Recently I had the privilege of pitching a writing project to a tech startup. The project is a web series incorporating audience participation, that will help boost exposure for what that tech start-up offers. It is part of my delving into the branded entertainment space after years of learning how to write and pitch feature and TV specs for Hollywood.
What I encountered were 5 questions or issues that were remarkably similar whether I pitching to studio or a start-up:
Who is your audience? Both want to know specific demographics. While the principals of both a studio and a start-up would love to reach as many people as possible with their products, it behooves the writer to know who the target audience is specifically. To a production company or studio, this question arises from their particular genre mandate (we only do horror, for example) or the need to diversify their slate of released films. To a tech start-up, the question arises, I believe, because filming a web or social media series is only a part, albeit a cool part, of their marketing campaign, and not their core product. Connecting their idea of who will be experiencing both will help to unify their brand and not cause confusion.
How much is it going to cost? It was intriguing that the start-up I pitched was not hesitant to tell me that they don’t have a lot of money to spend. Period. Some production companies I pitched to were somewhat less forthcoming of what their budget constrictions were; not that they were being secretive, but that budgets can change drastically depending on their ongoing development and production process. Start-ups know right away that they don’t have much to spend so they ask how they can still obtain the project’s goals at a much lower cost. One person I pitched to at the start-up asked if the web series I envisioned for them can be reconstituted as a blog diary in the voices of the characters instead. I found this to be an astute note and appreciated their not rejecting a non-traditional marketing route, but looking for avenues to incorporate it.
Who do you see playing the roles? This is a basic question a studio will ask a writer or producer. While they hope to get actor or actress who has a certain heat or buzz, most of the time the driving motivation for asking about casting is to make sure talent will fit the story. But for a start-up, the question becomes whether or not the character(s) are consistent with who will be the end user of the product. For a start-up, someone of the ilk of Tina Fey is less enticing than say someone like Tina Roth Eisenberg. But while both a studio and a start-up need to have engaging players for their script and/or branded entertainment, at the end of the day, are they more identifiable to the Twilight crowd or the Twylah crowd?
How long have you been a writer? I’ve been asked this question by both creative executives and start-up entrepreneurs. In other words, can I do the job? They inherently know that a good story – either in film, TV, books, a web series or even in an advertisement (and yes, the best ads always tell a story in some way) not only makes a for a cool product to market for a studio, but a cool way to market a product for a start-up. No matter what one does for a living, people are still interested in the latest Batman movie. Or wonder if they should go and read 50 Shades of Grey. Or are willing to share the latest viral music video. Entertainment makes for a common denominator. But making a good story takes skills borne of practice and sweat. And passion. Studios and start-ups are filled with people with passion. They want to know if a writer has that same drive. And can complete the job on time and on budget.
And the secret question they’re asking themselves: Can this guy take notes? Collaboration is a key component in both studio-writer and start-up-writer relationships. You have to be able to take feedback, digest them, find the crux of what they are really looking for, and then implement a solution on the page or on location. Sometimes it may mean moving away from what was originally intended for the good of all involved. Good Will Hunting started out as a sci-fi thriller, but the development process instead found a much stronger coming-of-age story (an Oscar winning one). When I realized that a full-blown web series may be too expensive for the start-up I was pitching to, I pivoted to the idea of a 2-3 minute faux documentary where we envision just what our world would look like 10 years from now if that start-up was successful and mainstream. I can see the preview in my head now with that stentorian, booming trailer-voice we all know and love: “In an Instagram world, one man…”
So overall, wherever a story project arises – whether through a mainstream distribution channel or in support of a start-up, the paramount questions should be whether the story is interesting and informative for an audience…and will it keep them coming back for more?
Because no question, it can’t be boring.
|GOT A TIP? TELL US.||LIKE TO WRITE? contribute to TS.|
Write a blog about your startup, get 5 or more plugs and your startup will be featured here.
TigerStartups - Chicago, IL