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Owning the Room: From General Meetings to Pitching on a Project

June 5, 2024
6 min read time

Writing scripts is just one part of being a professional screenwriter.  

You’re likely to discover this even before selling a script. Typically if your spec script has led to you getting representation and it’s circulating the industry and getting a good response, that’s enough to land you some meetings. These meetings can range from general meetings (commonly referred to as “a general”) or pitching on a potential writing job. It won’t be long before you discover that the life of a screenwriter is filled with various meetings.

Unlike writing a book, professional screenwriting involves a lot of social interaction and collaboration with other people: from making small talk at a general to on-set revisions with a director and actors. Because of this, it’s important for screenwriters to develop people skills and learn how to own the room

Owning the room will lead to you making a good first impression and to successful pitching.

But how exactly do you own the room?

Read More: The Screenwriter's Toolbox Part I: Loglines and Pitches

Making an Impression

General meetings are usually scheduled by your manager or agent and they’re typically with people working in film development (for either a production company or studio). Generals are important for building relationships with people who might one day think of you for a potential writing job. 

In my article “Turning Your Personality and Taste Into a Brand”, I recounted my experience meeting screenwriter Diablo Cody and watching her own an entire theater during a post-Juno screening Q & A. Not only was she extremely comfortable with public speaking and quick-witted, it was clear that she was the primary voice of the film we had just watched. If you’re meeting with industry professionals because of your script, you should be mindful of your voice as a writer and how you reflect that voice as an individual. This is essentially your brand and you should lean into it when meeting with people.

You should have answers to the following questions when attending a general meeting:

What made you write your script? Was there a personal connection to the subject matter?

What kind of films do you like and what type of projects do you want to write in the future? 

What makes you unique as a person and screenwriter? 

Read More: Five Steps to Successful Pitching

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Pitching on a Project

In addition to generals, a screenwriter will have meetings with the direct purpose of pitching an original project or pitching on someone else’s project in development. If the production company decides to work with you, they’ll further develop the project with you until it’s ready to be pitched to a studio.

What might surprise novice screenwriters is how much pitching is required. A producer or director might “tee you off,” but the writers are expected to pitch the bulk of the project: the concept, the main characters, the main story beats, what makes the project unique and marketable, etc. Even if there’s an A-list director or movie star attached to the project, it’s the writers who end up doing most of the talking and pitching in the room.

Writers who have the gift of gab and are comfortable with public speaking are going to have an immediate advantage (e.g., Diablo Cody or a writer who is also an actor). What’s also important is conveying enthusiasm and passion about a project. Think of your pitch as a trailer for a movie you’re psyched to see. Excitement can be contagious and oftentimes it can help you own the room.

Reading the Room

Another thing that can help you own the room is reading the room.

If you’ve got a good team (i.e., producers, manager, or agent), you’ll be prepped beforehand about the people and/or company you’ll be pitching and how “cold” or “warm” the room is (this means how open they are to the project you’ll be pitching). If one of the studio execs you’re pitching has already confided to someone on your team they’re looking for a project just like the one you’re pitching, you know you’re going into “a warm room.”

But you won’t always get intel before going into a room and this is when reading it is most important. This is why in addition to being a good public speaker, being a keen observer of human behavior is also useful to a screenwriter. 

Most people have “tells” or “giveaways” to how they’re reacting to things you’re saying, especially in Hollywood where explicit displays of boredom have been normalized (don’t be surprised if a few suits yawn in your presence). If a producer or exec appears disinterested or distracted, you’re losing them and you might have to do a little improvisation to regain their attention. This could simply be jumping ahead to a more engaging part of your pitch or even as far as real-time revising of your pitch to better suit their personality.

It’s important to think on your feet and not turn pitching into a mechanical process in which you’re just reciting the same script again and again to people. Every room is different; every person is different. A writer who can quickly modify and personalize a pitch will be more successful at pitching. 

Read More: Fear the Pitch... and Do It Anyway

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From In-Person Meetings To Zoom Calls

These days many people in the film industry work remotely and there are less in-person meetings (at least at the development stage). You’re more likely to first meet a producer over a Zoom call than in a room. The upside to this is you no longer have to live in LA or even in America to work in Hollywood.

The basics, however, remain the same: you still have to be comfortable with public speaking, interacting with other people, be able to read the reactions of the person you’re talking to (many of the same tells you can spot in a room, you can spot over a Zoom call) and it always helps if you’re able to think on your feet. You also should still be conveying passion and enthusiasm for the project you’re discussing (whether it’s your concept or theirs). 

Essentially, being a screenwriter is also being a salesperson. 

And the best salespeople are keen observers, great talkers, and sometimes even great storytellers.

Learning To Sell Yourself and Your Ideas

If public speaking and sales don’t come naturally to you, don’t worry: these are skills — much like screenwriting itself — that can be learned and perfected over time. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice with your family and friends. Watch great public speakers and performers: study and learn their techniques.

The most important thing is not to be intimidated. Whether it’s an in-person meeting or a Zoom call, these people are talking to you for a reason: you wrote something they responded positively to and that means you’re halfway there.

Never forget this and you’ll have the confidence to own any room! 

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