How Should Your First Meeting Go
Wipe the sweat off your forehead. Straighten your clothes. Check your breath. The Creative Executive will see you now. You anxiously enter the office and notice it’s a cross between a workspace and a storage facility. You’re asked if you want anything to drink. Water? Coffee? Wine? Go for the water.
Consider the context of the meeting. Did they read something, they’re interested in developing, or were you referred by an acquaintance or industry professional? This sets the tone and agenda for your meeting. The purpose of these live meetings is to get to know you both as a writer and as a person. And you to know them. It’s the first date.
If you play your cards right, your first meeting will turn into a bona fide pitch meeting, often prefaced with the question, “What are you working on?” Start with the project that’s most complete and means the most to you.
Despite its global reach, Hollywood is a relatively small community and most of the major players know each other. If not, they’re a phone call away.
It is relatively rare for executives to invite you to a cold meeting without a reason no matter how innocuous they sound. Usually, they’ve read, seen, or heard something about you. You’ve been recommended. Casual meetings are really designed to get to know the person behind the work. What is your personal story? Where are you coming from as a storyteller? What do you write about? What are you like to work with?
There’s no need to be nervous because they’re trying to impress you as much as you’re trying to impress them. You both want the marriage to work. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be a first date.
One way to facilitate invitations is to make an executive want to invite you – easier said than done. Understand that they read aggressively and are always out to discover the next best thing. Hopefully, that will be you. Many agents and managers get frustrated because most of what they read is average at best – technically proficient, but lacking a spark to set the town on fire. The new and exciting voices are simply not reaching them as often as they’d like.
Do your research. Find out everything you can about them, professionally and personally. At the very least research their credits and their collaborators. But don’t be creepy. They won’t be excited that you know they’ve changed body wash brands because the old one was giving them a skin irritation.
Find out if what they have in development and who financed their produced films and TV shows. If there’s a big gap in their credit history or their last credit was more than five years ago, find out why. Where they on hiatus or wasn’t there a market for their work?
Follow them on social media. If they don’t have a social media profile it could mean they’re too busy to post or they don’t have much to post about. Big name companies usually have social media teams doing their posting to keep the public abreast of what they’re up to. As a rule, keep your responses on social media light and civil – happy birthday, congrats on the Emmy win etc. Avoid pitching, inappropriate, or other transactional statements.
Read the trades to find out about their latest activity. Perhaps they’ve presented at some industry function or accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award. You need to know this. This might sound rudimentary, but too many writers don’t understand the basics of business interactions. Don’t be creepy. Don’t stalk them.
Feel The Vibration In The Room
Once the pleasantries of your first meeting are over, tap into the vibe of the room. What’s the body language like? Are they friendly, flustered, casual, hurried, or relaxed? If you see an Oscar statue on a cabinet, or more likely, framed movie posters, mention them. It doesn’t all have to be business, although the underlying aim is business. If there’s a unique piece of art around, ask them about it. There may be screenplay potential in there. If you see a liquor cabinet with Fine Rye Whiskeys, don’t ask if you can try them. Even if they offer them to you on a Friday afternoon.
Typical meeting questions include where you’re from, where did you grow up, and where you went to school or college. These may seem like perfunctory questions, but they’re really trying to get to the core of who you are and what drives you. Perhaps have some anecdotes in your wheelhouse, but don’t be over-rehearsed? This isn’t your award speech. Make it memorable, such as that time you’re credit card was declined at a cafe so you offered to wash their dishes for an hour. It may well lead you to be staffed on a TV sitcom set in a cafe.
Something unusual or deeply personal in your life will tend to excite them more than a commonly-lived life. Executives want to know you have something unique to say. Be vulnerable. Speak from a place of passion, feeling, and discomfort. You may not be able to fully process and articulate it yet, but that’s why you write. They may want to help you develop that voice. Be conscious of current global issues. The timeliness of your screenplay can often be a bigger factor than its quality.
Your meeting might not even be in their office. It could be in a conference room or coffee house.
Stop Breaking The Ice Once The Ice Is Broken
After you’ve settled in, start looking for a connection – chemistry. Ask each other what sort of stories inspire them. Apart from what sorts of things you like to write, executives want to get a feel for your writing style. Edgy YA has a different feel than YA. Look for overlap in interests.
If an executive has read something of yours, tell them if you have written in other genres or are interested in doing so. Keep this range narrow because they’re thinking who they might introduce you to in the industry.
In the current age of Zoom, general meetings have different dynamics. You can’t comment on their unique artwork. The intimacy factor has a different intensity because one of you will always be talking at any given time.
Show you care about the industry. Complaining won’t win you any points. How will you make your mark?
The Follow Up
Always follow up on a meeting with a polite thank you (unless the meeting was a total disaster). Your thank you shouldn’t come with any strings attached. If a connection was meant to flourish, it will. A flower won’t grow faster if you constantly water it. Nor will it grow in the wrong soil.
Learn to socialize horizontally rather than vertically. Not every meeting will bear fruit and those that do, won’t bear them quickly. Don’t make your meetings too transactional, but don’t waste time on meetings unlikely to lead to collaborations. Build a tribe of people who get you and whose opinions you trust. They’re the ones who can help you where you want to go.
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