I had my first producer meeting a few days ago. This was setup by my agent, and was called a “general” meeting. A general meeting has no agenda, it’s just a simple meeting to get acquainted.
It is always such a rush to get past doors closed to the general public. I remember the first time I was to photograph a US President, they did my background search a week in advance, and when I got to the door, secret service agents let me in. And there I am. Saying hello.
I always have to remind myself that famous people are just people. When I meet a US President, the first thought that comes into my mind is, “wow he looks so real”. This is because the first “President” I saw was President Lincoln’s robot at Disneyland’s, “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln”. I remember marvelling at how much this 3D ‘thing’ looked like all of the photos I had seen. Same thing with a President. I think, “amazing robot”. I can’t help it. Then my professional mode kicks in. If I have to shoot, then I load the film. If it’s there to simply get to know someone, now that is super fun.
My mentor, Rocky Gunn, imparted some very wise advice when I was just starting out. He said, “don’t be a salesman. Nobody likes a salesman knocking on the door, but everybody would welcome a new friend. Make friends”. This was dotted in-between how CHINESE PEOPLE WILL NEVER MAKE IT IN HOLLYWOOD – wow I just remembered that. He was an actor, played the prince that Caine killed in the “Kung Fu” TV series. He said that the only parts he’ll ever get is as a railroad worker, or laundry boy. That might be true for an actor, I don’t know. Nobody knows what the writer looks like.
Getting led in is cool. There’s a receptionist. The place is scary because of what it represents. I’ve seen their logo in trailers. I’m here to meet the producer. But then it’s not scary when you walk in and they’re expecting you. You sit for a tiny bit, and then a really nice assistant welcomes you, offers you coffee/water/tea and lets you into the room where only the insiders go. I’ve done this a couple of times now, and a thought flashes by quickly, “Steven Spielberg must have sat in this chair” or “Reese Witherspoon probably met in this office”.
This time it is a glass conference room.. They were behind the many blockbuster movies whose posters lined the walls. There was a life-sized space soldier standing in the corner, a prop from one of their huge blockbuster sci-fi pictures. I was browsing when the producer walked in, and thanked me for coming. He said, “sit anywhere” but I sure wasn’t going to sit at the head of the table. We sat across from each other, and it was so pleasant. The first thing he did was thank me for coming out to see him (whoa?) and then to tell me he loved my script. Then came the big question – how did you get here? How long have you been writing? How did you get your agent?
Hollywood loves a good story, and mine is that I am a known figure in a completely different industry, who started screenwriting a few months prior, and wrote a good one. If you watch YouTube, you’ll get sucked into a very negative attitude everybody has about how impossible it is to get your screenplay read. People were saying that you must pay your dues and write eight screenplays before you get yours seen. What if your first screenplay was “Psycho”?
I saw an interview that Bradley Cooper did, and it was in french. He speaks amazing french, as does Jodie Foster. Anyway, he was asked by a radio listener if he had any advice on anybody looking to break in to Hollywood. And he said, “don’t listen to anybody out there who wants to discourage you. Listen to your own voice.” And he’s the only guy who said something like that. It stuck with me.
I’ve heard about how Hollywood is all about who you know, and how difficult it is to get “in” or be noticed. I don’t know about that because I’ve been let in so quickly. There is a paradox. Hollywood needs great screenplays, but it will not read unsolicited screenplays. And the doors are not exactly closed, they open to outsiders if you have a good product.
So, as I’m nearly done with the first draft of my second screenplay, I hold true to the maxims that I’ve always stubbornly clung to – focus on the process, not the outcome. Keep my nose to the grindstone and make the finest product I can. What comes of it (financially) is not my department. That’s for the specialists who sell. In my company it’s my team who does marketing. In Hollywood, it’s my agent that is in charge of monetizing. It is hugely liberating throwing your hands up in the air and walking away from the anxiety of if my script will sell or not.
A tip for others in my boat: convince yourself that nothing is going to happen with your project. Mourn early. But believe in writing new projects. Not so you can have something that ‘makes it’, but so you can enjoy the thrill of creating an imaginary world.. For me, this keeps me calm, happy, and on balance – until I get a call or email from my agent!
P.S. As I was leaving LA, we got a call from the production company that made a huge natural disaster film starring a big star who used to be a WWF wrestler. For some reason, I’m drawing interest from action/blockbuster producers when my film is very (as one producer called it) “cerebral”. I’ll let you know.