A few weeks back, I was invited to teach a class at Act One Academy about pitching and all it entails. I spoke to a group of aspiring producers from – literally – all over the world, Texas, New York, Ireland, learning what they could about navigating their way through industry paths. After 90 minutes of lecturing about pitch preparation, research, and the unique dynamics between producers, writers and directors, I opened up the session for questions, and that’s when lively discussion began.
One of the questions that was asked was this: What the hell do you wear? To pitch meetings, to general meetings, to industry events? For three months, producers, executives, agents, managers, and writers walked into their classroom, each with a different message. One said: Dress to impress. Another: You’re the artist, the creative, you shouldn’t worry about what you wear. And yet another: If you’re great at what you do, you can wear flip-flops for all I care.
Conflicting opinions are nothing new to this industry. No matter how insignificant or how grand. Having sat on countless industry panels, I am more than just mildly aware of this fact. If you listen long enough, you will hear everything. Seriously. I once heard a literary manager at a representation panel tell the audience that he doesn’t care if one of his writers shows up to a general meeting high or drunk, as long as said writer delivers with the executives. At that point I knew that nothing in the industry would surprise me. Neither did the fact that this management rebel retired and moved away a few short months after he made that statement.
Back at Act One, the conversation was getting spirited. Should girls wear high heels? Should guys walk into meetings in suits and ties? And was the one executive correct? Are flip flops really alright? I never thought a simple thing like wardrobe could incite couch-spirited arguments.
Finally, I contributed my two cents to these aspiring professionals: Represent yourself in a way that makes you comfortable. Not just in the moment, but two months later, looking back. Yes, this is a social industry. But it’s also a professional environment, and you have to strike the balance you’re comfortable with. Most importantly, don’t leave place for unnecessary questions. When you get rejected – which you will, like everyone else trying to make it in the industry – make sure that it’s for the right reasons, i.e., the work. You don’t want to question whether the rejection had something to do with what you choose to wear.
True story: I once knew a writer, an established, working writer, who got turned down for a high profile assignment job because he repeatedly showed up to meetings with sweat stains on his shirt. It doesn’t matter why the sweat stains were there; whether he was out playing ball before his meetings, or because he was just a sweaty type of man. Point was, the hiring executives ultimately decided that they didn’t want to spend months in development with a man who stank of sweat. They ultimately decided to go with someone else, who kept more regimented hygiene habits.
Point is: Things won’t always work out. You will hear those No’s. And plenty of them. So when things are held against you, make sure it’s the things that count: They didn’t like the project. They didn’t connect with the material. If they liked it all but were repeatedly turned off by your flip-flops… well, you decide whether you’re willing for that to be the reason that things didn’t go your way.