Getting Your Foot In The Door: Be The Magnificent Seven (Not The Hateful Eight)

IMG_0047So, you’ve written The Best Thing ever to be committed to .pdf and now your energies have turned to getting your foot in the door. We know a passion for your own project is essential – let’s face it, if you don’t believe in it, how will anyone else? – but so too is a rational head and a professional approach to selling your work. The TV & film industry is founded on creative relationships and you the writer, are in that market to sell, not just your idea, but yourself as a professional, reliable collaborator… which, if you’re not sure of the lay of the land, might not be quite as straightforward as it sounds. Not sure if you’re going about things the right way? Let me help clear the fog.

1) Not “Getting” Notes? Screenwriting means notes. There will always be notes. You might, one day, go on to be so powerful that you can ignore them but then you might also go on to create Jar Jar Binks or The Happening. You will certainly not start from that point. Some notes, believe it or not, will actually make your project better – as hard as that might be to imagine when you’re on the receiving end. Now, of course, you might (inevitably will) receive a bit of crazy, did-NOT-see-that-coming in the feedback department – rest assured, it happens to us all. Feedback of that nature might make you consider one of the following: (a) that you are working with the wrong person (bit drastic, ask yourself: is it that much of a fundamental disconnect? Maybe after you’ve walked away and had a cup of tea you’ll feel differently) or (b) that everybody has their moments and maybe that note is worth either taking on the chin because: the bigger picture and/or (c) if it wasn’t articulated brilliantly, just maybe they’ve highlighted a valid concern you CAN tackle another way (what with you being the writer an’ all)

2)Approaching somebody you don’t know? Be they an agent or producer (or a writer you want to produce – cos this shizzle works both ways) DO YOUR RESEARCH unless you want to come across as a total salad. It might seem an obvious point but there are many writers who are so desperate to get their work read, they’ll send it everywhere and anywhere with little thought about who they are approaching – or why. ALWAYS be clear as to whom you are approaching and why.

3) Will you read my work please? Pretty please?? A couple of questions should float across the front of your delightful cranium here: primarily, is it their job? In other words, will they be paid by someone (or possibly by you) to read it? If you are not paying for their feedback, how might it be mutually beneficial? Are they reading your work with a view to developing either this project or another? If you’re a bit fluffy about the answers to these questions, should you be asking at all? Or are you actually asking for a favour and, if so, is it appropriate? Giving constructive feedback requires effort, time and skill. Let me frame it another way: would you go to a hairdresser and “invite” them to do your hair…?

4) Watch the medium in which you see yourself contributing. That’s a clunky way of saying: if you want to create television, make sure you watch television. Ditto: film. I am amazed at how often aspiring TV writers tell me they don’t watch television as if watching the very shows they aspire to write for is somehow beneath them. You can’t develop commercially viable ideas by living in a cultural vacuum and you can’t write for shows you’ve never watched – however aware of your own potential you happen to be.

5) Use the appropriate channels. Short cuts to the right people, and grabbing opportunities when they arise, can truly change a project’s fortunes. This is NOT in debate. However, whilst good judgment, good luck, and great timing can lead to a total result, it’s worth bearing in mind that boycotting formal channels isn’t without its risks – and when it goes wrong, it can go horribly wrong. Ruffling feathers is a risky strategy in a business founded on relationships so unless you have a very good reason not to speak to the person whose job it is to be spoken to first, first, I would advise you stay on the path and beware the full moon…

6)Why am I here? Picture this: you’re at an industry event, perhaps it’s a media seminar. Are you there to acquire information? Great stuff! Carry on. Listen, take notes, gather information, network etc… just don’t show up with a bone you quite fancy picking in public because you don’t get out much. If you’re at a seminar, be a professional and ask questions relevant to the subject matter in hand. Don’t use it a as a soapbox to have a general, off-piste whinge. There is always one. Always. Do NOT be that one.

(Of course, if you have a genuine grievance about something, think about the most appropriate way to find a solution. Hint: it probably won’t involve a 300-seater in Salford)

6-and-a-bit) Are You Looking At Me? Speaking of seminars, there’s a reason why some industry folk avoid eye-contact at all costs during industry events. And if you’ve ever been cornered at a coffee urn by an all-too-eager attendee with a catalogue of ideas to pitch, you will understand why. As a general rule, cornering someone is never a good approach unless you are actually trying to capture them. Are you actually trying to capture them…? Take a breath and ease off the pedal a little.

7) Take it On the Chin As mentioned in an earlier post, rejection is part and parcel of the whole sticky process. It’s never easy, sometimes it can feel heartbreaking but it’s never personal. Take any feedback graciously, utilise the useful bits, forget the bad, keep your focus on the bigger picture and move on.

Now, where’s your script? Off you go!

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