Developing Your Screenwriting Brand Part 1: The Statement
August 13, 2020
I once had a job helping actors create short films to beef up their reels. I handled most of the creative decisions for the shorts, which meant I would have to ask the client about their career; their goals and, most importantly, how they saw themselves. The question I would ask to kick off this conversation was always some variation of, “What’s your brand?” I got one of two answers.
The answer I wanted would be specific, nuanced and self-aware: “I’m a 250-pound, seven-foot-tall man, so my brand is character roles where I play the tough guy or the larger-than-life comedic character.” The other answer would usually be a blank stare, and when I clarified what I meant, some kind of vague response about how they can play anything.
I kept tabs on every single one of my clients. Without fail, the actors who gave the first answer always booked more and better work, while the actors who gave the second answer tended to flounder and work less. If an actor knows their brand, then they get more work.
What does this have to do with you, screenwriter? Everything! Even though actors are selling their looks and performances and you’re selling your writing, knowing your brand and how to use it is one of the best ways to find work as a writer, find representation, and build a career. In the first part of this article, we’ll explore what a brand is and get you started on developing your brand statement.
For the uninitiated, a “brand” for writers is a lot like the sorts of brands you find in your local Target. A brand is a defined and clear set of attributes that describe the product and tells a consumer what you can expect from that product and other products.
The Coca-Cola brand is refreshing, sweet, carbonated drinks with a classic American pedigree behind them (and, if you look at their advertising, a key part of any summer or family gathering). Whether we’re talking Coke®, Diet Coke®, Fanta®, Sprite® or the rest of the Coca-Cola family, they all fall under that brand.
Your brand should be just as defined and specific as Coca-Cola, except the product that’s being described is you and your output as a writer. This is often presented as a sales pitch directly by you or your reps. “I’m a one-hour network drama writer who focuses on tight and fun action, witty dialogue and very left-wing themes.” “My client writes female-focused thrillers that always include dysfunctional families and complex LGBT relationships.” These brands, just like Coca-Cola, tell you exactly what you’re getting from that product, and why you should want it.
The idea of branding yourself can be really scary for creative types. You got into writing (or acting, or interpretive dance) because your unbound imagination shouldn’t need to be held down by such crass ideas! This wild heart can’t be broken, baby!
You know what? Fair enough. But, take a long, hard look at your favorite writers, those legendary auteurs. Lindelof, Ephron, Waititi. On the surface their scripts, their stories couldn’t have less to do with each other. But every single one of them have commonalities; have stuff they’re obsessed with, junk that they pour into their scripts no matter if they’re writing a comic book movie or a chef biopic (side note: Man, I wish Nora Ephron was still alive. I bet she had a great WandaVision script in her).
Your work has the same commonalities. You have obsessions, you have hang-ups, you have fears that work their way into everything you write. Right now, you might be the only person who can see these patterns. That might be enough for now. But one day, you’re going to be sitting in a general meeting and the exec will turn to you and ask about your writing.
She’s not asking you to spill out those fears and hang-ups. She wants to find out how those fears and hang-ups can make both of you a ton of money. If you can package up all your crazy creativity into a sentence that she can understand? If you can share your brand with her? Then you’re going to be that much closer to signing the deal memo and becoming a Variety headline.
So, now you’re sitting there, vibrating with excitement, ready to get to work on building a brand and showing it off to a bunch of important people. Time to figure out what your brand is! There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but here are a few tricks that might help. By the end of this, you should have a concrete statement, and I’ll build one with you through these so we have an example.
The first thing to remember is that a brand exists to sell you and your work. Stow the self-deprecation and save that for your friends. You want your brand to make people throw money at the screen and beg you to help them, not give a pity laugh and move on. Focus on the positives, the specifics, the stuff that makes you and your writing desirable.
What NOT to do: “I do dumb action stories that really only exist to entertain myself!” “I write ‘comedies,’ although they’re not that funny, haha.” I’ve seen that kind of thing more times than I’d like to admit, and while it might make you feel better and invite your peers to comfort you, it won’t get you work.
Work out what your brand is from a technical perspective. Do you tend to only write one genre? Are you a feature writer, a one-hour drama writer, a children’s animation writer? That’s an easy thing to start off your brand statement.
If you don’t have a consistent pattern in your format, try to look at the stuff that you know will always be on the page, no matter how long the script is or what genre it’s in. Do you always have romance? Do you always have action? Is there a supernatural or sci-fi element to everything you do? That sort of consistent pattern is just as valid for a brand.
What do you like about your writing on the page? What are you really good at writing? Tight plotting? Dialogue? Clever transitions? What’s a stylistic hallmark of your work? What do your friends say about your writing? What are words that come up over and over again? I’ve had a number of scripts described to me as “fun,” which isn’t a word I use to describe my writing, but it’s so ubiquitous that I’ve worked it into my brand statement.
The technical part of your brand statement could look something like this: “I’m a horror feature writer, and my scripts are filled with creepy symbolism and agonizing tension.” Or, if you don’t have a consistent format: “I write dramatic and romantic stories filled with quiet character moments.”
In part two of this article, we’ll walk through how to add your emotional perspective to your brand, put your branding statement together, and then talk about all the neat things you can do with it. Stay tuned!
Written by: Alex SwitzkyAlex Switzky is an LA-based writer and producer. He has worked as a creative producer for Dream Reach Media, development coordinator for Adam Wingard, and as a freelance story consultant for film, TV, and podcasts.