I’m delighted to say the hardcore contingent of the Bang2writers (who are those with a specific writing strategy: they review their goals and want to be professional writers “within [this] amount of time”] report they are getting meetings more and more often now. However, this now means they are asking me more and more often what is the “right” way to take a meeting, so I thought it was time for a post on the subject.
First things first, it pays to know what “type” of meeting it is. Meetings generally fall to into two kinds of loose categories:
1) Meet and greets. The vast majority of meetings are “meet and greets” in my experience. In other words, whomever has asked you in (usually “for a chat”) wants to check YOU out. Why they do this can be for any manner of reasons, but usually they want to see whether you know what you’re talking about and to check whether you are a weirdo, basically. People in the industry generally put a lot of stock in how a person “feels” (not that kind of feel, yargh) and so they’re trying to work out if you’re a good bet to work with, or whether you might have them screaming for the hills three months from now.
2) Project-based. If you’ve never met the person you’re working with before, there’s a strong chance you have something they want project-wise if they ask you in specifically to talk about it, so bear this in mind when you take the meeting. For writers who DO know the people they’re meeting with and are asked to talk about their projects with them, this will be a meeting where they need to take notes and/or ideas for strategies for marketing and so on.
Of course the above IS very general and sometimes the two are combined. So here are my tips on taking meetings, whether they’re “meet and greets”, project-based, or both:
MEET & GREET
1) Know who you’re meeting. Nothing screams “amateur” more than writers who have no clue what the people across the desk from them do. That’s not to say you have to rattle off their IMDB pages or client listings, but you do need to have some background info so y’know, you can actually talk about stuff. It’s never been easier to find out people, production companies, agents, initiatives or whatever now thanks to the web. There really is no excuse.
2) Know your loglines – but deliver them conversationally. The person wanting to meet you will inevitably ask you, “So what are you working on?” So tell them your loglines … but don’t read them off a crib sheet or be too formal about it. If you’re worried about talking about your work, practice! Talk to the mirror about your projects, or a loved one. It works. (And if you’re worried about talking about your work to an industry person because they might steal it, you’re probably not ready to work in the industry, TBH).
3) Know what you want to do … and what you’re not willing to do. I’ve got to be honest. For me, it’s a huge turn off when you ask someone what they want to do and s/he says, “**Everything** … I just love writing so much!”
I would far rather hear someone say something *like*:
“I love movies, but TV is where it’s at for me. I’d like to work on the soaps and really cut my teeth there, before moving on to the hour long shows – my favourites are the slick, high concept ones: HUSTLE, TORCHWOOD, THE GOOD WIFE, PERSON OF INTEREST … That kind of thing.”
“I love TV, but my passion is feature writing. I want to write low budget genre films, particularly Horrors and Thrillers! You know, stuff like THE HOLE, DEVIATION, the first SAW, GRABBERS, etc.”
“I’m a parent/uncle/aunt/love kids, so I’m really interested in writing for children in a variety of media, because kids are so switched on when it comes to multi-platforms … I’d like to work on established brands like CBeebies, both on television and online. I’m also interested in opportunities writing for kids’ web series and comics/graphic novels.”
“I’m ambivalent about TV or film or web … It’s the *kind* of story I want to tell that I’m most interested in, which for me would be issue-led/ woman-centric/ for the LGBT or disabled communities/ for ethnic minorities* (delete as appropriate).” (One caveat here: if you go down this road, be prepared for questions like “How would you approach this? / How would you differentiate? / The gritty realist/kitchen sink story is out of fashion … What would you bring to the table?” etc.)
In other words, have a plan or remit and make sure the person you’re meeting with knows that.
There is absolutely no point shying away from this, because they’ll find out anyway … And even if they DO decide they can’t work with you because your remits are too different, there’s a strong chance they will appreciate your candour and at least remember you, if not hook you up with someone else they know!
Also, note the positive spin on the above … “I love TV, but …”/ “I love movies, but …”/ “I’m [whatever] so [this is why I’m interested in this]”.
Not only does this mark you out as professional (only amateurs trash the industry they want to enter), it ALSO allows you an opportunity to potentially mildly flatter the person you’re meeting with by saying you want to do something similar to something *they’ve* made, without being too OTT, lying or cringe-worthy.
4) Know where you see yourself in 5 years. Another classic question in addition to “What are your working on?” is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Don’t shy away from this question or bat it away, embarrassed. You’re good at something, they wouldn’t have asked you in otherwise.
So OWN your life plan: tell them the best possible scenario for you, whether it’s working in Hollywood; getting a movie made; writing a selection of novel tie ins – whatever. We all have hopes and dreams, so be positive and make the person across the table know you’re deadly serious about yours.
5) Know what you want from the person you’re meeting. This ties in with number 1. Some agents in particular will ask baldly, “What do you want from me, then?”, especially if you have done pretty well by yourself before that point. So rather than just say, “Representation”, say exactly what you want. For example, I was eavesdropping on a conversation at London Screenwriters’ Festival that went like this:
AGENT: So, what do you want from me, then?
LSF DELEGATE: I’ll be honest with you. You’re probably wondering why I would want to pay someone like you 15-20% [Agent nods, laughs] … Right. And the answer is this: I love my features, they were as great as I could do on a super shoestring budget. But I have a love of Hollywood movies and would really like a move across the pond. But to do this, I need to start writing the kind of content Americans would be interested in, but I’m used to thinking about how to get one house look like three, rather than CGI or epic scale stories. This is why I wanted to meet with you, because one of your clients is [INSERT NAME] and I feel I could really learn from both you and him, if you’d arrange for me to meet him … I can then put that knowledge into a screenplay I feel confident you can sell over there, because I know my concepts are rock solid.
This is a BRILLIANT example of knowing exactly what you want and communicating it, without being embarrassingly self promoting or toadying up to the guy on the other side of the table. Now as it goes that writer/director in question undoubtedly had years of schmoozing behind him and if you’ve never taken a meeting before, it’s unlikely you can rock someone’s socks off as comprehensibly as that. But give it your best shot. What’s the worst that can happen? Seriously!
6) Ask what they like about the project/why they asked you in about it. Lots of writers come in for meetings, especially for the first time and sit there, embarrassed while the producer talks “around” the project (usually what *they* do) in order to fill the awkward silences. YOU’RE the writer; find out what their exact response is to your work and what their intentions are. Which is why you should also ask …
7) … What needs work in their opinion? Give the producer or agent plenty of room to talk about those things they feel need changing to make it more marketable, or to get the work more attention. Don’t get defensive. But equally, don’t just let them slag the work off either. If you feel a note would not work for whatever reason, again: YOU’RE the writer, you’re entitled to say so. Equally, sometimes a producer or agent will be having a bad day and everything that comes out their mouth seems negative, or maybe you’re too close to the work and love it too much. So sometimes asking what they like about it can really diffuse this. I’ll never forget getting notes about my novel from my agent once and I asked, “But did you like it?” He seemed surprised and said, “Yes of course. It’s obviously terrific.” Haha!
8) When do they want these changes? Very often, especially if you’re working on spec, the answer will be “To suit you.” If there is a deadline looming for whatever reason, work out a schedule that suits ALL of you … As screenwriter Tess Morris wisely says, “Under promise and over deliver.” Do NOT take on unrealistic loads, since all that will happen is that even if you *do* deliver in time, you’ll burn out. And guess what: nobody wants to work with burn-outs!
9) Remember you don’t have to make ALL the changes suggested. Notes are notes for a reason and there’s a strong chance some of them will absolutely inspired; most will be good and occasionally, some will be batshit crazy (I find the latter happens very infrequently, TBH). Whatever the notes however, you do not to implement ALL of them. That’s a fact. Balance is key on taking notes on your project and never forget that.
10) Be yourself. Never, ever play a role or do things you *think* they expect you to.
11) Avoid slagging off films, people, whatever. You have no clue who knows who and why. This is a VERY small pond.
12) Meet EVERYONE YOU CAN in “real life”. Go to as many networking events as possible; put on your own if necessary or find ways of meeting people wherever possible. Back when I started I was a single Mum with no money and I lived in Devon, so could never get to London networking events which were often on weekdays. So I started trawling the internet to find writers, producers and agents I could write to and email with. Yes, a good chunk ignored me. But several agreed to talk to me about “stuff” and when I offered to buy them a coffee in London next time I was up, a fair amount took me up on my offer. It’s easier than ever thanks to social media. Just ask. Go on. I dare you.
Best of luck in your meetings!
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