Let’s say I’m a development exec and I’m going into a meeting with a writer (a big, successful one) whom I’ve met before — but it was a brief conversation and it was ten years ago, possibly longer.
When the writer says, “Nice to meet you,” I shouldn’t say, “We’ve actually met before, but it was a brief conversation and it was ten years ago,” should I? I should just act like we haven’t met before, right?
Or would the writer be flattered that I’d remember the conversation and was excited to have it, since the writer is a big deal? Which is the truth?
Okay: It’s entirely possible that I was the writer who didn’t remember you. I’m sorry. We’ll get to why it happens (The Kevin Williamson Problem) in a second. Let’s solve your issue first.
In the situation you present, there’s generally a way to point out history without making too big a deal out of it.
Nice to meet you.
You probably don’t remember, but I met you years ago on that Goblin Bikers project at Cinergi.
Wow. Whatever happened to Cinergi?
...and so on.
It’s for exactly this reason that I’ve gotten in the habit of saying “Hi” or “Hello” instead of the default “Nice to meet you.” And I don’t end a meeting with that phrase either. “Great talking with you” or a simple “Thanks” does the trick.
But why does it happen in the first place? Are writers such social abominations that they can’t even remember who they’ve met before?
No. And the perfect person to illustrate this fact is another screenwriter.
The Kevin Williamson Problem
I’ve named this phenomenon in honor of Kevin Williamson, a screenwriter who is now a friend, but who for many years was the guy who couldn’t remember that he’d met me. We would be introduced by a mutual acquaintance, and he’d go right to “Nice to meet you.” Nevermind that we’d met three times before. Nevermind that we had shared interests, friends and connections (such as Katie Holmes). He was perfectly nice to talk with, but I sensed that every time I walked away the slate was wiped clean.
What a jerk.
Except of course, he wasn’t. He’s a nice guy. The problem was the complete disparity in our rememberability. The fair question wasn’t, “Why can’t Kevin Williamson remember me?” It was, “Why can I remember Kevin Williamson?”
Simple: When I met Kevin Williamson, I already knew who he was. He had movies in theaters and a show on TV. He had profiles in EW. So the first time I shook his hand, I knew a lot about him, and had already formed opinions. Again, I knew him before I met him.
The first time he met me, I was a brand new person. So after a brief conversation, he was no more likely to remember me than any other cocktail party guest.
I understand this because I now suffer from the Kevin Williamson Problem all the time. Among the tiny subset of people who pay attention to screenwriters, I’m “famous” enough that strangers sometimes recognize me. This is odd. And even when I enter a conversation heretofore anonymous, the projects I’ve written get attached to me: He’s the guy who wrote that Willy Wonka movie. So, after a brief conversation, I’m more likely to be remembered than do the remembering.
In the situation presented, you as a development executive have had the chance to see this writer’s name in the trades for years. You’ve had a lot of memory reinforcement. He hasn’t. So it would be pretty remarkable if he remembered you. Therefore, it’s smart of you to provide a lot of context and no implied request for apology.
They grow so fast, don’t they?
A related situation I’ve been grappling with is how many new people I’m expected to remember now that my daughter is in preschool. It’s not just the fifteen kids in her class; it’s all of their parents, and siblings. A weekend birthday party can mean 45 names I’m suddenly supposed to be able to recall. Is Daphne Kate’s mom, or is Kate Daphne’s mom? Add in bouncy houses and screaming, and the name buffer quickly overflows.
Luckily, there’s cake.