By Craig Williams
A friend of mine who is a TV Writer, he's writing for 2 shows right now, posted advice on what to expect from a general meeting. I thought it was valuable to share so here it is:
Pitch Mode. A writer friend asked me for advice on what to expect in a tv general meeting. I figured this might be helpful so I'm sharing what my agents and mentors told me...
A general meeting (with an exec) is a soft pitch about yourself. You are in their system, they are tracking your progress, and it's 100% noncommittal. They are usually tracking many more writers than they could ever hire. A staffing meeting is usually with a showrunner who has read your work, liked it, and is trying to get a sense of you as a person. Either way, both are pitches about yourself.
A general meeting is a flowchart posing as a conversation. Your goal is NOT make it feel like a flowchart. You can do this by inserting quips, talking about their office, sprinkling in anecdotes. Usually I try to break up each section of an interview by asking them a question or making a small joke. Yes, jokes are risky but some times they pay off. The general meeting flowchart is like a professional band being given sheet music to a jazz standard. Your bandmate is the other executive and you're going to partner up on playing "Take Five" or "A Love Supreme." No one goes to a jam session to perform an exact rendition of the sheet music (which is also just a different form of a flow chart.) You don't play all the notes exactly as is...you play through and around them so that the song is recognizable. Ideally the standard song becomes your own and you start listening to your bandmate through the music. And that is the most poetic shit anyone has ever said about a tv general meeting. Anyway...
Most of the time the flowchart is quite simple: we go from you, to your personal themes, to the work and the personal themes of the exec and/or company, to where the two of you might meet (their projects or your's), and then what are you continuing on with in your life (after the meeting) that relates to who you are and the themes you discussed. That's the flow. The meetings may start off a bit different, someone might throw in a question you didn't expect, but usually they're all heading in the same direction. Along the way, there may be a detour with 'so what are you watching' or 'what work inspires you' but it's all headed in the same direction of your characters and themes in your writing. 90% of the time there is an egg-timer that will go off in their heads at about the 50 minute mark. Imagine that 'wrap it up' Oscars music starts playing. This isn't the time to open up a new thread or to dive into 'did I ever tell you about Aunt Titi and her floating warts?' No! You're almost home free. Don't blow it in the wrap it up section. Summarize, pull the threads together, leave them with a final joke or anecdote that ties things together or simply thank them and remind them of your common themes. Wrap that shit up. Get your parking validated (if it's in person) or ask them what they're doing the rest of the day. GTFOH.
I've had maybe 4 or 5 meetings that did NOT go in this direction and usually my agent told me ahead of time 'just talk about yourself, don't try to pitch' which is a signal that they have nothing for me, or that the exec is just tired of general meetings and wants to be treated like a human being. From that I had amazing conversations about life, sports, religion, politics, environmentalism at some networks and production companies. In one instance, I had a general where we talked about religion for 2 hours before Good Friday, the exec thanked me, asked if I needed my parking validated, and then on the way out said 'oh, and by the way we loved your script.' And that was the only thing mentioned about business. These were just deep somewhat real conversations which is like a tonic to an execs going from one flowchart general meeting to another.
Only two times did my agent tell me 'they want to know what you really REALLY think of their project. Like be totally honest. You don't have to sugarcoat it.' This is a sign that the exec fucking HATES the project with their entire soul, the soul of their immigrant ancestors, the soul of their Tesla, and the collective 'fuck you' energy of all the La Croix's that exists in LA (yes, even the nasty coconut flavored ones). This is a sign the exec wants douse said project with gasoline and make a burnt sacrificial offering to the Gods of Development. They want to dance in the dark moonlight surrounded by fine young cannibals -the band or actual cannibals- covered in the blood of all the execs who made them take on this project. If an exec hands you something and they want your 'really really honest opinion' and you've been prepped to be honest and give 'em that dirty, raw, nasty-ass truth...you can be a smidge honest. In both cases of me giving 'em that totally raw, dirty, not sugarcoated morsel of honesty, the exec stopped me in the middle of my statement to blurt out 'I fucking hate this project' with the intensity of a thousand suns...or some variation of that. Don't pile on to their hatred. Let them speak, give them a moment on the therapy couch, acknowledge it, maybe say something constructive on how it could be fixed or restructured, ask them where it went off track, crack a joke to let some sunlight into the dark lair of their hatred. In both cases the projects were cancelled after our meetings.
If you're meeting about a show (or shows that exist) you should have in mind some favorite moments, fav characters, things that challenged/surprised you, things you would like to see, personal anecdote that might be useful for a story. The same is true if you've been handed a pilot script or treatment of what they're working on....you should have some favorite moments, what you loved, what you would like to see.
So practice, study the flowchart, learn to make it your own like a great jazz musician or an improv comedian doing a standard bit.
PS: Don't talk shit about other writers or execs. Even if you feel like you're being prompted or encouraged to do it. It's a trap. It. Is. A. Trap. The exec might not even realize they're setting a trap. You might have slipped into being their accidental therapist. Roll with it. Even if they start talking shit about someone, laugh and swerve conversation back to what you love about the exec and the conversation. Gossip is the most memorable form of communication. When an exec or showrunner looks back at their notes, you don't want the most memorable part about you to be talking shit about other people.