Over a period of three months, I took about fifty, maybe sixty, general meetings. Last December, a script I wrote landed on The Black List, (Hollywood’s annual list of the most-liked unproduced screenplays), and boy did that open some major doors for my writing career. I was taking so many meetings, in fact, that I had to quit my full-time job.
For the uninitiated, a general meeting is the first meeting screenwriters have with development executives or producers. Usually, this meeting is obtained after you, the screenwriter, write a spec script that demonstrates your talent and saleability as a writer. This meeting is not intended to discuss your spec, but rather to discuss how you could work with or be employed by the exec or producer in the future.
When I first started taking these meetings they were incredibly daunting — What do I talk about? How do I prepare? Am I supposed to pitch my scripts? But after a handful of meetings, I realized they are all pretty much identical. And much like scripts themselves, there’s a formula that, when followed accordingly, can produce predictable and successful results. So, after much practice, here are my 11 steps to nailing a general meeting.
1. Dress Up
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that no one dresses up for anything in Los Angeles (save, perhaps, The Academy Awards). But this is so very wrong. There seems to be a false idea that it’s somehow detrimental to look like you’re ever trying in LA. Maybe we are all just too desperate to appear cool, but when it comes to first impressions with those that could get you work in Hollywood, you want to look like you’re trying. You don’t want to be the guy or gal who shows up in jeans and a T-shirt to your meeting. It’s simply not a good look.
So dust off your dress shirts and blouses, because the exec in question will find it appealing — nay, refreshing — that you don’t look like you rolled over from the Venice Beach boardwalk.
2. Do Your Research
This seems obvious, and it should be, but it warrants repeating: Do your research! This advice extends to the company you are meeting with and the executive herself. You want to not only know what movies the company has made and has in production, but you should be aware of the executive’s specific taste. Which films or TV shows at the company did she champion?
Also, Hollywood is small, and there’s a good chance you have a mutual friend or two. This is where snooping comes in handy. I always do a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram search for the executive I’m meeting with before we sit down. That way, if it’s appropriate, I can bring up our mutual friend, our mutual love of that one coffee shop, or ask her what she thought of whatever movie I already know she saw and loved. Creepy? Perhaps. Helpful? Oh yeah.
3. Get There Early
…But not too early. Five minutes early is the perfect amount of earliness to show that you are prepared, prompt, but not too eager.
4. Chat Up The Assistant
Once you step into the office where your meeting is being held, everyone you meet is crucial, especially that assistant who offers you water when you check in. Sure, right now he's not making any big decisions in Hollywood, but tomorrow he just might be. Also, the assistant is interacting with the executive constantly and is likely a voice in her ear. So be nice, make small talk, and show interest. Everyone in this office is a potential ally in your budding screenwriting career.
5. Ask Where To Sit
When you’re led into the executive’s office, simply ask them where they'd like you to sit. There will likely be a few different options: A few chairs, and usually a couch.
They'll tell you, “Oh, anywhere,” or “How about the couch.” They might not care at all where you sit, or they might care a great deal, but regardless, asking never hurts, and it shows you’re both considerate and perceptive.
6. Be Aware Of Your Surroundings
It’s wise to do a quick once-over of the executive’s office right when you walk in. That way, if there’s a lull in the conversation, you can point to whatever piece of pop culture memorabilia is sitting on the desk and ask about it.
Recently I went into a general where the executive had a lamp covered in fake (I assume) blood sitting on his desk. I guessed it was a prop from a movie he worked on and made a mental note to bring it up later. When I did it inspired a fun and engaging conversation about our favorite horror movies and we realized we had similar genre sensibilities.
7. Be Yourself
This sounds really dumb and clichéd, I know, but it’s true. It’s important to remember that you were brought in to meet with this person because of a script only you could have written. More specifically, you’re there because you possess a skill set and specific voice he or she finds appealing.
All this to say, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You don’t need to say you like action-thrillers if you don’t. You don’t need to say you’re open to writing a 17th Century biopic if you hate period pieces. Because at the end of the day, you might be able to bullshit your way through one meeting, but successfully bullshitting through a pitch and/or an entire script is near impossible.
The bottom line is this: If you’re not enthusiastic on some level you won’t produce quality results and you likely won’t get the job. So just be yourself, be honest about your interests and abilities, and chances are your unique worldview and skill set is what got you in the room in the first place.
8. Ask Questions
General meetings are about building relationships, not selling your work. As in any relationship, you want the conversation to be a two-way street. Ask the exec questions about their projects, how they got into the business, etc.
Also, read the room: Some execs love to shoot the shit while others prefer to keep it all business. Neither way of interacting is wrong, but try to match their tone. This way you can build a healthy, professional (and friendly) working relationship.
9. Don’t Pitch, But Be Ready To
As stated above, these meetings are not the place for you to pitch your projects. That being said, the exec will likely ask you what you’re working on. This is your chance to talk (briefly) about your current projects or other spec scripts you’ve finished. Be concise, be conversational, and don’t act like you’re trying to sell anything. If they’re interested in hearing more, they will make that clear.
10. Ask About Open Writing Assignments
Usually, this is something the exec will bring up themselves if they feel like they have an OWA you could be right for, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if they don't.
An open writing assignment is a project an executive is looking to attach a writer to. Often the project will be based on underlying IP, and the exec is looking for creative people like yourself to offer your take on the material. Landing an OWA is very, very, very difficult (for so many reasons it’s impossible to list here), but, the money is good if you're able to land one and they are absolutely worth asking about.
11. Send A Thank You Note
This last point is disputed among writers as some think it’s unnecessary. I, however, think it’s a crucial cap to the meeting. Much like your mother taught you to send a thank you note after receiving a present, sending a follow up as soon as possible after the meeting is key. It will show the exec that you valued and appreciated their time, plus, it’s a good way to slip them your contact info. I like to include a tidbit from our chat in the email, too — something specific or noteworthy we discussed that will help them remember me in the future.
General meetings can be intimidating, but really, they’re like meeting a friend of a friend for the first time. As long as you’re prepared, there’s no reason you shouldn’t knock it out of the park. So go forth, wordsmith, and nail your general meetings.
Anna is an editor and screenwriter. She previously worked at Bustle as an Entertainment Editor, as well as Newsweek, The Daily Beast, and BuzzFeed.