When I got signed, I was so proud of the fact that I had bluffed my reps into thinking that I was a big shot, that I didn’t realize the problem: If they think you’re already are a big-shot, they’re not going to tell you what you need to know to become one.
In particular, I was totally unprepared for the “general meetings” I was sent out on. I didn’t realize that these are tightrope acts dominated by unspoken rules. For instance, if a production company is meeting with you, that means three things:
- They have read a screenplay you wrote.
- They liked it a lot.
- THEY HAVE ALREADY DECIDED NOT TO BUY IT.
The third one was the one that nobody told me. They didn’t invite you there to close a sale. If they wanted to buy your material, they would have simply called your rep and made an offer. The general meeting is what happens when they don’t do that. It’s the consolation prize.
So if you’re not there to sell them what they read, why are you there? I eventually figured out that there are three phases to a general meeting:
- First, you discuss the project that they liked but decided not to buy. This is an excuse to tell them about your process and your passion. It’s also a very-long-shot opportunity to try to change their mind and get them to buy it after all, but you still can’t come on like a salesman. Instead you have to adopt a “Gee it’s a shame we can’t just do that one together” tone.
- Second, you ask them about open assignments. These might be properties (novels, comic books, board games, etc.) they bought the rights to but haven’t hired anybody to adapt yet. Most production companies have a few of these sitting around. Also: screenplays that they paid other writers for, only to kill the project because they cooled on it. They might bounce that idea off you to see if you can instantly propose a new take that will reinvigorate their interest.
- Third, you can ask them if they’re willing to hear a pitch. This can be an original spec screenplay that you want to sell to them, or a concept that you want to be paid to write, or a property that you want to propose that they option for you to adapt.
One time, I seemingly hit the trifecta. I was pitching to a top guy at HBO. First we discussed the screenplay he’d read: hearing my passion for it, he suddenly announced that he’d changed his mind and he would pitch it to his colleagues after all! Then he mentioned an old project: I sparked to it and he said he’d send me their material on it! Then I pitched him a similar idea of my own, and he asked me to write up a treatment! Huzzah!
What was the result? The usual: nothing came of any of it. But it sure was fun at the time, and at least I had figured out what was supposed to happen. Come back tomorrow for more stuff I wish I’d known sooner…