How social media (almost) ruined my screenwriting career

facebook logoOr “Why Social Media is like a bad tattoo”.

Okay, that’s hyperbole. But I relearned a lesson recently.

If you’re a budding screenwriter, an indie filmmaker, an aspiring or established anything, social media should oughtta be part of your life. It’s where we make professional connections, build our brand, spread the word and mebbe, just mebbe, start careers.

Are you doing it right?

First, a related story.

Last month, we were interviewing for someone to manage our online marketing. We had one excellent prospect, who interviewed well. He had worked in online marketing for a large name corporation, but had spent the past 18 months doing other things. Understandable. The past 18 months have been tough on everyone. But he was ready to get back into the game.

After the interview, and while contemplating the next round, we did a little Googling. Of course we found his Facebook page, a Twitter feed, and a blog. In the bio section of the blog was this:

“I used to work in online marketing, mostly social media. What crap! It doesn’t work, and I hated it! So I’m quitting, and becoming a barrista.”

Um, okay. Do I have to tell you what happened next?

That quote wasn’t going away. It colored any future interaction. And we had to ask ourselves how long it would be before he bailed on the industry again.

Stoopid, right? I’ve been telling these kids (between “get off my lawn” and “I would have gotten away with it too”) that what’s on the net, stays on the net. It’s stunning what people are willing to post, that doesn’t reflect well on them. And it seems they have no clue that people (real people, not virtual friends) will be reading, and judging, that content.

He didn’t get the job.

Ah, but on to me and my story.

So, recently I was approached by a production company that was interested in one of my scripts. They wanted a “shopping agreement” (which is like an option, but sorta better) so they could present the script to all their contacts at Disney, Lion’s Gate, Sony, and whatnot.

I tend not to get too excited about these things, because it’s a fickle industry, anybody can say they have name contacts, and sometimes these inquiries go nowhere. But I like to remain cautiously optimistic, and follow up. You never know who you’re dealing with, or who you might meet. Any contact is a good contact.

So I pinged them back and said “sure, send me your contract”. Which they did, and which I forwarded to my attorney.

Then I started my due diligence. I looked up the business name, and the principals’ names.

Checked them out on IMDB. Nothing.

IMDBPro. Nothing.

Google. Nothing.

Nothing on Google? Is that even possible? That means no articles, no blog postings, no memberships or mentions in public forums, no social media presence… nothing.

Except a website.

A free website, on one of those “FreeWebs” type things with the ads, with no references, and no credits. Just a bio stating that they were “highly connected”, on a “first name basis with big stars”, and “going into pre-production on a sixty million dollar feature”.

And they misspelled their own name.

So, understandably skeptical (yet still cautiously optimistic) I asked around. I went to one of my favorite filmmaking discussion boards, and simply asked: “Has anyone heard of this production company?”

Another member replied back that he, likewise, was unable to find any reference to them online, and pointed out that they’d indeed misspelled their name on their site.

“Yup,” I typed back. “It’s funny they misspelled their name on their free site. It’s suboptimal.”

That was that. I wrote the company, and let them know I’d be back in touch soon.

Except that wasn’t it.

It took two days for Google to crawl the new posting on the filmmaking discussion site. And as a consequence, a Google search for the production company’s name now yielded a new result: My discussion thread, pointing out that they’d misspelled their own name on a free website.

It took another two days for the production company to discover the thread, and send me an email.

“Had you not seen fit to belittle us on a public forum, we would be moving forward. However, since you did, we are hereby withdrawing our offer.”

My bad.

Was it an over reaction? IMHO, yes. But I respect their decision, and I told them so. I let them know that I hadn’t intended to belittle them, that I’m a copywriter and web developer by trade and make a habit of being brutally honest with my clients, and that it’s hard to turn that off. And I told them that I understood how they felt, and I wished them luck.

I’m not terribly upset about the opportunity cost … it’s entirely possible that I wouldn’t have signed with them anyway. And I will have other opportunities.

But I feel stoopid for not being more careful about what I say online. For breaking my own rule, for not taking my own advice. Hollywood is an industry of connections and relationships, and even a connection you’ve not done business with is a connection. And I feel bad that I’d contributed to someone’s only Google listing, and that it seemed negative. Those comments could have waited. They were true, but they could have waited. And I could have been far, far more prudent in my choice to name them in a public forum so early in our delicate relationship.

I tried to make it right.  I did get hold of the forum administrator, and had my thread removed. But what’s done is done, and I ruined a potential contact.

Social media is like a bad tattoo. One bad decision can stay with you the rest of your life.

The part where I should probably shut up:

Here’s where I should stop. But I won’t. Because I can’t. It’s a disease.

I feel compelled to say that this cuts both ways … your web presence is critical. Sometimes it’s all people have to go on. There’s no excuse for a reputable company of any size to represent themselves through a crappy free website covered with ads, with embarrassing misspellings. People will make judgments based on that presence, and there’s no reason it can’t be simple, stylish, well written, authoritative, and reputable.

No. Reason.

So if you’re on the other side of this coin, if you’re a production company, or a distributor, an agent or manager, don’t have a crappy website. There’s no excuse. Your website should be at least as good as you are.

Otherwise, you just might find yourself missing out on some great talent who just doesn’t realize how awesome you are.

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3 thoughts on “How social media (almost) ruined my screenwriting career

  1. Good post. IMHO, honestly and online legitimacy are the two weapons that independents (those outside the “industry”) have to determine whether we want to work with each other.
    In this case, I think you did the right thing, and your job prospect did the worng thing. Frankly, he was disingenuous with you about his intentions – it’s one thing to use the “social media, online marketing is crap” dialogue among your friends, but part of salesmanship is making it appear like your shit don’t stink, and this guy did a bad job.

    I think the production company was more clear cut, they were NOT legit, and they probably were looking for a way out when they saw that you WERE and that you had an attorney, etc. etc. (aka Chip Street has his shit together). C’mon what does it take to have a decent website? Not much. (Even a not-so decent one like my current site, and I’m a web designer and developer for chissakes)
    And to establish a legit IMDB profile? Not much. So they weren’t making a real commitment, and probably don’t really have the cred. that they claim.

  2. Larry Epstein says:

    You called people criminals online and you have the nerve to get back to them to say “I didn’t mean to, it just slipped out”??? haa haa just let it die out.

    chop street, (if that is your real name) I don’t think you should worry about it much as you probably know. This “offer” wasn’t an established business and is perfectly safe to chuck away like garbage for it wouldn’t have gone anywhere IMHO. you worry too much about “connections” when what you need is quality connections, not quantity connections.

    That plus I respected you for being an open straight shooting guy up until the point you were apologizing for it. get some backbone shit street

    but good blog post anyhoo. l8er

    • Chip Street says:

      Of course I didn’t call anyone a criminal, and I didn’t apologize for it. I merely said that they ought not to characterize my actions “belittling”. And it’s true I may never have taken the deal (I said as much in the post). But the point is, I didn’t have the opportunity to make that informed decision, because I acted hastily and did something I shouldn’t have done. That’s all.

      But, Larry (if that’s your real name), the true irony of your post is not lost on me … your unprofessional comment will be here forever. “shit street” indeed. You are too funny. :)

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