John goodman in the artist, would you take a general meeting with him?

What is a general meeting?

I’m at the stage of my career, I’m getting quite adept at the art of taking general meetings (including a crazy week I spent in LA last year after my feature went out — when I took 20 of them in 5 days.

For those of you who don’t know the lingo (or can’t make a pretty good stab in the dark using your pre-existing knowledge of the English language) — a general meeting is one that doesn’t have any specific purpose, i.e. the producer isn’t looking to give you a script to write, or buy an idea, or anything other than find out whether you’re a reasonably nice person.

Usually, they come about because the producer (or their assistant, or someone they sort of remotely know) has read your script and sort of likes it. It gives you a chance to make a contact and pitch any ideas you might have just on the off chance there is something in your head that they might be interested in.

For me, I find a general meeting a pretty difficult encounter…

What are general meetings?

It’s not a job interview (there’s almost certainly no job at the end of it). But it does have a kind of “put on your best face and sell yourself” kind of vibe. After all, there is still the remotest chance that the important person across the desk might nod, lean over, and say, “Kid, I’m going to make you a star.”

(N.B. Despite anything implied in the last paragraph, I’ve never had a general meeting with a cigar-chomping Hollywood Producer from the 1930s, like Sam Spiegel.)

In my experience, the important thing about general meetings is to try and avoid mistakes. And there are a whole lot of mistakes waiting to trip you up…

1. You think the meeting is more important than it is…

Especially in your first couple. When you first break-in, you assume that the only reason someone wants to meet you is that they’ve realised what a prodigy you are and want to buy and make your script (giving you the requisite cash in a big black briefcase). In actuality, you are probably just diary filler.

Don’t forget the “general” in “general meeting”.

Especially if you’re an early-career writer, producers really just want to say hello, and get a feel for you as a person; they want to get an idea of the kind of things you’re working on. Don’t be distraught – therefore – if they don’t buy something from you in the room. Don’t be surprised if they leave you waiting in the lobby for fifteen minutes and then reduce your hour-long slot to 20 minutes and a little cooler water in a plastic cup. That’s fine. You’ve met them. You’re in.

2. You forget to pitch…

General meetings tend to follow a predictable pattern. First, there’s small-talk (how was your journey in), and — in the case of meetings in LA — amazement that I’d taken the bus to get there. Then you talk about the kind of things you’re both watching on TV (this gives them an idea of your likes and dislikes). Then they tell you how much they like your script — which always feels nice.

And then they ask you what you’re working on at the moment. That is your cue. This is your time to shine. This is when you roll out the pitch you’ve been preparing in your head for the last two weeks – “I’m working on a comedy-drama about the employees of a fast-food restaurant called Flippin’ Marvellous, etc.”

Except nobody told me that was what I was supposed to do. At my first meeting, the drama development guy at a pretty high-level production company asked me what I was working on and I said – I shit you not – oh, this and that. This and that.

Real cagey, I thought to myself. Play your cards close to your chest.

The guy across the table smiled and said — “well, thanks for coming in.” And that was that.

3. You remember to pitch…

Of course, there is the other kind of general meeting that is so general that you are not supposed to pitch too hard. I had one such recently in which — probably because of the screw-up above — I was desperately trying to work my ideas into the conversation, despite the person I was speaking to making it very clear that there was no chance she could do anything with any pitches I had…

Yes, I would like a plastic cup of water, and you know I’ve been thinking a lot about a kind of dark, tense thriller that could conceivably feature a plastic cup of water…

The producer said “thanks for coming”. And that was that.

4. Underplaying your ideas…

You shouldn’t preface your idea with the words “it’s just”, “you probably won’t like this” or “this is a piece of shit, but…” General meeting: FAIL. Self-respect: FAIL.

5. Overplaying your ideas…

“It’s a bit like The Wire but better…” No. No, it’s not.

6. Telling them the whole bloody thing…

It’s a tough one, this, but despite the fact that you may have developed your idea to an infinitesimal level of detail — the series, character arcs, episode synopses — don’t be tempted to tell them the whole thing. These conversations are about the elevator pitch, the two-minute sell. So try and come up with a killer way of expressing the concept succinctly. (Try taking a look on this I wrote on premises.)

7. Not following-up…

It’s worth saying something like this at the end of your general meetings. “It would be great if I/my agent could send through some further ideas.” About a week later, I send a write-up of any ideas we talked about. And then maybe a couple more for good measure.

This hopefully partially makes up for my inability to speak proper words when I met them in person.

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I'm James, a screenwriter working in the film and TV industry. To get in touch, see my e-mail contact page.

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