Every screenwriter remembers their first general meeting. Mine is fried into my consciousness. It was with a very nice executive at a production company at Warner Brothers. I went in scared, desperate, and completely unprepared. People who know me now are probably thinking this story can’t be true because I am the guru of preparedness. But I was intimidated by where I was, who I was with, and because of that, lost the ability to communicate coherently.
It was like one of those slow-motion nightmares.
The woman I had the meeting with greeted me with a smile, but I know she could see the desperation and fear in my eyes and my body language, which probably screamed “Please? Please?” I wasn’t some young buck either. I was in my mid-forties by that time. I didn’t write my first script until I was forty. And there I was in the fancy office of a multi-million-dollar production house where I acted like a 10-year-old schoolboy sent to the principal’s office.
Why? Because I wasn’t ready and my attitude showed. I didn’t respect the producer’s time or myself. I didn’t go in there to be myself and sell my worth as a writer.
I went in hoping for approval.
To say I didn’t get what I went in for is an understatement. She got me out of there as fast as she could, without making it look like it was an emergency evacuation procedure.
On reflection, I learned a lot that day.
- Producers and production execs aren’t there to personally approve of you.
- Desperation shows no matter how hard you try to hide it.
- Prepare for every meeting no matter how small.
- Be relaxed because they’re probably not going to hire you anyway.
- Producers and production execs want you to do well. It makes them look good.
- Producers and production execs have escape routes planned no matter where they are.
But the main takeaway was I had to learn to respect myself and my ability as a writer.
If you get a meeting with or are asked to meet with any producer or production exec it’s because THEY think you might have something for them or might help them. They think you belong in that room with them.
It’s time writers thought so, too. Most new writers don’t.
A vast majority of writers look at producers as one of two things—someone to fear or as the enemy. They are neither. They are business people who make films and TV as their business. That’s it. They need writers. They need directors. They need crew.
This isn’t to say they don’t have vision. Most I’ve dealt with over the years had plenty of it, and I have learned so much about production by just being around them, it’s helped me stay in this career. I’m grateful.
I also learned how to act around them. To respect them and their jobs for sure, but to also respect myself when dealing with them. To be in the room, or Zoom call, or telephone call as a peer, not as someone who’s in an inferior position.
Because you’re not. Unless you allow it.
You have rights as a writer. You have the right to protect yourself. How? Every time you get a request to read your work or someone asks you about a script of yours, you have the right to look into them—who they are and what they’ve done. If I get a call from or meet a producer I don’t know, I don't immediately assume they are legitimate. To do otherwise isn’t very smart or good business.
Do I also, at first chance, look up as much stuff about them as I can before responding or sending anything? Yup. I have too many of my own stories about not doing that that didn’t turn out well. But I’ve also heard stories from friends or stories I’ve read regarding the time wasted by desperate writers looking for any way in they could, who ended up paying for it because they carelessly didn’t do their homework.
Legitimate producers don’t care if you look them up or ask them business questions. They aren’t going to get offended. They have track records they’re proud of. Anyone rushing for you to sign or send anything sets off a big red flag with me. It should with you, too. Legitimate producers won’t rush you to sign anything. Do they also love it when you sign anything put in front of you because you’re desperate? They don't mind.
Writers who respect themselves read contracts and make notes on what they don’t like or don’t understand. They have their lawyers read them. Writers who respect themselves act like they belong, not big-ego belong, but business belong. Like the professionals producers expect them to be.
You’ve worked too long and hard at your craft, written too many long hours on multiple projects, worked hard networking, on marketing yourself and your work to not be considered as a professional at that first meeting or the 100th you may have scheduled next week. You don’t just act like one, you FEEL like one.
Again, this isn’t about your ego. That needs to stay locked away when dealing with producers because it’s all about business. You just need to feel like you belong there.
Because you do.
Do your homework. Know who you’re dealing with or not dealing with.
I’ve said no a few times to producers because of what I learned about them. When I first started, I would have said yes to anyone for any opportunity. Bad plan. You can save yourself a lot of valuable time and heartache by spending a few minutes on some basic research. Again … they don’t mind—if they’re real.
Screenwriting is fun. Making a living making stuff up is pretty cool. It’s exciting when you get in the zone. Getting read requests and meetings are to be celebrated. It means people are looking at you and what you do.
You did a lot to get there.
Respect yourself getting there, too. So that when you do get that call, you’re not going to blow it by being fearful and desperate or making a rash decision. Believe me, I know a thing or two about that.
As always … you can do this. If I did, you can, too.
*Feature image by Jorm Sangsorn (Adobe)