You’ve just snagged those coveted meetings all over town with network/studio executives and/or producers/showrunners. Whether it’s a meet and greet, pitching an idea, or you’re meeting for a staffing gig, it’s never stress-free. As writers, it’s hard to be objective about who we are… so I looked to my former colleagues who had some tips to lessen the odds of rejection, fear, and overall anxiety about the process.
And we definitely don’t want that… do “we”?
Let these be helpful tools on how to put your best foot forward. I might sound snarky/sarcastic at times, but it’s all in fun. Really.
LEAVE THE “I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE” WRITER HAT AT HOME.
Some of you are thinking, “What? Who doesn’t want a job?” and you’d be correct. But some writers feel (and they might be justified at times) that the job is beneath them. But ya know what? I’m not going to get the violin out and sympathize. What’s that you’re thinking? You’re an Ivy league grad whose a phenom writer and has just been asked to join a show on a channel that no one’s heard of? Oh, are you insulted? Too bad. Or is it your agent who wants you to do them a solid and meet because they have ulterior motives? Suck it up. Don’t bring that attitude in the room. Hopefully you’ll be smart enough to show respect and constraint. Trust me, they’ll smell your attitude just as you take those first struts through the door. The community is tight. You won’t want to get a reputation for being difficult before you’ve even started. Do you?
UH OH. Did you not do your homework? Did you forget to watch the shows of the network/studio/production pod you’re meeting with? Did you have a meeting with a showrunner and not do a google/IMDB/Wiki/Deadline-Nikki Finke or any other source search — or talk to people about who they are? Did you fall asleep or forget to watch or read their pilot/show? Did you not think of ways to give props to them as well as stories you’ve been thinking about that might fit their show? Did you not ask your manager or agent nicely to get you back story on them?
Oops. That (most likely) just cost you the job. Sorry.
An aspiring TV writer recently asked me what she should wear to her meet and greet.
It’s all about wearing what represents you best. Put on something that reflects your personality, makes you feel confident and bold. This is entertainment. You don’t have to wear a suit…
Speaking of suits, when I landed my first job at ABC a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far way, I was thrilled to have to buy a “wardrobe.” I’d been waitressing and doing theater for so long, I didn’t know what the proper attire was in the real world. So, I went with buying my very first suit. It was white. The “NEVER WEAR WHITE AFTER LABOR DAY” white. Sure, that rule doesn’t really exist these days, but back then, it was a solid commandment in fashion. Snowy color blazer and slacks. Call me a rebel. I wanted to stand out, have a presence, be noticed. Honestly, I didn’t feel that it was “me,” but at the time it was my definition of what it meant to be a grown-up.
My first day, I walked into my boss’ office and he took one look at me and asked, “Why are you so over-dressed?” I giggled, tried to be funny, but at the end of the day, lesson learned. I knew I was in an environment hovering in a place that lived somewhere in between conservative & liberal. Don’t worry, I got much use out of that suit… I broke it up and wore the blazer with jeans and the slacks with a casual (yet attractive) shirt that reflected me. Much better. Bottom line? Know your industry and then wrap your personality and comfort level around it so that it allows you to feel in control and good about yourself.
More than wardrobe, I was told too much cologne or perfume can be very off-putting. A little goes a looooong way. Food for thought.
TOO GOOD FOR TV?
I don’t think this exists in this environment anymore now with shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones… I could go on with an endless list of fantastic TV. In my opinion, there’s far better TV than there are movies these days, but we do know that elitists still exist. If you’re one of those feature snobs, then either leave the ‘tude at home and put on your wonderful actor hat or don’t involve yourself with the medium. Don’t come in saying, “I don’t love or watch TV” when you’re going in to pitch a TV project! Within this rule of thumb, exists another, which is, either you’re in or you’re out. There’s a perception that exists (or used to) amongst some feature people that they can swoop in, create something, and swoop out. This is partly the agent or managers fault for not explaining the entire process that is TV. Executives get sucked into the “aura” encircling (fill in feature person of the month here). The person comes in and woos the room, and then tries to nab a swanky created by credit along with a directing and/or writing deal pertaining to just the pilot and then in their best Arnold voice say, “Hasta la vista, baby.” But the reason the executives were “woo’d” in the first place is because they thought they had the feature person for the life of the series. For the long haul. Networks need to see consistency in their shows. One vision. You don’t get to swoop in and out like Peter O’Toole in “My Favorite Year.”
DO YOU KNOW TRUE CONSTRAINT?
One of my favorite urban legends is about a comedy writer who went to network and pitched his idea to a comedy executive. Mid way through the pitch, he stopped. The executive said, “Why did you stop?” and the writer said, “I just wanted to make sure I was doing okay.” The executive replied, “Yes, you’re doing great!” and the writer could NOT constrain himself and came back with, “You might want to tell that to your face.”
Oh, how I loooove that story. It makes me laugh. On the one hand, good for the writer for calling out the executive on being so serious. If you didn’t know this, comedy executives have a reputation for being unhumorous in a room. Ironic right? You’re pitching comedy and the executives come back at you with stone cold facades. I don’t know, maybe I would be too if I was hearing 100 pitches a week that were “supposed” to be funny. It’s probably better to be like Harry Connick on AMERICAN IDOL and have the rule of not standing and clapping for anyone. Either everyone gets that treatment or no one does.
My opinion? I’d play by the rule of “better safe than sorry.” Who knows, maybe the executive in above urban legend had a stoic look on their face, but had every intention of buying it. Unfortunately, the writer will never know. He/She just humiliated the crap out of that executive and they’re pissed. He/She most likely ended the meeting and immediately scratched the writer right off their list of people they want to work with down the road. Well, never say never, but who wants to take that chance?! The lesson here is don’t confuse a poker face with a lack of enjoyment.
DO YOU KNOW WHO YOUR AUDIENCE IS?
Well then, I’m assuming you’re not going to that production company, studio, network et al and pitching them an idea that said company already has done or is JUST LIKE THE SHOWS THEY HAVE ON THE AIR. No, I’m not yelling at you, but the executive that gave me this one… was. Seller beware!
ARE YOU WISH-Y OR WASH-Y?
Do you walk into a room and have several ways your pitch could go? “It could be this…” or “It could be that…” Are your characters or setting interchangeable? You need to have a vision and stick with it. Don’t worry, it will evolve (or yes sometimes devolve). It’s called development for a reason. Everyone is going to have ideas. Have a strong vision and then pick and choose what’s important to you. Speaking of picking and choosing. That applies to battles of opinions that you’ll have along the way.
And lastly, the one I’m told is truly the worst thing you could do…
BAD MOUTHING AND/OR GOSSIPING.
Bad mouthing a former employer is a red, hot flag. Every writer will run into a show with a writer’s room or showrunner that’s wearing a bit of crazy. Things go down. When faced with the uncomfortable question of what your last experience was like or how was working with (insert name here), your first instinct will be to be honest. Truthful. Stop. How you handle the situation is very tricky. How you choose to handle the situation is totally up to you, but from experience and talking to both sides of the table (both execs and writers) it seems everyone agrees that you want to be careful. I do wish we could live in a world where honesty rules. Where people had tough enough skin and an open enough mind to listen to all sides and then decide what’s right for them. Bottom line? Trust is perceptional (not a word, but go with it).
Okay, those are my full two cents for today, writers! Honestly and without any sarcasm, common sense, logic, and instinct go a long way. Of course, there’s always that X factor in play, but this is about being pro-active with what you’re in control of, which is… YOU!
Were there questions or areas I didn’t cover that you’re still curious about? Contact me @ firstname.lastname@example.org
Was this helpful? I hope so. I’d love for you to let me know via twitter: @stayrebecca
Until next time…