Just finished listening to a great KCRW podcast with a very inspiring idea. The podcast was about how, faced with the implosion of the record business, musicians are trying out new and creative ways of building careers. The system is broken, and instead of trying to fix it they are taking matters into their own hands and trying out more individualized business plans. One of these – www.sellaband.com – is genius; musicians hold an IPO and sell shares of their future earnings to investors for cash. The website acts as a matchmaker, connecting investors to musicians and showcasing the musicians’ work. Anybody can invest, with shares going for only $10. With the help of the website, the musicians raise the money and then record and market their music. The resulting cds and digital downloads go up for sale to the public, with the investors and the musicians sharing the proceeds. Genius. Everybody wins.
Of course, the first thing I thought was – screenwriters should do this! I should do this! And I immediately thought this because, well, this is exactly what a friend of mine tried to work out back when I first moved out here over 10 years ago. He approached me and a couple of other guys – all 4 of us writers – and pitched this very idea. He had some contacts in the oil business back home in Houston, and maybe – just maybe – they could be convinced to invest in the future earnings of 4 young, ambitious screenwriters. We would raise as much as we could and then use this money to rent an office and pay ourselves regular salaries to come in to work and write screenplays. We could then be able to make a decent living while spending all our time writing. And without the need for day jobs, just think how much we could get done between the 4 of us in a year (or more) to pitch to the studios and production companies! I thought the idea was genius and was totally on board, but the thing fell apart before we could go to investors. What can I say. My friend was ahead of his time.
So how can writers use creative new business models like these? One advantage that musicians have in this set-up is that their finished products are just that – finished products, ready for sale to the public, at 99 cents a track. For writers, especially feature screenwriters and novelists, the marketplace for selling their “finished product” isn’t the public, but instead one much smaller and much more specialized. We should challenge ourselves to come up with some kind of writers’ equivalent to sellaband.
And I’m not talking about established models like www.inktip.com and www.sellascript.com. Those are great for writers, don’t get me wrong, and my option made me a fan of inktip for life. But never forget that the business plan for those sites is to generate as much money as possible for those sites, not for the writer himself. I’m talking about something more direct. Something to finance the writing process itself.
The traditional answer has been for writers to write shorter, more sellable material while waiting for their big break – specifically writing for magazines and newspapers. Writing for the web is the obvious promised land, but I still see it as merely the most recent iteration of this traditional “day job” solution. During the strike there was all kinds of talk about Hollywood writers jumping into new ventures in the web, shredding the traditional models and getting radical, but you don’t hear so much about those ideas these days. Anybody can write and shoot a movie and put it up on YouTube, and for next to nothing. And then there’s the supposed upcoming era of the 2-minute “webisode.” But I am ambivalent about these – writing and producing short films or even shorter pieces of short films is very different from writing features. And if you want to write features, the best way to get practice is by… writing features.
Maybe my hesitancy is just the kind of old-school rigidity that is exactly the enemy in this whole issue, but I’m not convinced. The idea here is to be bold, and I don’t think a day job writing for a website while writing a real movie after work is much bolder than a day job writing for traditional media while writing a real movie after work. I thought the whole idea was to use the power of the web to subvert the whole idea of the “day job” itself. But who am I? Just a guy who can’t even get a writing gig on the web and blogs for free… while writing a real movie after work at a day job.
So… who’s got the new business plan?