Balls of Steel™: Shifting Network to Relationships

When you’re preparing to walk into the meeting room, take a deep breath and remember ... The meeting isn’t just about your script; it’s about the impression you make on the person across the table.
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Next week I’m heading to L.A. for meetings, ranging from major executives to fellow screenwriters. In my world, there are no “small” meetings. Every single one is important to my networking and career goals.

Meetings are about building relationships.

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That advice was given to me by a generous top executive I pitched with my Slavery by Another Name writing partner last year. I don’t kiss and tell, so I won’t say whom Mr. Top Secret Exec was, but trust me, he’s been around this industry for a long time.

I’ll never forget his advice, “Look, we’re building a relationship here and getting to know each other. We’ll read your script, and even if we pass on it, we have a writing sample from you. If it’s good writing, we’ll eventually find the right project to work on together.”

In a business full of insanity, it was the most sane moment and best advice I had received to date.

Relationships rule.

When you’re preparing to walk into the meeting room, take a deep breath and remember that. The meeting isn’t just about your script; it’s about the impression you make on the person across the table.

Let’s take the executive meetings first:

I plot out everything I can control, from what to wear, to polishing the scripts and show bibles, to delivering the perfect pitch. But the reality is, there is one thing I cannot control once I’m in that room:

I can’t control what the executives are looking for.

Sure, I can do research, make educated guesses as to what the company wants, and have an amazing script written, but if it’s not what the individuals in the room need on that given day, what good is it?

What do you do if you’re in the room and you realize your idea is dead in the water?

Breathe. You’re not selling a script, you’re selling yourself.

Meetings aren’t only for pitching, they’re for learning.

Every single meeting I attend, I learn something new about both the executives I’m speaking with and the company they represent. A script they were hunting down last month, may not be what they’re looking for today.

Let’s say I wrote a rom com with the mother of a bride as the protagonist, but a similar concept, just released, flopped. Now they want only 20-year-old bride protagonists, not their monster-in-laws. If I were to sit in that room with my bridezilla-mommy script printed in my lap, I’m screwed.

BUT… if after hearing they want a new spin on a wedding with a 20-something pawn shop-owning bride who has a PhD in dog grooming, I smile and say, “I’m doing a polish of a script with a similar protagonist … let me send it to you next week.”

I learn what they want, and they learn I’m flexible and a fast-thinker.

Since that concept is similar but with a different protagonist, I simply go home, rewrite my fingers to the bones, and deliver the product they are looking for, directly to the executives who want it.

If I had the old script printed on my lap and ready to hand over, the opportunity would be lost.

Speaking of opportunities, when I do have one, I make the most of it. Therefore, whenever I come into L.A. for meetings, I always set up as many social ones as I can, both with people I’ve pitched to in the past as well as Twitter screenwriting friends I want to connect with “in real life.” No amount of tweeting can match an in-person meeting.

Those margaritas at the bar always lead to a new level of understanding. Get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about friendships, not drinking buddies or screenwriter orgies.

If only I had the time to meet with everyone I want to. My wish list is getting bigger than even I can handle. Sadly, on this trip I will not get to see everyone I want, but I will absolutely be able to introduce some of my connections to each other and grow my “family” of writers.

Over the last couple of years, my network has easily tripled. As part of my L.A. planning, I make a list of the people I hope to be able to meet, analyze the list to see how many of these people would enjoy each other’s company, then try to find a way to not only connect with them myself, but to also leave friendships behind after I’m back in New York. Some of the people I have introduced have gone on to create projects and further their own careers because of it. Nothing makes me happier.

No matter what happens in each meeting, the trip is always worth my money and time for one very important reason – I turn my network into my friends.

By the way, the biggest meeting I’m having next week is a direct result of last year's meeting with Mr. Secret Top Exec. Seems he did mean what he said. Our continuing relationship is proof of that.

As I finish up this piece, some big news just arrived in my inbox – Slavery by Another Name is a 2011 Expo Screenwriting Competition Finalist! I’m thinking that might be a good bit of news to bring to the executives’ tables.

Timing is everything.

Before heading to a pitchfest or a meeting of your own, give my First Impressions post a read. And if you have any advice on how you prepare for meetings, please share it in the comments below.