Andrea James

Tips for transgender media creators

During my appearance on the Queenz of Media podcast in February 2009, I said I would compile some general tips for trans people looking to get into creating media projects.

1. For those seeking opportunities as on-camera talent, I recommend reading Calpernia’s excellent post “How to become an actress if you’re trans.”

2. I get a lot of inquiries from people with “an idea for a show.” Like anyone involved in creative work, I stop them after that sentence. For a number of legal reasons, people involved in the media cannot accept unsolicited ideas. It’s for your protection as well as theirs. There are channels set up for pitching concepts and scripts that help keep everyone protected. I’ll discuss these below.

3. I also get a lot of inquiries from people who feel their own life would make a good story. While that is very likely true, a standard transition narrative alone is rarely interesting enough these days. If your life would make a good story, you should demonstrate that by writing a book, play, song, script, or other creative project about your life. While it’s possible to find someone who will help you, they are going to need to be convinced that your story is unique or remarkable, and that there is money in it. It’s called “show business,” not “show charity.” Your life may seem interesting to you, but unless you can present it in a way that is interesting to others, you won’t get much interest from the media establishment. Someone isn’t going to write your autobiography for you unless it’s got a very compelling angle that will make it stand out and get sold. Or unless you pay them a lot of money.

4. I also get a lot of inquiries from people who seek to subsidize their transitions by having it documented. Most documentaries do not pay their participants. As I mentioned above, the procedural aspects of transition aren’t that compelling or interesting at this point. People know the basic drill. Transition documentaries that follow someone through the process have been around for for over 20 years. You’ll need to find a more interesting angle, which would include making your private life, including family, friends and coworkers, available to discuss what they like and dislike about you. Your best bet for an arrangement of this sort is an unscripted television show. Unscripted shows (“reality” shows, etc.) occasionally have trans participants, and in some cases, the producers may assist with part of your transition costs. If you decide to contact one of these shows, you will need to present exactly why your story is more interesting than the thousands of others trying to get on those shows. The real potential opportunity for making money is to produce the documentary yourself, but again, this needs to stand out. I recommend watching Gwen Haworth’s She’s a Boy I Knew if you are considering making a transition documentary. Gwen will be the first to tell you that it took a significant outlay of time and money to make that film. There’s no get rich quick scheme in entertainment. Like anything, there’s a risk involved in entertainment as a money-making venture. In fact, the entertainment industry is one of the riskiest ways to try to make money, even riskier than the stock market.

5. For scripted media, an idea or treatment alone is very rarely enough to get any traction. If it’s a good idea for a show, you need to demonstrate that with a good treatment and spec script (that’s short for “speculative script”) for a show. You may even need to shoot part of it as a short film, pilot presentation, or other sample of the concept’s look and feel in order to get a development deal. The basic attidude of a typical studio or network executive is this: “You think that’s a good idea? Prove it.” How you prove it is up to you, but you want to make it as easy as possible to get them to say yes.

6. Media outlets are always going to find it easier to acquire a completed project than to develop one from scratch. That way you assume the risks involved in production, and they only assume the risks involved in distribution.

7. It’s important to protect yourself and your work by registering it through the options available via each medium. The Writers Guild of America has a script registration program you should use to register your script when it is completed. Music publishers have ways to register songs. You can register your work with the Library of Congress to help protect your copyright, too.

8. Your best hope it to get an agent or manager interested in your work. Cold-calling production companies will typically get you nowhere. Good agents and managers know how the system works and have connections and trust built up. They know how to get your project to the right  people. Keep in mind there are lots of really bad and inept agents out there, too. A good agent will take you on if they think there’s a chance to make money off you. That sounds mercenary because it is. This is a business, a multi-billion dollar industry. People aren’t going to help you out of the kindness of their hearts, generally. They are going to help you if they believe you have potential, but you need to demonstrate that with tangible evidence of your potential.

9. Many studios and networks have diversity initiatives for promising writers, directors, and producers. There are lots of great sites with tips on how to put spec scripts together and create a reel. Look into those.

10. This all may seem daunting, and it is in some ways. However, the means of production and distribution are changing rapidly right now. There’s a vast new market for original content, and you can take advantage of those opportunities. Find your voice and express it however you can!

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