alt.screenwriters

The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

February 1998

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 19 January 98 Copyright ©1998 alt.screenwriters

There is a place where a screenwriter not only starts a project, but casts it, directs it, and supervises post-production. No, it’s not the Pearly Gates, Shangri-La, or the Clear Light at the End of the Void…it’s the Web — and an increasing number of writers are using it to advertise and promote their careers, vent steam, indulge their whimsy, and distribute unproduced properties and samples of their writing…by designing and posting homepages (which are often doorways to complete websites).

Point your browser to www.wga.org/membersites.html, and you will find a list of writers’ homepages that you can link to. Be aware that this is only a partial list of WGA members who actually maintain homepages, and if you are looking for a particular screenwriter’s homepage, you may also wish to check Yahoo or another search engine for its location.

You might think that the only screenwriters posting homepages are those working in the nascent arena of new media, but in fact, every entertainment genre and medium is represented by these webpages. Some are primarily feature writers, others episodic writers, others work in the documentary or animation fields.

What you can find runs the gamut from simple credit lists to daily cartoons, from ruminations on the trade to music and games (where you can even win prizes).

“Treatments, scripts, flowcharts, all on sale this week: special on MOWS, lots of free stuff. Can’t find what you’re looking for? I’ll have it for you by tomorrow…” promises Michael Dare at his Rummage Sale website, where you can also enter DareNet and experience The Ultimate List of Stupid Names and The American Flag If Larry Flynt Was President.

TV writer Christy Marx introduces us to the Moggy Horde (photos of her 18 cats, which we still find hard to believe), while gameshow writer Elliot Feldman draws a cartoon of Whitney Houston singing “3 Blind Mice”, where you can also view his “shocktoons” (animated cartoons created using Macromedia Director and Shockwave). Ethan Calk , a Star Trek episode writer, pursues a perhaps masochistic approach: he posts his rejected story pitches, along with comments from the story editor who took the pitch.

Ted Pedersen has his “little house on the web”, where he also has pictures of a dozen or so cats posted (hmm, we’re beginning to sense a trend here…). Meanwhile, Steve Oedekerk takes us into “The O Channel”, where you can download “collectable digital trading cards, sounds, videos and wallpaper”, listen to music, play games, and fully immerse yourself in his Daily Brain Freeze.

Oedekerk’s website is on the cutting edge of Web technology, heavy on Shockwave animations, streaming audio, etc. (not surprisingly, it’s also the longest download of any of the writers’ pages we visited; it helps to have an ISDN line when visiting Steve, or a newspaper that you’re thumbing through during the waits). A number of writers’ pages take into account bandwidth issues, however — favoring text with just a few graphics and perhaps a little JavaScript programming to spice up the screen.

Several writers use their webpages to help sell their books. There are even direct clickthroughs to Web-bookseller amazon.com, so that a potential bookbuyer can immediately part ways with his money (is this brilliant or what?). Other writers offer advice on the business: “Learn how to create a writing routine for yourself and how the studios think,” promises Carol Roper (we plan to browse this website — at www.netxweb.com/screenplays — and take notes as soon as we finish writing this column).

So what’s in it for the writers who design and post their own websites? “For most of my life I’ve had to deal with editors, art directors, and [other] middlemen. When I saw that I could remove the middleperson and go directly to my audience, I leapt for joy”, says writer/cartoonist Feldman. Adds Marx: “I figured it would be a handy resource for net-connected industry people to instantly see my credits. Unlike hard copy, though, these credits connect to numerous other websites with additional information about the various series and projects I’ve worked on, which is great for the fans who find my page. It allows me to do a unique form of self-promotion. And frankly, it’s just plain fun.” Dare echoes the last comment, but adds: “Way too many people are content to just post their resume. Boring. You’re an entertainer. Entertain.”

Intrigued by the idea of posting a webpage but afraid you have to be a programmer? Marx reports: “I knew nothing about HTML when I started. Mastering a basic level of HTML isn’t that hard.” (HTML is the basic formatting/programming language of the Web.) In fact, if you use Microsoft Word, you already know how to create a webpage, because Word can save the file in HTML format (a feature built into Word 97, and a free add-on to earlier versions, downloaded from Microsoft).

For screenwriters considering moving into the new media world, a webpage is almost a must: an easy way to demonstrate to potential employers that you have some basic understanding of digital matters. But it’s equally clear that regardless of the medium you presently work in, the Web opens up new doors in career promotion, while offering a new method of communicating more directly with your audience. Don’t be surprised if a webpage becomes de rigeur for every writer in just a couple of years!



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Written by tborst

January 19, 1998 at 10:23 pm

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