Kelly Jo Brick: Mastering the TV Writing Meeting

Photo Courtesy of the Writers Guild Foundation

by Kelly Jo Brick

As a writer, meetings are a regular fact of life. Whether it’s sitting down with potential representation, pitching projects, taking generals or for staffing, each meeting comes with a different set of expectations and needs for preparation.

The Writers Guild Foundation brought in experts from across the industry including Jennifer Good, an agent in Paradigm’s Television Literary Department, writer and co-EP on THE HANDMAID’S TALE, Kira Snyder, Christopher Mack, Senior VP at Warner Bros. Television and the head of the WB Writers’ Workshop and acclaimed story/career consultant and former network executive, Jen Grisanti, to discuss what to do, what not to do, how to prep and how to follow up for the wide variety of entertainment meetings writers face in the pursuit of their careers.

Tips before your take your first meetings:

  • Don’t ramble. Be clear about what you want to express in regards to the outcome that you want.
  • You will be going to lots of meetings in your career. It’s important to keep records of who you meet with, because people often shift from place to place. Make a spreadsheet with details on the who/when/what of your meetings, it can help prevent you from embarrassing yourself along the way.
  • Don’t wear a suit and tie. It’s a casual business. Don’t look too professional, but don’t look like you’re coming in right off the street.
  • Be prepared and know who you’re meeting with and their background. It’s so much easier now that you can Google everybody.

Red Flags:

  • The biggest red flag is someone who can’t express emotion about any television show they’re watching or any film they loved. If you can’t express your passion for a story and you’re in a story meeting, that doesn’t work.
  • If you’re a filmmaker meeting on a TV show, don’t say that you only do TV to pay the bills.
  • Don’t be late. Be early. LA is a rough town for traffic. If you’re meeting on a studio lot, those are big. You might get lost, you might have to find the building. All the studio lots have cafes or bathrooms where you can kill time if you need to.

Building Your Connections – The Informational Meeting:

  • It always helps if you have a contact in the business and do an informational meeting with that person. Even meeting people who may not be able to help you in your journey of becoming a writer, but they’re tied to the business somehow, is good. For every person you know, they know at least three people who can help you get to your goal.

Finding Representation:

  • Meet with a number of managers and agents before you sign. Find out who you click with. The agency is important, but the person you click with is much more important. You definitely want to find the person who fits with you, gets you and your material and what your goals are, more so than any name above the door.
  • As a writer, remember you’re the one doing the interviewing. At the end of the day, the agent/manager works for you. They’re supposed to be there to help you. At the same time you’re supposed to help your rep with material so he/she can put you out there. Also remember that the agent is only responsible for 10 percent. You’re responsible for 90 percent, so it’s not on them to do all the work. You need to hustle yourself.

General Meetings:

  • It’s like a job interview, but there’s probably not an actual job on the line. You should go in more relaxed, because if you’re in a general meeting, it means an executive at a network or studio or production company has read your script and thought it was interesting and they like what your representation or other people had to say about you and they want to meet you.
  • You have to recognize there are no stakes in a general meeting. The goal of the general meeting is for you to make an authentic connection with the person you are meeting with.
  • They’ll ask you tell a little about yourself. Where are you from? What’s your story? Tell me about that script I read. Where did it come from? Try to approach it like an informal get to know you.
  • Know a little about the company you’re meeting with and the shows they produce.
  • Don’t make them do all the work. Don’t make them ask you all the questions. Ask questions, like this pilot you’re developing, it’s so interesting, how did it come to you guys.
  • Follow up with a thank you email the next day. These are busy people. Be polite. Thank them for their time. It helps to reference something that you talked about so it’s not just a generic thank you.

Staffing Meetings:

  • What you’re trying to get up to is the showrunner meeting, that is the one where you might get the job. There are meetings that lead up to that. If you’ve had generals, you’ll probably have follow ups, sometimes with the same executives for that particular show. You might then be handed off to the production company.
  • For the showrunner meeting you will have read the pilot and should be ready to talk about it in detail. Have questions about a choice they made in the pilot or if you’re really excited about a particular part, or like I really like this dynamic, are you planning to expand on that, those kind of things.
  • You and the showrunner are both writers and you’ll be getting in a discussion about story. They want to understand how you think about story, how you read a script, how you can talk about it in a way that shows how you would add to a room.
  • If you’re meeting on a comedy show, it’s important to be funny, to have a nice rapport, because you’re going to be in the room all day with people and go back and forth and be easy with jokes.

The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to wgfoundation.org.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.

Kelly Jo Brick: The Write Path with Manager Zadoc Angell, Part 1

A series of interviews with hard-working writers – by another hard-working writer!

by Kelly Jo Brick

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Finding the right representation can be a key component to growing and developing a writing career. TVWriter.com sat down with several managers to find out what they’re looking for in writers and what writers can be doing to help achieve success in the industry.

Literary Manager Zadoc Angell was always interested in the arts. David E. Kelley shows like Picket Fences, Ally McBeal, The Practice and Chicago Hope drew him to the entertainment industry. While in college at Harvard, he did five internships over two summers including working at Malcolm in the Middle, Carsey-Werner-Mandabach and The Bold and the Beautiful. He got his start at the boutique agency, Genesis, which was eventually bought out by Paradigm. After three years working as an agent, Zadoc transitioned into management, first working at Artists International before making the move to Echo Lake Entertainment.

WHY THE SWITCH FROM AGENT TO MANAGER?

Agency culture was not the perfect fit for me. I wanted something that was more creative, more nurturing, where I could be closer to my clients, more creative, more hands on, more thoughtful and strategic. I thought that might be management, but it took my current colleague, Dave Brown, recruiting me into management. He really saw the potential. He wanted somebody who was an expert in TV Lit. and that’s all I’ve done over these years. We had worked together at Genesis when I first moved out here in 2003. He recruited me and I am so thankful that he did because right away it felt like the right fit for my talents and skills and experiences.

I think my years as an agent helped so much in making me a great manager, because I already built a foundation of relationships. I know how to negotiate. I know how to sell. I’m not afraid of picking up the phone and calling a showrunner. It gave me a lot of skill sets and access that have really benefited me as a manager.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU GOT AS YOU WERE STARTING OUT?

When I was training for my first assistant desk the woman who trained me said, “Go to drinks with your fellow assistants.” It’s so simple, but the networking is a big part of it. I think whether on the business side or the creative side you have to be willing to be vulnerable and to ask people out to not just drinks, but dinners.

I do it constantly. I’m booked for breakfast, lunch, and dinner almost every day. I’m on the sales side, so that’s a big part of my job, but I think the same goes true for everybody. Everyone has to work on their network of relationships and not be afraid to introduce yourself to new people or someone you’ve only talked on the phone once. Ask them out. And the good thing is, everyone in the business does it.

WHAT’S THE MOST COMMON QUESTION YOU GET ASKED BY WRITERS THAT ARE LOOKING TO BREAK IN?

If it’s anywhere not in Los Angeles, the number one question is, “Do I have to move to LA?” Which is yes. If it’s in LA, people still ask the benefits of writing a spec of an existing TV series versus writing an original pilot. I can’t believe we’re still having this conversation. People stopped sending specs out as writers’ primary writing samples I want to say 9, 10 years ago. Once in a while you have a show that’s kind of old school and wants specs, but working TV writers don’t write them anymore.

The only reason to write them is to learn the craft. There’s value in analyzing your favorite television show and figuring out how you would crack that for yourself. It helps you understand the mechanics of TV and you can use those samples to get in most of the diversity programs.

We’re in an era of the original voice. That’s what people want. The young writers that we have now are way ahead of the older writers who came up through the spec system, because our young writers are writing original material from day one and coming up with lots of ideas. A pilot is one of the hardest things to write. It’s way more complicated than a screenplay and you put a lot of pressure on young writers to be able to write at that level right out of the gate, but it does kind of cull the herd a little bit and you see who can really crack that nut.

HOW DOES A WRITER GET HIS/HER MATERIAL TO YOU?

It’s tough. Most of the new clients that I consider are referrals from other people in the business who are established. Sometimes agents will send me their clients, sometimes lawyers, sometimes executives are doing a favor for a friend. Sometimes clients will refer friends who they think are talented to us. Usually the personal referral basis is how it tends to happen. Once in a while I’ve judged writing competitions and have found a client, but they are few and far between. I think most of the time it’s personal referrals.

WHEN YOU ARE LOOKING AT A WRITER, BEYOND THE WRITING, WHAT MAKES SOMEONE STAND OUT?

The writing is the calling card. You do have to love the material in order to meet with someone. Sometimes you’ll ask for more than one sample because what you don’t want is someone who is just a one hit wonder, so don’t be surprised if you get asked for more than one sample.

Once you get the meeting and you are in the room, we always look for a person’s personal salesmanship of themselves because that’s a huge part of being in this business, especially as a TV writer. TV writing is so social. You’re in a room together all day long. You hang out with each other, hire each other on different shows year after year after year. The social is as important as the writing, but you have to know the writing is what gets you the face-to-face meeting. That’s true with representatives. That’s true with executives. That’s true with showrunners.

Our job as managers and agents is to help open doors for a writer. But what really sucks is when you have a great piece of material, doors open and the writer goes in and they aren’t great in the meeting or they aren’t good about talking about themselves or they’re just not memorable. Not every meeting can be an A+, but some writers are shockingly bad about talking about themselves, which is essentially what a general meeting is.

Writers need to prepare what they want another person to know about themselves. What their key selling points are. Be able to talk about your life story in an interesting way. People will think their own life stories are boring. Not everyone can grow up on a dairy farm and come to Hollywood like I did. I love my story, I love telling it, but I want my clients to love their stories too.

Talk about where you’re from and if you are that kid that grew up in Orange County and went to USC and now you work in TV and film, still find a way to make it interesting. Find points in your life story where you maybe took a different path or made an unexpected choice or, if you’re a comedy writer, had something really funny and embarrassing happen to you.

Coming Soon – Part 2 with Manager Zadoc Angell as he shares advice about taking meetings, breaking in and mistakes he sees writers making.


Kelly Jo Brick is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. She’s a television and documentary writer and producer, as well as a winner of Scriptapalooza TV and a Sundance Fellow. Read more about her HERE.