(I had a meeting recently that was so hilarious I wanted to blog about it, but then I realized that maybe screenwriter-type meetings are mysterious (in a boring way) and I should explain them first. So…)
As a screenwriter, a lot of what you do is go on meetings. This is also true for executives at production companies and studios: I guess it’s kind of like an endless round of Business Speed Dating, and everyone is constantly hoping that something will happen with their 11 o’clock.
There are basically two kinds of meetings: meetings where you’re talking about a specific project with someone (5% of your meetings) and “general meetings” (everything else.)
General meetings are always exactly the same. I have had lots and lots of meetings, and only a handful of them have varied from this basic template:
*You drive to wherever the meeting is. Meetings on studio lots are nice because they usually have pretty good parking situations. (Except for when you have to park in the parking garage at Universal, which is an Orwellian nightmare from which there is no escape. I had a meeting there once and I was ON THE LOT with ample time to spare and I was still HALF AN HOUR LATE and I kept calling the office and almost crying. “CAN YOU STAND OUTSIDE AND WAVE?!? I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM.”) Meetings at companies that aren’t on a lot often have confusing parking instructions like “Park in the alley behind the dumpster, but NOT behind the cream Escalade”.
*You go inside and a tell a receptionist that you’re so-and-so, there to meet so-and-so, and they tell that person’s office. And you…
*Sit down and wait. You always wait for fifteen minutes, even if you get there exactly on time.
*The executive (or sometimes their assistant) will come get you. You go into their office. If you weren’t already offered a beverage, you’ll be offered one now. You can have anything you want as long as it’s water or a Diet Coke.
*You look around their office and try to figure out where to sit. Pro-tip: you are almost always supposed to sit on the couch. Sometimes people will tell you that you should just ask, but I have found this to be weird and awkward. Like you will say “Where should I sit?” and the executive will say “Anywhere you like!” but you can tell that that’s not really true, and now you’re back to guessing and everyone is experiencing mild social anxiety. So just sit on the couch. The couches are always super weird and uncomfortable. They’re usually too low and wide or something, so you have to have your meeting and dazzle them with your wit while reclining like a Roman. I’m never sure if this is totally accidental or some kind of Jack Donaghy BUSINESS DOMINANCE power play.
*You make brief small talk about whatever, and then the meeting starts. The order of the talking points varies a little bit, but is often something like this:
*The executive says something like “So where are you from?” or lobs you a similar softball – this is just your opening to rattle off your snappy bio. Here I should note that executives think that writers with certain backgrounds are going to be more able to write certain stories. So if you know that this company is sitting on a graphic novel about EXTREME TOBBOGANING, and you’re from Vermont and you run a Tumblr called SLEDZ, this is where you want to mention it. Otherwise you probably just want to have a brief thumbnail sketch of who you are with one or two mildly interesting details the executive can remember you by. (Executives have like 700 of these meetings a week.)
*After your part, the person will usually say “Let me tell you a little bit about our company: we’re funded by a group of chimpanzees who made a ton of money on Google’s IPO” or whatever and then tell you about movies they’ve made. You want to look up the company in advance so you can be sure not to do something like go “Oh man, that movie was TERRIBLE!”
*Then the person will usually say something like “So I really liked your sample!” and you will say “Thank you, I enjoyed writing it”, something like that. (Your agent or manager, when they book you the meeting, send the person one of your scripts to check out so they can see you’re not a buffoon.) And sometimes you may talk about the script a little bit. They often want to know why you decided to write it. Just make up something snappy here. Don’t answer “I don’t know, I just did”, this will confuse and trouble them. You want something like “As a kid, I was a competitive bass fisherman. I still really love the world and wanted to tell its stories with humanity and gravitas.” and they will nod and be pleased: executives love passion. It’s their favorite thing, right after you being a person with personal experience with the thing you’re writing about.
*Then the person will talk about projects they would like to be involved with. There are two kinds of things executives say here: specific and non-specific. In the first category, they may say something like “I’m really looking for a hockey movie”, or they will tell you about an idea they have, or about a book or remake their company is interested in. In the second category, they will say things like “If you find any amazing graphic novels nobody knows about, you should call me.”
*Somewhere in here, they will also ask you what else you’re working on. You can test out ideas here if you want, and get a little practice not being horribly awkward when you are forced to talk about your stories. (I used to be horribly awkward – now I am only somewhat awkward.) DON’T say “I don’t know yet.” even if that’s true. If you really don’t know, be vague and like “My agent and I are still discussing ideas, but I’m really interested in doing a historical drama”. Otherwise you can just whip out a one-liner, like: “I’m writing a dramady about a guy who quits a lucrative law practice to go run the Iditarod and find himself.” Sometimes they will like it and ask for more info and a lot of times they’ll just go “Great, sounds great.”
*Then the meeting wraps up, you exchange cards, and you go home.
In the next post I will discuss fascinating things like:
*What to wear to your meeting!
*What to do after your meeting!
*Why you shouldn’t be too excited about meetings!
*Things that can go wrong! ETC ETC ETC.