The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

March 1999

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 13 February 99 Copyright ©1999 alt.screenwriters

Content, content, content, and the World Wide Web. These two alliterations should be enough to get the savvy screenwriter salivating. After all, if it’s so world wide, and if it’s so loaded with content, it shouldn’t be going too far out on a limb to think there might be professional opportunities somewhere in the broadband pipeline. But you gotta wonder, as a traditional screenwriter, is there any way to get there from here?

Ever the optimists, we have to think the answer is yes.


It’s your Passion.

“I am looking for people who are passionate about the Internet as a commercial art form in the same way movie people are passionate about making movies and theater people are passionate about the stage,” says Ken Goldstein, WGA member and recently-named head honcho (a.k.a. Senior Vice President and General Manager) of Disney Online. “If writers are willing to invest themselves in the craft, they will find colleagues who share their passion and open the doors.”

Arguably, Disney is the “old media” company that has moved most aggressively in new media directions. So when someone from Disney talks, we listen.

But following up on Goldstein’s initial comments: how do writers even begin to show their dedication to the Web? “By teaching themselves HTML and putting up a few pages that demonstrate a unique vision.” Goldstein adds, “When we look at an electronic resume with live links to something interesting, we have a pretty good sense that the person is wired and has something important to offer.” Writers, start your websites.

Think of your writing friends who don’t “do the web.” Think of the times you swore that there had to be some payback for all the time you spend websurfing. Now, think of the opportunities.

“There are always freelance opportunities for writers to create storylines, write dialog, or develop promotional copy on a project basis,” says Goldstein. If you hunger for an online staff position, be ready to have some technical chops to back you up. “The more senior staff jobs held by screenwriters are those that involve producing, where the writer has assumed business and technical as well as creative responsibility.” When a screenwriter has made it to the ranks of producer in Goldstein’s organization, “they are usually so busy producing that they begin to outsource writing to freelancers.” Hmm. This sounds like the part where your colleagues who share your passion might be able to help open doors for you.

What if your future lies in writing for the Internet, but writing for kids is, shall we say, not your passion? While Goldstein’s group focuses on children’s and family content, including the subscription-based Disney Blast Online (, there are other arenas of online entertainment to explore.

“I have organized Disney Online into a series of content studios,” says Goldstein, including Entertainment, Lifestyles, and Arts & Leisure, plus “all of the web sites of the business units of the Walt Disney Company,” which includes movies, television, theme parks, and publishing. If there’s nothing in Goldstein’s group that interests you, you might want to consider Buena Vista Internet Group, which includes, ABC Internet Group, ESPN Internet Group, and Go Network. “Each of the divisions of BVIG operates independently and is organized accordingly,” adds Goldstein, “but the divisions work together closely to create a worldwide Internet presence.”

If the technical side doesn’t scare you from jumping head first into the online world, the final hurdle to overcome is the pace. “The challenge,” says Goldstein, “is to set a pace for the staff where they feel as though they are running a marathon, and the fact that it does not have a finish line is a good thing. A bit more like television or radio programming, at least in spirit.” But this challenge can also be a blessing. When content doesn’t fly online, it’s very easy to fix. “Producing for online is more like painting an endless mural, which is really exciting because every day you can make it better, and if you push some stuff that isn’t so hot you can pull it the next day and do it differently.” Back in the hey day of television writing, it was called “live.” Now it’s “real time.”

New media for the new millennium. “There is still time to get in on this run of good fortune, but you need to move now or get left behind,” says Goldstein. “As much hype as there is, this thing is real and it is here to stay. The people who get experience now will be the leaders of the industry tomorrow … The opportunity,” he says, “is simply astounding.”

With one caveat. “Everyday that goes by is a day that someone else is getting smarter, someone else is learning something you don’t know, someone else is pioneering a market and claiming a stake in the future,” warns Goldstein. What’s a screenwriter to do? “Be paranoid, commit to lifelong learning, and be a part of change… If you embrace change and roll with it, you have a prayer.”

Written by tborst

February 13, 1999 at 4:38 am

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