How to Build a Screenwriting Brand (and Why You Might Want To)
June 28, 2019
“How can I choose a brand for my screenwriting?”
Something new-to-the-table screenwriters struggle with is whether or not to develop a screenwriting “brand.” The idea of a brand can feel like you’re placing an artificial, permanent limitation on yourself and your writing. But it doesn’t have to be!
Here’s how you can get started — and if you haven’t thought about it, why you might want to!
What do you want to be known for?
What does having a brand mean? Does it mean limiting yourself to one genre, like thrillers or romances? Does it keep you locked in a tiny box you can never get out of again?
Think of the term “brand name recognition.” That’s what happens when someone hears a name like Apple, Coca Cola, Ford, or Tesla, and makes a buying decision based on their experience with and knowledge of that brand. On a smaller scale, you can do this with your writing.
Your brand is what you want to be known for.
Think about reading a Stephen King book or going to see a Quentin Tarantino film — you go in with certain expectations about what you’ll experience, because of what they’re known for. Intentionally or not, they’ve each created a particular brand of experience they offer their audiences. When or if they break their own brand “rules,” their audiences may be surprised and delighted, or completely annoyed, because it’s not what they’ve come to expect.
Your brand is about the experience you consistently create for your audience. Your brand shows up in your voice, writing style, tone, characters, genres, themes and more. Your brand might even be about how you work if you’ve got a notable writing method or skillset, like a writer who whips out lightning drafts on assignment or one who excels at adaptations.
A brand makes it easier for the industry to find you
When you’re a newer screenwriter, it’s tempting to say, “I’ll write anything anyone wants to pay me to write.” But does that really work? How do you stand out? How will anyone find you to hire you in the first place?
When you work to develop a specific brand, it makes it easier for industry professionals to find you.
In my experience, I’ve been hired for three separate screenwriting assignments based on the fact that I’ve positioned myself as a sci-fi screenwriter. On my most recent gig, the lead on the project was specifically looking for a female sci-fi writer. I was the first writer who came to mind for his partner, whom I’ve developed a professional relationship with over time. We had a meeting, and I was hired.
Yes, mine is a genre-based brand, but that’s not the only way to go about it. I personally know a screenwriter who specialize in speed rewrites, another who shines when she writes adaptations, and another who writes feel-good movies about animals. Their strengths form much of their brand, and they’re the writers who come to mind when a director or producer is looking for a writer to fit a specific bill.
Find what you do and do more of it!
When it comes to deciding on a brand, give thought to how not to overly limit yourself as much as to how to be found. What do you already do well? How might you do more of it? What do you love to do?
Look at the scripts you’ve already written. Even if they cross genres, find the similarities. Do you tend to write family dramas, even when they’re contained inside other story elements? Do you tend to write protagonists with big chips on their shoulders? What are the consistent themes you’re drawn to that might be part of your brand?
When I chose to specialize in sci-fi, I did it knowing that 1) I loved the genre and that it would be a dream for me to focus on it, 2) it’s a reality genre and not necessarily a content genre, which meant I could still have a huge field to play in (e.g., I could write sci-fi romance, sci-fi action, sci-fi drama, etc.), 3) I could move into fantasy if I played out sci-fi so far that I felt done with it (hasn’t happened yet), and 4) I could always write under a pen name if I wanted to try something different.
Brainstorm ideas before you commit
Wondering if your brand will go the distance? Take some time to brainstorm concepts within your brand and test it. This is primarily a matter of reassuring yourself, but it’s worth doing.
One of the most powerful writing exercises I’ve experienced was to brainstorm 150 screenplay concepts for a class I was taking with Hal Croasmun at ScreenwritingU.com. I completed the process in three days (I’d just had a baby, so I was catching up in a bit of a hurry), and it demonstrated that I could come up with a ton of ideas pretty quickly and easily. Sure, only 10 to 15 of them are concepts I’m likely to develop further, but that was the point of the exercise — to understand that the best ideas come from a process of brainstorming and exploration.
It also had the added benefit of showing me how many possibilities were available to me under the brand umbrella I’d chosen.
Become the master of your brand
Once you identify your brand, your job is to master it. Become an expert. You don’t have to be the expert right away, that comes after your 10,000 hours à la Malcolm Gladwell, but devote yourself to a study and deepening of your own focus.
Want to be known for writing a particular kind of movie? Study them with everything you’ve got. Read them, watch them, analyze them, write them. Whether you want to specialize in Christian movies, Hallmark channel romances, or binge-worthy TV thrillers, make it your business to understand your brand inside and out as well as what you specifically bring to it.
For example, if you specialize in romance, what kind of romance do you excel at writing? Straight up rom-coms? What’s the range and breadth you want to explore? Dig a little deeper into your concepts to see where you shine.
Make your brand visible
Once you land on a brand, make it visible. Include it on your social media profiles. Describe it on your website. Put it on your business cards. Talk about it to your screenwriting colleagues so they know who to refer to you when they’re asked about a gig that’s not a good fit for them. I would never take a horror gig, for example, but I’d for sure send a director to the writers I know who excel at it.
If your brand is your writing method or speed, include it on your LinkedIn resumé. If your brand is genre or content-related, write articles about it for your blog. If your brand is your unique voice, tone, or style, publish pieces online to showcase it.
Bottom line: find ways to make your brand known, so that when someone’s looking for a screenwriter for a specific project, they know just who to call.
Your Weekend Writer’s Assignment
Brainstorm your writing strengths, interests, and genre leanings this weekend to start homing in on your specific screenwriting brand. Look at scripts you’ve already written — what stands out? How do you want to be known in the screenwriting world? Remember, you don’t have to make it so narrow that you feel constrained and locked in. Instead, look to carve out a place where you can truly stand out.
Got Questions You Want Answered?
After working with hundreds of writers over the last seven years, writing coach and Called to Write Founder Jenna Avery has answers for you about how to balance your life and your screenwriting, trust yourself more as writer, fulfill your call to write, and more. Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Jenna’s online form at https://calledtowrite.com/final-draft and she may choose your question to answer anonymously in a future article.
Written by: Jenna AveryJenna Avery is a screenwriter, columnist, and blogger who redesigned her life and career to support her calling to write. She specializes in sci-fi action and space fantasy, and her most recent project is a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story for a Canadian producer. Jenna is also a writing coach and the founder of Called to Write, where she has helped hundreds of writers overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and resistance so they can get their writing onto the page and into the world where it belongs. Jenna writes about writing, creativity, and calling at calledtowrite.com, for ScriptMag, for Final Draft, and teaches for Screenwriter’s University. Download Jenna’s free guidebooks for writers when you join her mailing list at https://www.calledtowrite.com/mailing-list