Balls of Steel: Shifting Network to Relationships

Next week I’m heading to L.A. for meetings, ranging from major executives to fellow screenwriters. In my world, there are no “small” meetings. Every single one is important to my networking and career goals.

Meetings are about building relationships.

That advice was given to me by a generous top executive I pitched with my Slavery by Another Name writing partner last year. I don’t kiss and tell, so I won’t say whom Mr. Top Secret Exec was, but trust me, he’s been around this industry for a long time.

I’ll never forget his advice, “Look, we’re building a relationship here and getting to know each other. We’ll read your script, and even if we pass on it, we have a writing sample from you. If it’s good writing, we’ll eventually find the right project to work on together.”

In a business full of insanity, it was the most sane moment and best advice I had received to date.

Relationships rule.

When you’re preparing to walk into the meeting room, take a deep breath and remember that. The meeting isn’t just about your script; it’s about the impression you make on the person across the table.

Let’s take the executive meetings first:

I plot out everything I can control, from what to wear, to polishing the scripts and show bibles, to delivering the perfect pitch. But the reality is, there is one thing I cannot control once I’m in that room:

I can’t control what the executives are looking for.

Sure, I can do research, make educated guesses as to what the company wants, and have an amazing script written, but if it’s not what the individuals in the room need on that given day, what good is it?

What do you do if you’re in the room and you realize your idea is dead in the water?

Breathe. You’re not selling a script, you’re selling yourself.

Meetings aren’t only for pitching, they’re for learning.

Every single meeting I attend, I learn something new about both the executives I’m speaking with and the company they represent. A script they were hunting down last month, may not be what they’re looking for today.

Let’s say I wrote a rom com with the mother of a bride as the protagonist, but a similar concept, just released, flopped. Now they want only 20-year-old bride protagonists, not their monster-in-laws. If I were to sit in that room with my bridezilla-mommy script printed in my lap, I’m screwed.

BUT… if after hearing they want a new spin on a wedding with a 20-something pawn shop-owning bride who has a PhD in dog grooming, I smile and say, “I’m doing a polish of a script with a similar protagonist … let me send it to you next week.”

I learn what they want, and they learn I’m flexible and a fast-thinker.

Since that concept is similar but with a different protagonist, I simply go home, rewrite my fingers to the bones, and deliver the product they are looking for, directly to the executives who want it.

If I had the old script printed on my lap and ready to hand over, the opportunity would be lost.

Speaking of opportunities, when I do have one, I make the most of it. Therefore, whenever I come into L.A. for meetings, I always set up as many social ones as I can, both with people I’ve pitched to in the past as well as Twitter screenwriting friends I want to connect with “in real life.”  No amount of tweeting can match an in-person meeting.

Those margaritas at the bar always lead to a new level of understanding. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about friendships, not drinking buddies or screenwriter orgies.

If only I had the time to meet with everyone I want to. My wish list is getting bigger than even I can handle. Sadly, on this trip I will not get to see everyone I want, but I will absolutely be able to introduce some of my connections to each other and grow my “family” of writers.

Over the last couple of years, my network has easily tripled. As part of my L.A. planning, I make a list of the people I hope to be able to meet, analyze the list to see how many of these people would enjoy each other’s company, then try to find a way to not only connect with them myself, but to also leave friendships behind after I’m back in New York. Some of the people I have introduced have gone on to create projects and further their own careers because of it. Nothing makes me happier.

No matter what happens in each meeting, the trip is always worth my money and time for one very important reason – I turn my network into my friends.

By the way, the biggest meeting I’m having next week is a direct result of last year’s meeting with Mr. Secret Top Exec. Seems he did mean what he said. Our continuing relationship is proof of that.

As I finish up this piece, some big news just arrived in my inbox – Slavery by Another Name is a 2011 Expo Screenwriting Competition Finalist! I’m thinking that might be a good bit of news to bring to the executives’ tables.

Timing is everything.

Before heading to a pitchfest or a meeting of your own, give my First Impressions post a read. And if you have any advice on how you prepare for meetings, please share it in the comments below.

12 thoughts on “Balls of Steel: Shifting Network to Relationships

  1. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman

    Thanks Vivi Anna. People are always on the rise, even the receptionists who answer the phone. It’s always best to simply be kind to everyone. Not a bad life rule.

    Veronica, I have yet to do a post on how I craft a pitch. If it’s something people want me to do, I’m happy to give some thoughts beyond the basic “how to”. Keep checking back in! 🙂

  2. Veronica Page

    Great information Jeanne. Pitching is hard to do, especially when it’s your own script. Do you have any tips/outlines/strategies on putting a great pitch together and how to present it? Look forward to reading more of your articles…and will check out “First Impressions”.

    Veronica Page

  3. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Katherine – “The Book of Jean” could be my first e-book 🙂 I’ll credit you for the title! 🙂

    LifesizeLD – Thanks. You’ve been an instrumental part of my support system, and a testament to the success of meeting other writers online via Twitter. The site has been my #1 go-to for L.A. connections from my country home. You’re fantastic at working it!

    Unk – I’ll write the Newbie Networker book after have true proof my strategies work… and I get produced 🙂

  4. Unknown ScreenwriterUnk

    You said, “screenwriter orgies.”

    But seriously… YOU could write a book on networking for the newbie screenwriter and it would be worth reading for some of us old timers too.

    Good stuff as usual.


  5. LifesizeLD

    Another great column, Jeanne. Thanks for sharing your hard earned insights.

    And CONGRATS on SBAN being chosen as a finalist in the CSExpo Contest. That’s a BIG pool of scripts you beat out there. And having had the good fortune to read an earlier draft, I know why. It’s an amazing and well written story.

    Onward and upward!

  6. Ian

    Thanks Jeanne. I did write my very first short screenplay and one thing I noticed that I did wrong was I didn’t brainstorm enough and properly outline before actually writing. Because of this the second half is suffering. I guess that’s why I’m feeling a little down. lol. But I’m glad I learned this lesson because I have other ideas for stories and I will use my recent mistake as a learning experience.

  7. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Ian, I don’t think any artist is totally secure in how they feel about their work. YES, you should still go for the experience of pitching and networking. No script is ever “perfect”. Hell, I’m even rewriting the draft of SBAN that made the finalist list right now, wishing this new version were the one being judged. I don’t think we writers ever feel our work is truly ready. But believe in yourself and the work you have put into it. Get feedback from friends before going to a pitchfest and keep an open mind on taking notes. Good luck!

  8. Ian

    Congrats Jean on your script being a finalist in the 2011 Expo Screenwriting competition!

    I just read your post now for First Impressions and that is also very useful. I will say though, for number 7 in that article, what if you feel like you are never completely good enough? Do you just never go to a pitch fest?

  9. Jeanne Veillette BowermanJeanne Veillette Bowerman Post author

    Thanks Sidney. My main advice is to pay it forward with your network. Giving will eventually lead to receiving. I’ll write a whole piece on the benefits and beauty of the pay-it-forward philosophy one day. Karma is a wonderful thing. I’m quite certain we’ll meet one day.

  10. Fey1IsleofSkye/Sidney Peck

    There you go again, writing a great article. It takes a long time to figure things out in “the business”, eventually anyone with wisdom realizes that there are no deals without a solid foundation of respect. And respect takes time. You are doing the work and being smart about relationships, success will come, it’s just a matter of time. I, for one, am privileged to know you here on Twitter, and perhaps, one day, our paths will cross. In the meantime, I stand here on the sidelines cheering you on!