Everything They Didn’t Teach You About Working In Entertainment: Being A People Person
- By: Chris Goss
This one is for me. I need this. I figure that if I put it out there, get behind it, maybe I’ll listen to it and actually do something about it.
If only it were that easy.
I started a new job this year. I sat down with a former colleague of mine to discuss tackling this new environment. His advice was simple, “You’ve got to talk to people, Chris.”
I’m the first to say that I’m “not good in a room.” I don’t naturally posses the charming charisma that has proven to be essential in the business of sales. Don’t consider screenwriting equal to sales? Think again. Selling in its base form is simply persuading others to part with something they find valuable — whether that’s money, time, reputation. See where this is going?
The act of generating interest in your screenplay requires the ability to sell it. With that comes communication. Communication requires a minimum of two people. You and someone else. No matter how much you prefer to be alone behind a desk with your keyboard and your copy of Celtx or Writer Duet or Fade In (sorry, Final Draft), your screenplay cannot sell itself. Moreover, cutting yourself off from others only makes your elevator pitch that much more in need of oil. Your ability to talk to others has to be greased; it’s a skill that must be practiced.
LIKE LEARNING TO PLAY THE PIANO
If you’re not a talker, don’t discredit yourself. Don’t be discouraged by the people with 1500 Facebook friends and/or 2000 Instagram followers. They might be good with people — easy going, talkative. It may have come naturally to them, or they may have had to work at it. Bottom line is that it isn’t you and meeting their gregarious attitude doesn’t come naturally. You have to work at it. Just like learning anything, start small. Consider this a pursuit, a goal. It’ll feel forced, but that’s OK — just like your fingers may feel uneasy on a set of ivory keys. They won’t move naturally until you train them. Seems a bit methodical to consider socializing as a learned skill, but move past that and allow yourself to train. Set a goal and make it a part of your routine.
If you’re like me, small talk is the equivalent of writing a check at a grocery store. You’d never do it and you hate whoever does. But, is that true? Checks, yes. Small talk, maybe not. It may come as a surprise to your jaded, cynical self that being nice to strangers in social settings can be seen as a positive. This doesn’t mean you must comment on the weather. In fact, small talk doesn’t really ever need to be small, or rather, insincere/vapid. True, you’re not going to lambast someone with your life story, but perhaps consider something a bit more specific. Start with a compliment — unless you’re a creepball, a simple compliment (and it doesn’t have to be about beauty) is almost impossible not to be smiled at. Do yourself a solid and make one comment to one person each day this week — see what happens. If you find yourself getting slapped or sitting in jail, you’re doing it wrong.
This goes hand in hand with small talk. I always err on the side of caution and assume people DON’T want to interact. I’ve kept this mantra close to the chest as a means of self-protection. I don’t want to engage with someone and then feel like an idiot when they give me the cold shoulder. Traveling this path results in long periods of time without moving my mouth. In a world where relationships are everything, this just isn’t good. Nor should it be — we’re people living with people, fellowship amongst our peers is a good thing. With that said, take the initiative. Be the first person to say something on a long elevator ride, or at the queue in the check stand. Ick — I know it sounds terrible, but give it a try. Be “that guy.” Feel what it feels like to open up and be socially vulnerable. This isn’t intended to turn you into a Chatty Cathy; it’s simply helping you feel more comfortable around other people. The goal: when you’re at a party and you rub shoulders with that director you’ve been wanting to work with, or that producer you think might have interest in your script, it’ll help you start those conversations. Simple.
WHEN IN DOUBT, MAKE IT ABOUT THEM
We are self-centered. It’s built into our animalistic survival instincts. As such, conversation that taps into ego is almost always reciprocated. People like to feel important, desired. It’s not twisted to consider this — it’s human nature and is fair game. If there is someone you want to get to know, find something they like about themselves — be it a talent, hobby, mutual relationship — and talk about it. Don’t me smarmy or intrusive, just be personable. Finding something specific about them is a great starting point to conversation. Just steer clear of making it seem like you were eyeing their Facebook profile the day before.
CHANGE YOUR ATTITUDE
This is a biggie. Stop finding chatty people annoying. Ugh. I know it’s tough, I know they might make your skin crawl. But, come on, they seem happy. And you know what, happiness is basically the key to all things. Happiness and selling screenplays. No, no, just happiness. It’s what we all strive for whether we think it or not. Instead of scoffing at someone’s trivial comments, consider that maybe they have something you don’t — the ability to be socially vulnerable. Their ego is a little less protected — they’re open to criticism, accepting of new relationships, and all around a bit nicer. ALL GOOD THINGS, especially for a struggling writer looking for attention.
Meeting people is crucial. As we continually utilize technology to disengage, the one-to-one face time interaction is a tool that sells scripts. People actually like people. People with power like to meet talented people — mainly to show off their power, but nonetheless that eyeball-to-eyeball greeting with a firm handshake can make all the difference in the world. Remember, practicing with folks at the local market or on the commuter train will help you nail those initial meetings with people who can help your career. And who knows, that person who sits alone at the window on the left side of the train might just be your connection to getting in at a major studio.
We’re all afraid of failure. Awkward conversations are seen as failures, so we avoid them. I believe this hurts us. I’m continually reminded about the oddities of socializing when you meet someone in a foreign country who happens to live in the city you grew up in. You’ll immediately connect with this person in say, Italy or France, even though you’d completely ignore them on the same street back home in beautiful Van Nuys, California.
It’s time we get over ourselves and reach out. Make the lunch date. Get coffee. Do it in person. Your writing requires it.
It’s scary just typing this…
I need this as much as any of us.