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"Corporate vs Creative"

Being creative in a corporate-driven industry can be a challenging issue for writers. Scott Edward Smith gives his take on how to navigate the often ignored issues of "Corporate vs Creative."

Being creative in a corporate-driven industry can be a challenging issue for writers. Scott Edward Smith gives his take on how to navigate the often ignored issues of "Corporate vs Creative." “Corporate versus creative” is a really important concept. When creative people are dealing with the corporate side of the entertainment industry, this can be a big issue. Writers and other creative people pay so little attention to dealing with this or understanding it. Until it's right in their face and it's a crisis moment.

Melissa: Hey, we're here again talking about Writing For Actors, and I have the pleasure of speaking with Scott Edward Smith. He is the writer and creator of Intimate Fame, the audio drama series. Scott, today I have a question for you. It's about something I dread. Absolutely. It is around corporate versus creative: when creative people are dealing with the corporate side of the entertainment industry. So I'm just going to let you launch into it and go.

Scott: I appreciate it because this is a big one. Writers and creative people pay so little attention to dealing with this or understanding it until it's right in their face and it's a crisis moment.

Melissa: Yes.

Scott: And that's not good. If you take the time, you can relate it to your own life. So in corporate versus, and I was making the point with Melissa earlier that it's not “and” it’s “versus”. They don't exist as a positive thing, but they do create positive works. You have to understand that, and be willing to roll with it.

There's two elements in it. One is the experience of corporate, which is they're meeting you and you’re meeting them, and then there's the dealing with corporate. So in the first part of experiencing corporate, and by corporate I mean big corporate– Universal Studios, or it could be people investing in a Broadway show, or a producer who wants to turn it into a series or something. It could be just getting something up in an Actors Equity waiver theater, and that company is going to produce it. You are still dealing with people that have to deal with a bottom line – money – and they are treated differently.

I'm going to just put this in the larger terms of talking about either film or television or Broadway, which is all corporate. In the experience level of it, it's about, obviously someone has read your work and you've got it to the place that they're interested in it. And I want to talk just quickly about the technicalities of that. And there's two areas. One is the pitch, and the other is what comes before the pitch: the actual script.

So let's go back to the script part of it - what you deliver - whether it's a play or whether it's a screenplay or a television thing. I will tell you from working several years in development at studios, how a script lays out on a page is really important. You better be at 120 to 130 pages. If you're above 130 pages, you better be Robert Towne or Akiva Goldsman. You better be already out there so it wouldn't be an issue. Keep it within the structure that the world knows.

Corporate knows a thing. If you start getting out past 120 pages the first thing in their head is “that's more money.” They're not thinking about “the story is more interesting” and they'll go with it. They'll go with it if you've written five scripts that have made a lot of money. So just keep it focused.

And the other big thing about it is I'm not talking about the CEOs, I'm talking about the production executives who are going to read it first before they are going to go and pitch it to the guys or girls that are going to give you the money to do it. When those executives on a Friday leave with 12 scripts and two books to talk about on Monday morning, and they open up a script and on that first page it's just a bunch of words going down, you have a problem. There needs to be a lot of white space in scripts. They're trying to experience the movie or the play, and not really what you think about the actual staging of it or where they are or what's going on. You've got to technically break it up so it looks pleasant. It looks like this is going to be a good read. It doesn't look like a dictionary.

So I really want to move on to the other part which is the corporate side of it. There's the experience, and then there's living with it. And if you can understand how you go in, that's it. The words on a page - whatever the dynamics are - just like a stage show, break the acts. Don't do a three or four hour show unless you have a reputation of being able to deliver that. Do something that's reasonable.

Same thing with movies. Keep it at around 120 pages. They'll be happy with it. They'll be happy to expand on it if they are inspired by it. So keep that in mind.

Melissa: So what you are saying is it's more of the first impression when you actually get in the door if you're not Aaron Sorkin, who they don't care if it's 500 pages. They're like, yeah, we're going to do it no matter what. Let's have it. But you're saying the perception of it is important.

Scott: Absolutely. Really important. And then if you get that in the door, the next step is going to be the pitch. If it's a studio they'll have a development department, and there will be an executive in development. They've had readers read and give them material on it. They've read it and now they're ready to call you in. And you, the pitch is so important cause they've read. So it's not like they don't know this story. They want you. They want to know that you know what the trailer is. They want to hear in 60 seconds or less when you sit down, say “hi,” shake hands, talk talk talk. Let's talk about your script and here's what it's about. You need to nail it in 60 seconds and that's it. And then open it up because they've already read it. They want to know that you are workable. That's in a pitch. All they're looking at is if we buy this, are we going to work with you, or are we going to let you go and hire someone else to write it? As soon as they buy it, they can.

Melissa: That is huge because I think a lot of novice writers don't think about that. They don't know that the person you're going to pitch to has already read the script. I mean that's very elementary for someone like yourself, but I think a lot of newbies out there don't know that. And it's just like going into an interview at a corporate office where they've read your resume and they know basically what you're capable of, your skills, but the pitch in a sense is just the interview. You can work with me, I can work with you.

Scott: The pitch is about you. It's not about your script. They want to know if I am working with someone and I put them out there, can they say this in 60 seconds or less? Because they take it to the next step. Why don't you start going after that ladder? Those executives want to meet the creative. You may not think you are of interest to anybody, but you are. Because they're just dealing with a lot of money, a lot of people turning numbers and pieces of paper, and they have no idea what's going on on the lot. I worked for a long time as a story editor. I worked in development. Those meetings are really just about figuring out, can this person tell me what this story is about. We talked about collaborations. So if it's two of you - I have done this - whether you do it in the car before you go into the meeting or whether you get together and beforehand, it’s basically three acts and you go like, you're going to do one, I'll do two, you do three, and we'll do the wrap up together. Right? Okay. We're going in. We know what we're going to do. It's a show. It’s literally 60 to 90 seconds, and you do it and they're like, okay. We can talk to both of these people. They just want to know, as a creative person where are you on the spectrum? Up here? Or here? It's not even this and this. It’s Corporate and Creative. And are anywhere near it, or are you like, “I'm way out here!” And they're like, “I'm coming towards you!” and you're just like, “No, I'm just going to be way out here!” That's a problem for them. You can lose a deal on that, because Showtime will come and they will bring you to other people to meet, and you're going to have to be responsible for your work. I'm not talking about a two-time Academy Award-winning writer, and you have four agents and three managers where you can just go like, “You deal with this. Click.” You got in the door. Keep it open. You really have to acknowledge these people.

It's the best thing when you're a writer, as with an actor, the best thing in your life is that you're confronted with corporate, and it's the worst thing you have to deal with. It's not going to happen without them, and it's never ever going to change. You see? You just need to know that. It's about you embracing it.

You don't have to like them, but you do have to understand that while you're looking at them and going like, “you are a crazy beast. This is complicated.” They, with all their money and control, are looking at you and saying the exact same thing. They're looking at you like, “You are a crazy beast and I don't know how to deal with you.”

And it never changes, especially when you're in the beginning parts of it. So keep that in mind. I want to say, very quickly, I think a lot of writers think they know how it plays out, and sometimes it does, is that you you have a script, someone's interested in it, maybe an actor or a producer that has a deal, and you go to a studio, there's a bungalow, because they have a production deal at it. It's on the back lot. It's all very sexy and fun and it's all very casual. Maybe you go to the commissary with them. Then you go to corporate and it's 42 stories high and it's a building, and that's where God lives. And a lot of times the bungalow stuff completely doesn't happen the first time you come into a building. It's an elevator, and you are going into corporate.

Melissa: That's intimidating.

Scott: And so you shake and you stammer. That's why you better sit in the car and know exactly what you're going to say about the story or about your journey. And your journey better be under 60 seconds as well. Keep it short. Keep it simple with them. Let them then dig into it because what they're trying to figure out is, and they don't tell it to you, but “we don't really like how the third act goes.” Are you somebody that will listen to us? “They'll fix it. They'll do what we want.” Or are you somebody that's like, “it's my work, this is it.” You know if they just feel like, “Well, he's stubborn, He won't do it.” There you go.

Melissa: Well, thank you. I learned a lot from all of that. Thank you so much. And I can't wait for Showtime to call now. Thank you, Scott.

Scott: Thank you so much.

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