The Bottled Water Tour of 2014 by Tony Lee
A very warm welcome to writer Tony Lee who is guest blogging this week on his experience as a Brit doing the meeting-rounds in L.A.
So a couple of weeks ago I was in Los Angeles for an entire week, partly due to the fact that I was a guest at the Gallifrey One convention but also for a variety of meetings, catch ups and get togethers across Los Angeles. This is my second year of solid meetings and I thought I’d talk a bit about them, and what I did – and more importantly what I learned.
First off, if you’re having meetings, make sure they’re booked. Don’t just rock up to a door and go ‘hi, any chance of a chat?‘ as cold calling doesn’t work in the main, as most production companies are on studio lots. Which means a studio security to get through first. That said, there’s every chance of being able to cold email someone going ‘hi, I’m in the area on Tuesday, any chance of a chat?‘ as long as they know you. How do they know you? Well, the chances are you’ve already spoken to them at festivals, conventions, networking days or even (as a couple of my friends have done) mild stalking on LinkedIn. Get to know them. Get a dialogue going with them. Then, when you’re in the area, let them know.
Now, here’s an important thing, don’t bother booking months in advance. These guys don’t know what they’re doing next week. So let them know a few weeks beforehand that you’ll be around, and then attack again a week before, nailing down some times. Don’t give them the chance to set the stage, give them two or three options.
‘Hey, I’m around on Tuesday. What’s best, 11am or 2pm?‘ If they say they can’t do Tuesday, ask if they can do Wednesday. If they can, offer to move things around so that they can be seen. Work to their schedule, but within your constraints.
It also helps if they know your work, or have seen your work. If they’ve never seen a single thing that you’ve written, rocking up with five pitches only shows you can pitch. Have a screenplay finished, something that you could even have sent in advance, as well as other ideas and pitches in your pocket.
Don’t be star struck. It’s difficult, I know. One of my meetings was upstairs from Aaron Sorkin on the Warner Lot, in a room with walls laden with movie props and awards. Remember that they’re willing to see you because you might offer them something they need. They’re not being a charity case here, they’re looking for product and you have some. Be confident. Drink the bottled water – trust me, you’ll need it.
Never sit in front of a window, if just gives them distractions. If you’re in a cafe or a Starbucks, lean in so that they unconsciously lean in as well. Don’t shut them out of the process, let them contribute to the story and take their notes on board – they might know better than you.
Now. The pitch. There are people out there who have done so many of these, and the things they always tell me are almost the same as what I was told in sales school twenty years ago. First off, people buy people. More importantly, within the first few seconds someone will decide if they like you or not. And if they like you, they’ll humour you more, allow for more mistakes. So, don’t walk in like a bulldozer. Talk to them, get to know them. The chances are that during this part of the conversation, you might learn that the pitch you have? Totally not right for them. This gives you ammunition.
The thing I tell everyone to do? When in LA, hire a car. Driving in LA is super easy. Yes, there are buses and cabs, but having a car (I’ve found) is an instant ice breaker. How is it driving in LA? How big is the car? Play up the Alien in Los Angeles, it’s an icebreaker. But more importantly, you give the impression of a writer who’s confident and comfortable in LA. Producers like that.
Never be late for a meeting, so before you confirm everything check the distances on Google Maps and double the time it says. That’ll give you enough time to arrive and get five minutes to plan your day. Learn what ‘Validate’ is – never pay for parking if you don’t have to. Try to keep your meetings in the same area, a bulk of Production companies are in Burbank, which makes things easy, but Burbank is a big place and you might accidentally find yourself on a Freeway. Not good. And one of my days was Santa Monica – Burbank – The Valley – Glendale – Sunset Strip. Plan for delays!
Have plenty of business cards, and never be shy in giving them out. You never know who’s going to be in the meeting. Ensure you have a working phone with a data plan, as well – meetings often get moved on the fly and if you have to wait for wifi to get your emails, it might be too late. I have an unlocked iPhone and I have a T Mobile US Sim. Every day I use it I pay $3, but I get unlimited calls, texts and 4G data. So I’m good to go.
If it’s a lunch meeting on site? Don’t eat a large breakfast. On one day I made the mistake of expecting a very light lunch and had a breakfast with some friends at 9am at the IHOP. That’s INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF PANCAKES, and should give you an idea of how big the portions are. At 10am I leave for Dreamworks and my lunch meeting at 12pm. But while driving I learn it’s now been moved to 11.30am. Which isn’t a problem to get to, but when we arrive I learn that Dreamworks give AWESOME lunches, full buffet affairs – and I’m two hours from a stupidly large breakfast. I ate light. And felt bad.
Always always ALWAYS find out what else the producer is up to, you never know what you can get involved in. One of my meetings ended with them talking about a series of books they’re reading and discussing which one of these books would be a good fit for me to adapt into a film. Another is working on a series involving a set of books that are my favourite books ever, so naturally by the time we finished discussing those, he knew that I was enthusiastic, quick with ideas and flexible – without a single word of any of my projects being spoken.
Enjoy the time between meetings. Look around the local sites. One of my meetings was at Hollywood and Highland, so I took some time to visit Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Two of my meetings were on the Warner Lot, and after the second of these I was able to stroll around the lot itself, watch some filming, visit a couple of stages. All of this reminded me exactly why I want to do this for a living.
Don’t kill yourself, but pack the time in. Explaining to a producer that I had twelve meetings in three days showed a) I was busy but also b) I was in demand. The fact that many of these meetings were PURELY because I was only around for three days is irrelevant.
I had twelve meetings between Tuesday and Thursday. One was a catch up at a comic company. Three were with television companies. One was an independent producer I met at San Diego who wants me involved on a project he’s doing. The other seven were with film companies who wanted to hear about my movie ideas. Of which I had one scripted, and one in treatment. Of those seven, five wanted to see the treatment when it was finished. Four wanted to see the film I’d finished already and three had other projects that, down the line I could be involved in.
If I get nothing from these, I still walk away with the same amount that I would have had if I hadn’t gone to them. And that’s what you have to remember. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. And as I play the post-meeting email tennis, I know that I gave it my best shot.
Tony Lee is a New York Times #1 Bestselling author of comics, books, audio adventures and screenplays. Find out more about Tony’s work here and follow Tony on Twitter @mrtonylee.