Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Staying Abreast of the Business

Wouldn’t it be nice if being a professional screenwriter was just about writing the best scripts you possibly can? Unfortunately, being a professional means you have a job within an industry. To be successful it’s important to understand the business elements of screenwriting. It’s also somewhat important to be aware of what’s going on in the industry at large. That’s the topic of today’s post.

How much do you need to be aware of the industry? It would be easy to spend several hours a day reading the trades and various blogs and websites devoted to the business. That’s obviously overkill. But being a screenwriter in this day and age means operating an entrepreneurial company that provides writing services to various conglomerates. As the person in charge of your company you should have a general idea of what’s going on in your industry.

The trade papers – Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter – are the news services the industry looks to. Like many daily papers, they are struggling. As I write this, The Hollywood Reporter is considering becoming a weekly in print. Both papers are also available on the web. Variety, rumor has it, will soon be charging for their previously free web content.

If you're serious about being a pro it’s probably worth getting one of the trades. Online or in print doesn’t really matter, though it sounds like the age of print is coming to an end so soon we may not have the choice. (I’ll miss it – I like to read the trades while using the cross-trainer). A word of warning - subscribing in print is pretty expensive.

You don’t need to read both, but regularly skimming one of the trades will keep you apprised of all the trends in the business. You only need to actually read the articles that have some relevance to you – such as those about script sales or lit agency mergers or which TV shows’ ratings are hot and which are not (if you want to write for TV).

Be aware, though, that the trades are largely supported by ad dollars from the studios. They’re notoriously biased in that regard. They tend not to say anything overtly negative about the hands that feed them. So sometimes you have to read between the lines.

There are a couple other good sources of Hollywood information. Nikki Fink’s blog ( has become probably the top industry blog since the writer’s strike and focuses on what’s happening in the business. I also like Patrick Goldstein’s blog/column “The Big Picture” in the L.A. Times (

There are two useful pay websites for writers. The first is the Hollywood Creative Directory Online (, which is a little expensive. It lists contact information and staff for every Hollywood production company, studio and agency. It’s also available in print, but with the speed at which people change jobs in this business, the info gets out of date fast.

The second is Done Deal (, which is not very expensive. It lists all script sales and writer deals. That’s probably the most important info for a writer to track. You don’t want to embark on a spec with the same story as one that just sold.

It’s also pretty useful to subscribe to imdb pro. The free site provides a lot of info, but when you need to know what an executive’s credits are or who to contact at a certain company you’ll want the paid pro version.

How many of these sources you want to follow, along with blogs like this one on the more creative aspects of the industry, are somewhat dependent on your interests and where you are in your career. But it’s important that you are at least aware of major events and trends in the business. Just make sure you don’t spend so much time reading that you forget to write!

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