Once you sell your script, you won’t have time to strategize and think about how to best position yourself. You’ll be bombarded with input from various sources and may not know who to listen to. If you are successful, how do you manage all the different directions you’ll be pulled in?
Jay A. Fernandez, senior film reporter for The Hollywood Reporter, will be joining us as a panelist at the 2009 Conference, enlightening starting writers about publicity, self-promotion, what to expect in terms of treatment from studios, publicists, the trades, etc., and how to keep on top of these things should they succeed in a way that makes this stuff necessary.
Fernandez is usually the one to ask the questions, but AFF recently got him to answer a few of our own:
AFF: In your opinion, what are the most important aspects about marketing yourself as a writer?
FERNANDEZ: Well, write a killer, inventive, emotional piece of material first. After that, it’s self-promotion. Especially when you are starting out, it’s rare that you’ll land with any kind of management or agency rep who will work pro-actively on your behalf. And even if you do sell a script or get a credit on something, the studio or production entity will almost certainly leave you out of any press matters. This is a tricky balance in order not to piss off your studio employers, but you have to be forthright about selling yourself as a working writer. This is not some craven ego behavior. You have to think of it as a tool for getting you more work, and that’s the ultimate goal, right? You want to work. And while your work can and should speak for itself, it can only help to broaden your relationships on your own and especially seek out relationships with reporters. Because they’re (we’re) the ones who will put your story in front of producers, agents, managers, executives and stalkers. And if your reps aren’t doing it, you should be asking them to or be prepared to do it yourself. One aspect of this is having a good digital photo of yourself ready beforehand. That way, the moment anything happens for you, you can have your face in the story. This will help with recognition when you go in on meetings or attend events. And always have a handful of ideas at the ready at any one time, in case someone invites you to pitch one after they’ve flat-out rejected the other masterpiece you wrote.
AFF: What do you feel is the importance of AFF as a vehicle for developing screenwriting careers?
FERNANDEZ: AFF as I experience it is the only place with both the legitimacy and access that all striving screenwriters crave. There’s nothing more valuable to a serious student of film and screenwriting than face time with someone who has already found a way to work in the business. Books and random seminars are fine, but these working writers are the only true experts on the business because they’ve actually found a way to get paid to tell stories on film and TV. And after they speak to you for a few minutes out on Sixth Street, they’re heading back to their hotel to work on a script. Other than WGA events in L.A., which are sometimes closed to non-members, there is no other place to get that access, in panel format or one-on-one.
AFF: Who would be on your dream panel?
FERNANDEZ: Ben Hecht, Howard Hawks, Raymond Chandler, Henry Miller, Sophocles, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Robert Towne, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Paul Thomas Anderson and, uh, Megan Fox.
Actually, some of my favorites are frequent AFF guests already, Scott Frank, Brian Helgeland, Chris McQuarrie, Shane Black, Paul Thomas Anderson, Peter Morgan, Joel and Ethan Coen, Stephen Knight, Chris & Jonah Nolan, Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
AFF: Favorite part and/or memory of Austin Film Festival?
FERNANDEZ: Spending a few hours at the Driskill Hotel bar drinking with Chris McQuarrie, hearing insane off-the-record stories about the vagaries of the business and behind-the-scenes machinations on a bunch of high-profile studio tent poles. It was exciting as a film fan and illuminating as a reporter and someone who has aspired to a job that apparently gets no less soul-crushing even when you win an Oscar®.
AFF: Having written for a variety of publications about the industry and screenwriters specifically, have you ever felt compelled to write your own full-length screenplay?
FERNANDEZ: I’ve co-written three full-length screenplays with a good friend of mine, and while we enjoyed the process we had a long way to go to achieve effective professional execution of our ideas. That was ten-plus years ago. I’ve sketched out a dozen feature-length and TV-pilot ideas since then, but never written them. I still plan to.
AFF: You have been the co-writer on some un-produced scripts – any developments on those?
FERNANDEZ: In the mid-’90s, when my writing partner and I were actively writing and sending out queries, we got several bites from agents and producers on a serial killer script called “Endgame.” We spoke with several and made an oral agreement with an agency in NYC to shop that one script around. Several high-profile producers eventually read it, but it did not produce any work for us. We moved on with our day jobs and split up geographically, so eventually we severed the relationship with the agent and effectively stopped writing together (though not discussing ideas).
Have your own questions for Jay? Ask him at the 2009 AFF Conference, October 22-25.