TV & Film- Are You Serious About Your Writing Career Check Out The Tracking Board


The Tracking Board

Many people fancy themselves writers. Some even say they are even when they are not!  If they haven’t actually started on their dream, then they have the wish to do so, but often don’t have the drive and persistence needed to succeed.  Some statistics say 1:4 people in the City of Angels have a screenplay – probably started and not finished – in their drawer.  While writers can live anywhere across the country (especially true for book writers), those wanting to write scripts find that living around Los Angeles helps.  (Of course the new technology of Skype helps, but there’s no real substitute for face to face meetings.  While many managers, agents and producers do work via Skype and email, a few minutes of face to face meeting can do wonders for a relationship.)


Talking with Jorge Gonzalez, Tracking Board’s director of operations for the past two and half years,  a former creative executive himself, I was clued in on not only what writers – both new and established – need to do in order to get ahead in this career.  Those who are experienced in the entertainment (especially scripts –films or TV) realize that networking and relationships are a key to success here. Of course, talent doesn’t hurt.  Part of that talent is not just the writing of the story, but doing homework and understanding the business.  What is selling now?  Who is buying? 


As an executive, he would follow the spec script market (that is a script written without a firm – usually - paid contract) and have an idea of what the studios and other productions companies were interested in.  There's an estimate of between 350 to 500 of spec scripts that hit the market each year.   Which genres are popular?  Last year thrillers numbered 156 of the estimated specs.  Good science fiction stories are always popular (but those are almost always high budget and difficult for new writers to sell.)  Dramas are usually independently produced films and require top stars to get viewership.  As such calling your script “a drama” already hampers it.   That means you need to understand what each genre is and the rules for each genre. 


“Knowing who is buying what and being able to track the spec script market gives you a leg up.  Not only are you honing your craft but you are also shaping your understanding of the business side of the industry as well. Now you can gauge which type of material catches buzz and better yet how you as a writer can position the stories you’re looking to tell.“


Tracking Board VIP party - photo by Jack Plunkett

Since networking is so important, the Tracking Board hosts events for its Launch Pad Writing Competition winners to get in touch with the judges who have read their work.  


Many writers, especially those new to the business and those who feel that people should be eager and excited to read their stories, push their projects forward without thinking of what the agents, managers and producers really want.   Relationships take time to develop.  Consider what the other person might desire, and how you can help them, will take you one step forward.  How can you make this relationship a win-win one?


While several of the sections of the Tracking Board are geared for advanced or represented writers - as the open writing assignment section or the listing of spec scripts making the rounds, there are many aspects for new writers to pay attention to.   (Only represented scripts are listed as specs on the site.)  But the list helps unrepresented writers, too.  By checking out what is hot on the spec script market and which studio, agency or manager is focused on which genre, you, the new writer can determine where you might send your material or even decide what the current trends might be.   Most specs are not talked about until after they are optioned or purchased.  But since the Tracking Board’s information comes from all types of agencies and managers, those here learn about them before the other traditional news groups.


Tracking Board Info - photo by Jack Plunkett

For unrepresented writers, submitting to the various contests as the Launch Pad, which include not only scripts, and TV pilots, but manuscript (book) contests, as well.  "More and more studios and agencies are seeking IP (intellectual properties- books, comic books, and plays - which have an established audience already.)"  The Tracking Board contest will even consider self-published books, as well.  However, very few writers can do both scripts and books with equal flair.  More information on the rules of the various contests can be read on the Tracking Board – Launch Pad site.


Winners for the various Tracking Board contests are not only pushed forward and promoted, but even those who list high in the contests are given a boost up.  "We work for our people by pounding the pavement and making those phone calls.  Unrepresented writers who have placed in other major competitions as the Black List are also promoted and given the visibility needed to take the next step in their careers."  In only their 4th year of contests, they have had over 180 writers find representatives.  "The winner of one of our first contests is now a staff writer on Stranger Things.  Another writer’s feature spec, while he was not a winner, was so amazing that we got behind it. The writer had been a dentist in the military.  His story sold to Paramount for six figures and he found representation within 24 hours."


There are many, many contests out there.  How does one know which to send your material to?  "Look not only at the cost to enter,  the reward the winner is supposed to receive, and then look at who the judges are.  Where do they come from? What have they done?  What has happened to the winners in the past?"  Sometimes winners are promised they will be meeting with managers, agents, etc, or that their work will be shown to industry executives, when often they are not.   Always register your material with the US Copyright Office (only $35 on line) or the Writer's Guild. (Though according to many attorneys the former is more secure.)  “All the judges for our contests are established industry people.”


The Traking Board -promoting writers - photo by Jack Plunkett

"Actually, there are very few contests that are really seriously considered by industry reps.  However, even the smaller contests should give you a sense of where your writing is as well as what your strengths and weaknesses are." Understand your reason for entering that contest.  What is the goal for your writing?  Do you want notoriety?  Do you want a real career as a writer?  If you are writing because you think it will make you rich, think again.  It's a rough business and it often takes a long time to succeed.  I know many who wished there were outlets and places like this when they were starting out."


Among the other benefits that the Tracking Board offers is the job list.  Working in the industry will help you with networking.  Again, time is crucial here.   If you see an entertainment job listed on another site, it will probably be filled by the time you see it.    Coverage of your script and entering the contests is also something that new writers have to be aware of.   "All of our professional readers have worked in the industry with a majority of them being managers or agents who are actually looking for new clients and are willing to move projects that they like forward.  When you present your script for coverage, you are getting opinions from people who buy the stories. 


“One art that a writer needs to learn is how to take notes.  Who is giving you the note? What has this person done in the business?  Why did they give this note? What were they really seeing?  (Those who have no industry experience, and do not understand the industry in general, will say what they want the story to be and often not what you, the writer, envisioned for your story.) That is not to say that all notes are correct, or that you have to agree with everything that is said, but you have to look at what their reason for the note was.   "Those who do achieve a recommend from their Tracking Board coverage - not an easy thing to do - get promoted by Tracking Board as if they were a contest winner.  We put a full news story about them and their script on our site and reach out to many of our industry professionals who might like the writer's work.  Thus far all but one of the 15 scripts who have received recommend have been set up somewhere."


Their spec book, which is published every year, gives you a feel for what has been shopped the year before.  "Find out which representative likes your genre and go to them."   Don't send a comedy to someone who has only bought horror in the past.


Reading award winning scripts will also help the writer to improve.  These are available on the Tracking Board site forums.   Specs that become popular are usually lower budget because they are easier to produce.  The bigger budgets require bigger stars and more commitment from the studios.  That means more established writers. 


Doing your homework means not only understanding who the general players are, but looking at what is being bought, but what the producer or agent whom you wish to reach has done and worked before.   The writer can do this by a variety of means.  Several sites are available, but many of them like The Studio System, Variety 411 or Deadline Plus can cost upwards of two thousand dollars a year.  Others like IMDBpro, while not as expensive, are often not kept up to date.   The Tracking Board's price is a reasonable $79/ year (about $6.50/month.) 


Members of the Tracking Board receive both daily and weekly newsletters about industry happenings, executive moves and purchases being made.   You can read reviews of films, casting notes, as well as being invited to various VIP events.   Their Twitter account also keeps writers up to date.  Executives are constantly moving from one production company to another.  While their first company might have specialized in comedy, their new company might only want thrillers or horror.  If they've seen your work before, but couldn't buy it because it wasn't right for their current slate, they might be interested in talking to you in association with this company. 


Sometime this year, the Tracking Board will undergo a major revision that will allow the subscribers to engage more with the database on a larger scale.  It's become a source for any writer serious about their career whether you are starting out, looking for an assignment or researching a future employer they have the resources you need.  So, if you are serious about a career as a writer, check them out. 


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