What should you expect as you go into general meetings?
Writers are often portrayed as awkward, antisocial little goblins who hide away in dark rooms lit only by our computer screens.
Whether or not this stereotype applies to you, unless you have a partner or team, the act of writing is inherently solitary. Most days on the job, the only voices you hear are those of your characters ringing in your head.
We grow accustomed to the void. Like Bane in The Dark Knight, we are comfortable in the darkness. Born in it. Molded by it.
But, as you find your career progressing, you find yourself suddenly beckoned into the light. And, of course, by the light, I mean general meetings.
The time will come in your writer journey where you must emerge from your creative cavern and engage with other human beings.
Writers can put a lot of pressure on these meetings. Freak out about them. “What do I say?” “How do I pitch myself?” “How do I get them to hire me for something?” Etc.
When I began my first “water bottle tour,” which is what we called them before these modern Zoom times, I had many of those thoughts and concerns. I hope what I learned from my experience with generals helps you as you embark on your first generals. But, as always, your mileage may vary.
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You’re There For A Reason
The first thing you need to realize when you sit down for a general is that you deserve to be here. It’s not a mistake.
Producers and creative execs aren’t in the business of charity. They’re not sitting down with you because they’re doing a good deed. They’re not doing you a favor. They don’t have time to meet with every writer whose script passes by their desk just to make said writer feel good or appease some reps. They’re meeting you because they liked your script. Your voice. They’re meeting you because they want to meet you.
Don’t get in your head about trying to impress them. They already like you. You’re playing with house money.
Some compare general meetings to first dates. And, in a way, there’s truth to that. You’re feeling each other out. Getting to know each other.
But, it’s not a blind date. It’s more like a date with someone who already swiped right. They read your profile, they get what you’re about, and they dig it.
Let’s end the date metaphors here before it gets weird.
What General Meetings Look Like
Let’s walk through what a general meeting usually looks like. There are variations on this, but this is my basic experience.
After the initial pleasantries, you’re going to be asked about yourself. Your journey as a writer to this point and where your script came from. t’s casual and conversational, but you should be ready to talk about both yourself and your script.
From there, they’re going to give you their “company spiel.” What kind of movies/tv they make. Their goals as a company. The kind of stories they look for.
You’re going to hear if they prefer original stories or IP-based stories. If they prefer to completed scripts or if they’d rather develop ideas with a writer.
They’re selling themselves, the same way you are. “We want to make good stuff. You write good stuff. There’s a world where these things overlap, yes?”
What Else Do You Have?
Odds are, if this is a general meeting, they’ve passed on your script for whatever reason. Maybe it didn’t fit the mandates of what they do as a company. Or maybe you’ve already sold it somewhere else (Hey good for you!).
But, even though this script wasn’t right for them, they’re wondering if you have something that might be.
This is the part of the meeting you’ll want to do a little homework for. If you have IMDb Pro, it’s a good idea to check into the company before you meet them to get a gauge on the kind of stuff they like. If not, that’s okay. They just told you what kind of content they like to make.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but if their spiel was about how they’re looking for grounded love stories based on YA novels, maybe this isn’t the company to mention your World War II spec to.
If you’ve got a script in your back pocket that feels like exactly what they’re looking for — holy shit, that’s great — pitch it right now. If you haven’t written anything remotely like what they want, but you’ve got an idea for something that might fit, talk about that.
But, if you don’t have anything at any stage of development that matches what they do, don’t fake it. Don’t try to force in a script or an idea that doesn’t fit here. Instead, maybe talk about what you like about their approach, their interests, and how you can see yourself writing a story like that. Talk about some of your favorite movies in their preferred genre, and how you’d love to write your version of that.
It’s all about looking for a connection.
We Do Have This Thing…
Most of the time, after you’ve both discussed yourselves and your work, this is where the meeting ends. Pleasantries are exchanged. “Keep us in mind!” “Definitely, and right back at ya!” “Totally! Have a good day.”
But, sometimes, you’ve hit on something in this meeting. There’s a clear overlap in what you want to write and what they want to make. Sometimes, they’re responding to your pitch. Most of the time, however, they’ll have something they want to pitch to you.
An idea they’ve been kicking around. A piece of IP to adapt. Some seedling of a project that they haven’t been able to find a writer for yet.
They’ll give you another little spiel about it. What it is, why they want to make it, what excites them about it. “Is that something that might interest you?”
It’s so easy to say yes to this. I mean, this is the moment most of us writers have been waiting for. A chance to work. And, if anything in that idea sparks you, by all means, say so.
“That’s definitely a cool idea, let me think about it, and let’s stay in touch.”
“I’d for sure love to check out that book/article/graphic novel/blog/documentary/video game/ board game/action figure/Youtube comment.”
And maybe you love it. Maybe it’s exactly right for you and your voice. The pitch comes easily. You get hired to write it. The people rejoice. But sometimes…
It’s Okay To Say No
Either in the moment or after you’ve read or watched whatever they’ve sent you, you know it’s not right for you. You tell yourself you may not love the thing, but there’s a movie in here somewhere, and you can make it work.
You’ve waited so long for an opportunity, how can you pass on one?
I had this experience recently. After a general meeting, I was sent a book to consider for adapting, and I didn’t love it. It’s a fine book, and it would probably make a good movie or tv series, but it didn’t feel like me.
I told my reps how I felt, but that I thought I could make it work. And, they told me exactly what I needed to hear.
“No. We’re talking about at least a year of your life here. If you don’t love it, say no.”
“In this business, you’re going to say no a lot more than you say yes.”
A weight was lifted off my shoulders. The pressure was off.
There will be no hard feelings from the production companies you turn down. Maybe the right project to do together will come along. Maybe it won’t. Either way, remember…
You’re Playing The Long Game
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not about one script or one meeting. It’s up to you to build the career you want.
Follow the stories you want to tell. Follow the voice that got you here. Follow what you love.
Trust yourself. The right projects will show up. The right partners. General meetings aren’t job interviews where you’re just praying they offer you a job, any job. Take that pressure off of them and yourself.
Instead, remember that every general meeting is a chance to meet collaborators you’re excited to work with as you continue to build the career you want.
Brian T. Arnold is the writer of “In The End,” which was featured on the 2021 Black List and is currently in development with Sister. Previously, he won the Launch Pad Feature Competition, Best Thriller and Best Drama in the Script Pipeline First Look Competition, and Best Thriller in the Shore Scripts Competition. He’s repped by Bellevue and APA.