Legitimacy Pending: A Field Guide To Meetings – Breaking into TV Writing

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As a writer, chances are you’re more comfortable in front of a keyboard than real, live people, but each meeting you go to is a potential lottery win… or minefield.  You might walk out with a job.  Or you might walk out bleeding and demoralized, questioning every life decision you’ve ever made.

So because my mom has been known to dabble in birding, I thought I’d break down some of the types of meetings aspiring TV writers should expect to face like a field guide…

(DISCLAIMER: There are tons of other types and subtypes of meetings, but these are the ones I felt at least somewhat qualified to write about)

Agent1. The Agent or Manager Meeting

Habitat:

Their offices.  The phone if you’re out of town.

How to Prepare:

Think seriously about what your dream career is and be prepared to tell them where you want to be in five years.  Look up their clients and recent sales to get a sense of what kind of clients and projects they represent.

Your Goal:

If they’ve already read your writing and like it, your goal is to show them you’re not crazy or annoying – that you’re someone they can deal with on a weekly basis and send out for jobs.

If they haven’t read your work, you want to do all of the above so that they’re already rooting to like your work when they finally get around to reading you.

Follow Up:

If they say they want to rep you right there, you’re golden and should probably send a “look forward to working with you” email.  If they leave things murky, it’s probably cool to touch base with them after a couple weeks to remind them you exist, but don’t start stalking them (then again, some people can make that work…).

OT501_Woodstock_19692. The “General”

Once you meet a manager or agent you click with, they’ll probably send you on a bunch of “generals” to production companies and networks.   These are exactly what they sound like, fun, low-stress general meetings — sort of the blind date of the entertainment industry.

Habitat:

Their office, perhaps a coffee shop thrown in…

How to Prepare:

Just like with the agents and managers, be prepared to talk not only about your scripts but about yourself – where you’re from, why you started writing, what your favorite shows are.

Look up what they’re working on (IMDB Pro, Studio System, and Deadline are a good place to start).  This may give you an icebreaker or save you from insulting something they just produced.

If you’re meeting with folks at a network, watch the shows they have on the air and try to get scripts or screeners of their new pilots.

Your Goal:

These are meet and greets to get you comfortable talking about your ideas with executives, but they can also spark a future job down the line.  The awesome thing about them is there’s no pressure to sell anything – no huge stakes.

Find out what they personally love as well as what their company is looking for.  If they just sold (or bought in the case of a network) a pilot you think you could be staffed on, let them know why you’re interested and why you love it.

Follow Up:

These often end with the exchanges of business cards, in which case it’s pretty standard to send the “nice to meet you” email (and luckily, everyone’s usually super cool and fun so it’s not like you’re just blowing smoke up their asses – you really DO want to work with them in the future and/or check out that Dim Sum place they mentioned in the meeting).  Other times, your reps will follow up with them instead.

Here’s some great advice on generals from the master of all things, John August.

Notes3. The Notes Meeting

Everyone’s a critic, but how you react to getting notes makes a huge difference.

Habitat:

A conference line, an office, a coffee shop, a bar…  (totally depends on the situation).

How to Prepare:

I try to read whatever script our outline I’m getting notes on so I’m a) familiar with the material again and b) I’m going in with my own ideas for how to improve it already.

Mentally, I decide they hated the script and want me to burn the entire thing and start over so I’m pleasantly surprised if that’s not the case.   This is probably not healthy, but I haven’t figured out a better way yet.  Also, bring a pen and paper.

Your Goal:

To listen clearly and understand the feedback so you can make your work stronger.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t share potential fixes or explain why you made certain choices, but don’t do it at the expense of really listening.  Arguing away a note might give you a fleeting feeling of victory, but it could make you look petty in the long run.   

Follow Up:

Because notes meetings can get dicey, I always try to follow up by thanking the person for their feedback.  You can also ask for clarifications or share the direction the notes are sending you in.

guide to meetings4. Production Company Pitch Meetings

When you have a great idea for a show, but you’re not JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon, you’ll often end up partnering with a producer at a production company that can help you develop your idea and get you in the door to a network.

Habitat:

Their offices.

How to Prepare:

Look up recent sales they’ve made and networks they have exclusive deals with.  Make sure you’re not pitching a concept too similar to something they just sold or something completely out of their wheelhouse.

Prepare solid ideas for a couple of different shows and figure out the coolest way to talk about them.  Five minutes per idea seems pretty standard for this phase and there’s nothing wrong with not having all the details hammered out yet.

Your Goal:

To get them so excited about one of your ideas that they’ll spend months upon months developing it with you.

Follow Up:

Unless they tell you in the room that they’re interested, your rep will probably call them to get the skinny.  And like always, no one’s gonna think you’re a weirdo if you send a “nice to meet you” email (even if they passed).

firingsquad25. Network Pitches

Habitat: 

Giant conference rooms that immediately strike fear into your heart.

How to Prepare:

Just like all the other meetings, do your homework.  Read the scripts they recently bought.  Watch their shows if you don’t already.  If they’re changing their target demographic, have some clue as to what they’re aiming for.

If you’re some master pitcher who can just walk into a room like a carnival barker and run through every facet of the pitch in roughly fifteen minutes or less, go for it.

If you’re like me and freeze up instantly under pressure,  then get lost on useless tangents about a character’s backstory, you’ll want to plan out what you’re gonna say, then figure out how to make it sound totally natural and off the cuff.  Sarah and I memorize, but keep it up in the air as to when we switch off speaking so it isn’t overly rehearsed.

Your Goal:

To sell the idea and get paid to write the pilot script.

Follow Up:

Best case scenario – multiple networks want it and start a crazy bidding war.  But mostly likely, your rep or the producers you’re working with will follow up with their contact at the network to learn the good, the bad, the ugly.  And if it’s ugly, remind yourself it was an honor just to get the chance to pitch…

And a Couple Final Nuggets

1.    When In Doubt, Be Early

Once, Sarah and I were late to a meeting and the only spot the lot had left had about a half inch of space on either side of my car.  Sarah had to get out and wave me in and then I had to climb out the window and over the car next to escape.

2.    Avoid Idea Fatigue

If you can tell someone’s not gravitating towards a project idea (or script you’re working on), wrap it up and move on to your next one — but be wary of throwing every idea you’ve ever had at someone in rapid fire or they probably won’t be able to latch on to any of them.

3.    It Usually Didn’t Go As Bad As You Think It Did…

We had one meeting last year that was a total disaster.  I’m talking long pauses of dead silence where we couldn’t figure out what to say next.  But when our manager followed up, the producer actually liked us and was considering us for a gig.

4.   …But Sometimes It Did Go Just As Bad As You Think It Did

Sometimes it’s not a love connection.  Sometimes they will hate you and your ideas equally.  Try not to let it haunt your dreams.  I’m still working on that.

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