Empowering screenwriters: Using framing techniques in your interactions…
March 22, 2012 § 3 Comments
As screenwriters we can feel at times like we’re mistakenly lost in role of Willy Loman—a small-timer trapped in big dreams. We struggle to get noticed and constantly seek validation in a business where it rarely comes. If we’re lucky, we find it from the stamp on our parking ticket after the meeting. The reality of our business is screenwriters are salespeople peddling our goods to the “powers that be” with hopes they pick our script, buy our pitch or hire us to write their ideas. A better name for this potentially degrading process is “networking” and to make sure we cast the widest possible net, we entrust representatives to aid us in our creative plight.
The entire process can leave a talented artist emasculated and feeling as if we have no power. I believe the contrary. We have immense power, as content is king and we are the creators—the storytellers and our power comes from our ability to create. Material is the engine that runs Hollywood. Those who claim ownership posses the power and can build the biggest sandbox with the most toys.
Many times screenwriters complain about losing control or not having enough power. It’s time to change this myth and become hyphenates: A writer-director or writer-producer. We can also change the dynamic by taking more responsibility and control of our careers. We need to take the helm and realize our ability to create is power. Ownership of our material is power. It’s not arrogance, but a newfound belief and confidence in our ability to think of ourselves as co-owners and not just hired guns. We are the storytellers and there’s valuable currency in our ability to craft the material driving Hollywood.
The “powers that be” and their gatekeepers do their best to keep us believing we are powerless without them. We’re continuously placed as the subordinate, but the Internet has changed this landscape forever. The old distribution models once fiercely guarded by the powerful have been laid to waste by the new technology. Filmmakers can self-produce and distribute to a global audience without permission from anyone. The genie is out of the bottle, but Hollywood’s moguls and their minions still believe in the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” As the creators of material—we know better.
We all remember the fate of the record industry when the digital download and file-sharing genie was unleashed. The entire industry wasn’t ready for this new distribution model and it collapsed like a house of cards. The power was transferred back to the artists who took more control over their music and demanded more financial revenue from their ownership. Artists flipped the script and were empowered like never before.
As we navigate the choppy waters of Hollywood and peddle our wares, we can empower ourselves using the concept of “framing” in all our interactions. Framing is the process of how something is presented and it influences the choices people make. Frames form a system and every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it’s strengthened. This is why positive thoughts usually lead to positive actions and outcomes—conversely the same goes for negative thoughts and actions.
Framing forewarns what is expected upfront or it heightens our awareness of an impending action or approach. If we analyze the framing of a pitch meeting or any meeting about our material, we as the screenwriters are immediately put in the subordinate position. We hope to garner the interest of the powerful to validate us through their buying of our screenplay or hiring us to work in their protected inner sanctum. If we’re able to lob our material over the wall and garner a positive response, we’re requested to attend a meeting with those holding court in their protected domain. We’re grateful, but enter asking ourselves, “Am I good enough? Will they like my pitch? Will they buy it? Will they hire me to write something?” The “powers that be” are experts at the framing process and we need to learn it to survive too.
The framing starts with their interactions with us—the first meeting in the protected lair of the producer or studio. We are inevitably made to wait—even when we arrive early, we’re never allowed inside at the scheduled meeting time. This framing shows us just how busy they are and how grateful we need to be for the meeting in the first place. Why should our time be precious? We’re expected to wait for them—they never wait for us. I once waited forty-five minutes in the producer’s lobby and never considered leaving. Why? Fear. I was afraid they’d get upset and not take another meeting or lose interest in my work. I kept hearing the fear based voices in my head shouting, “You know there are plenty of hungry writers out there?” Bullshit. We’ve been brainwashed into thinking they hold all the power. It’s all framing and they’ve mastered it to a science.
If we start to consider leaving or changing the meeting time, this is when the Threshold Guardians distract us with offers of beverages or treats from the kitchen. It eases our mind as we feel cared for by these fools and tricksters. Ah, but remember playing in the inmost cave is dangerous and tricky at best. We’re being framed.
Their framing process continues when the producer or executive finally grants us an audience. They start off by asking, “So, what do you have for me?” In reality, we should reframe our thinking into asking ourselves, “What do they really have to offer me? Is this producer or executive the best fit for my project? Is their interest just a waste of my precious time?”
Agents play the same framing game. They’ll never read our screenplay and get right back to us—unless we have some “A-list” star attached. If they do respond quickly, their free time to read such an insignificant player’s material just might reveal they’re not busy—and that would surely mean they are not powerful. Powerful players are always busy, right? They want credit for their good intentions. The problem always comes with the follow through. Again, the framing process continues and we are the subordinate players. Let’s flip the script and reframe our interactions.
What if we framed the process by acting and believing we’re coming from a powerful place? We’ve created a piece of material—a project of value and our ability to craft this product is powerful and defines us as equal creators. How powerful would it be to really tell a producer or executive “no” when we really feel it’s not the right fit? What if we didn’t subject ourselves to waiting a half-hour in some office lobby just to take a meeting? What if a job offer really didn’t move our career forward and we turned it down? I believe the “powers that be” would be completely dumbfounded if we reframe our professional interactions exactly the same way they frame theirs. As screenwriters, we would garner more respect for our work and our time if we reframe our interactions, remain the consummate professional and come from a real place of power and confidence.
Never settle for receiving any framing that treats you like anything less than a human being. The process will help you to feel better about yourself, because you’ll begin to truly believe what image you project as others now treat you as you’d like to be treated. As you soldier ahead on your journey as a screenwriter, don’t be afraid to use the techniques of framing to empower yourself in all of your interactions.
“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” ~ Rudyard Kipling
“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way”. ~Ernest Hemingway
“He does not believe who does not live according to his belief.”—Thomas Fuller
“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second we can sit down and do the work.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”