Whether you’re a screenwriter, a director, an actor, or any other creative professional, at some point you’ve likely been asked to identify your creative voice. Or your brand (yeah, I can feel the eye rolls from here).
But what does that MEAN? And how do you identify it? (And, ultimately, sell it?)
Your creative voice -- your brand -- is that thing that makes you… YOU.
And, as Dolly Parton famously said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose.”
For the purposes of this exercise, focus on your storytelling voice (although the principles can certainly be applied to your personal brand). These prompts and questions will help you hone in on what sets you apart from all the other storytellers out there, and with that knowledge you’ll be empowered to market yourself accordingly. (And in case you balk at “marketing”, remember that you’re marketing yourself every time you pitch, every time you go to a networking event, every time you take a meeting.)
The best advice I can give you as you do this work is to practice self-awareness without judgement. Marketing is all about learning how other people perceive you and playing directly to that. None of this is intended to be a criticism about you or your character. This is only meant to empower you so you can start getting the opportunities you say you want.
One more time:
YOU. ARE NOT. YOUR MARKETING.
Your marketing is you.
And I don’t know about you, but if I knew I could make money off of how people think about me (spoiler alert: I do) I’d become an expert in how people think about me (spoiler alert: I am).
So! Moving on to the questions without any judgment about what these answers are:
What are the stories you feel drawn to tell? This does not have to be altruistic, BTW. It is, however, an important starting point because it does feed the rest of these prompts. If you’re doing work that isn’t aligned with your Big Why, something’s not quite right. Maybe you’re just doing it for the paycheck, maybe you owe someone a favor… but you know in your heart it’s not your best work, the stuff that lights you up. And if you could only do the stuff that lights you up, what would that be? And how easy would it be to attract more of those projects if you were clear about what they are and how to market yourself specifically toward them?
What unique perspective do you bring to your work? What point of view? Even if all other demographics are equal, there is something you bring to every project that no one else will: your life experience. What has shaped you, changed you, inspired you? How does that influence the way you view the world?
Looking back on your past projects, what themes come up consistently? Are there characters that you get cast to play all the time? (And I’m not talking about “types” or occupations here, I’m talking about character qualities.) Are there subjects or certain kinds of characters that turn up in your scripts over and over? As a director, are there visual motifs you love to use or certain elements that creep in regardless of genre?
What have other people told you about your work? Reminding you not to pass judgement, here. Thinking about people who’ve hired you, what are things they’ve particularly enjoyed about your work? What comments come up from people who read your scripts? What acting compliments do directors frequently give you?
Can you identify any patterns? Now, looking back on your answers for the previous questions, what are some things that stay consistent throughout? What are some outliers?
If you’re having trouble finding patterns, consider that you may be too close to it right now. Take a breath. Revisit this exercise tomorrow, or next week. This is difficult work because you cannot be objective about yourself. But eventually it’ll click into place and you’ll realize that people have been giving you this feedback your entire life, whether you could hear it at the time or not.
As a final reminder, the way people see you is not who YOU are. But it is what it is, so you might as well start making money off of it.
And while you’re dialing in on exactly what your creative voice -- your brand -- is, trust that you can let all of this go and YOU will shine through, no matter what. After all, no one else in the world is YOU. (Which is pretty awesome.)
Joanna Bowzer is a growth marketing and audience development strategist as well as a film and content producer. She is a founder of Film Launch, which supports content entrepreneurs in developing and launching their projects. Her Vision.Position.Expand. 12-week career + project accelerator helps actors, writers, and filmmakers bolster their mindset, develop their brand, and create their vision and plans for the next decade.