The worst thing you can do in a meeting is think like an artist. Instead, you have to constantly remind yourself that you’re now a salesman. Selling your own talent is not that different from selling plungers, and the sooner you learn basic sales techniques, the more success you’ll have.
Everybody in this business overpraises each other, so when you first get “launched” you’re in real danger of concluding that you really are a red-hot property, and production companies are lucky to get a chance to meet with you. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth:
By the time you walk in the door, the producers’ day has gone to hell and they’re sorry they ever scheduled this meeting. They just want to nod dumbly as you rattle off your pitches, offer glowing assurances that they’ll get back to you, and get you out the door. I had meetings just like that and I left feeling like the king of the world, sure that I’d blown them away. They never called.
You may have carefully prepared beforehand what you want to pitch (more on this tomorrow), but you need to be prepared to throw it all away on a moment’s notice. Don’t sell them what you came to sell, sell them what they came to buy!
Think about it: this person has invited a dozen salesmen to come into their office and pitch them. Who does that? Someone who really wants to buy something! But... they will not want to tell you what they’re looking for. They want to stay close-lipped, force you lay out your wares, and then summarily judge you. But your job is to force them to reveal what they want to buy, and then immediately say, “What a coincidence, that’s just what I love to write!”
This is the age-old dance of sales, and one rule usually determines the winner: Whoever speaks first, loses. Get them to talk about themselves more than you talk about yourself. Get them to talk about their upcoming projects before you tell them about your own. Find out what they want, then offer that to them.
When you do have to talk about what you’re working on, be hyper-alert to any verbal or physical sign that they’re losing interest, then immediately and seamlessly move on to something that might interest them more.
This is especially true when you’re competing with other writers for adaptations. The producers have an idea in their mind of how they want this material adapted, and they’re waiting for someone to come in who had that same idea independently. But you can beat the guessing game and tease the truth out of them using old-fashioned techniques:
Here’s a fiendish pitch: “This is such a fantastic book, and it needs to be made into a movie, but it would be so easy to screw it up! There are so many different ways to go with it. On the one hand, you could play up this element, but on the other hand, you could go in the opposite direction and play up this other element…”
What do you say next? Nothing. You pause. You create an uncomfortable silence, until they jump in and tell you what they want to hear! Once they’ve confessed what they’re looking for, then you say, “Oh, it’s so good to hear you say that! That’s exactly what I was thinking. So many producers would ruin this by taking it the other way!” Ruthless, but effective.
But wait, doesn’t this mean that you have to have multiple pitches prepared? Yes it does: tomorrow, we tackle the Pitch Pyramid.