There is an old, cynical saying that producers are writers with good ideas, who can’t write. Well, that is a saying shared by writers’ agents. But, as we move into the transmedia era, leaving behind the old-fashioned concept of a script being the central basis for making a movie, we are being forced to re-evaluate what it means to be a writer or producer.
There was a time when the option payment for a script was a golden rule: 10 per cent of the purchase price. All a writer had to do was write it. Now, in order to be taken seriously, a writer needs to know who the target audience is, understand what social media they use and be able to demonstrate how to access them. Unless, of course, the script is exceptional and, let’s face it, most scripts are not.
Producers, too, need to understand virtual networking. They are exceptionally good at the schmoozing sort of networking in Cannes, Berlin, Edinburgh and so on, but then producers need to be seen walking the walk. One American complained to me about how much walking there was in Cannes, ‘up and down the Croissant!’
The problem with keeping up with networking is that industry changes are coming ever faster. Now, the film/DVD/ TV release pattern has changed, and producers and distributors are trying to access the multiplicity of audiences at the same time. Channel 4, for example, released Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo in cinemas, on TV and DVD simultaneously, and it did fairly well. The result is that networking has become like a game of three-dimensional chess.
Yet face-to-face meetings still remain the most effective, in my opinion, but they are not necessarily time- or cost-effective. If your meeting is a critical one, and if the other person is key to your agenda, then face-to-face will usually produce the best results. If you are trying to shotgun a lot of people to see who responds positively, then you need the phone or the Internet. But email has sadly become devalued as a form of serious and engaging contact; it is too ubiquitous, too easy and lacks gravitas, even if it is fast and efficient.
What we have noted about email, compared to a face-to-face meeting or even a phone call, is that it is detrimental to the dialectical process that can be so important when negotiating, or positioning yourself to get something from someone. There is a sterility about it that you do not find with messaging, where you can respond to each other and lead a conversation into rewarding new directions.
I believe that many producers and directors spend at least a third of their professional life networking; drinking, eating, chatting to others in the business. Writers don’t spend nearly that much time. The recent London Screenwriters’ Festival has had an interesting spin-off: the face-to-face networking was so intense that in the follow-up questionnaires, many writers asked for more time for this at the next festival. And, the festival’s website (www.londonscreenwritersfestival.com) and Delegates Network has led to close and active relationships on the web, between people who had never met before. Some have started blogging for the first time and have set up websites, and they are even planning to have regular meetings to build on their relationships.
So it will come to pass that writers spend more time networking than ever before. Convergence finally comes to the individual; the difficulty is in being selective. Like those you follow on Twitter, remember that it is not the number that matters, but what they have to say.