One of the cornerstones of professional TV writing is meetings. It’s ironic, in a way, because part of what makes us solid writers is our ability to invent things alone. Most of us spend hours upon hours with our laptops or notebooks, channeling / downloading our impulses and our dreams. We live so much in the imagination, it can be jarring to have to be with people – to have to present our stories rather than just write them. For some writers, meetings are NOT FUN.
I’m grateful for my acting skills, because they help me in the most awkward situations. And having hosted a kids’ show, and having taught, coached, and facilitated, I have some resources to draw on when I have to sit down with people in TV meetings. But I say all this, not as a humble-brag, but to offer three essential steps to preparing for meetings. These are the things I do that set me up to succeed whether I’m talking to an executive or writer across a conference room or on video. With this guidance, surviving meetings can be easier than you think.
Say your representative gets you a meeting. It might be for a job on a show or it might be a “general” – a chance to connect with someone in the industry who wants to get to know you as a writer. If you don’t have a rep, you might have landed the meeting yourself, through a connection to a friend or colleague or someone who knows someone who you know. (Lots of meetings happen that way in Hollywood.) We can investigate generating your own meetings in a future newsletter. For now, let’s assume you have a meeting on the books. You’ve been told what the meeting is for and you have the name of the person / people you’re meeting with. What do you to get ready?
First step is RESEARCH. This has two branches: You’ll want to research the COMPANY you’re meeting with, and the PEOPLE you’re meeting. There’s never a time when you should go to a meeting without doing a deep dive first.
With a simple Internet search, look up the company. Find some general information about what they do. Then get specific: What programs or projects are they producing NOW? What shows have they made that you’ve seen or liked? You can find all of this on sites like Deadline Hollywood or Variety. Even better, subscribe to IMDbPro. What projects are they about to make that interest you? Jot down what you can find. Open a file on your computer and save the links. If questions come to mind, write those down, too.
Next, look up the people. Start with general info. Search the trades for news about them. Try LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I always dig up a photo of the person I’m meeting, so I know what they look like before I encounter them. (That way if they have blue hair, I can get used to it before I’m sitting with them face to face). I print out the photo and put it on my wall until the day of the meeting. On Facebook I can determine if we have any mutual friends (great in conversation or useful if I want to reach out to a friend beforehand to get the inside scoop on the person). Then, I do an internet search for the person’s name + “podcast interview”. Finding a podcast (audio or video) of someone can be an amazing resource. Often, the person will tell their life story or professional story in the interview. You’ll get to know a ton about the person’s philosophy, personal taste, and their history.
The second step is WATCHING / READING material. If you’re meeting on a show, you MUST watch the show. This can be daunting if the show is in season 14 – but do your best to watch everything you can. Take notes. Read reviews. Dive into the show. The creator or executive on any show you’re working on eats, sleeps and breathes the show. In order to have a decent conversation you have to be able to have an intelligent, focused perspective on what the show does, how it’s built, and what distinguishes it from other shows. This is the same if the show has a script but hasn’t been produced yet. Be prepared to talk in-depth about characters, story arcs, and episodes you loved. On occasion, I’ll also talk with a friend who loves the show to get their take. They can point me toward key episodes and fill me in on the evolution of the show.
The third step is PREPARING MY OWN STORY. I have to be ready to talk about myself in any meeting. That may be sharing my writing “origin story”: what I write and why. That may be talking about juicy adventures that I had as a writer: maybe I wrote something about Tibet based on a family trip there. Perhaps I studied with an industry ‘genius’. Or maybe an interaction with my great-grandmother inspired my perspective on storytelling. Know what the stories are from your life that are SHORT and POWERFUL. Have 2 or three stories to tell. Rehearse them if need be. [Many writers (introverts that we are) find this incredibly scary and hard to imagine. But it’s something all of us have seen. Bring the kind of stories that your favorite celebrity tells on a late-night talk show – brief, but entertaining, and (in some way) revealing who you are.]
With these three steps of preparation covered you can tackle any one of the kinds of meetings you’ll encounter. Meeting One: The person will greet you and then say “Tell me about yourself.” – If you bring your stories you’ll have that covered and you’ll launch a fun conversation about your life and your writing. Meeting Two: The person will say “Tell me about me.” If you’ve researched the company and the individual, you can talk about what projects they’re currently doing, and ask questions about shows on the air, or even where someone went to college – or a mutual friend you have. Meeting Three: “Tell me about my project.” With a deep knowledge of the show, you’ll be able to talk (sincerely) about what you enjoy in the show, who your favorite character is, or name an episode that left you particularly intrigued. Most meetings are some combination of these three. If you’re prepped, you can “surf” the meeting and follow the conversation wherever it goes.
These meetings are meant to bridge the gap between the page and the person. No one wants to hire someone who isn’t easy to get along with, articulate and user-friendly. This preparation strategy will allow you to be your best self. Once you’ve done your homework, I recommend you take out a piece of paper, and make a list. What are the bullet points that you want to hit on each of these areas: the person, the company, the project and you? If you keep breathing and hit everything on your list, you’ve done your job. The list helps keep you on track and makes your task simple.
This week, take some time to firm up the stories you might tell about yourself as a writer. If you’re heading to a meeting, do the three steps, make your list and trust the process of the interview. I believe you’ll rock that meeting. But, as ever, you’ll let me know how it goes.