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How to be a ‘Biz’ Badass – Art and Commerce Can Co-Exist

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“Screenwriters are asked to make art with business in mind. Why should we feel bad asking execs to do business with art in mind?” @silverwingscrpt

And I said that I wouldn’t be blogging much about ‘the biz’ directly… well my brain decided otherwise.

Photo credit: Scott Catron / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Photo credit: Scott Catron / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

The oft contentious marriage of Art and Commerce in Hollywood. The above tweet from Leigh Medeiros, in response to a disconcerting article in the New York Times about using algorithms to revise Hollywood scripts (fodder for another post), had the effect of hurtling me backwards in time, to my junior year at Duke and the study ‘abroad’ program I did here in LA. I came to explore Hollywood because I wanted to pursue a career that encompassed both the arts/ entertainment and business (I was an economics major). My desire to act was kept at bay by the pragmatic opinion that I would be wasting my expensive degree should I pursue it; becoming an agent seemed the obvious choice. Thus, I interned at both the Gersh Agency and a production company where I gave 30+ hours a week of my time. I loved the energy of an agency, it seemed like the hub of Hollywood.

Cut to landing a full time job at the William Morris Agency upon graduation, where there was little business or art in my day, unless you counted the ‘art’ of rolling calls or dealing with extreme behavior and late nights. One of my duties, however, was to prep the trades for my boss (a lit agent) every morning. I had to read both Variety and Hollywood Reporter and highlight any article that I thought she should know about as it pertained to her clients, the executives she had relationships with and the industry as a whole. It was here that my creative and analytical brain came alive. I could see the patterns of deals, find an interesting angle that a piece of news would suggest. I would write notes in the column as to how I thought a piece of information was relevant or significant to her business. Before the term was even hip, I was her curator.

Fast forward ten + years and I am now ‘the talent’.  Apparently I found the strength to focus on the ‘art’. But I continued to be the curator, studying the ‘business’ side of the industry until the opportunity (New Media) came up where I could utilize it to jumpstart my acting career. I became a producer. I ‘re-branded’ myself. As a New Media writer and producer, it is my job to be up to date on the latest developments in the digital space. Everything from the latest YouTube trends and memes to a deal between Ben Silverman’s Electus and Hud:sun media. I also keep up with the news from mainstream Hollywood, which week by week, is becoming more affected by the digital democratization of content.

But even if I were solely a screenwriter or actor, not wearing any other hats, understanding the latest news in our industry would be paramount to me. Contrary to the NYTimes article, an algorithm should not dictate your work as an artist, and it’s a travesty if studios chose this path, but information can and should nudge you. If you want to write for the web, you have to be economical in locations and size of cast. If you’re a feature writer, you may have 10 script ideas floating in side of your head, but knowing the current landscape will help you pick which one to focus on.  If only movie stars are getting cast in network TV pilots, focus your talents elsewhere.

You wouldn’t develop an app if you didn’t research mobile devices, would you?

So I want to empower you. Knowledge is power. I want you to be able to have a conversation with anyone in the Biz and be confident in your macro knowledge of our industry and the industries which affect it. Ms. In the Biz is the perfect launching pad. Then start yourself on a regiment, a badass diet of information.

Here are my top five picks:

1. Studio System News  — A great round up of Hollywood box-office and deal news articles (via links and brief descriptions) delivered daily in a newsletter first thing in the am — Filmtracker recently acquired this site/ newsletter. They have a website but the newsletter starts off my day. It has started to cover the bigger digital news as well.

2. Cynopsis Media/ Digital — A more in-depth newsletter of pretty much everything happening in entertainment and media: what show is premiering, what was just renewed, cancelled, what bigger deals were just done, what executives are moving. There is one geared specifically towards Digital and its editor Wayne is fantastic — there is also a spotlight site every day.

3. Adage/ Adage Digital – Why?… You’re not in the advertising business. But like it or not, advertising is the engine behind TV. Ad revenue directly affects the budgets of shows and the commercials that get made. It’s also the realm from which many new directors get discovered. Why not know these talented folks before they go mainstream. Advertising industry is the elephant in every room that you go into related to Hollywood — and digital. Until content is solely financed by a subscription model, that 15 second preroll or 30 second TV spot or even product integration is important. Also, many of you are multi hyphenate creators – the site showcases great international commercials and branded shorts – see what is out there.

4. Tech Crunch — What is the latest app out there that might allow you to better monetize your show? When is Google Glass going public, how will it affect social media and engagement? These are all important tech developments that impact entertainment. The site’s ‘Crunch Daily’ is worth a quick skim.

5. The Skimm – speaking of skim, this newsletter email is a quick over view of everything else in the world going on! As this is important: it gives context. And perspective. Don’t be the industry gal at the lunch table who only talks about script deals and casting news. Or worse, reality TV.  Inspire!

The EXTRAS:

Additional follows: @twitter itself. You have a bazillion entertainment feeds. Just don’t get bogged down in the ones reporting ‘celeb’ news rather than important deals. Even if I don’t like her alleged bullying tactics, Nikki Finke’s Deadline has the most comprehensive coverage of industry via twitter.

The Trades: Variety/ Hollywood Reporter. — Variety has a paywall that drives me nuts when I try to click to an article through twitter, but I find it covers a lot of digital news. The Hollywood Reporter weekly glossy is entertaining and glamorous. They have great weekly round up of deals and I love their Roundtable Interviews. If you can afford the glossy, I’d go for it.

Now that you have your main stay diet, you can SUPPLEMENT — if you’re an actor, read Backstage. If you’re a writer, John August’s blog and podcast, is fantastic, he and Craig Mazin talk about both industry issues and the writing process. A new favorite of mine is the Black board blacklist. If you are webseries focused, bookmark Tubefilter.com.

NOW TAKE ACTION:

Set aside even fifteen minutes every morning to do your ‘skim’ and have your virtual highlighter out, whether that be bookmarking or instapapering a few articles. Have your ‘biz’ notebook which you compile.  As I will get into in a subsequent post, sometimes you won’t even know how an interesting piece of news will tickle your brain, how it might provide a solution for something you are working on with seemingly no correlation.

And if you have more time, use it! We are living and working in an era where almost every piece of information is at our fingertips. The pillars of thought and industry are on twitter! Rupert Murdoch tweets, and regardless of your opinions of his company, he is fascinating. Don’t just follow a small number of friends on twitter to keep your follower ratio low, follow follow follow! Free teachers are everywhere, thought leaders abound, with articles and ideas that will build your knowledge, thus your confidence… building the badass. So when someone asks you what you do, you can talk not just about your craft, but about the industry in which it is a commodity in. And in doing so, you may inspire that exec to bend his ear to the ‘art’ of it all.

Boom.  Full circle.

What are your favorite entertainment news sites? Podcasts? Vlogs? My newsfeed is more geared towards digital but yours may be more indie film. How can you become your own best curator?

I look forward to your awesome answers. See you in the comment box! T

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photo by The Bui Brothers

 

Taryn O'Neill

About Taryn O'Neill

TARYN is an actress, writer and new media producer originally from Vancouver, Canada. A competitive figure skater for 12 years, she graduated from Duke University. She has appeared on the TV shows ‘Vegas’, ‘Navy N.C.I.S.’, ‘The Inside’ ‘Lie to Me’ and plays a recurring role on the BYUTV family drama ‘Granite Flats’. She has acted in over 20 webseries (winning Best Supporting Actress at the Indie Soap awards for her work on ‘Compulsions’) as well as producing two series (including the Streamy nominated scifi series ‘After Judgment’.) She added writing to her repertoire after starting a blog in 2009, and in 2010, her first comedy script, “The Very True Adventures of the Madoff Girls,” was a Finalist in the NYTVFest FOX Comedy Pilot Contest. She has since written a full length series for ‘Stan Lee’s World of Heroes’ and has numerous web and tv projects in development, scifi being her genre of choice. In her spare time she studies all things science and trains in martial arts. Her quest to be an onscreen badass was first chronicled at her tumblr Operation BABE (Badass Alien-Fighting Body Endeavor), and has evolved into being a blog about being an inspired badass in all areas of life.