By Joanne Saunders
Two of the originally scheduled panelists for the “The Writer’s Journey: Navigating the New Entertainment Marketplace” panel at WonderCon couldn’t attend the event, but audience members got a pleasant surprise when Arabian Prince, one of the founding members of NWA, joined moderator Brandon Easton and producer Shannon Denton for the panel discussion. Prince has since moved from rapper to 3D animation and video game creator, working on Silver Surfer and video games with Vivendi Fox, among other projects. He epitomized the statement that all the panelists agreed upon, which was that there was no standard way to break into the industry.
Breaking into the industry
Prince shared how he started by selling music from the back of his car. These days everyone can market themselves on the internet. Moderator Easton, a writer with credits on Thundercats, Transformers, and Agent Carter, said, “You no longer need to knock on anybody’s door. You can build the house yourself. It just requires a certain level of sacrifice and commitment.” Easton had broken into the industry by being admitted to and completing the Disney writing program.
Hollywood is an aggregate of corporations trying to sell advertising and time, spending millions on media. The question is how do creators access that money? One way to determine how to access that corporate interest, Easton explained, is to look at how media consumption has shifted. A friend of his had recently realized the audiobook of her work was outselling the book version. Also, research shows those adopting new media are in the age range of 12-24 year olds. There’s an adage: “If you get a fan at the age of 10, you have a fan for life,” said Easton. Thus, you may want to think about who you want to sell your material to.
These days, creators can leverage their existing brands to build multiple revenue streams across different products. Many platforms and online tools exist for writers and creators, such as Substack, Medium, Cameo and PearPop. New audio platforms like LockerRoom and Clubhouse are available for podcasters. There are all-in-one tools, like Fourthwall, for creators, that include merch, subscriptions, tipping.
The traditional ways of finding a job in the industry include the UTA job list, NBC Writer’s on the Verge, conferences, and writing programs. Some companies are actively hiring on LinkedIn as well. Festivals such as Sundance and the Austin film festival are great for exposure. The Austin Festival has a category for science fiction. Living in Los Angeles also gives you a step up as you can easily meet more people.
Producer Shannon Denton, who has credits at Cartoon Network, Warner Bros, DC Comics etc., recommended another way to connect with people is to talk about others. He often talks about other people’s projects, which makes networking more enjoyable. Denton also advised that creators give up the fear of sharing their work because they worry someone will steal their ideas. In his experience, it is not uncommon for a number of people to be thinking of a similar idea. “People will come up with a similar idea,” he said, “just do it better and faster.”
Getting an agent
On the advice of getting an agent, they all agreed that it was better to have an agent be excited over you than to have access to a bigger agency. Easton said he had an agent who did not know how to sell him and he finally stumbled upon his current agency, which knew how to help him and believed in him.
Prince had an early interest in animation and coding when he was young. He would attend SIGGRAPH conventions, and he played with computers and worked with animation software. He had to “meet people and be in their vision.” Prince said that the agents and studios didn’t care that he was a famous rapper. He proved his worth working on Casper and the Rise of the Silver Surfer and agents eventually approached him.
Denton started out by publishing and optioning his books. “It’s harder to get an agent without work to show,” so Denton brought an agent a deal he had already lined up, and the agent closed it for him, effectively also taking Denton on as a client.
Keep hustling and expanding your lane
Even with his success and steady project flow, Denton thinks of the hustle at the end of every project. He realizes that he’s still competing with the existing professionals in the field and also the upcoming talent. For every project, Denton has to convince the right people that he is the person for the job. “So much of our work is detective work. When you meet them, remind people of your journey so they remember their journey and put yourself out there in an open way,” he said.
Prince said, “Never fall in love with your own work. Never get to the point you don’t take criticism. And the thing you love might never make you money.” One of his biggest music writing hits was “Supersonic”, which cost him $400 to make and was his first Grammy nomination. Though he admitted it was not his favorite song, this song makes him more money than anything else he’s ever done. “Throw everything on the wall, and something will stick eventually.”
“I’ve never been a ‘sit in your seat’ creator,” said Denton. “This does not work for everyone. When I can get paid to learn, I feel like I’m beating the system.” He’s so active that he started his own entertainment company during the pandemic. Though Denton enjoys learning new things, he believes it does make it harder to market oneself. Prince agreed with this as well. He is part owner of a metaverse medical company. He said, “Some people say stay in your lane. Sometimes that lane is very small.”
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