Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Get noticed on the internet

A couple weeks ago I had dinner with a bunch of aspiring doctors. (Doesn't it sound funny when you apply the Aspiring label to other industries?) I am jealous of them because their path is so clear: go to college, go to grad school, do your internship and residency, boom. Doctor! Of course they have to be good at what they do, and I am not for a second saying it is not a challenging career - but they do not go through the uncertainty of the path itself the way we do.

The way I see it, the steps to becoming a TV writer are:

1. Write a great TV script
2. Get someone important to read it (and like it)

Alas, it is a simple concept with a more complicated execution. Step 1 might involve reading a zillion books and scripts, watching hundreds of shows, taking classes, going to panels, joining a writers group, staying up late to write because you need a day job to pay the rent, etc. Step 2 might involve getting a job as a PA or assistant, working your ass off for a couple years doing stuff you hate, relentless networking, winning a contest, blanketing the town with queries, etc. And you might get halfway through the steps and have to start over several times.

So what else can you do to expedite the process and get noticed? The internet is a wonderful thing. You might start a blog (getting noticed was never my intention with this blog, but I'm thrilled to have earned some readers), or make a short for YouTube. Maybe you can make several shorts and put them on your own website like Stephen (he got a pitch meting at a cable network). Remember the Doctor? He now works for the head of our Interactive Media Department - or as my boss likes to say, The Internet Guy. (Later on I'll post about how I use the fact that my boss thinks I am a Computer Genius to my advantage.) He knows a lot about developing shows for the internet...and also about the digital world in general. His advice for people putting shorts online:

1. Keep it under 7 minutes. Online videos work best when they can be consumed in small bites. This way, people can watch them in their entirety during their downtime at work.

2. Go for comedy. It's too hard to tell a dramatic story (well) in under 7 minutes. Also, people are more likely to pass them on if they think their friends will laugh. People are also more likely to watch.

3. Get a celebrity. OK, that's kind of hard, but my friend says that a big name will get people watching, and is easy for people to search for. On the search also helps to give your idea a simple, memorable title.

4. Be Rick Astley. :)


sandofsky said...

I'm going to add two common-sense bullet points.

5. Only post the work you're most proud of.

I have too many actor/writer friends who come up with an idea, write the first draft of a script, shoot it with terrible lighting and audio, edit something five minutes too long, and blast a link to all their friends by bedtime.

It takes about ten years to master any craft, so you're going to crank out a lot of mediocre stuff. I think an artist is mature when they refuse to release something that doesn't live up to their own standards.

6. Great stuff doesn't need advertising.

The people I know with the least talent market hardest. They waste hours IM'ing links, shooting emails, posting to message boards, printing up stickers, you name it.

The last short I wrote took a year and a half to complete. It's fallen into good hands, and opened a number of doors. But notice I'm not sneaking a link into this comment?

Dan Williams said...

Great blog, with great information. Never knew a video spot should be 7 minutes of less, but it makes sense.

One thing, you said...about doctors having a clear path, etc. What they learn is a set of procedures that work and they do it over and over again with each client. After a while, there's no satisfaction because there is little or no challenge. Same with MBA's doing their next deal. Dentists, lawyers, police. As they age, they get sick of it. But that's not what happens to writers.

Sandofsky said it takes 10 years to master any craft. So, if this is correct, you, as a writer, will get better and better over a 10 year period, and then you'll get it, you'll get the process. Now you feel confident because you can do the writing. And now life gets better and better as you take on one satisfying project after another. So the writer ends up having a much better life, if you stick with it until you know that you know how to do it.

Honestly. (Hope you have a great L.A. day.)

Stephen said...

sandofsky said...
"The last short I wrote... [has] fallen into good hands, and opened a number of doors. But notice I'm not sneaking a link into this comment?"

Why not? If you're proud of your work, don't you want people to see it? Maybe if you're one of those film school yuppies that claims "I make art, not entertainment for the masses", then fine, go keep your nice little project in your pocket and take it on down to the art house. But if you really think there's some kind of value in your work and people will enjoy it, I say get it out there and let your work work for you.

There's no shame in telling people "hey, here's something you might enjoy" if you really believe it's good stuff. I totally agree that there is a lot of garbage leaked by people who don't know what they're doing, but if you've been given praise for your work, share it.

By the way, all of my animated projects, from my first crappy one to my newest stuff, is up at I believe it all has value, but judge for yourself.

sandofsky said...

If the subject is relevant, I gladly provide a link. But there's a fine line between self promotion and cold calling, and cold calling is counterproductive.

First, it doesn't scale. If your content isn't good enough to go viral, the best you'll get is a 1:1 return. That time is better invested making content so good it promotes itself.

But forget the wasted time. What harm can it do? Unsolicited links make you look desperate. Net result: negative.

Stephen said...

Yes, cold calling is counter productive. Yes, time is best spent when promoting your stuff to people who want to see it, and not just people in general. I agree.

But providing links to your work on pages like a screenwriting blog? That's relevant. People visiting this site are relevant. You only appear desperate if you blanket the internet with garbage and your work doesn't live up to the hype. However, if you deliver the goods, you're "that guy who makes those funny videos" and people will want more.

Dan Williams said...

I see both sides in Sandofsy versus Stephen, but I have to vote with stephen. If you have the work, I think you should provide the link, but do it in a way that invites the reader and not out of desperate marketing.

For instance, I didn't know that Stephen does animation, but I was thrilled to find out because how many animators do you meet? Not many. So I'll check out Stephen's site. But that's how I always feel towards anybody's work -- it's a thrill to discover it.

Anyway, hope you two gentlemen and Amanda have a great, refreshing L.A. day.

Matt said...

Responding to the actual post, I always find common-sense-point-2 a little unfair. Not that it's your fault, Amanda, really just a harsh fact of reality. Youtube, and the internet as a whole might be great as a launching pad for comedic minds, but it seems like there's little room for someone whose creative output tends to lean towards drama, or even not the sort of broad comedy that traditionally inhabits viral videos.

I wonder, what would it take for a dramatic viral video to take off? What sort of hook would be strong enough to grab viewers, get them to send it to all of their friends, put it on the digg front page, and most of all and keep all of them coming back for new installments? I feel like eventually, someone will crack the nut of the original dramatic webseries, but to my knowledge something like that just doesn't currently exist.

VDOVault said...

Something to consider to make the grass a little greener on the poor struggling writer's side of the fence...

While the path may seem clearer for a doctor or a lawyer, the cost of the whole education is staggering.

I was lucky because I and my family had saved up enough for my private pricey college (which I definitely would not be able to afford now because tuition alone there runs $44,000 a year!) to have my degree paid for when I crossed the stage and picked up the parchment. And for law school I went to a state school and got in state tuition rates that were easy to pay off (like $5,000 a year).

But if you have to take out loans and a few setbacks happen, you can be 40 and still be paying off school loans. My friend the pathologist who has worked as a coroner and is also part-time faculty at a medical school is in this position... he's 40 and still not done with his school debt. His total bill was something like $200,000 without interest.

And doctors and lawyers have to take classes every year to keep up their licenses (and to get the license you have to take a test and review courses for it both of which cost money, and pay yearly dues and taxes)

So not all doctors and lawyers are rich, especially the ones that staff non-profits or free clinics or do public-interest type things.