported that television networks – in an effort to appeal to advertising revenue amidst all this change – have turned to reboots and remakes…not in order to stay relevant, but to fall back on titles with profitable histories. It’s still a business, of course, and television, film, and streaming services are going to go where the money is.

And it might explain where a lot of the money seems to be going. If you look at Marvel’s slate, they have these comic-book tie-ins slated all the way to the 23rd Century, it seems (I’d love to see a scene in a “Star Trek” movie where a Marvel film is being advertised in the background) and word is that the DC side is trying to follow suit. Meanwhile, we’ve got a new “Ghostbusters” imagining almost at our door, reboots of two Disney films (a live action “Beauty and the Beast” and a non-musical “Pete’s Dragon”), and every so often – more and more, lately – we see titles we recognize from not all that long ago.

I recognize that it’s not all remakes and reboots. There are some excellent original stories out there, and the studios aren’t ignoring them completely. “The Martian” was a great film, and a delight to see from a major studio. Smaller indie films continue to thrive; “Whiplash” was an amazing script with great acting, as was “Eye in the Sky,” which was a surprise to me (a film from three small, relatively unknown production companies with that talented a cast and that good a script). There’s still a place for original content, and – hopefully – with additional platforms there will be room for even more.

All in all, this means that there are now many more opportunities for producers, directors, and writers (like me!) to find a distribution point for their work. The production-opportunity-can hasn’t been kicked further down the road; now, everyone can have their own cans and there are many more places to which to kick them.

The problem is, with all the changes to the industry, the front door for aspiring writers is still elusive. The organics of production haven’t changed – writers and producers still have to “find each other” before any of the multiple-platform benefits can kick in. As much as I like to think of it as a moving target, it’s not – it’s not moving with the industry, but sitting still. It’s still hard to hit, though.

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I realize (and you should, too) that I’m coming from the perspective of an aspiring screenwriter trying to get into the industry, but as I understand it – and if you have more accurate information for me, I’m always open to being further educated in this process – that the two best ways to get my screenplays read by industry people right now is screenwriting contests and pitching the stories to producers myself.

“Pitching” isn’t something I know a lot about. I’ve not had any direct experience in pitching, and I’ve shied away from the training classes and the seminars that teach you how to “get your work out there” and “sell your script in ten minutes.” Sales is a career path I’ve always tried to avoid, because I’m not particularly comfortable being forceful in those kinds of situations; I’m not also big on tooting my own horn, which is another skill one must have for successful pitching.

Which leaves me with the contest circuit. I’ve entered several scripts into multiple contests, and I’ve started to scrutinize the rules and the parameters; I try to figure out which ones favor the writer evenly and which are just money-grab schemes. It’s a lot like trying to figure out which slot machines are ready to pay out, and it’s just about as reliable. (I have had success with one contest – not by winning, but by placing high enough to get a script noticed.)

I’ve also toyed with the idea of self-producing, but I know that I’m not the guy for that. I have a script that’s a low budget piece, but I have no idea how to put together financing, how to deal with insurance, or how to negotiate distribution. The whole thing would end up looking like something I made in my garage on weekends. I know the technology is there to make that kind of thing look not half bad, but it’s still not what I want to do.

I figure the best path for me right now is to create a body of work that’s more than three scripts deep, continue to work the contest circuit when I find something that looks promising, and maybe start to find out how to pitch a script without sounding self-centered and desperate. (If you know a better way, I’m all ears.)

The other thing I’m going to do – and I recommend this to everyone – is to make sure that my theater-going dollars, my Netflix viewing history, and my VOD orders all reflect my love for original stories. If someone starts to see the money go in that direction, I may just have a fighting chance.

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