If you’re actively taking meetings with producers, studio executives, or independent film financiers, you should know 5 Trick Questions Hollywood Executives Ask—And How To Answer Them.
Are Trick Questions “Tricks?”
Remember, the way a trick question works is that there’s a question hidden within (that’s the “trick”). If you know the hidden question, you can prepare the right kind of answer.
Here are five MORE trick questions and answers that you can adapt for your next big meeting.
I’ll number these #6 through #10 because they follow #1 through #5 in the first post.
Trick Question #6: Who is the intended audience?
The wrong answer is: “Everyone.”
It’s understandable that you want your project to have a wide, commercial appeal. However, when you say that your movie will appeal to everyone, the decision-maker hears:
- “I don’t understand the audience for my project.”
- “I don’t understand how movies are marketed.”
- “I am a rookie.”
The hidden question is: Is your project intentionally aimed at a specific, appropriate audience?
Here’s how to answer: Define your market by gender and age.
- “My ideal audience is boys, 8-12.”
- “High-school and college females.”
- “Women and men over 45.”
If you have aimed your story at a carefully chosen, appropriate audience, that shows professional expertise and gives the decision-maker confidence in you and your work.
Trick Question #7: If we don’t buy this, will you spec it?
First, a definition: to “spec” something means to write it without pay on a speculative basis.
That said, this question is asked by producers who are intrigued by your concept and by you as a writer… just not enough to use their development money to buy your pitch.
There are two traps here: you can’t say “No” because it makes it seem like you don’t care enough about the story and just want to get paid; you can’t say “Yes” because you don’t want to seem like an amateur who will work for free because you’ve got nothing else to do.
The hidden question is: “Are you a professional who is really enthusiastic about this, or are you just looking for a paycheck?”
Here’s how to answer: use a version of “Probably.”
- “I believe in the story and plan to spec it in the future.”
- “Yes, absolutely, as soon as I have time.”
Though pitches do sell, in my experience, fewer pitches convert into “go” movies than finished screenplays. That’s a good reason to keep writing on spec.
Thanks to Doug Eboch, writer of Sweet Home Alabama, for supplying this question.
Trick Question #8: When can you get us a draft?
This is a fair question. Sure, the executive or producer with whom you’re working knows you can’t predict exactly, and they want the script to be great more than anything else. They also want to know that you can make a deadline, because if you can’t, working with you could prove to be a costly mistake.
The hidden question is: Can I trust you to keep your word?
Here’s how to answer: Undercommit, and overdeliver.
If you tell the executive that you’ll have a draft for them in ten weeks, have something for them in eight weeks. This earns you earn extra points for being fast.
You also get points for reducing the executive’s anxiety. When you’re out of contact and the executive has no idea what’s going on, that’s stressful. So you not only want to give an estimate, you also want to show them that you understand their situation.
- “I can get you something by the end of next month. How would you like me to keep you posted on my progress?
- “I can have it to you in three weeks. I’ll send you an update in a week to let you know how it’s going.”
Trick Question #9: Whom do you admire?
This question sometimes comes in the form of, “What are your influences?” The idea is to get you talking about in whose footsteps you’re trying to follow—and to find out if you have a grip on reality.
The hidden question is: Do you want to be famous or have a career?
The person who wants to be famous answers this question by listing very famous people who don’t necessarily relate by genre or field. The person who wants a career admires the people who are doing exactly what he or she is trying to do—they may be well-known in the business, but they aren’t celebrities.
Imagine a screenwriter who is pitching a romantic comedy, and gets asked, “Whom do you admire?”
- The common answer: “Nora Ephron, Julia Roberts, and Tina Fey.”
- A better answer: “Audrey Wells, Lutz & Smith, and Dana Fox.”
Trick Question #10: What project is this most like?
Writers tend to be focused on the artistic aspects of the project more than the commercial aspects. Unfortunately, this makes it easy to provide unhelpful comparisons to other movies when pitching.
Unhelpful comparisons (from the decision-maker’s POV) are ones that pertain more to structure, content, character, or theme. A helpful comparison pays more attention to box office returns, genre, rating, and tone.
The hidden question is: “What is a successful, recently produced project in the same genre which has a similar tone and rating?”
Here’s how to answer: Use one carefully-chosen reference.
- “I want it to have the scope of The Hunger Games.“
- “It’s a highly structured thriller like Inception.”
Now that you can answer these trick questions, I hope you’ll feel more confident going into your next meeting!
Have you experienced other “trick” or especially difficult questions?