questionmarkI’m at the stage where I’ll hopefully be meeting with managers, agents, and producers. As a writer/director, what should I expect from these initial meetings and do you have any advice, or pitfalls to avoid?

– Sam
Los Angeles

Meetings are a crucial part of a professional screenwriter’s job. Even when you’re not pitching a specific project, you’re basically pitching yourself as someone worth hiring in the future. So you’re right to be thinking about what you should say, do, and wear. (In fact, I’ve already addressed that last point.)

Let me briefly lay out the structure of every first meeting I’ve had in Hollywood.

The meeting is set for 10 a.m. You get there at 9:55. An assistant asks you if you’d like anything to drink. The proper answer is, “A water would be great.”1 This phrasing makes it clear that her request has been heard and appreciated, and that you haven’t mistaken her for a waitress.

The assistant will bring you the beverage, then inform you that the agent/executive/producer is running a few minutes late. This is completely expected. Entertain yourself with your iPhone or copies of Variety laying nearby. If the assistant is nearby and doesn’t seem particularly busy with some other task, engage in conversation. There’s a pretty good chance this assistant will run Hollywood someday, so it never hurts to be friendly.

When the Big Man calls you in to his office, try to figure out which seat he likes to sit in. Generally, you’re safe sitting on the couch. If it’s a two-chair situation, you might as well ask, “Do you have a favorite chair?” Because if you sit in his spot, you’re just starting the meeting off on the wrong foot.2

The first topic of conversation will be about one of four things:

  • Something he read of yours that he liked
  • A mutual acquaintance
  • His office: either the view, or how he just moved in
  • A movie that came out this past weekend.3

This is a warm-up period, and is not scored.

While engaged in this conversation, listen for the word which signals the end of the period: “So.”

As in, “So, tell me about the kinds of things you write,” or “So, let me tell you a little about our company, and the movies we’re trying to make.” At this point, judging begins. If it’s mostly a listening exercise, be ready to restate his points in different words, preferably with insightful analogies to successful movies.4

If he’s asking you to talk, say three smart things. Then get him talking again.

EXEC

So, is that the kind of thing you mostly want to write, is thrillers?

YOU

Thanks. Yeah, I love thrillers. I mean, I love all genres, but what’s great about thrillers is you get to do the **character work setting up motivations,** you get the **puzzle aspect of plotting,** and **real stakes.** With comedies and dramas, you get one or two of those, but thrillers are the whole package.

EXEC

I hadn’t thought of it that way.

YOU

You take a movie like Collateral, and it can be funny and tight and dangerous.

EXEC

I worked on Collateral.

YOU

I love that movie. How did that come about? Was that a book?

This process will continue for ten to 20 minutes, at which point he may pull out a buck slip5 listing all of the company’s open writing assignments. (Or in the case of agent/managers, a list of studios and development companies.) After a little more discussion, he thanks you for coming in.

This is your signal to stand, shake his hand, and leave. Say goodbye to the assistant. Remember to ask if you need to validate.

If there’s any specific project you talked about, follow up the next day with an email. If you don’t have his email address, it’s fair to call the assistant and ask if you can email her (the assistant) something for the boss. You don’t need to send thank you notes and such.

When I first signed with an agent, he sent me out on 15 meetings. I was meeting junior executives at companies that had never made a movie. But it was smart of my agent to set those meetings, because it gave me a lot of practice — which I needed, because I was terrible. By the time I was taking meetings for Go, I was pretty unflappable, even in the face of egregious behavior.

My overall advice is to not freak out over any given meeting. Pretend it’s just having coffee with somebody who went to your same school. Unless you’re pitching a specific project, don’t approach it with any particular expectation, and it’s likely to go fine.

  1. You may also ask for a Diet Coke. These are the only beverages you can be reasonably assured will be on the premises, and not a hassle leading to frustration or extra work. Back in the day (say, 1999), you could also ask for a “Snapple-type beverage.” But no one drinks Snapple anymore.
  2. Meeting with multiple executives is an extra-credit situation, and generally necessitates asking about who sits where.
  3. Only appropriate if the meeting is on Monday, and the movie did significantly better or worse than expected.
  4. Bonus points if you can include movies he’s worked on. Box-office disappointments are okay, particularly if there are praiseworthy aspects.
  5. A buck slip is a piece of heavy paper cut down to roughly 4×10 inches, which is often attached to a script in lieu of a typed letter. I’m not sure they even exist in other industries.