Sunday, September 09, 2007

[Process] - Career

For the last two and a half years, I've kept notes about what I learned while writing the Limit. Now I'm creating posts that will cover each phase of my script-writing process. They'll be added to as I trawl through the blog, and copy material from previous entries into this one. I'm also putting links up on the sidebar.

This entry is about continuing to develop your career while writing.

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Just had an intense interview with an industry professional. She suggested I focus on the following GOALS :

a) Developing a sustainable income.
b) Figuring out how 'the system' works - how funding decisions are made and who makes them.
c) Networking myself into the industry.
d) Knowing the Auckland world of film and television equally as well as Wellington's.

Her summary of the SITUATION was:

The Industry way of working is to network. "Networking" is making sure that people know who you are and what your track record is.

That means you have to (1) do things and (2) tell people what you have done.

That means joining industry organisations, going to their meetings and conferences, giving out my CONTACT CARD (name, occupation, cellphone, e-mail) and having an industry tailored CV.

I have to:

* research the industry and find out what areas I fit into.
* join and know people in SPADA, New Zealand Writers Guild & Screen Directors Guild. Be aware that Creative New Zealand's goal is to develop an artist's craft and that the New Zealand Film Commission's goal is to have a commercial outcome.
* systematically understand an organisation and then moving on to figuring out the next one.

Now I have had a lot of good experience with networking in the past - I got my job with Gibson Group because of it. But this'll move my efforts up 2 levels. Much to think about.

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Third, when someone asks you if it's funny enough, you need to know their sense of humour . This boils down to Steve's Three Laws of Humour:

1. If someone thinks it's funny and you don't, you're wrong.
2. If you think it is funny and they don't, you're wrong.
3. The opposite is also true ... for the exact same joke.

This is hard fought-for knowledge. You can NEVER convince someone they are wrong when it comes to what they think is funny. The sense of humour, your funnybone, is one of the most deeply held convictions any human possesses. Even the most timid of door-stopping Yes-droids will refuse to cave into their crippling insecurity if told to really really laugh at something they don't think is funny.

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Here’s a rant about network executives.

This is back in 1999. We’d gotten through the initial meet-and-greets with the execs at TV3, made friends, negotiated our creative positions and everything was approaching being lovey-dovey.

Cue: regime change. There’s a new CEO at TV3 and we get a new Head of Drama. This is the person we’ll be liasing with. Now both these people are due to speak at the SPADA conference for 1 hour only. But at the same time, the Weta guys from Lord of the Rings are having their first presentation ever about all the cool shit they’re about to unleash on us.

Now I’m a geek. Finding out about this stuff is essential to my well-being. And Sean and Andrew feel kinda the same. So we say to Larry that we’ll catch up with him later, we’ll just pop across to the LotR seminar rather than look at what TV3’s plans are for the next year.



Read the shocking true story of what happened next!



Pay attention. The point’s coming up in about 2 paragraphs, but it depends on what you’re about to read.

Larry reassures us that he knows the Weta guys. He’ll set us up with an inside look at the studio, so don’t worry about that, come along and check on what the execs have to say. We go along, we listen … and Larry never gives us that tour he promised.

Did Larry lie? That’s not important. What’s important is what he should have said, which is this: “Guys. Grow up. These are the only people who have to like our show for things to go well for us. We will go to their seminar, we will meet them and be nice to them … and in return you may have a shot at succeeding. So stop sulking about your little robot monsters or whatever, and get with the programme. Get in there. March. March!”

Why should he have said that? Why should he have slapped us in an inconspicous location until we obeyed with good grace and grins on our faces?

Think of a TV show like a product. That’s what everyone else in the ‘industry’ does.

The 2 basic things you do with a product are make it and figure out what to do with it. The people at the TV network are the ones who figure out what to do with it. Now think of it this way: you know all the politics and wrangling that go on inside your company? They go on inside a TV network. Only in a network, your performance is measured by Neilsen ratings every day. It’s paranoia and fiefdoms and people who want to get involved in the creative process. Hunter S. Thompson was talking about TV news when he said it was:

"... a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. "

But really it applies to all TV shows. Certainly, I copied it and stuck it to the wall of our writing office to look at when I was trying to get inspiration for a comedy scene.

Anyway, in that minefield of insecurity, belligerence and competing agendas comes your show. If people like it, it will get treated well. What determines likeability? Is it any good? Is it sexy? Will advertisers pay for time during it? Lots of other stuff, including …

Do the people who have just received this programme like you?

You see you need someone who will champion you inside the network. So as a writer or producer your goal here is simple and fundamental: Establish a good working relationship with whoever it is that you are dealing with at the network.

I’m running out of steam here, so I’ll go into details about what that relationship is and maybe another (maybe slightly more bitter) rant about what happens when you don’t realise that’s the goal later.


***

These notes are from Peak Performers by Charles Garfield.

Team building/playing involves being able to start a project AND contribute to someone else's. Peak performers have a drive to stand in while they stand out; leading the teams they build and also joining them.

Read more!


3 essential skills for this: 1) Spirit - keeping the mission alive. 2) Peer Pressure - enforcing performance via reminders of the mission and its values (not via intimidation). 3) Communication - keeping the channels open and clear.

Leaders have a vision of the entire project. They keep communicating this vision around the team. Best way is to get everyone in a big room. Effective communication calls for: Empathy. Authenticity. Concreteness.

Rather than rewards and punishments, make certain each member understands the simple fact of teamwork: "If my end of the boat sinks, so does yours."

LEADERSHIP communicates the mission clearly to people who will catch fire from it and generate their own motivations and drive for results. It’s seeing possibilities before they become obvious: A leader gives power and responsibilities to others, " carrying water for his people so they can get on with their jobs."

Much of a peak performer’s impact is achieved by making sure other people perceive their goals as worthy (and of benefit to them). The real source of good results is the wholehearted personal commitment of everyone involved. Think longer and harder about building your people structure than anything else.

HOW TO BUILD A TEAM

  • Delegate to empower. Releasing power in others, whether in co-workers or customers, benefits peak performers in the long run.
  • Stretch the abilities of others.
  • Encourage educated risk-taking.
  • Concentrate on solving problems rather than placing blame for them.
  • Persuade more than order. Listen to people, get them to align willingly with the team effort instead of merely obeying orders.
  • Seek input from others.
  • Show political sensitivity.
  • Share rewards and recognition willingly.
  • Assume people in the team have needs. For self esteem, belonging to an organisation one can be proud of, standing out while standing in, self-actualisation. Satisfy these needs by offering autonomy and responsibility at work. People want acceptance, recognition and to know their work matters.
  • Vigorously share information; have regular brainstorming sessions.
Draw a triangle of Team Goals, Methods for how each individual can contribute and Yardsticks.

***

Don't go in with piles of notes.
Have one page in front of you and on it make 2 simple lists.
The first is what you like about the show. Be sure to pitch this first.

During the friendly chatting - getting to know each other - sitting down to business phases, try to understand your place in the hierarchy, how much this team has worked together before (and therefore has pre-existing norms).

When in doubt, listen.
In this first meeting, it's not your job to be the person who says the most.
But you do want to get an idea of how locked down the elements of the show are - and maybe even what is their decision-making process for whether things need changing.

Your second list is no more than 10 points of suggested changes and things you don't like about the show.

10?

Because you don't want to overwhelm them or come off as the nay-sayer. (And actually, now I think about it, maybe even a list of just 3 points would be even better. More focused.)
Rank them in order of importance, so you know which battles are worth fighting, to you.
And for every thing you don't like about the show, bring 2 possible solutions.

You also don't want to be the one who puts forward the things on your list one after another.
Take your time, take your turn, listen to everyone else. Try to stay flexible. Agree if someone hits a point on your list (and then cross that point off).

Anyone else got any tips for going into a meeting as the new guy?

***

The following is taken verbatim from Why teams don't work by Harvey Robbins and Michael Finley.

It is everyone's responsibility to create a team. Here are the characteristics of effective team members:

Goals. Interest. Conflict. Listening. Decisions. Differences. Ideas. Feedback. Accomplishments.


Having a commitment to goals. It is difficult to work enthusiastically towards an outcome if you don't know what the outcome is. The first thing good team members to is clarify what they're after - what their team goals and objectives are. With this clarified, good team members commit themselves to the outcome; whatever it takes (within ethical boundaries), they are willing to do.

Showing a genuine interest in other team members. People don't have to like each other to work together. That may be true, in the short term. But good team members develop a genuine interest in the well-being of other team members. Not as a team survival mechanism, but as a human bond. It may sound like small talk, but it's more caring: "How was your weekend?" "Is your child still sick?" "Is there anything I can do?"

Confronting conflict. Good team members can tell the difference between confrontation and conflict - between directness and having a chip on one's shoulder. The only way to discover and resolve differences with the team is to open up, acknowledge the disagreement, and negotiate a solution. Avoid the plague, but own up to conflict. As a matter of fact, effective team members intercede when other team members are in conflict, to help resolve the disagreement. Bad or weak team members turn their back on conflict and either ignore it, and hope it will disappear, or let the other team members battle it out, squandering precious team time and goodwill.

Listening empathically. Empathic, active listening is important for anyone, whether you are on a team or not. It is particularly important for open communication between effective team members. Empathic listening means being sensitive to not just the content of the message the other person is sending but to the emotion behind the message. Good listening means more than shutting up and waiting for your turn - it means getting into the other person's head and heart.

Practising inclusive decision-making. Good team members run their "first draft" decision by other team members before they pool the trigger. One never knows what additional inputs you may acquire that may make your tentative decision even better. Not only may you get additional information this way, but you have a communication device online that lets people know where your thoughts are headed - thus minimising surprises later.

Valuing individual differences. Effective team members look at differences as positive. They respect the opinions of others and view others' perspectives as pluses, not minuses. They figure out how to use the natural differences to benefit the team's outcomes and not as excuses to avoid working with each other.

Contributing ideas freely. Good team members don't hold back their ideas. When they have an opinion about something, they express it, even if it's just to support someone else's opinion. If you have an idea about the topic being discussed and you keep your mouth shut (very typical for the Midwest, where we are), you're not being an effective team member.

Providing feedback on team performance. Good teams develop a method for providing continuous feedback on how the team is working, what's going right, what's going wrong, and what to do about it. Effective team members also solicit feedback from other team members ("How'm I doing?"). No matter what formal performance feedback system their organisations provide, good teams develop methods for more frequent, real-time, relevant feedback on people, processes, team support structures, and outcomes. [See also 'Gung Ho'.]

Celebrating accomplishments. One of the first questions Harvey asks when doing teaming within an organisation is, "When was the last time you folks had a party?" If you haven't had a party lately, you haven't had a formal excuse to celebrate. Maybe your goals are long-term ones; it's hard to break off in the middle and celebrate. So - do it anyway. Effective teams find excuses to celebrate, usually related to the accomplishment of some shorter term outcome. Look for ways to lift the morale through celebration, both personal and professional.

***

In Tom Peter’s book, The Project50, he outlines the project life-cycle as being:
1) Create. 2) Sell. 3) Implement. That works for me – and it corresponds nicely to 1) Creating the show, 2) Preparing the show, 3) Producing the show. But also each of these phases will have their own create-sell-implement moments inside them.

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How to entitle script inquiry e-mails is something I haven't seen written about in any scriptwriting book or blog. So, naturally, after working on a submission letter for the last week this has had me puzzling for about the last hour.

The challenge is to get a person you don't know to open an e-mail about something they've never heard about before.

After thinking it through, here are some of the qualities that were important to me:

- Short (seven words or less - so they can read the entire title before opening the email)
- Not a question the producer can say ‘No’ to at the just-reading-the-subject-line stage (for instance, "Can I submit a feature film script to you?")
- If it's a choice between mentioning genre or the title, I'll go with the genre
- I prefer a functional subject line over a humourous one

I came up with about 15 options, and after running them through The Prioritizer (which gave me a few more ideas), this is what I had (in order from favourite to least):

  • Script inquiry about a vigilante thriller (the winning title)
  • Script submission inquiry
  • Inquiry about feature film submission
  • Script submission inquiry for a vigilante thriller
  • Thriller script seeks producer
  • Thriller script, seeking producer
  • Finished script seeks producer
  • I'd like to submit a feature film script to you
  • Can I submit a feature film script to you
  • Are you accepting script submissions?
  • Have script, need producer
  • I have a script I'd like you to read
  • The Limit - a completed script for your perusal
  • Would you like to read a script?
Other, unranked ideas:

  • Submission inquiry for a vigilante thriller
  • Inquiry about submitting scripts
  • Submitting a feature script to you
  • Inquiry about your script policy
  • Gauging interest in a feature film
  • I’d like to submit a script to you
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