Meetings: Surviving “The Room”

By Michael Schilf · August 5, 2010

It was my first day at USC. There were thirty of us in the School of Cinematic Arts Graduate Screenwriting Program, and I remember all of us being ushered in a classroom in the old George Lucas building for a meet and greet. At a certain point during the orientation, the Chair of the Writing Program addressed us with all the standard and forgettable pleasantries; however, there was one thing he said that resonated: “As writers, 9 times out of 10, you’ll be the smartest person in the room.”

Being a corn fed boy from the Midwest, who only weeks earlier was on the last legs of a year-long European walkabout, I didn’t know jack about Hollywood. The fact that “The Room” was synonymous to “The Hollywood Meeting” was literally Greek to me. And I didn’t even begin to understand it until two years later when I was in “The Room” myself for the first time.

I may have been the smartest in terms of Story, Character, or Structure. But by no means was I equipped to navigate the complexities of “The Room”. The studio execs are smart – just operating in a different wheelhouse. They’re experts at evaluating whether a potential script will become a profitable movie, which is no easy task. Their reputations – and jobs – ride on how well they do it.

But how do they do it? Mostly, the decision to move forward is made quickly – and often quite literally in “The Room”. But deciding NOT to bite works the same way.

So what’s the trick? You’re not just selling an idea; you’re selling yourself.

1. BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. People love working with people they like, and having confidence is magnetic. But it must be genuine. Bravado and hubris are not the same as courage. Be bold. Be strong. Believe in your worth.

2. DON’T BE SCARED. Nothing is a bigger enemy than fear. They can smell it a mile away. If you don’t believe in your ability, why should they?

3. LISTEN TO EVERYBODY. When it comes to knowing the market, they do know what they are talking about. They can’t afford not to. This isn’t to say you must agree with every note, but it’s important to be open to suggestions.