On the Business of Blogs
First of all, thanks to Brian for his invitation to write for the BZD blog. My name is Drew Castalia, and am an aspiring screenwriter in the UK. Brian and I bumped into one another quite by accident at the University of British Columbia, but have had enough in common to stay in touch over the years. Most importantly, we are both trying to making a living as guns for hire in an industry where there is no entrance infrastructure, only employed and active, or unemployed and depressed.
The "way up" in production is by word of mouth; so few institutional gateways exist for the aspiring writer, director, or producer: the film festival is a wild grab bag as competitive and political as the vastscape of literary magazines that writers of prose must navigate; and the academy, while useful for honing your craft, still exists in a separate conceptual sphere from the industry for which it claims to prepare its students. Perhaps the difficulty of our industry is in part due to necessity. After all, script readers are deluged by hundreds of scripts on a weekly basis, whether they work for a major studio or a modest production company. When a gateway opens, like the BBC Writer's Room, it must withstand a torrent of submissions. The pressure on this creative industry is so great from without that it would be impossible for it to succeed as a clear-cut hierarchy.
Many aspirants (such as the inspirational Adam Davis) do still try to scavenge for a "ground level" populated by production assistants and runners at dollars a day, but their hope mainly seems to be a sort of investment: prove yourself to make friends, and expand your social network. I'm reminded of the difference, in cognitive science, between analytical processing and a neural network. In a traditional business model, one often "climbs a ladder," entering an industry at one end and being promoted over time as one's experience warrants it. But the creative industries resemble more closely the model of a neural net -- named after the neurology of the animal brain. In computing, complex neural networks have the reputation of being adaptive and often unpredictable. Since we're talking about the film industry, that sounds about right.
Because writers (and I'm assuming directors and producers) make a living mainly on commission (after all, how many films actually break even these days?), one could be forgiven for thinking it strange that many have of us have blogs. After all, writing for a blog is exceedingly time consuming. It's taken me most of an hour just to put these many pixels to page. Why do writers in particular "waste time" on blogging? The answer is above: because networking (literally, growing the neural network) is our primary method of career advancement. The more connections one generates as a creative individual (such as with hits on this blog site), the more economic influence one has -- because as merchants our trade is in opinions, reputation, and communication.
Blogs also help increase convergence. When a creative writer undertakes to comment, he takes on the double-role of reporter. Many of us double up again as director or producer or actor, integrating a wider range of skills in order to minimize the risk and uncertainty inherent in a social network. Because in features pure writers assume a tremendous amount of risk relative to their investment, and are almost always severed from the production process after preproduction, it's no wonder that many are attempting to increase their influence by, for example, incorporating. An individual who is also a corporation is significant in this industry not just for legal purposes, but because it suggests an incorporation of skills. The writer as reporter, as director, as producer, as lawyer, as agent -- or anything else. Convergence is an interesting process, but there's no question, just as there's no question as I write this and not my script du jour, that one cannot do it all. As a creative person in this field, there is nothing more valuable than a connection that you trust. Just as a social network can be used by others to define who you are, a professional network represents to others the sum of your creative potential.
(Which brings us full circle, as I reiterate my thanks to Brian for his invitation.)