Making a connection with someone working in the industry is the best way to advance your career.
Aspiring writers often focus on getting in bed with an agent. However, building a relationship with a development executive, a manager, or a producer, is the best path to get you there. Read why and how to make it happen.
Key to building relationships is chemistry. An intangible thing at best and, in “The New Normal,” even more challenging, as we don't get to be physically in the room with each other. Making that connection is both more difficult and more important than ever – but not impossible.
What happens in an industry get-to-know-you meeting?
Whether on the phone, via Zoom or in the room, there will be some chit-chat at the beginning, then a transition into the active meeting, and, if all goes well, a bit of talk about the future, as in upcoming projects, new ideas, things you are working on. And then – it’s time to Get Out! All much easier IRL. Read more essential meeting pointers, albeit from Ye Olden Days, although the basics still apply, here.
How can you convince us you are a writer we want to work with?
Besides being a talented, you need to show us three other qualities:
- Be Personable
- Be Collaborative
- Be Industry Savvy
To succeed, you will need to check off these boxes on our secret internal list.
This is how you convince us that you "Work and play well with others."
And that counts.
If you've experienced blind dating or Internet dating – and oh how I wish I could say, ”Never Have I Ever” – you already know the fundamentals:
- Be polite.
- Show interest in the other person.
- Have passion, but do not come on so strong or come off as so eager that you are overwhelming.
Yes, dear reader, the basics are pretty much the same. Put your best foot forward. I do believe I could write a treatise on "Be Polite" alone, as it has come to carry so much weight for me, and perhaps I shall. It is so gosh dang simple, and can buy you a priceless amount of good will. The things you learned in kindergarten still apply in the industry world.
Say “please” and “thank you,” for someone’s time, for someone’s advice, for someone’s energy or effort on your behalf.
As a story consultant, I go above and beyond in every encounter. I prep extensively. After an intense consult, I’m often drained, physically and mentally, having left it all on the field to elevate the story and the writing with smart and effective ideas and honest and interactive feedback.
I do get great response after most consults. But a “thank you” means the world to me as someone so who is invested in being helpful. The television writer who after the consultation on her deck wrote, that our work “fueled my fire to take a closer look at how we can improve the project,” left me feeling gratified and similarly fueled to move forward.
Always take a moment to send a prompt and polite email thank you.
I'm not fishing for compliments. Honest. I get plenty of those and have a boatload of testimonials. But a simple “thank you,” or even, “Hey, I enjoyed your column and got something out of it,” still means a heck of a lot to me.
But here is what it means for you:
The genuine thank you to someone working with you for hire, or out of passion for your project, has the power to fuel us, to inspire us to go above and beyond for you the next time. No need to gush; in fact, please don’t. Authenticity is much more challenging to find in the industry than it is in kindergarten, and therefore, far more appealing.
Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, in lieu of a treatise I shall share with you the time I stole back my Q & A blog from my dear friend, Dr. Paige Turner, to discuss networking failures and successes. You will find some powerful pointers along with real life examples here.
Prove you can be collaborative.
The film business is a truly collaborative medium. It’s important that you work and play well with others.
This is why we prefer to work with people that we know, or failing that, people who people we know know, my Corollary to William Goldman’s famous adage about the industry: “Nobody knows anything.” I elaborated on this in my article “The # 1 Secret to Getting Read & Getting Ahead,” an extensive, persuasive, and wittily illustrated argument for why building relationships is essential to breaking into the industry.
Collaboration can be tricky for writers to navigate, especially after working solo, just you and your keyboard, for a long time. But here’s how it will go:
After a bit of niceties – because we are unfailingly polite – we will be talking about the material we read which sparked our interest.
We will have thoughts.
We will have ideas.
We will have suggestions.
We will have interpretations that might not be in sync with your ideas.
Listen and consider.
Be open, but don’t be a pushover.
How do you do both? Experienced writers become adept at taking feedback and making it work while staying true to their story. To be able to do that you must have a firm grasp on the heart of your story. What is essential to your premise, your theme, your protagonist? And there will be times when you have to have the courage to stand up and fight for what is right. If you truly understand what your story is about on a thematic level, you will know when to take a stand.
Pro Writers tell me this works like a charm:
If you vehemently disagree with a note, or find a comment to be utterly off target, experienced writers suggest that you:
- Look thoughtful. As we are no longer in the room together, I will amend this to: Make some ruminative, neutral sound, such as a sonorous yet soft, “Hmm.”
- Then say, “Interesting. I'll have to take some time to think about that."
This simple technique enables you to deftly sidestep a major pitfall. It acknowledges the note-giver, keeps you from replying “Are you out of your mind?” and buys you needed time to actually think about the note, its potential merits, or a viable response.
Remember that a significant part of your job as a working writer will be to interpret notes: to find the underlying meaning, while remaining faithful to your story. Be open to what might enhance it, and be able to determine which notes might steer it off course.
Top writers can take a note that might be off base, grasp what lies beneath the surface, and find an effective way to address it even while not doing what they are told. As I wrote in one of my earliest columns, back in 2012, one of my first big industry lessons was “Scratch the itch.” Simple yet profound advice shared by perhaps the most impactful mentors of my career, screenwriters Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon, (Stand By Me, Starman, Mr. Brooks). Learn how to do what we mean, not what we say in “Does This Script Make Me Look Fat?”
Find specific tips on how to handle and interpret conflicting notes here.
Real World Example:
A first call with a “newbie” writer whose work had impressed me went far longer than I anticipated because we had such a stimulating conversation. There's an exciting, emerging voice here, and a meaningful story. Not an easy project to set up, but potentially worth it, in my opinion. We began with a nice chit-chat opening that smoothly transitioned into the deeper things. He articulately expressed the kinds of stories he was drawn to, and was passionate about the core qualities that attracted him to movies he loved to watch. Based on that, I suggested a wonderful but lesser-known film he might enjoy. I felt like I was truly getting to know him and grasp his sensibility.
Then I pivoted to discussing the screenplay I’d read. He was planning on a rewrite and was open and eager for feedback. Translation: Works well with others.
We talked about some ideas regarding point of view and audience. We had a comfortable back and forth about some of the changes he had been thinking about. I had some questions about his intention with a motif. This sparked an exciting and productive conversation over the possibilities.
This is where the "play" of "works and plays well with others" comes in. I look for writers who are open to ideas and who come up with new solutions of their own. Our discussion about intention and goals enabled this writer to come up with a way to both clarify and strengthen the piece at the same time. I adore bouncing ideas back and forth with a writer. In my experience, it almost always leads to something better. For me, this is where the play and the work intersect. This is the magic.
I’m eager to read the revised draft, see where it stands, and possibly continue to develop this project with the writer as a producer. If there has been true progress on the script, showing that he can take notes and incorporate them while remaining true to the heart of his story, then this a writer I would be comfortable recommending to reps. He has proven he is good on the page and good in the room.
Check and Double Check!
Check back soon for "Be A Writer We Want To Work With – Part 2"