Getting the Call

Sorry for the long delay between posts! My wife and I are going to Australia in January as part of our Grand Slam tennis tour — we’ve been to the French Open in Paris and U.S. Open in New York, so after Melbourne next month, we just need to do Wimbledon to complete the circuit. We also combine a love of art with our tennis travels, and like to watch movies/TV shows about certain artists and read up on them before we visit museums that display their works. When you know something about the person holding the brush and the subject they portrayed, it changes the way you view each piece. It becomes a living thing.

While my blog is no work of lasting art, I try to instill a sense of who I am and why I feel compelled to share my stories. Unfortunately, not everyone I write about agrees with my representation of the way things happened. I recently got an email from one such person, a highly respected Hollywood professional, who asked me to delete some old posts that mentioned him by name. In rereading those entries, I saw why he was a little perturbed that I shared personal information about him that wasn’t meant for public consumption. So I deleted the entries and apologized to him… and will be more careful about naming names in the future. You never know who is Googling themselves!

In any event, I’ve been extremely busy trying to put together my next two Career Changers TV episodes before we depart Honolulu. Each monthly half-hour show usually consists of four or five segments that run between three to five minutes each. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s actually harder to produce shorter pieces because you have to trim each story to the bone without losing the meat of it. You have to get your interview subjects to focus on the key turning points and convey real emotion on camera, which is not easy for most non-actor types.

Which brings me back to the original point of this post: how to act when you get a call from an agent, manager or producer after you’ve done the hard work of writing your script and getting people to read it. In my last post, I mentioned how my Eddie Murphy contact led to me writing a pitch that wound up in the hands of an agent at WME. His call came unexpectedly at night while I was watching TV. That was good because I didn’t have time to get nervous waiting to speak with him. Even though I’ve had a few calls from managers/agents and producers, I still get butterflies in my stomach when I talk to those types. Ironically, when I put on my local TV producer hat or direct shoots, it’s me who has to put the subject at ease and tell them there’s nothing to be nervous about when the camera goes on.

And I think that’s the main thing you have to remember when you have a phone meeting or get face time with industry execs and reps. They’re just people once you get to know them. But we tend to worry so much about what they will think of us that we forget to ask them something about themselves. I asked the WME agent how he got the job there. It turned out his background was in the news biz — and since I started out as a newspaper reporter, we had plenty to chat about before returning to the project at hand. More importantly, I had a better idea of where he was coming from and the kind of things he was personally interested in… which gave me the confidence to pitch him a TV series idea in the same convo that he really liked — and wants to see pages for that too.

But my first Hollywood phone calls did not go so well. The year I was a finalist in the Austin Film Festival screenwriting comp, a snooty assistant from Nick Osbourne’s Underground Management company, rang me up to request my script. He said they had a first-look deal with Phoenix Pictures — Mike Medavoy’s company. The name sounded familiar, but I didn’t connect it with the Oscar winning movies he was associated with. The assistant asked for my email address so he could send me the release and details on where to mail my screenplay.

I was so nervous though that I accidentally left out part of my email address — and I hung up without taking down their phone number. I also blanked out on the name of the company. All I could remember was Medavoy and Phoenix Pictures. It didn’t occur to me to use the star 69 phone feature to call back. Instead I called Phoenix and said someone with a first look deal with them had contacted me, but I didn’t know the guy’s name or his number. I also referred to Medavoy as “Mark” and the Phoenix assistant sort of snickered at me through the phone and said, “It’s MIKE Medavoy.” Oh, okay. He did connect me with Nick’s assistant, however. (Nick himself was very nice and actually called me after he read my script to tell me he didn’t care for it much.)

After that first botched call, I made a point of writing all my important personal contact info on my desk pad calendar: email address, phone number with area code, cell number and mailing address — just in case I blank out when I get an important call. Yeah, I know it sounds silly, but even intelligent people can become blithering idiots when they feel intimidated by Very Important People. I also keep my loglines and short pitches on my desktop to use as cheat sheets during phone meetings. The most important thing, however, is to let them do the talking and really listen to what they’re saying before you launch into your spiel or tell that witty anecdote you’ve been saving for the VIP. Always leave them wanting more.

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