Mitch Lusas is the head of product at Coverfly, and uses his 17 years of experience in writing, tech, and entertainment to help companies understand the strengths and weaknesses of their people, products, and processes. Mitch previously worked as a consultant and in-house product developer for places like Disney, Netflix, and Paramount. He’s also the recipient of the Hollywood Reporter Award for his contribution to a Star Wars app, along with winning Apple’s award for App of the Year. Now he works with Coverfly to help entertainment professionals connect with leading-edge, diverse screenwriters based on their skill, merit, and unique voices to create projects that matter. In this piece, he talks about how “nichification” of content is driving demand for new ways of finding writers in Hollywood.
Shiwani Srivastava spent over a decade as a copy editor for major tech companies while she pursued her screenwriting on the side. She repeatedly heard that stories like hers, as an Indian-American woman, were not what the film industry wanted.
Then, an independent producer looking to meet Netflix’s desire for an uplifting, female-skewing, multicultural feature film discovered Shiwani’s script using an online talent-discovery platform. With less than a year on the platform, this work-from-home San Franciscan sold her project, Wedding Season, to a major Hollywood studio and signed with a literary manager and agency.
The best part? Shiwani’s story is becoming increasingly common. More unique screenwriters (and scripts) than ever before are being discovered online via new platforms that are driving talent-discovery like never before.
The Rise of Opportunity
Luckily, the days of discovering new writing talent through happenstance or brazen persistence are behind us. Remember the stories of baristas passing along scripts to agents who just want coffee, or a writer flinging a spec over a hedge onto a producer’s doorstep? We’re in a new era thanks to the rapid growth of streaming behemoths like Netflix and Amazon. Audiences are growing and diversifying, and as a result, new niches of content are being carved out, catering to large international audiences seeking stories that highlight unique voices and perspectives.
Studios are creating these stories with great success, giving rise to hit series and movies like Master of None, The Expanse, Bridgerton and Atypical. These projects explore diverse cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, and gender identities while telling previously untold stories. The industry is looking for relevant voices to write these stories, which often diverge from some of the over-represented writer demographics in Hollywood.
As Hollywood looks beyond its walls, reviewing the number of emerging writers becomes nearly insurmountable. Finding a specific writer for a specific project is an increasingly frequent challenge facing many in the industry. This is where the current Hollywood system of “who you know” falters. There is a world of talent, from all backgrounds and perspectives, who bring the authenticity and insights studios seek.
That’s why the industry is looking to technology to help solve that problem—which is where online writer discovery platforms were born.
Talent Discovery Platforms
Platforms like The Black List, Coverfly, and Script Revolution allow writers to create personalized profiles with key experience and demographic information. This allows industry professionals centralized places to search for and discover relevant talent. However, each platform utilizes unique strategies to drive better recommendations. Some use unique algorithms, some combine all emerging market data, and still others focus on exclusivity, relying solely on scores achieved through their platform.
All of them share a big commonality: using data and technology to drive talent-discovery. With custom searches and detailed writer profiles, professionals can quickly evaluate and select top matches. What used to take hours or days now takes mere minutes, giving an avenue for writers, who would have no other way to connect with these professionals, to get their projects produced.
If you’re a writer, these platforms do all of the heavy lifting for you, sharing your work and accomplishments with the relevant industry people you’ve been wanting to connect with in the way that these professionals want to see your information. Another benefit is that these platforms are also actively building stronger relationships with industry executives, managers, agents, and producers so that more of their writers can get picked up. Thanks to these platforms, writers finally have a space to access the right industry professionals.
A Clear Path
Building your online presence is vital for this new wave of talent discovery. Until recently, you had to have direct connections with decision-makers to get a writing career. If you wrote beautiful character-driven stories but lived in rural Wisconsin or remote Afghanistan, your voice may have been lost. Programs like the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship, Launch Pad, Sundance Labs, the Nickelodeon Writing Program, and NBC’s Writers On The Verge help a select few writers per year, but what about all the hundreds of other top writers and projects that simply missed winning the grand prizes?
That’s where these emerging tech platforms help, taking the combined placements and scores of these various fellowships, labs, and competitions to create a single portfolio for every emerging writer. Even if a writer simply places in competitions but never wins, their combined efforts showcase the activity, persistence, and development quality that can grab industry attention.
In speaking with several managers and executives recently, they’ve expressed that they’re simply looking for either a great logline or a specific type of writer—for instance, a female comedy writer who’s had military experience. It’s not always about winning a competition (though that can be a massive feather in your cap). The beauty of databases like Script Revolution, Coverfly, and The Black List is that they allow industry professionals to define their own criteria and hone in on those specific writers and projects that they’re interested in. They facilitate the networking and connecting, allowing writers to focus on what they do best—writing.
To date, hundreds of writers have connected with managers, agents, producers and studio executives via platforms like Coverfly, The Black List and InkTip. As you consider these platforms, research how each platform has helped writers take their next step in their career. You’re looking for results, and you want to ensure the platforms you sign up for are helping other writers in the way you wish to be helped.
Some platforms primarily focus on a few top-tier project assignments. Some drive multiple options per month. Others help sign numerous writers with agents and managers. These results usually indicate the type of industry professionals that frequent that specific platform. In a sense, when you sign up for these platforms, you’re signing up for that platform to vouch for you to their trusted industry network.
Can you imagine how your screenwriting career could change if you could have someone else doing the work to get you discovered and all you had to do was focus on your craft?
There’s a new recipe for industry access: writers get their work out there through script coverage services, competitions, and fellowships. Then they fill out their profiles on talent discovery platforms that automatically aggregate their projects info and track record to be available to industry professionals who are searching for screenwriters with specific backgrounds, experiences, genres, screenplay subjects, and more.
You never know what key term or experience a producer or manager is looking for in a project or a writer. The more accurately and thoroughly you fill out your profile with the appropriate tags and keywords, the better your chances are of getting discovered.
So, my recommendation if you’re a writer is to get writing, get your work out there, find your ideal discovery platforms, and build out your profile as completely and succinctly as possible. Hundreds of new writers are being discovered every year. You never know when your unique voice and personal experience will be the exact fit for a Hollywood project.