Just because you set a lunch date at a known restaurant doesn’t mean it’s all about menu. Script Mag recently published an article outlining some key points to consider when gaining industry interest.
The first thing I noticed in the article was that the meeting you book, schedule, etc. is extremely situational. Meaning if you really want to get something out of it you should first understand the relationship.
Sounds easy? Ha, yeah right. We are talking about creative people, so we as creatives may not always be in our right minds. But that’s ok, because that’s probably what got you the meeting.
Seriously, there are various types of meetings and with those meetings executives, agents, or industry reps already have an agenda. Script mag outlined a few of those situations to help creatives make a good impression. Let’s take a peek.
General meetings. These are broad stroke slash getting-to-know-you kind of meetings. An executive might take a general with you because they liked your script and although they can’t do anything with it now, they want to keep you in mind for upcoming opportunities. They want to put a face with a name, and they take the general to make sure you “present well” before they endorse you at some future point in time. For a general, the focus of the meeting will be partly on you — your background, your brand, the types of things you’ve written, shows you love. And it might also be partly on their company — which shows they’re developing, which shows they have on the air, etc. You don’t have to watch every episode of all of their shows, but be conversant enough to drop a tidbit like, “I find the mother/daughter relationship in (show x) really compelling because I was raised by a single mom, too.” Walking out of a general, you hope the person you met with has a strong sense of who you are as a writer and why you might be good for their company someday down the road.
Staffing meetings. This might be a meeting with the production company or producers, a studio, network or showrunner. Ultimately the showrunner meeting is the most important and the most involved, but any one of the people in any one of these meetings may have the ability to take your name off the staffing list, so act accordingly… it all counts!
If you’re meeting on a new pilot, you’ll want to know the script backwards and forward. Talk about the characters, relationships, conflicts, and where you see potential storylines going. Be positive. Be complimentary. What did you love? Imagine you’re in their shoes: You’ve been through the million and one steps it takes to get a show on the air and you’re finally hiring a staff. Your best-case scenario is to end up with a room full of writers who not only know what they’re doing, but who are really passionate about the show and have a ton of ideas. So prove that you have ideas by pitching a few. Tell them why you relate to the characters; maybe even include a brief anecdote from your life that illustrates your point. If you can craft an organic segue between your personal background and the show, that’s a huge plus. In one of our meetings, Tawnya was talking about her background and how she grew up in a reservation town and very naturally pitched a case idea for the show that revolved around jurisdictional conflicts between tribal and state police. It proved successful because we got the job.
If you’re meeting on an existing show, watch every episode. Of course if it’s CSI season 13, this may not be realistic. If you’re meeting with the creator or existing showrunner, the above advice applies. (Be positive. Be complimentary. What do you love about it? How do you relate?) However, if you’re meeting with someone who’s taking over — perhaps a new showrunner hired to revamp the show (which was the case on our first two staffing jobs), then be prepared to talk about what you like about the show and how it could be improved. Is the sister the most interesting character but you feel she’s underused? Say so and then pitch a few storyline ideas for her, emphasizing why you think making her more of a focal point would improve the show. Remember the rule of thumb, though: only offer up fixes and improvements if asked! We asked our writer friends what they do when taking a meeting for a show they don’t like. Here is some advice from our Script Anatomy panelists:
I’ve been lucky and have been truly excited for the creative possibilities for every show I’ve met on. I think that comes from having writing samples that came from my heart and imagination—I’ve never been swayed by people telling me that I need to write a certain thing—I think your samples automatically align you with shows in your wheelhouse. ~ Nikki Schiefelbein, producer “Mozart in the Jungle” (Amazon)
A show I don’t like?! I like EVERY show. At least that’s what you tell them. It’s a job! And make sure you actually have watched it before the meeting! ~ Allison Rymer, Script Coordinator “Proof” (TNT)
I thankfully haven’t had this happen to me yet, but an agent did offer to put me up for a job on a show that was completely off tone for me. I politely declined, but thanked her for even considering putting me up for it because it was such a huge vote of confidence from her. I reminded her the type of shows I like and begged her to keep me in mind for other opportunities. I think it’s okay to be picky sometimes, so long as you’re always respectful when passing. ~ Danny Tolli, writers assistant “Stalker” (CBS)
We had a very important exec give us some advice about staffing meetings once. He said, “You have to sound smart without sounding like you’re trying to sound smart.” Hmm. Ok. At the time, his advice sounded complicated. Maybe even impossible. But all he was really saying is this: As a TV writer, you’re already passionate about story and you think intelligently about it all the time. So do that, don’t be phony about it, and you’ll be fine.
Pitch meetings. These meetings will focus less on you and more on the series you’re trying to sell. For a full pitch meeting, you’ll want to have your pitch partially or mostly memorized. It’s okay to refer to your notes, but the better you know it the better you’ll pitch it, especially when you’re nervous. On the other hand, they’re buying a great idea – they’re not buying your flawless presentation skills, so don’t worry about it too much. It’s more important to love your concept, your world, your characters, etc. Pitch the characters as if they’re the most fabulous, interesting friends you’ve ever had. Some people say start your pitch with the teaser, others say start with the inspiration or the hook or the main character or the world. There really are no rules. Every pitch has its own way in. Start with what excites you the most, and go from there. And make sure it’s specific, unique and not general. For instance you wouldn’t want to say: “I’ve loved comics since I was a kid so that’s why I wrote this.” So? Hundreds of writers can say that. But if you can say “I wrote this piece because I was the sole survivor of a plane crash and struggled with both survivor’s guilt and a God complex and this is the story of my life in the aftermath and how I became a real life superhero and saved others to save myself…” Wow, I’m hooked! After your pitch, be prepared to field questions. Try to guess which aspects of your series they might want to know more about, and have answers ready. Oh, and don’t be surprised if the people you are pitching to are looking at their notepads and writing most the time. Sometimes that happens.