Ask a Mentor
Are Generals, In General, a Waste of Time?
Denise Moss outlines how to get the most out of general meetings—career-starter or not.
Taking general meetings can feel like a waste of your time, especially if you’ve been on many and feel like they haven’t helped to progress your career. But you never know which general will be that career-starting moment for you—or if the person you’re meeting with will be the one to throw your name in the ring somewhere down the line, whether they have hiring power at the time or not. Denise Moss (Sydney to the Max) has these tips for getting the most out of general meetings.
Question: My agent keeps sending me out on general meetings and it seems like they don’t go anywhere. Are these meetings a waste of time, and if not, do you have advice on how to get the most out of them?
Denise Moss: The truth is a lot of them are a waste of time. And some, maybe only one, may be a career starter. The problem is you don’t know which is which.
Here’s a story. My former writing partner and I were in a serious career slump. We had a general meeting at Disney with a producer, back in the day when you actually went to real offices and met real people. The heat was unbearable, the traffic suicidal. But as I drove onto the lot, I thought of all those talented, agentless students I was teaching at UCLA who would kill for the privilege to drive through those gates. I was struck grateful.
When we got to the producer’s office, she wasn’t there. So we waited. And waited. Turns out, the producer had completely forgotten the meeting. When the frazzled assistant finally reached her boss, she asked if we could wait for her. She lived close. Years earlier we would have been gone after 20 minutes, but that day I had my gratitude. Besides, what did we have to do anyway? I told you we were in a slump.
Finally, the producer flies into the room. Harried. Hair still damp. So apologetic. She orders lunch for all of us (that never happens), and we started talking: about the business, about our most recent script, about the state of comedy and the world. We talked for hours. The next day she offered us a generous blind pilot deal—and not out of pity. Disney doesn’t do pity.
The pilot was written and produced, and became… No, it didn’t go to series. Still, it was a huge jump start.
I know it sounds kinda gaggy, but ever since then I’ve tried to treat every meeting as a gift. Sure, generals are awkward and Zoom hasn’t made them any better. But I still treat them with respect. I get out of my jammies, put on makeup, show up on time. I sometimes meditate before them. Yes, that’s what I said.
And I go in with shit to talk about. I find out what projects or productions the executive oversees that interest me. I ask the executive what they’re passionate about and try to listen more than talk. And I come passionate about my own work. I ask what they read of mine. If they haven’t read anything, okay, well that’s just bad. But don’t assume they won’t later. Talk about your script. What made you write it. MAKE them interested in it.
I also look for points of personal connection. Did we both just have babies? (Not me.) Do we both live in Silverlake, even though we hate how hipster it’s become? (Also, not me.) These are okay convos to have, as long as it’s not the ONLY convo you have. But whatever you do, don’t be disingenuous. Sucking up will even stink up a Zoom room.
The objective is to leave a tangible image of who you are and what you can contribute to make the executive’s life easier. Are you the person in the room who solves story issues or the one who comes up with the killer joke? Did you once complete a movie rewrite in three days? Because while that junior executive you’re Zooming with may not have the ability to hire, they do have the ability to suggest. And when they’re casting about for a writer schooled in quantum physics who grew up in Bali and is great with romantic comedy, you want them to remember you’re that writer.
And if you want to entice them with an idea you think they might like, that’s okay. Something like… “You know what I always thought would make a great low-budget, high-concept, twelve-episode series is…” But this isn’t a pitch meeting. If they want to bring you in to pitch, they will.
And one final tip I learned from my writing partner: End the meeting before they do. It saves the executive the awkwardness of doing it and is respectful of their time. It also says that you’re a busy person. You have places to be. “But wait,” you say. “In your story you acted as if you had no place to be and it turned out great.” Yeah, I know. That’s why I adhere to the great screenwriter William Goldman’s famous adage about our business: “Nobody knows anything.” And that’s especially true about general meetings.
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