Cogswell College student, Aaron Miner, recently received the 2013 Smokler Scholarship award to attend the San Francisco Writers Conference from February 14-17. Following are his reflections on the first session he attended:
The sun warmed the bright, long room as I seated myself for my first panel at the San Francisco Writing Conference. The conference comprises four days of presentations, workshops, keynotes, consultations and exhibitions for authors, agents, and publishers. I arrived early for this first panel—the one slated to begin at nine in the morning. Its title was: “How to Turn Your Book Into a Movie.”
I introduced myself to the several women who also sat in the front row. Among them was a nonfiction author from out of state, who was writing a memoir about her grandmother. She reacted with curiosity when I mentioned my studies at Cogswell. She expressed an especial concern about how studios might alter the scripts they purchased against their author’s intentions.
As the matter was one I had given much thought, I happily shared what I knew. What I saw as the film industry’s tendency to shoehorn stories into ill-fitting, but marketable, packages was what led me to entrepreneurship in the first place. As a child, my love of books and movies developed into a passion for writing, and later I also developed an interest in animated filmmaking.
Founding my own studio was the plan from the start. I have a strong independent streak, and I balked at the notion of altering my story to make it more saleable to an executive. With my own studio, even if the market demanded a compromise between art and business, I could at least decide the best compromise for myself. When I transferred out of De Anza College’s animation program, I chose Cogswell College over San Jose State because Cogswell taught entrepreneurship alongside digital media.
Though my interests in fiction, filmmaking and entrepreneurship complement one another, I have always struggled with their seemingly disparate natures. At times, they seem like two vocations too many for a single lifespan. The question of how to integrate them into a whole, and avoid burnout, tortured me for a long time.
Soon, our panelist arrived: a producer and manager who works out of Hollywood. Her trade involves adapting novels into television shows and pitching them to the networks. “Everyone is looking for a built-in audience,” she said towards the middle of her talk. There is a market for adaptations, as well as the ubiquitous sequels and prequels, because their renown guarantees a turnout. The expense involved in filmmaking also requires that this be a mass audience. Such expenses have all but eliminated the independent film studios. Our speaker regretted this fact, because she believes that some less popular perspectives deserve a hearing.
The epiphany washed over me like a wave. It was an obvious epiphany, but an epiphany nonetheless. We live at a time where telling a story across multiple media is a matter of course. Novelists want films to promote their novels, and film studios want novels to promote their films. The economics of the old industry demands high budgets and cultivates a tyranny of the mainstream. However, producers, creators and audiences alike find themselves disgruntled by this fact. Furthermore, as the panelist herself mentioned, the development of new distribution methods via the Internet clears the way for a myriad of voices to find their niche. Being an author, filmmaker and entrepreneur in this day and age suddenly seemed appropriate.
As our technology advances, and our culture evolves with it, I expect the boundaries between professions will undergo immense shifts. The media industries in particular will feel the effects. In recounting her tales of shopping series based on her clients’ books, our panelist described a convoluted industry, stuffed with middlemen. Now that any filmmaker can distribute their work with a click and a tweet, we may have no more need of these intermediaries. I look forward to seeing the kind of world that emerges when the dust settles, and the transformation is complete.
The panel ended at fifteen minutes to three. I introduced myself to our speaker afterwards and shook her hand before hurrying off to the next event downstairs. The San Francisco Writer’s Conference was just beginning.
Aaron M. Miner is a writer, filmmaker and entrepreneur attending Cogswell College. In 2012, he founded Studio Kenaz–an independent animation company–and produced a video for Murs and Josh Blaylock, which was featured at that year’s San Diego Comic Con. He is presently revising his first novel, and maintains a blog at Runicfire.net.