What Screenwriters Can Expect with Their First “General Meeting”
This Post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
The “general meeting” is a term that is very abundant in Hollywood. It refers to the first meet-and-greet meeting that development executives and producers hold with screenwriters that have showcased talent through a spec script — a screenplay written independently by the screenwriter under speculation that it will be sold.
When novice screenwriters picture such meetings, they usually envision a long table with executives sitting around them, grilling them on their stories and characters. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Hollywood screenwriter Phil Hay (Crazy/Beautiful, Aeon Flux, Clash of the Titans, Ride Along, Ride Along 2) detailed the process of the general meeting — as well as what leads up to and follows it — through ScreenCraft’s very first podcast, which you can listen to in whole below.
We elaborate on his points to give screenwriters an idea of what those first meetings will be like, what they mean, and where they can lead.
The General Meeting is NOT a Pitch Meeting
“You show up. They have told you or your representative that they like your script, but they’re not buying it or can’t do anything with the spec, but they like you as a writer. They want you to come in. They want to meet you and just talk. And that’s not a meeting where you’re expected to be pitching something specific… it’s really to get a sense of who you are,” Phil explains.
Too many screenwriters go into these general meetings expecting to either re-pitch the script that got them in there, or to pitch a belly of other scripts or concepts they have.
That’s not what the general meeting is for. And if they wanted to pursue the script that got you this meeting, it would have already happened — or would at least be in the process of happening — through either an option or sale deal. Thus, you’re not expected to pitch the same script again. That screenplay has done what it needed to do for you. It got you into the room.
The general meeting, like Phil said, is all about them getting a sense of who you are as a person.
“They like your writing, otherwise you wouldn’t be there,” he points out.
Now it’s about building a relationship.
“A big part of being a screenwriter is relationships… it’s the most important thing in terms of the business of screenwriting.”
That’s what the general meeting is really about — building relationships. There is truth to the old Hollywood adage It’s Who You Know, but not in the often misguided interpretation where you think you need to be related to Hollywood power players or have some sort of embedded relationship with them in order to break through. Not at all (although it does help). It’s about the relationships you build through general meetings, through networking, peer groups, etc.
Phil assures screenwriters by saying, “Sometimes people perceive that there’s this exclusive or exclusionary attitude. There are lots of things that are hard about this, but I don’t think that’s actually one of them… they are looking for you.”
And you must know that there are many ways to build relationships. Phil mentions how important it is to live in Los Angeles. There are exceptions, however, the reason living in Los Angeles can be so helpful is by being in the vicinity of those that can open doors for you.
It may be a neighbor that knows an entertainment lawyer.
“Entertainment Lawyers are an underrated group of people to send your stuff to,” he says.
It may be a co-worker at a regular day job that either knows somebody or has broken through themselves. Any number of relationships can make a difference. But the ones you make in these general meetings will be the true key to your eventual success.
Such relationships unlock doors into the Hollywood system.
“It’s usually really comfortable. It’s really fun. You’re not trying to sell them anything. You’re just being yourself.”
Screenwriters often picture a bunch of “suits” sitting across a long table in judgement when they imagine the general meeting. There is a context to that imagery, but not for these meetings.
Most are dressed in business casual — if that. You’ll sit in an office setting. You’ll be offered a bottle of water. It’s more of a conversation than an interview. You’ll talk about your background. You’ll likely discuss their company as well.
Overall, it’s very casual. You should feel relaxed, be yourself, and feel comforted that you’re not there to sell anything.
The best thing that you can do is to learn the habits and tricks that keep the conversation two-sided and comfortable — and it all starts by doing your homework.
Do Your Homework
“You should definitely be familiar with the kinds of movies that the people that work at that company have made and what they’re into,” Phil suggests.
This may be a simple and obvious point, but it’s so important because it will feed the conversation that you have with them. In this day and age, with IMDBPro and Wikipedia at your disposal — as well as the trades like Variety, Deadline, and The Hollywood Reporter — you should go into that meeting knowing every movie that they’ve made. You should know as much as you can about the individual(s) that you’re meeting with as well.
Find questions about those films that you may want to ask. Prepare some talking points centered around them. And even better, know some details about the people that you are meeting with and work them into the conversation. The more questions that you ask and the more talking points that you bring up will make it less of an awkward quasi-interview in their eyes and more of a casual, and hopefully memorable, conversation.
In short, don’t let the meeting be all about you. Let it be about them too. That’s how you build those true relationships that could carry over into your own screenwriting career.
“What Else Are You Working On?”
Once the small talk runs its course, you’ll be asked a variance of:
- “What else are you working on?”
- “What else have you written?”
This goes back to what you often read here about “stacking your deck” before you take anything out. If you have no other quality scripts, the meeting will likely be over before it ever started.
Beyond that, you need to know what you’re working on next.
“It’s important to have some idea of what you’re doing next, or what you want to do next. You absolutely don’t need to have some kind of pitch. And I would argue that you really shouldn’t unless they’ve asked for it,” Phil commented.
But he went on to say that when they do ask you what is next, you should have a general explanation that’s not a direct and pre-planned pitch.
“It’s to let those people know where your area of interest is.
So be prepared to casually answer those questions in a conversational manner, as opposed to a rehearsed pitch.
What Comes After the Meeting?
“Hopefully you’ve had a good experience and you walk out with them saying, ‘We would really love to see the script for ___ when you’re done with it.”
Phil goes on to say, “… if something sparks with them, they may have any number of things. They may have a book, they may have a magazine article, they may have an idea that one of the people that works there came up with that they’re looking for a writer for, etc.”
The “newness” that you have can be a benefit. They may be willing to take a chance on you if they like the writing enough. You won’t get the big bestseller that they’ve won during a rights auction, but they may have something smaller that they’re willing to let you take a shot at.
And sometimes nothing comes of it, at least not right away. Sometimes a meeting you had two years prior can lead to an assignment or sale two years later. That goes back to the relationships that you build.
And all too often it takes multiple meetings before anything happens.
Phil shared his own experience of the first general meetings that he and his writing partner had: “We had something like 40 meetings, at least, and the 41st meeting was someone we didn’t even send the script to. It was just someone who one of the other companies sent it to who really liked it… and they felt they had something for us and we came and met them and they gave us a shot.”
The first general meeting you have certainly won’t be your last. Even when things go well and you manage to secure an assignment, the Hollywood general meeting will be with you throughout your whole career.
The secret is to go in there, be yourself, and if it’s not a good fit, move onto the next.
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