Saturday, June 19, 2010


Last night in one of those self-destructive insomniac moments, I read a news item about a "hot" screenwriter who sold a baseball movie idea based on a news story, who already has four other projects going. Now more than ever, success begets success. Anyone else pitching the same idea would be deflected -- "Baseball movies don't sell" etc etc. The executives all want to be in business with this guy because others are already in business with him.

If you choose something everyone else has picked,
and it doesn't go well, you can't be blamed. The self-perpetuation of brands is everywhere. Colleges and private schools, for instance. People want to get their kids into the right ones, the competition for those few slots jacks up, costs skyrocket, and noone blinks, because they're so grateful to be insiders.

I heard a book author on NPR reveal how few companies control the markets in almost everything we consume. Even small startups, like Vitamin Water, get gobbled up by the big companies. What's an aspiring anyone to do? I like to counter that most of the actual success stories are the out-of-nowhere, original ones. The Lovely Bones, "Juno," "Glee." And I bemoan the just-as-original things that "failed" due to miserable marketing, like "Moon" and "Adam"

A successful screenwriter I know hired a publicist so she could brand herself. The Writer's Guild just held a seminar on "branding." So as I embark on this blog, what is the David Handelman brand?

The photo above is of me reading an interview with myself in Barcelona last January. I had been invited to speak to their screenwriting union in my capacity as someone who had written for "The West Wing" about how it and other American TV got made. To them my brand was "West Wing writer." Which is fine and honorable. But limiting. I see it the same way where I went to college. Part of my history, but not defining.

When I was a journalist, I prided myself on being a jack-of-all-trades. I could write about ACTUP or Christie Brinkley. About the marginalia I found in a used copy of a Philip Roth novel, or my first solo vacation in 20 years. The publications ranged from TV Guide to The New York Times. I didn't care, I just found everything interesting. As a TV writer, I have experienced more of the same, writing both half-hours and hour-longs, even a daytime talk show.

But because of this, I don't have a brand. "Good writing" no longer suffices. And since every housewife in Iowa has a blog -- i.e. a brand -- it's kind of embarrassing to be starting this so late, it's like being the last guy in the world to buy an iPod.

So does attempting to commodify and pigeonhole myself limit me, or focus me? What will constitute a "successful" blog? More than a diary. More than a sitcom pitch. Something to chew on.


Melissa said...

I'll be following this. I'm on the quest to 'brand' myself as well. As a freelance writer who has done mostly ghostwriting in my 13-odd-year career, I've had modest success with writing my own blog and want to create an online 'micro-magazine'/blog of my own. But how to brand? How to focus? How to make it/me irresistible? - Melissa

Elizabeth said...

Friends of Amy write well and think well. So I clicked on the link. Right again...I look forward to following your blog.