Reader Question: How should I handle an event where I will meet a Hollywood writer-producer?

Wherein I provide the single best piece of advice to a writer… ever.

Just received an email from Anonymous and thought I’d slip it into the queue of reader questions as they need advice asap. Anonymous has been invited to a social event. Present at this event will be an established writer-producer. Here is Anonymous in their own words:

This isn’t an industry meet-and-greet, exactly, but as a screenwriter looking to break in, I want to make the most of the opportunity. There will be other wannabe’s there as well, and I’m sure everyone will be scrambling for [the writer-producer’s] attention. I am trying to figure out a) what I want to gain out of the meeting, and b) the best way to go about getting it. Can you help me with either of these questions?

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I see a Barton Fink moment coming on!

The first piece of advice I have is perhaps the single most important thing you need to do when you have the opportunity to meet a producer, agent, manager, studio exec or the like:

DO NOT THROW UP ON THEM!

No matter how stomach-churning anxious you may be, even if all you can do is shake their hand, grit your teeth, and fake a smile, much better to do that than go all technicolor yawn on a Hollywood type.

Assuming you can calm your nerves, here is my advice:

  • Expectations: Keep them low. If all you get out the event is the opportunity to introduce yourself (do not give them a business card!), note your interest in screenwriting, and tell them how much you love their work, that’s enough. Why? Because then you can follow up by tracking down their assistant, call them up and say, “I was talking with so-and-so at so-and-so event” — which is true even if you just go the chance to say “Hello.” That should be enough for you to chat up the assistant (another good relationship to nurture). At some point, you can follow up with an email to the person you met (or even snail mail if you can’t get their email address), and remind them you met them, and here you can go into your background, interests, etc.

But in my view, that’s about it. These people get hammered by strangers, so you don’t want to be lumped in with all the other obnoxious wannabes. You’ll never see someone’s eye glaze over faster than if you go on and on and on about yourself.

There is one situation where it’s acceptable to deviate from these minimum expectations: If you are a comedy writer. If you meet a comedy producer or comedy writer-producer, assuming you can ease into a conversation and not be an asshole, you can look for opportunities to drop in some wry observations. I know someone who got hired onto a sitcom, eventually as a writer, just because he was at a party and struck up a conversation with a TV producer who thought the guy was really funny.

So I’m saying play it smart by playing it safe. If you asked Mel Brooks or Mickey Rourke, perhaps they’d tell you if you have a shot at someone who can help you break into the business, jump at that chance and give it all you’ve got. When you’re in the moment, you’ll know what to do.

But circling back to my first point…

Just be sure you don’t throw up on them.

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