One of the most frequent questions I hear from up-and-coming writers is, “How do I get in the room in the first place?”
Usually, this question is the last part of the following sequence of thoughts:
- There’s a lot of junk on TV or in theaters.
- I have written something that is better.
- I can’t sell it because I don’t have ACCESS to powerful people.
- All I need is one meeting, one opportunity. How do I get a meeting with a decision-maker powerful enough to buy my project? How do I get in the room in the first place?
The answer may be tough for some of you to hear. It feels a little like “ripping the band-aid off.” It may be the best way to do it, but it still hurts.
So, how do you get in the room?
You write something excellent.
Last Chance To Turn Back
If your response to the previous sentence, “You write something excellent” was to think, “Yes, but I HAVE written something excellent, and I still can’t sell my project or get hired or even get an agent,” then I urge you to stop reading this post.
Seriously, stop reading. You’re only going to get upset and that won’t help anyone. Your time is valuable and you might as well do something else. I won’t take it personally.
It’s Not Your Network – It’s The Quality Of Your Work
If you are having trouble getting in the room, the problem is almost certainly that your work is simply not good enough… yet.
That can be a hard truth to digest. So let’s start with a definition of “excellent work” so that you can understand clearly whether your project meets the standard.
How To Know If Your Work Is Excellent
Here’s how I define an excellent piece of work:
When someone in the business reads your work, they immediately share it with someone higher on the Hollywood “chain of command” (because they earn points for the discovery of excellence).
Yes, saying that your script needs to be sent immediately to someone higher up may seem like an unfairly high standard. But this standard reflects how people actually behave when they read something great.
If your work doesn’t meet this standard (yet), don’t stop writing. Instead:
- Continue developing your genre expertise;
- Keep writing and rewriting until your material is excellent;
- And STOP submitting your work or trying to get meetings.
The Danger Of Submitting Your Work Too Soon
If you’re thinking, “My work isn’t being shared immediately, but I know it’s really good.”
Perhaps you’re right, and you do have a great script. But if you’re wrong… submitting your work can do major damage to your career.
So often, up-and-coming writers and directors spend tons of time sending out query letters, cold-calling producers, going to networking events, and trying desperately to get decision-makers to read their work.
Unfortunately, they don’t consider the enormous cost of their work not being excellent on the first read—that they probably won’t be able to get in the same rooms again.
WARNING: “Passes” Live Forever
If your script seems amateurish, mediocre in any way, and receives a “Pass,” there will be coverage or notes in the company’s computer system. From that point forward, any future projects submitted with your name will be linked to this “Pass.”
Anything you submit to an agent, manager, producer, studio, or network, lives forever in their database. Each project is covered and even if they promise you that it won’t get covered, that it will be entered confidentially, it will still be covered and stored forever.
You submit to CAA? Every agent and assistant there has access to the “Pass” coverage. You submit to John Wells Productions? Same thing—anyone considering meeting with you will be able to see that your first submission was a clear “Pass.”
The result of submitting your work before it is undeniably excellent is that your subsequent projects are much less likely to even be considered—and your chances of getting in the room go way down.
The Solution: Seek Third-Party Validation
Third-party validation means evidence from other people that they think your work is excellent.
Step 1: Get Feedback On Your Pitch
You can develop and improve your project (even if you already have a script) by creating the pitch and testing it on carefully chosen feedback groups.
What you’re looking for is clear, unambiguous, consistently positive feedback from the people who hear (or read) your pitch.
Step 2: Get Feedback On Your Script
Using the same process of testing your pitch, give your script to select readers. These people should NOT be gatekeepers or decision-makers. This is where you are accessing your most trusted and intelligent friends and family—the people who have opinions that count, and who will give it to you straight.
Remember, you’re looking for clear, unambiguous, consistently positive feedback.
Step 3: Get Professional Feedback
When your script is as good as you possibly can make it, it’s time to pay for a professional to read and comment on your work.
If you can convince a stranger who reads scripts for a living that your script is excellent, that is a good indicator that you may be ready to submit your work to decision-makers.
Step 4: Ask For Reads From VIP’s
A VIP is someone who is either a decision-maker, a gatekeeper, or someone who knows a decision-maker or gatekeeper well enough to send them your material.
Remember: requesting a read is asking for a favor. You can only ask a VIP for a favor one time—so make it count.
If you don’t know any VIP’s, this is the time you would start submitting your work to contests (where they are read and judged by VIP’s).
“Have You Read Anything Good Lately?”
When executives, agents, and other decision-makers get together for lunch or catch up over the phone, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “Have you read anything good lately?”
At the point where someone says, “Yes,” and recommends your work—that’s how you get in the room.
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