Jeff Nathanson answers a feature writer’s question about general meetings.
How many general meetings should feature writers take a year? Jeff Nathanson (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Catch Me If You Can) says landing work from general meetings depends not on how many you go to, but on what you do when you get there.
Question: “What's a reasonable number of general meetings per year for a feature writer at the studio level? Perhaps not someone with a major produced credit, but someone who lands assignments and works regularly.”
Jeff Nathanson: The one thing I’ve learned about Hollywood is that you should never keep score. So I wouldn’t focus too much on the number of meetings, as that number will inevitably disappoint you. (Sort of like adding up the number of doughnuts you’ve eaten at craft services—never a good idea.) Instead, I suggest you focus on the quality of those meetings, and what you can do to get the most out of them.
Of all the things a writer is asked to do, the general meeting might be the most confusing and intimidating. We are forced to leave the safety of Starbucks, put on a clean shirt and drive across the city during rush hour (they always schedule them in the afternoon), then sit in that waiting room pretending to read that extra thick copy of Variety. We have to answer difficult questions (“Do you want chilled or room temperature water?”), then walk into an office and (this is where it gets tricky for writers) try to make a human connection that will lead to future employment.
Most of us became writers because we never wanted to attend meetings like this.
For many years I didn’t prepare before a general meeting. I had bought into the idea that these were low pressure, low expectation “chats” that required little from me. I wasn’t doing anything wrong—I simply wasn’t doing anything at all. They told me they liked my scripts, I told them I loved the poster hanging above their desk, and after 15 minutes we went our separate ways.
It took me well over a decade to realize that general meetings are only general if I allowed them to be. And so, I changed my approach. I figured as long as I’m putting on a clean shirt and meeting with people who have the ability to hire me, I might as well try like hell to get a job. I started to prepare for every general as if it would be my last. I would tailor a short pitch for specific executives (even when I was told not to pitch an idea). I would do my research, find out what movies they had in production, what scripts they were struggling with. I asked questions, tried to cut through the general conversation and discuss passion projects. I asked studio executives about obscure titles they had in their library. And suddenly I started walking out with scripts under my arms, books to read, magazine articles they had optioned.
Did every meeting lead to a job? Of course not. But as I became more and more engaged in the process, the process became more engaged in me. So don’t count your meetings—make your meetings count!
And make sure you get validated.
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