The Kid on the Cover
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine named Kevin Susman. Kevin, besides being a gifted writer and a very funny guy, is an expert on personal branding. Ever since my book My Story Can Beat Up Your Story! was published I've been wrestling with the question of whether or not that's the best brand for me. Don't get me wrong, the book is awesome! But is that tough kid on the cover my personal brand?
Personal branding is the concept that self-packaging is at least as important as self-improvement. At it's most crass it means that we -- as people and particularly as writers -- are no different from any other product in the marketplace; subject to the same snap judgements and assumptions about quality that every other product is. I've come to the conclusion that in the competitive world of screenwriting a consistent, identifiable brand can be a tremendous asset.
The Evolution of a Screenwriter Non-Brand
As a screenwriter I've changed my brand several times over the years. I started in action films, moved to family films, expanded to include TV movies, and then expanded further to add episodic television. What's my brand? Beats me. Even my appearance gives nothing away. I look like pretty much every other writer I know. The guys, at least. I used to believe (and might still do) that not being pigeon-holed is very good for one's career. That being said, I worry whether or not that leads to a brand identity crisis.
Nobody thinks of me as the FILL IN THE BLANK Guy. You know, the Action Script Guy, or the Romantic Comedy Guy, or even the Graphic Novel Adapting Guy regardless of the fact that I've done all three. One time I got hired to write a family film by someone who thought I only wrote action films. I just got a development deal on a one-hour drama from a company that thought I only wrote family-friendly material. Sheesh. Actually, I don't blame people for not getting my brand; I haven't exactly made it easy for them to.
On the other side of the branding equation is David S. Goyer. I'm a big fan of David's. Who isn't?
David S. Goyer has written, produced, and or directed such films as Blade, Batman Begins, Ghost Rider, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel...
See a pattern there? Edgy. Action. Superhero. By the way, have you ever seen a picture of David? That's him on the left. Those aren't colorful sleeves he's wearing, those are his heavily tattooed arms. Does he look like the kind of guy who can write edgy, action, superhero movies? Hellz yeah! And I'm willing to bet that before David became established he went to meetings in short sleeves, especially if it was with someone he was meeting for the first time and who was considering hiring him.
David S. Goyer puts out a very strong, very consistent brand. Of course, he's an extremely talented and successful writer. But imagine you are a producer who has a graphic novel, something a little dark and edgy, and you are looking for a young writer? And further imagine that a young, unknown, David S. Goyer walks into your office. He's there because he has a writing sample you like, and now you meet him for the first time. Can't you just see him writing your graphic novel? I can. His appearance is consistent with the brand he's created; the brand you as a producer want for your graphic novel.
Typecasting: Not Just For Actors
The Los Angeles Times published an article by Emily Alpert on March 31, 2013 entitled "Playing to type to make it in Hollywood." It's about actors, but the premise of the article applies to writers as well.
In a particular acting class, students were instructed to look at the person next to them and then write down everything that came to mind about that person, regardless of how potentially cruel or hurtful it was. Words like 'ugly', 'hippie', 'cougar', and 'druggie' were used. Instead of being repulsed by the responses, the students were encouraged to embrace them. This is how the world perceives them, so why not play to that perception as a strength instead of a weakness? Why not audition for a role that their personal brand is already selling them for? This approach has its critics. I personally think it's brilliant.
It's Not 'Who are you?'
The question therefore is no longer "who are you?" but "does your personal brand identify what you write?" The more I understand this, the more convinced I am that crafting a clearly identifiable brand for yourself, one that identifies your strengths as a writer, is an important, powerful component of the screenwriter's business plan. All writers -- aspiring and professional -- need a way to be easily memorable. Writing well isn't enough.
So, what's my brand going to be? I'm not sure yet, and there's no shame in publicly declaring myself a work-in-progress. I do, however, think it's time I let that little kid on the cover of My Story Can Beat Up Your Story! leave the house a bit.
- Guerrilla Screenwriting: Unconventional Strategies and Tactics For Screenwriting Success
- TV Writer Podcast 063 - Bob DeRosa (White Collar, Killers)
- Writers on the Verge: Ground Rules for Building a Screenwriting Career
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