The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

October 1999

by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 24 September 99 Copyright ©1999 alt.screenwriters

A few months ago alt.screenwriters explored the world of interactive scriptwriting for corporate clients. Our mailbag bulged afterwards. The responses all had the same theme: “Gee, I like to make a lot of money, so how do I get a corporate interactive writing gig because I’m convinced that once I’m there they’ll be so blown away with my writing that they’ll want to pay me $1K a day?”This is how you do it. Pay attention. There will be a test.

Your biggest resource is your network, so first things first — get involved with others in the interactive community. Many interactive organizations have job listings. Many also have SIGs (Special Interest Groups). A couple of well-known New Media networking communities in Southern California are the Venice Interactive Community and Lawnmower. The Independent Writers of Southern California has also increased its New Media emphasis. There are others in most major cities.Simultaneously, you should be making friends with other interactive writers. Go to meetings. If you’re a Writers Guild member, the WGA’s New Media Committee meets monthly. Check it out. Here’s a pop quiz: If you can’t stand going to networking meetings, do you think you’ll be able to survive the seemingly endless meetings you’ll encounter in the corporate world?

Figure out your social and meeting threshold before you invest any time going down the corporate path.

Know what you love, know what you can tolerate
In your off-work hours, when you’re not 1) trying to get your agent to call you, 2) wondering if you’re going to have sex tonight, or 3) calculating how your bank comes up with less money in your account than you do, your real passion is dogs. You love ’em. All kinds. Big, little, yappy, prissy, whatever, you don’t care: you’re a dog lover. Like many dog lovers, you also love cats, so this gives you an edge in the interactive writing arena that we like to call “flexibility.”In those same off hours, you probably never think about pulling the engine out of your car and rebuilding it “just for fun.” That’s because you know next-to-nothing about things mechanical. You know your engine is under the hood somewhere, but other than that, you give it little thought. It’s not that you’re mechanically challenged — you just don’t care. Although, if pressed, you’d admit that you’re pretty sure that you don’t find your car engine completely repulsive.

This is how interactive writing in Corporate America works.

When you start out, you focus on writing what you love. Since you’re crazy about dogs, maybe you target Ralston Purina as a client, and you help them put together a project for veterinarians to show that their dog food is just as good as the expensive stuff the vets sell. You design the scenarios, write some vignettes, and work out a game that lets Rover win an iditerod race if the player feeds the dog Ralston Purina chow throughout the game. Ralston is so impressed with your work that you’re asked to do the “cat” version (assuming you like cats). They plan on starting the design phase in about 14 months, depending, of course, on the success of the dog version. You tell them you’d love to.

Now you’re looking for another project and you’re ready to try something a little outside your comfort zone. You’ll work on things that are interesting, even if they’re not your passion. You hear about a gig for John Deere on an interactive tutorial/game designed around taking apart and putting together engines. Your brain starts churning and you have a million ideas on how to create a compelling engine story/game.

The bottom line? If you like variety, and you like being paid to learn, the corporate world could be just your ticket. You could find yourself doing corporate projects as diverse as teaching teenagers about driving via an interactive movie/CBT (Computer Based Training), to teaching engineers how to use CAD software in a tutorial-meets-twitch-game.

The one passion you must keep throughout it all is writing.

Do your homework
Once you figure out what you like, start doing your homework. If dogs are right up your alley, which corporations make products or provide services that have anything to do with dogs? Dog medicine, dog health care, dog products, dog training?Go to the pet store. Go to the bookstore. Check out product manufacturers. Check out magazines for dog lovers. Then, go online and research everywhere. Try Northern Light, Google, or Dogpile. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Think outside the box
A group of innovative designers, programmers, and writers knew they could create a kick-ass interactive piece for Nike, but another developer had the Nike account. They were so convinced that their concepts were better than anything Nike had seen, that they spent their own time and money coming up with a small, simple, workable demo. Within hours of receiving the demo, Nike called. They got their business.You might not have a litany of programmers by your side, but that’s not the point. In working with Corporate America, you need to think outside the box. Think of yourself as a copywriter, a storyteller, an advertising agency, a project manager. Show off your talents. Do a little demo or prototype, for a real company or an imaginary one. Put the demo on your website. Put your writing on your website. Use your network and give out the URL to your website. What’s that? You don’t have a website? Corporate America figures writers know how to publish to the Web these days. Looks like you’ve got a little extra homework to do.

You’ve got to be able to sell yourself as somebody who gets the interactive way, gets the corporate message, is a team player, is innovative, respects tradition, is patient, is an expert, can work with people who don’t know what they like but know what they don’t like, and who is flexible yet authoritative, all at the same time. To mine the gold you’re looking for in corporate America, that means you need to roll up your sleeves, sling the shovels (and be willing to sling the BS when you have to), conceptualize the dig, prioritize the dig, admit you’re digging in the wrong place (even, sometimes, if you know you’re digging in the right place), and convince everyone else who wants to dig in Kansas that there’s no gold there.In the end, your writing says it all. So be ready to rewrite like you’ve never rewritten before.

Here’s the Test
We promised a test. Answer truthfully. You will be graded:Are you willing to do all this work?

If you answered no, we admire you for sticking with this article long enough to even get to the test.

If you answered yes, welcome to our world. Continue reading.

The fact is that cashing in on Corporate America is a lot of work. On the flip side, if you’re willing to make the investment it takes, there are those among us who make very nice returns. Bottom line: if you’re willing to stick with it for the long haul, you, too, have the opportunity to join the ranks of the Corporate Interactive Writers who play with the big boys and girls and make the big bucks.

Written by tborst

September 24, 1999 at 9:09 pm

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