Jeanne Veillette Bowerman
Butterflies swirl in your stomach. Your palms sweat. Despite an overwhelming sense of anxiety, the emotion churning is hope. Hope they like you. Hope they want to build a relationship with you. Hope you'll hit a home run.
First date? Nope. I'm referring to pitching. But whether a date or a pitch meeting, a first impression will make or break you. Don't blow it.
I've not only seen my share of writer roadkill on the sidelines of pitchfests, I've also listened to countless disillusioned friends after horrid first dates. I've learned a thing or two about first impressions.
Here are some tips to help you make yours great:
- Give off the aroma of success: Shower. Brush your teeth. Use mouthwash. Better yet, floss. Deodorant's a must. But what gives off a stronger stench than halitosis is desperation. They'll smell it before you even enter the room. Don't be one of "those" people. You've worked hard on your script (at least you should have). Own it. Own the moment.
- Show your personality. That executive, manager or agent has to not only love your concept but also fall in love with you as a person. Projects can take years to develop. Would you want to work with a boring deadbeat for that long? I think not. Just like in relationships, you'll get dumped, erased and rewritten by the next smoother, more beautiful collaborator to come along.
- Be real. Don't present yourself to be someone you aren't or imply you have bigger connections than you do. You'll ultimately be discovered as a fake. Being honest and humble will always trump being a poser.
- Shut your mouth and listen. It is scientifically proven that if you ask questions and allow a person to talk about themselves, they'll think you are fabulous, even though they did most of the talking. Pay careful attention to what they're saying. Learn what their needs are, then adjust your expectations and conversation accordingly.
- Do not offer sex. That may be one pitch you get an immediate "yes" to, but your career will be doing the walk of shame right along with you.
- The pitch has to match the execution. If you have a killer concept, but the execution falls flat, the producer is less likely to ask for another project of yours again. A red mark will go next to your name in their files. I cannot stress this one enough. Think about it this way: you set up a Match.com date, and they shows up looking twenty years older and twenty pounds heavier than their profile picture. I highly doubt you'd ask them out again. Your writing has one shot at a first impression too. If you learn nothing else from this post, that better be it.
- Like in love, timing is everything. If you venture out before you're work or your heart is ready, you'll fall flat on your face. The right connection is worth the wait. But to make that connection happen, you need to be ready for it when it arrives. Don't pitch an agent when you only have one script. Build your arsenal. Do the hard work. The number one question people ask is, "What else have you got?" Be able to answer it.
- Research. Know what you can about the company's background. If you wrote a period piece, and they only produce romantic comedies, you're wasting everyone's time. Also consider investing in IMDb Pro to learn about the financial successes or failures of films. If a company just had a flop, they won't be able to afford your big-budget picture. At the very least, use Google. I'd venture to bet it's often used for researching dates. Speaking of which, you should Google yourself every now and then and see what comes up. Don't assume the executive isn't researching you too.
- Believe in yourself. If you don't resonate self-respect, no one else will respect you either. Make direct eye contact. Smile. Give a firm handshake. Those simple gestures show self confidence.
- Manage expectations. This tip is one I'll write an entire future post on, because it's that important. I see so many people go to pitchfests expecting to be discovered, or upset when two months later, they still haven't heard from the producers who requested their script. While your script is the most important thing in your professional world, it is not to those who requested it. They have a stack of other scripts to read and bosses to answer to. Be realistic. This is about building long-lasting relationships. Don't be an impatient jerk while you're waiting for them to get around to you. If you wrote a kick-ass script, believe me, your phone will ring.
Think back to your first meetings. Whether you succeeded or not, as long as you learned something, you're one step closer to success. I assure you, some of these tips made this list because they are my own failures turned into lessons. And no, it wasn't tip #5. Just sayin'.
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor and Online Community Manager of Script Magazine as well as the Co-Founder and moderator of the weekly Twitter screenwriters' chat, Scriptchat. When not writing her ScriptMag.com Balls of Steel column, she teaches screenwriting webinars for The Writers Store. A graduate of Cornell University, she's written several spec scripts, including the adaption of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Slavery by Another Name, with its author, Douglas A. Blackmon, former senior national correspondent of The Wall Street Journal.