How can screenwriters tip the scales in their favor by creating lasting first impressions with Hollywood insiders — agents, managers, development executives, and producers — during Hollywood meetings that blossom into outstanding networks, contacts, and future collaborations?
In Hollywood, it’s all about relationships. Who you know isn’t enough. If you don’t have a significant relationship with that Hollywood insider you’ve connected with, you won’t be able to utilize that contact to take a step forward in your screenwriting career.
Ken’s True Hollywood Anecdote #1 I worked at Sony Pictures for years as a studio liaison working with incoming film and television productions, as well as incoming term deals and executives. I then worked in development with Sony as well. I technically knew a lot of power players. I played basketball with Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison crew. I was in his office many times, played with his dogs, and even had a lengthy one-on-one conversation with him about the late Chris Farley (he grew up in my home state of Wisconsin). But I never took the opportunity to impress him to further my career. However, the development executives I met along the way in my screenwriting journey eventually blossomed into relationships that allowed me frequent opportunities for meetings and considerations. So there’s a clear difference between knowing someone and having a professional relationship with them.
Hollywood loves what are called general meetings. They invite screenwriters they’ve discovered to their offices to discuss their projects and screenwriting experience. The purpose for these meetings is to network, look for new prospects, and cultivate relationships. A majority of the time, the meetings go nowhere — primarily because that bottled-lightning chemistry isn’t there. There has to be that special something that tells everyone in the room, “There’s something special here.”
Whenever Hollywood hires a writer or at least has them on their go-to list for assignments, they’re taking a calculated risk. And for that risk to be calculated well, they have to trust that there’s something special with that screenwriter — something worthy.
Here are five things screenwriters need to know to impress Hollywood insiders in face-to-face meetings, conference calls, or email exchanges.
1. Screenwriters Need to Know Everything About Their Scripts
What usually gets you the ear of any Hollywood insider is a great script. You’ve either won an established contest, competition, fellowship, or you’ve networked your way into the conversation through query email submissions and contacts.
Now, the first discussion you’ll have with them is just about them getting to know you. But things will eventually turn to the script. And when you’re asked about it, it’s not enough to say, “I don’t know. The story just came to me.”
You need to know your story. You need to know the themes that the story explores, the inspirations that led to the concept, the dynamics of the characters, the story arcs, and where your story fits in the market as far as genre and demographics.
Ken’s Hollywood Anecdote #2 My marque script when I first started was a script called Doomsday Order. It got me meetings at almost every major studio. When the conversations led to the script, my explanation was quick, precise, and touched on every element that I knew they wanted to hear. “Crimson Tide is one of my favorite films. And I grew up entranced with World War III and post-apocalyptic stories like Testament and The Day After. So after watching Crimson Tide, I was enthralled by the question, ‘What if they had launched those missiles?’ That’s what led to Doomsday Order. I wanted to explore what it would be like for a Nuclear Submarine crew after they went through with their mission, knowing that there would also be a counter-attack and the world that they knew would be destroyed. And then I asked myself certain questions. Where would they go? What would happen to them? How would they deal with the guilt of destroying their world? And it led me to create a Doomsday Order scenario, which every Naval vessel has as far as specific orders post-Nuclear attack. In my story, it was them reporting to an island and then dealing with a Lord of the Flies-like situation where all rules were out the window. The Captain was dealing with the loss of his family while trying to manage the unmanageable situation. The First Officer was dealing with the fact that he couldn’t relate to having lost any family back home because he had none. He was an orphan and joined the Navy once he turned eighteen. His family was his crew. And he was watching them tear themselves apart. And the third in command, a former Navy Seal, was dealing with the guilt of being the one that actually “pulled the trigger” and launched the missiles that killed hundreds of millions. His psyche couldn’t handle it, so he slowly goes insane and becomes a harm to the Captain, the First Officer, and the crew. And then I knew going in that I wanted a twist ending. Rod Serling is my favorite writer, and The Twilight Zone is my favorite series. So I wanted to leave audiences with something that really surprised them and shook them to the core. Something unexpected.'”
When you showcase a passion for your story and characters and can easily discuss your inspirations, themes, character arcs, story beats, and genres, you’ll impress them.
While this point sounds obvious, you’d be surprised how many screenwriters can’t accomplish this seemingly simple step.
Know everything about your script.
People worry too much about the pitch. Yes, it’s good to have the ability to be able to pitch your script to Hollywood. But wooden and overly prepared presentations are too often forgetful. And you put too much pressure on yourself to offer a good performance. Instead, just know your script and speak with passion.
Write the next script you’ll know like the back of your hand in five weeks with this guide.
2. Screenwriters Need to Know the Company They’re Meeting With
You have to do the research. You have to know everything you can about the people you’re meeting with, what they’ve accomplished in their careers, and what types of films the company is known for making.
When you present this knowledge, causally peppered through the conversation, they’ll be impressed.
Ken’s Hollywood Anecdote #3 A couple of years back, I had a meeting with an executive at Millennium Films. This was a relationship that I had been building based on a prior contest win a year or so prior. Before the meeting, I researched everything that they were involved with — past, present, and future projects. I knew the box office numbers, the budgets, and everything I could. What was scheduled as a quick thirty-minute meeting turned into almost an hour, much of which was casual small talk about their upcoming films. I asked questions about projects that were in-the-works, which led to discussions about possible writing assignment openings.
When you go in with such information, you make that development executive or producer feel like they’re talking with a fellow industry insider — not a desperate screenwriter aching for a paid gig.
And even when the meeting doesn’t directly lead to a job, you’ve further cultivated that relationship by proving yourself as someone that is easy, and fun, to communicate with. And you have also displayed a true knowledge and passion for the types of projects they are making. They’ll appreciate that.
The best resource for this type of research is IMdBPro — something that every screenwriter should have access to.
3. Screenwriters Need to Know the Industry and Current Spec Market
It’s important to know what’s going on in the current industry. This goes back to the ability of those agents, managers, development executives, and producers to have a comfortable conversation with you.
If you know the goings-on of the industry, you’ll have something to both talk about and refer to. You’ll be able to point to examples of success that relate to your project, as far as box office numbers, reviews, audience approval ratings, and what genres are currently hot.
When you showcase this type of knowledge in casual conversation, you’ll feel less like a newbie and more like a seasoned vet. And that is the impression you want to make. Nobody wants to deal with a newbie that is new to the industry and doesn’t know the ins and outs.
Know what trends are hot and what trends are not. Know the genres that audiences are flocking to the theaters for. Know what studios are struggling and what studios are flourishing. Know what filmmakers are the current cream of the crop. Trades like The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and Deadline are all that you need to know what’s going on in the film and television industry.
Know the hot scripts that are on the market. Read Scott Myers’s excellent annual spec script deals breakdowns through his Go Into the Story blog posts.
Or, subscribe to The Tracking Board for up to the minute reporting on which specs are going out, which are being bought, and by whom.
Know the unproduced spec scripts that have topped the industry’s Black List.
These aren’t just conversation starters. If you can find connections to your writing and your work, and apply them as talking points, you can intrigue those Hollywood insiders enough to want to keep you, your script, and your writing style in the conversation for possible collaboration, assignments, or acquisitions.
Most screenwriters dread those general meetings — and rightfully so. Even the working professional screenwriters making good money hate them. But these meetings serve a purpose. They’re about building relationships and prospecting future talents. If you go into those meetings or calls with wooden pitches scripted out, and with little to no industry knowledge, you’ll be lost in the mix.
But if you go into them with passionate words about your projects, a wealth of knowledge of the company and people you’re meeting with, and an understanding of the industry you’re trying to break into, you’ll tip the scales more in your favor by impressing them enough for them to remember you and, hopefully, enough for them to want to cultivate a professional relationship with you.
There are no guarantees beyond that, no. But in Hollywood, it starts with relationships. And the more relationships you have in the industry, the better odds you’ll have of selling that script or getting that paid writing gig.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures. Make sure to read his growing archive of posts at ScreenCraft for more inspiration.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies