Word for the day: tent pole writing

(Well, okay, “words” for the day.)

A friend of mine, while researching the upcoming Willamette Writers Conference taking place August 6-8, 2010 in Portland, Oregon, found out that several agents who will be at the conference are looking for “tent pole writing.” What’s that, you ask?

tent pole: 

n. something, such as a commercial undertaking, a story franchise, or a fictional character, that serves as primary support (for a company, television program, etc.), especially a blockbuster movie that compensates for a studio’s flops.

Citations: 1986 Gina Mallet Globe and Mail (Toronto, Can.) (Mar. 27) “As Stratford’s World Turns” p. P58: As the only major industry in town, it is the tent pole of Stratford’s economy. 1987 Aljean Harmetz @ Hollywood (June 4) “Figuring Out The Fates of ‘Cop II’ and ‘Ishtar’”: Mr. Mancuso describes “Beverly Hills Cop II” as a “tent pole” movie. Each year Paramount makes several high-budget films “that because of content, star value or storyline have immediate want-to-see and are strong enough to support your entire schedule,” he said. “Ishtar” had none of the strengths of a tent pole. 2003 Hilary Kramer New York Post (Aug. 10) “H’Wood Mulls Big-Flick Costs”: It’s easy to see how big movies—called “tent poles” in industry parlance—can be big risks. “You can’t afford too many tent poles in a year,” said Jeff Sine, the global head of media at UBS Warburg. 2004 Jennie Punter Globe and Mail (Toronto, Can.) (May 31) “Studios scurry to make movies with international legs” p. R1: The industry term for a movie (usually but not always a franchise flick) that a major studio expects will be a blockbuster (but often isn’t), “tent pole” is a particularly evocative buzzword to toss around these days, especially for those brushing up on ancient texts or history in preparation for a pitch meeting with a major studio. 2004 Jon Gertner New York Times (Nov. 14) “Box Office in a Box”: A studio like Fox usually works on dozens of DVD’s at a time—from minor television shows to $100 million-plus “tent poles” meant to draw everyone in and that entail a marketing blitz mapped out long beforehand. 2005 Patrick D. Healy New York Times (Feb. 24) “After Coming Out, a Soap Opera Heroine Moves On”: Megan McTavish, the show’s head writer, said she was most astonished that fans elevated Bianca into one of the serial’s “tent poles”—soap parlance for characters who hold enormous sway with viewers.

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