alt.screenwriters

The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

December 2002

by Terry Borst

filed 04 April 02 Copyright ©2002 alt.screenwriters

Posting your own webpage(s) to promote your professional screenwriting career is nothing new (in fact, see this column back in February 1998).

However, an increasing number of screenwriters have become tired of having web addresses like members.aol.com/users/~yourname, and are instead securing their own names as Web domains, i.e., http://www.yourfirstandlastname.com. (A domain is the name of the website. disney.com is Disney’s domain name, viacom.com is Viacom’s domain name, and so on.)

On the Internet, this is roughly the equivalent of having your name in lights. But how do you go about doing this, and is the possession of a domain name worth the cost and the trouble?

The motivations behind screenwriters securing their own domain names are many and varied. Veteran episodic writer and mystery novelist Lee Goldberg says he’d “discovered the web can be enormously helpful for selling books and publicizing signings. I bought my own domain name for all those books I’d be writing in the future and would need to publicize.” Canadian screenwriter Lou Milner, however, “had visions of producers swarming to my site as soon as they received the URL, which I would transmit to them wirelessly (formerly referred to as telepathically) while they slept or played golf or talked on the phone while eating their dinner.” He adds, a little ruefully, “I was delusional.”

TV movie writer and crime novelist Jeff Andrus reports that “I had a storeroom filled with material that I couldn’t get produced or published, a bible that said don’t hide your light under a bushel basket (or presumably in a storeroom) and $75 to register a domain name for a year.”

If you decide to take the leap (delusional or not), your first step in securing a domain name is finding out whether it is still available. One quick approach might simply be to type in http://www.yourname.com in your browser’s address bar and seeing if anything comes up.

However, this may not give you the most reliable results, as someone can easily own a domain name, yet not have a webpage or even a “re-direct” page up on the Web.

A more effective research approach would be to visit one of the numerous websites that provide domain name searches. (domainsearch.com and checkdomain.com are two such sites.) Type in your name (without any space!), and you’ll find out nearly instantly whether your name is still virgin territory.

Don’t despair if your name has already taken by someone else! One option is to go with yourname.net or yourname.org instead of the ubiquitous “.com”. Another option is the addition of an underscore (firstname_lastname) or other punctuation mark, or reversing your first and last name, or using firstinitiallastname.com.

Once you know your domain name is available, you can then commence its purchase. Not surprisingly, most websites offering domain name searches also offer purchasing services (hey, they’re not dummies), and the purchase can be triggered immediately after you find an available name.

Like vehicle registrations, domains have to be re-registered on a yearly basis. Fees vary from $10-$30 a year. One of the most popular sites for domain registration is dotster.com, which usually charges $15/year. Two other very popular domain registrations sites are register.com and networksolutions.com.

You can lock up a domain name for up to 10 years if you pay in advance, but you can also renew annually — which most domain owners do.

This renewal requirement offers hope for anyone finding his desired domain name currently tied up. “If you don’t own your name now,” advises Lee Goldberg, “Don’t give up. Be sure to check every now and then to see if someone else’s ownership of your name lapses.”

You can just put a note on your calendar to check occasionally, or even better, go to a site like afternic.com, where you can sign up for automatic notification on any domain name registrations that may lapse.

Domain names can also be sold and transferred, and one final approach to securing a domain name is to bid on the name and see if the current owner will accept the bid or make a counterbid. (afternic is only of many “name brokers” who provide this service; greatdomains.com is another.)

Part of the domain name acquisition process is selecting a “host” computer to be something of the physical front door to your domain name. This host might also store your webpages, or it might simply redirect all requests for yourname.com to the computer where you already have your webpages. Most domain-selling sites will sell the basic “front door” hosting service for something like $5-$15 a year, and storage of your actual webpages will cost an additional monthly fee (a way around this last cost is to use the free storage that ISPs like AOL and Earthlink offer).

Typically, these host sites will also sell you email services, so that you can offer email addresses like yourname@yourname.com or info@yourname.com or contact@yourname.com. Again, that might cost another $5-$15 yearly.

Total cost per year: $20-40 on the low end, and something more if you’re paying for hosting webpages. (Any fees for design and creation of your website would, of course, be extra.)

Let’s face it, you’ll probably pay more for business cards.

But when it’s all said and done, is it worth it for a screenwriter to own his own domain name?

Well … maybe. While Jeff Andrus reports that his website, up for two years, is now visited by 200 strangers a week, he finds that it’s primary value is “as an electronic resume for potential clients who are already hooked.”

However, to Lee Goldberg’s surprise, “I didn’t realize how helpful [my] site would be for my TV work. Studio and network execs — actually, their over-worked assistants — surf the web for background information on writers they are going to meet, and usually end up at the Internet Movie Database [imdb.com], which is often sketchy and inaccurate. My site guarantees that anyone looking for information about me will not only find a detailed, and accurate, listing of my credits, but samples of my writing, as well as reviews, articles and interviews about me.”

And comedy writer/producer Matt Neuman adds that “having my own web site has been one of the most gratifying experiences since I began writing, providing me with a direct relationship with my readers, something screenwriting rarely afforded.”

Clearly, if you already have a website, making it a little easier for visitors to get to might be worth considering…

To see a sampling of screenwriters’ websites (which are every bit as varied as the screenwriting community itself is), head to www.wga.org/membersites.html. This is one place where the screenwriter always gets the final cut!

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Written by tborst

April 4, 2002 at 4:51 am

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