Turning Your Personality and Taste Into a Brand
November 27, 2022
In a highly competitive and constantly growing marketplace, it’s important to stand out if you want a career writing for film or television. Many of the most sought-after screenwriters have memorable or larger than life personalities.
One of the best examples is Diablo Cody.
Born Brook Busey-Maurio and a Midwesterner, Diablo is living the ultimate success story. From a blogger, to a magazine columnist, to a published author, and finally to an Academy® Award-winning screenwriter. When she first broke into the business, much was made of a brief period in her life as an exotic dancer and it only added to her myth. In addition to having a unique and very distinct voice as a writer, Diablo toured Hollywood like a rock star when her spec script Juno first made the rounds. Not only did it lead to the Jason Reitman directed film, but to a Stephen Spielberg produced cable series, and the aforementioned Oscar. Moreover, Diablo became a celebrity.
Years ago I met Diablo Cody at an industry screening for Juno in NYC. The film wasn’t released yet, but there was already a massive amount of buzz. After the movie, there was a Q & A (this is common for industry screenings): Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, and two of the film's actors were on the panel. When Diablo took the stage, she did a jokey kung-fu move to the delight of the audience, and with respect to the rest of the panel, Diablo completely stole the show. Here she was, the writer, and she took all the attention away from the director and two actors, one of which played the title character and was the star of the film. No one who was there would disagree. It was immediately clear that Juno’s personality all came from Diablo: from her attire, to her attitude, to her quick witticisms. Everyone was intrigued and most of the questions went to Diablo. She shined like a star shines when given the opportunity. Diablo talked about her old blog and her past as an exotic dancer; she wasn’t shy about any of it. The more she talked, the more questions she got. One could see how Diablo owned a room. Producers and studio execs probably felt like they were hanging with the coolest person they ever met, and someone who had experienced a world they had never experienced. Diablo sported alternative rock threads, tattoos, a Betty Page hairdo, and had knowing eyes. And, of course, she had christened herself “Diablo Cody”. People wanted to work with her. They wanted to be cool. Hollywood is all about the cool. Diablo’s persona is inextricable from her writing. People know what they’re getting when she writes a script. She’s more than a writer; she’s a brand.
But for a brand to truly work, you need to be the real deal. As mentioned above, Diablo’s personality was all over her writing: her witticisms, her borderline Gen X/Millennial aesthetic, her film and music taste, etc. In the Juno script, Diablo name-checked specific artists she was into (e.g. Dario Argento; The Stooges) and she wore her taste as a badge of honor. So her personality lined up with her writing, making her brand an authentic one. Similarly, writer-director Edgar Wright is a genuine lover of music and this love of music was a significant component of his films Baby Driver and Last Night in Soho. Graham Moore’s Academy® Award-winning screenplay, The Imitation Game, was an intelligent and thoughtful piece of writing, and when I interviewed him a few months back, he struck me as likewise intelligent and thoughtful.
Most A-list screenwriters have a brand that coincides with their writing, and more often than not, their brand is simply a projection of their personality and taste. The above three screenwriters — Cody, Wright and Moore — are all comfortable in their own skin and are able to communicate to others who they genuinely are as individuals. This is true of all good public speakers; they aren’t intimidated by what others might think about them and know how to convey their thoughts and opinions on a variety of subjects. This characteristic carries over to one’s writing: the more comfortable you are with yourself, the easier it will be for you to express yourself. If you have this quality as a writer, you likely have one of the most important X-factors in success: a voice. Ultimately writing is about communication and if you’re able to communicate your worldview and individual take on a certain genre, then others will take note of your voice, and if you have that voice when interacting and speaking with people, you’ll also have your brand. Again, it’s not a facade or front; it’s who you truly are, but it’s being able to project who are you in a clear and concise fashion.
In a cultural landscape filled with various social media platforms, it’s easier than ever before to find avenues of self-expression. Whether it’s showing a book you’re currently reading on Instagram, or discussing a TV series on Facebook, or reviewing one of your favorite films on YouTube, or even making a comedy bit on TikiTok, these are all means to expand your identity as a screenwriter. And just like with public speaking, the more comfortable you are with expressing yourself on these platforms, the more expressive you’ll be as a person in general. Although it’s by no means a requirement, these days it’s expected that a writer working in the film and television industry has some kind of social media presence and a discernible brand.
In addition to competition from other screenwriters, many movie stars also write scripts these days (e.g. Ben Affleck, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride). Not only do these movie stars have a highly recognizable brand, they’re usually movie stars for a reason: they’re charismatic and awesome in a room. If you’re lucky, you’ll be sitting in rooms with execs and producers who on a regular basis sit in rooms with movie stars, and many of these movie stars were just pitching them their ideas. The more comfortable you are playing in this arena, the more comfortable industry professionals will be with you. Yes, you need to be a good writer if you’re going to compete, but you also need to be charismatic and awesome in a room (or, at very least, a Zoom). This doesn’t mean you have to be traditionally charming or even a “people person”, but you have to possess some quality that resonates with people. Whatever you can use to stand out, use it, and use it unabashedly.
So when writing, think about who you are as a person and how to best project it. When it becomes clear to you, that’s when you’ll not only discover your voice…
You’ll discover your brand.
Written by: Edwin CannistraciEdwin Cannistraci is a professional screenwriter. His comedy specs PIERRE PIERRE and O’GUNN both sold with more than one A-list actor and director attached. In addition, he’s successfully pitched feature scripts, TV pilots and has landed various assignment jobs for Universal, Warner Bros, Paramount and Disney.