We’ve got a cautionary tale today about being THAT writer again – we make the mistakes at B2W, so you don’t have to! Round of applause for Janey please for having the guts to out herself … And enjoy, everyone else!

A couple of years ago, I was travelling back to London from the South of France after a particularly depressing five days. I had gone there alone to see the sun, stare at the ocean and (most importantly) to try and finish my first screenplay. However, it poured with thunderous rain and just days earlier I had fallen out with the love of my life, so instead I spent the entire time watching Before Sunset and Before Sunrise on repeat, sobbing.

As I boarded the plane home and neared my seat, a charming couple approached asking if I would mind swapping with them so they could sit together for the last few hours of their holiday. Puke. I ungraciously agreed, and hauled my stuff to the back of the plane, plonking myself down.

After take-off I ordered a glass of wine and started work on my sorry excuse for a screenplay once again. An attractive older gentleman next to me leaned over.

“How’s it going?” he asked.

“Not great.” I replied. As I looked up I noticed that he too had Final Draft open. “You?”

“Just a few tweaks.”

He had a kind face, and an open smile and my usual guardedness was lifted as we started to chat easily.

My companion was returning from The Cannes Film Festival having been there for a couple of meetings. We talked about story-telling, whether screenwriting was something you could actually teach, big-budget v low-budget and how, if you want to make something, you should just get your friends together and make it – he said that’s what he did after all.

You might be thinking that at this point I possibly should have realised that this man was a professional screenwriter. Well, thanks to either the wine, self-obsession or maybe even just his easy manner, I did not. Even more foolishly, after an hour of chatting, I decided it was no longer appropriate or polite to ask his name, and so, to my later chagrin, I did not.

The conversation cheered me up and I thanked him as we parted ways. 24 hours later, at the end of a shitty stint back at my day job, I felt a jolt of realisation.

dvt getty woman on plane with laptop

It couldn’t have been – surely not,” I thought. “I’m sure he has dark hair…” But I couldn’t shake the feeling so ran to Google. It appears he does not have dark hair. The man on the plane, it turned out, was the world-famous and hugely successful screenwriter Richard Curtis.

After 10 minutes of hyperventilation I started going over certain aspects of the conversation. I would love to say our chance encounter could easily have been penned by the man himself, just like when Hugh Bonneville fails to recognise Julia Roberts in Notting Hill, but real life – as we often discover – is not like the movies.

Here follow my top tips for what NOT to do when you meet your idol (but are too stupid to realise it is him):

  1. Do not say ‘So how was Cannes for you?’ I asked this question and then nodded away as if I understood the intricacies of the festival circuit – launching into an outright LIE about how I had also been there for meetings myself.
  2. Do not ask ‘how does it feel to hand over artistic control of a screenplay?’ And be incredulous and dismissive when he tells you he has actually been fortunate enough to direct many of the screenplays he has written too.
  3. Do not exclaim ‘I want to write Romantic Comedies, but comedy’s the hardest thing to write!’ I exclaimed this ‘fact’ in a know-it-all kind of way, as if he could have no understanding of that which I speak.
  4. Do not shout mid-sentence, for no reason ‘Oh, well I live in Notting Hill!’ Partly true, but I was totally showing off – I was actually lodging with a rich friend for a couple of months. Did some part of my subconscious know this was the man who single-handedly created what we now know as NOTTING HILL? Possibly, and looking back, this was the one moment during our conversation where I noticed a half-smile of amusement behind his eyes.
  5. Do not avoid telling him your story in case he steals it. I skirted around the details ‘just in case’.
  6. Do not hand him your homemade paper business card – complete with fresh perforation marks AND STILL NEGLECT TO ASK HIS NAME
  7. Do not give him a double-thumbs-up and say ‘good luck with everything!‘ To my eternal horror I actually did this.

My final piece of advice therefore is to familiarise yourself with what your idols look like and if you ever think you may have met one of them – please don’t behave like me and definitely don’t forget to ask their name!

Thanks Janey!

On This Blog Before:

What NOT To Do When  Meeting Agents, Producers & Other Writers

5 Ways Writers Kill Their Credibility Online

How Not To Be THAT Writer

6 Things You Need To Know If You Want Your Scripts Made

Congratulations! You’ve Totally Just Shot Yourself In The Foot


BIOJaney Ballantyne is an established Line Producer and an aspiring Screenwriter who has a terrible memory for both names and faces and often gets into film-worthy situations. Follow her blog at HERE and follow @janeyballantyne on Twitter.

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12 Responses to 7 Things NOT To Say Or Do When Meeting Your Idol by Janey Ballantyne

  1. Pinar Tarhan says:

    Wow! Thanks, Janey, for sharing this:) The first thing I did was check out the link. I had no idea what he looked like either, and I do like a lot of his stuff:)

  2. Alan Breck Cooper says:

    Thank you for baring your soul and making it so funny,. Please let us know whart RC says when he conacts you as I am sure he will after reading your of your meeting.

  3. Craig says:

    I love this story. It’s so us! We writers are a neurotic bunch. It’s nice to know that we’re all fools on the same level, even the best of us. At least you didn’t say you hated one of his films!

  4. Jake says:

    At least you didn’t do this:

    Sitting at an outdoor café with a group of other writers for our morning bullshit session when a man approaches. He says, “You must be the writers.”

    We none-to-politely blow him off and he walks away.

    A few seconds later another of our group – who was infinitely more famous and accomplished then we were at the time – approaches and asks, “What did you say to Bill Goldman? He was disappointed you didn’t invite him to sit down.”

    Yep. THAT Bill Goldman.

  5. Jane says:

    Janey, what an amazing little story. Number 7 does make me giggle. However, I wouldn’t worry about it. It must have been such a refreshing change for him that you didn’t know who he was, and that you weren’t hanging on his every word like the mass of sycophants he must have encountered. I bet he enjoyed the fact he could just chat with a fellow writer.
    Proves what a humble nice guy he is – to not even mention his name to you?
    Hope you get the chance to meet him again and laugh about it. :)

  6. Peter D says:

    Well written good article. But I think he probably found it very refreshing to have a general normal chat rather than the usual conversation you’d expect from another writer/ fan. I did the same with Simon Beaufoy once: far better to have a pleasant conversation rather than seeing the meeting as an opportunity

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