The Art and Zen of Hollywood Meetings

You’re going to meet someone about your project. How hard can it be? Well, sometimes impossible

Because of the social nature of the entertainment business, meetings are essential. These meetings are happening everywhere in L.A. every day… in offices, restaurants, bars, they are on the phone, conferenced in, on Skype, even hiking in one of the canyons!
There’s the “Meet and greet," the “I need you," the “You need me,” the “Interest in your project," the “Interest in you, but not your project,” the new… manager, agent, attorney, the newly attached producer, director, actor, the pitches to development execs, studios and networks, and… lest we forget, getting your soul fed by meeting with your fellow artists.  

For each project that gets made in Hollywood you can be certain there was at least 100 bottles of water handed out, a few bagels eaten (at least in my meetings), several wines at some cool locations, and no less than four gallons of coffee drunk amongst the players. And that’s before the script even goes into production!

When I see myself getting either fed by the hype in a meeting, or getting disillusioned by the naysayers, I have to immediately step back and put it all in perspective. My favorite writing mentor, John Herman Shaner, gave the best advice. He said, “When you go out and take meetings on your projects, visualize a steel box around your heart. Keep that box locked so it can’t get infiltrated by the whims of the industry, and then unlock it when you sit down to write so you can write something from the heart.” That saying has been invaluable to me.

You’re going to go meet someone about your project. How hard can it be? Well actually, sometimes it can be impossible.  I have a friend who is a well known producer, she had an A-list actor attached to her project and the whole deal fell apart because the high powered agent, the huge studio exec, and the busy actress couldn’t get their schedules coordinated to meet and discuss with the producer and director. And that was a movie the actress wanted to make! When they say it’s a miracle anything goes into production, and that all the stars have to align “just so” to get anything made, it really is so true!

The reality of it is meetings get cancelled on a regular basis depending on where you are in the pecking order of importance.  I have learned not to take it too personally.  Not easy, but emotionally necessary so I don’t get my heart broken or want to maim someone. Case in point, while writing this I was supposed to have a meeting with the six people involved in a project of mine. It was canceled two hours before, only to be re-scheduled as a conference call for the next week. Insert deep breath here.  

Every meeting brings with it much hierarchical negotiation. Usually whoever wields the most power gets to have the meeting set nearest them or at their offices.  I can almost feel the judgment when I tell the assistants on the Westside that I live in the Valley. I quickly rush to say, “But Studio City!” Which marginally tones down their disenchantment with me. But to set a meeting at Aroma on Tujunga with a CAA agent is going to happen right after hell freezes over. Maybe they’ll go so far as Chateau Marmot.

And what’s with the check?  It’s like a duel to see who finally puts down their credit card!  It’s always such an awkward moment and tells so much about the person.  Because I told a few people I was writing on the topic of meetings, a somewhat successful director friend was telling me that he went to a meeting with his manager set at some swanky bar.  When he arrived, the manager was sitting with an A-list actor and his entourage. The manager introduced everyone, and the director joined their table.  The actor and his entourage hung out for another five minutes and then left. The manager and director had their meeting as scheduled, and when the bill arrived the manager wanted the director to split it for having had the impromptu opportunity to meet the actor! My friend was aghast as he’d only had a Coke and the actor et al had drinks and dinner.   

The thing about meetings is unless you just want to be social and/or see if the person you’re meeting can hook you up with someone else (see above), especially as a writer, if they can’t be helpful in moving your career forward or getting your movie made, you may have made a new friend… but you likely would have been better off at home writing your script, or re-writing, or coming up with a new story.  Let’s face it, if we wanted to, we could have several meetings every day with somebody, but that can be a trap, because writers need to write. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with hanging out with friends, but if you are thinking of it as a business meeting and want to write it off on your taxes (giggle) then have an idea what it is you would like to get out of the  meeting. You may not always get it, but it will be good for you to have a goal in mind.

I am forever grateful to one producer I worked with a few years ago.  She’d gotten her MBA before going into entertainment, and her goal in every meeting she took (and she took a lot of meetings) was to walk away with names of at least five more people to meet. She has gone on to become a great and successful producer, and she absolutely knows everyone.  I realize that producers and writers have a different agenda, but her unapologetic stance in asking her connections to help her further her career made me feel more confident in the idea that it’s okay to ask for help.  Believe it or not, that was news to me.   

And then there are those times when things are moving in the right direction, and it looks like your project will finally get made, and suddenly you find yourself in the enviable position of having a meeting about it over an expensive meal and some lovely wines.  Because I’m a foodie, I live for those meetings.  I’m sorry, but I will never get jaded by eating extraordinary meals at some uber chef’s restaurant.   I have friends who have multi-thousand dollar lunch and dinner meetings at the finest restaurants all over L.A. on a daily basis.  I’m still waiting for the day when I have those types of meetings more regularly.  But until then, I will just have to continue to put a lock around my heart as I schedule my next meeting to include probably a coffee and a bagel and remember to stay Zen if the meeting gets pushed.