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5 Trick Questions Executives Love to Ask Writers

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If you’re just breaking into the business and are fortunate enough to get a meeting with an executive who is interested in your project, they’re going to bombard you with questions not because they want to know about your project, but because they want to know about you and your understanding of the entertainment business. Executives want to be comforted in knowing that even though this is the first time they’ve heard of you,  you understand how the business works and how to collaborate with producers. So don’t let common questions trip you up. Be prepared for the following:

 

Trick Question #1: How long have you been working on your project?

If you say that you’ve been working on it for years, you sound like an amateur who can’t write quickly enough to work in the big leagues. If you say a couple months, then it sounds like you’re not serious enough about your work to take the time to make something great.

The hidden question is: Do you really know what you’re doing?
Here’s how to answer: Think about the different ways you could truthfully explain how long you’ve been working on your project, and put your best foot forward.

Examples:

  • “I read this article three years ago and it really stuck with me. Then I had the idea, “What if_____?” and I wrote the draft over the last six months.”
  • “When I first got the idea for (project title), I wasn’t sure what to do with it, so I noodled with it for a few years, thought about putting it down, but the story just kept sticking with me. Eventually I figured out the missing piece of the story and then I rewrote the entire thing in five months.”
  • “About a year or so.”

 

Trick Question #2: How much would this cost?

You could make most movies for two million, $20 million or $200 million dollars depending on whom you cast. Even if you’ve worked as a line producer and have extensive experience budgeting, if you’re selling a script as a screenwriter or even a producer, estimating cost at this point in the process isn’t your job.

If you provide an estimate (which almost assuredly isn’t what the executive is thinking), it’s easy for the executive to dismiss your perspective.  Executives know that film budgeting, whether for an independent or studio film, is a moving target.

That’s really what this question is about—it’s a way to filter out the amateurs who take the bait and answer something way too low or way too high.  Remember, in this meeting, you’re the creative professional. Your job is to imagine and create. The executive’s job is to budget and produce.

The hidden question is: Does this person understand how the business works?
Here’s how to answer:  Don’t give a specific number and turn the question back to the executive.

Example:

  • “Budgeting isn’t my forte, and I’m sure you have a more accurate idea of what we could make this for.”
  • “At the end of the day, I just want to get the movie made at the lowest risk possible, but that’s why I’m looking to work with  producers like yourself.”

 

Trick Question #3: How do you see the casting?

This is a trick question because you think they want to hear your opinions, but they’re asking you to make sure you’re not obsessed with wacky or outlandish casting ideas.

Don’t mention your friends as actors. This shows that your objectives are aligned with your personal interests rather than the film’s.

Understand who it is your speaking with. If it’s an executive at a studio or mini-major, then you should be thinking of more A-list actors. If it’s an independent financier or production company, then you should bring up actors that are more affordable and generally work in the independent arena.

The hidden question is: Are you aware of the marketplace?
Here’s how to answer:  Mention a couple of well-known stars and well-regarded independent film stars and then turn the question back to the executive.

Example:

  • “I think for the main character, (big star) or (big star), also possibly (up-and-coming star). For the father, I could see a guy like (established film actor) or (beloved TV character actor). Who are you thinking about?”

Before a script is purchased, talking about casting can be a slippery slope.  Once the project sells, at the appropriate time in the casting process you can float any names that haven’t already been raised by someone else.

 

Trick Question #4: What’s the weakest part of the script?

This is a question for which you should be prepared at all times. It’s just like when you interviewed to get into college or for your first job. The standard question is, “What is your biggest weakness?” or “Why shouldn’t we hire you?”

This is a test to see how objectively you can look at your work. Pros know that every word they write isn’t perfect and they can immediately identify sections or aspects that are stronger than others.

The hidden question is: Can you handle being challenged?
Here’s how to answer: Be willing to show there are things you are working on, that you’re willing to work with notes, and keep a positive focus.

Examples:

  • “I’m still looking for places to tighten up the second act.”
  • “The humor feels stronger to me in the beginning and the end—I could use a few more good lines in the middle.”
  • “I am concerned that the climactic fight sequence in Act III is a bit too violent, though I can turn the volume down on that if necessary.”

 

Trick Question #5: How did you get started as a writer?

The hidden question is: Are you an expert?
Fair or not, the executive is going to judge your expertise and capability as a writer from your story of how you became a writer.

The most common answer goes something like this: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Been writing short stories since I was a kid. Love movies. Then I took a writing class with a great teacher and (blah blah blah).”

 Here’s how to answer: Demonstrate your expertise.

Examples:

  • “I’ve been obsessed with (detail relating to your project) for years, and realized that there’s never been a story that focused on (a marketable aspect of the genre).”
  • “When I was working as an (unusual previous job), (unique experience) happened. I started researching everything about the topic and this project was the result.”

Now that you can answer these trick questions, I hope you’ll feel more confident going into your next meeting!

 

As seen on www.ssninsider.com

 

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