The title of this blog suggests some kind of self help manifesto. A quick internet search reveals a gap in the market. There appears to be plenty of titles aimed very specifically at men who would like to approach women, but none for people who would like to approach people. I’m not saying you should never approach a woman, but if you do please be polite, avoid unwanted physical contact and take rejection gracefully; smile and walk away. Also do your research. No, don’t do that. Unless you’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day it’s a bit creepy if you already know everything about them.
Actually, all those rules apply to approaching people in the media with your idea, but this time include the research. It is good to know a bit about people before you make your approach.
I’m writing this because I had a message from a gentleman called Marcus Ako asking for advice. Here it is:
Thank you very much for your incredibly informative and witty blog. Would you be able to spare a moment to give some advice?
I am a writer/actor with an idea for a tv show (yes, I know… I am one of those, but please don’t hit delete yet). I have a pilot script written and a synopsis for eleven 30-minute episodes. I believe the idea is solid for a company like Tiger Aspect. What is the best way to approach them or other companies to score 10 minutes to pitch? I know I could stand outside their office with a boom-box, but I’m afraid they may miss the reference and have me arrested.
Any advice short of “give up” would be welcomed.
Thanks for the message Marcus, which is a pretty decent example of how to contact someone. Flattery may get you somewhere. Try not to cross the line into obsequious brown nosing or continue further until the person you’re contacting starts to worry that they’ve cultivated a stalker. The opening sentence is good. It makes me feel good about myself and therefore more receptive to getting off my arse and typing this. Flattery doesn’t always guarantee a reply. I’m going to write a separate post about one approach someone made. It wasn’t a bad example, in fact it was an incredibly good one and I didn’t respond, which I feel immensely bad about, so I’ll rectify that in a blog.
Marcus goes off the boil a bit when he mentions Tiger Aspect1. Why aren’t you sending it to me at Channel X, Marcus? What have we ever done to you? But a quick look on Tiger Aspect website shows they don’t accept unsolicited scripts. In which case the boom-box may be your only hope. Please don’t employ the boom-box. I’ve already demonstrated how these tactics are doomed to failure.
Here are some tips in no particular order of usefulness.
1) Find production companies that do accept unsolicited scripts. Research them and see if they are producing shows in a similar vein – in tone or type – as some, but not all, companies do lean towards certain styles. Many, however, are just looking for good scripts and the fact that their last show was a studio sitcom doesn’t mean that is all they want to make. The PACT website is very useful and The British Comedy Guide is quite a good resource too.
2) It’s not really worth sending an email asking what people want to see. If you’re not already a contact of the person you’re approaching then the only thing that’s going to get a response is material they think is great. And if they haven’t read your work before then they want to see a script or at the very least a well written treatment with some sample scenes. So just write as brief and polite an email as possible with a bit about you and the project and attach the work. I just want to click on the attachment and have a look. It won’t guarantee a response, of course. Not getting a response happens to all of us. It still happens to me and it is frustrating, but the only answer is to keep trying, but try to avoid showing your frustration.
3) It’s not really worth emailing with a request to come in and pitch your idea. It’s very unlikely that I would invite someone who hasn’t already proved their credentials in for a meeting and I’d guess that probably goes for most other execs. But I have asked people to come in if I liked a script, an idea or a video link they sent me.
4) You can’t expect feedback. It’s great if you can get it and I try to give some feedback if I like something and see potential, but there’s rarely time to give detailed notes. I need to find projects that I think have real potential to be commissioned. I want to find projects that I find interesting and funny and work with people who are interesting and funny. I have to be able to look a commissioner in the eye and say that I back that project fully. I’m a very bad liar. And I do feel bad about not getting back to people. I know my guilt isn’t going to help you progress but at least you can take some comfort in the fact.
5) Even if you’re sending your script to an info email address, find a name at the company to address your email to. The least you can do is have a look at their website.
6) Maybe tell the company that their last show was ace, no matter what the critics or the rating said. If you hated their last show then don’t go on about how your script is ten times better and how you can’t believe that show got made. The company will either be well aware that their show went to shit or disagree with you and think it was brilliant. Have a look through their back catalogue and say that you loved one of their shows that only ran for one series and was criminally overlooked. For Channel X that might be Snuffbox or for me at Channel X North that might be one of the Comedy Labs we made that never went to series. At the very least, they had their moments.
7) What is your show about and is there a unique or particularly interesting angle? It is still the writing that counts, but a timely idea or an area that has not been explored before is more likely to garner interest. And pitching a show with a similar subject matter to a recent show is always unlikely to work. So, sending a script to me about a family set in the North East is probably a waste of time. If you have written that script and it is brilliant then it could still work as a writing sample, but you’ll need to have other ideas. And write those other ideas. Hopefully your next script will be even better and cover a subject that hasn’t been done before or at least not in the last ten years, so people might have forgotten about it.
8) Find other ways to bring attention to your writing. This is probably the thing I try to hammer home at any event where I’m asked to speak. The series I’ve developed have come from writers who have brought themselves to my attention in different ways. David Isaac who wrote Lunch Monkeys had been helping a talented director, Jason Wingard, create sketches set in Manchester mini-cabs called Where to Mate? featuring a very funny comic actor, Peter Slater. I’d seen Peter live, his agent showed me the sketches and then I met Jason and David. David asked if he could send me some scripts and because he had already proved he could write funny stuff I said yes. In the case of Hebburn, I had seen Jason Cook’s stand up and was keen to work with him. Simple as that (well, plus several years trying to get the thing commissioned). Also both of them were very nice, polite and a pleasure to deal with. Obviously the power’s got to them now and, like me, they are insufferable.
9) Further to the above, bring your scripts to life. One of the great things about working with stand ups and having done stand up myself is that when you perform live you know when something is funny and you know the pain of when it is not. Find some actors to read your script aloud, ideally with an audience. Film some scenes. Do something. Otherwise you might be sat at your laptop for years going bananas.
10) Take a punt on contacting people – producers, agents, people you are a fan of. But be polite and don’t expect a response. Companies may not accept unsolicited scripts, but you can send them a link to something you’ve had filmed or invite them to a showcase. If your stuff is good enough eventually someone will talk to you.
11) Use social media. Post links to your work. But be polite. Don’t constantly tag Graham Linehan or any other famous comedy tweeters. But do think before you make approaches and don’t overdo it. I was once contacted on Facebook messenger by a writer who had previously emailed me material. I think I had responded to one project, but not to a subsequent one. He could see that I was online, but when I ignored him he sent several messages asking ‘are you there? Matt? Hello????’ It was in the evening and I was just on Facebook looking at endearing family pictures of friends and posting sincere comments. I’m not at work when I’m fannying about on Facebook, unless I’m doing that at work, in which case don’t tell the boss. So do be careful how you use social media. But if you are funny and interesting on Twitter or Facebook there’s a good chance you are funny and interesting in other ways. My friend Michael Spicer, who I met because he sent sketches on a VHS, yes a VHS tape, to a company I was working for many years ago, is a great example of this. He is very funny on Twitter and consequently people go and look at his sketches on youtube which are also very funny.
12) Be resilient. There is a line here. If people are forever ignoring you and no one ever gives you one iota of encouragement other than your mum, then of course there is a point when you should look at your work and ask yourself, ‘could be improved?’ The answer is probably ‘yes.’ Almost all scripts can be improved. I’m not going to tell you to give up. I’d never tell someone to give up. Several people on youtube have suggested that I give up on life entirely, but fortunately enough people have said things like ‘don’t kill yourself Matt, this stuff is average,’ to inspire me to carry on regardless.
So those are my tips, which have conveniently made a list of twelve. So there you have my official top twelve tips for approaching people.
I can offer a zero percent guarantee that they will work, but I hope they are useful. I’m sure there are other things you can do, so if anyone has any suggestions then do let me know.
And finally, as I mentioned in tip 2, it is unlikely that someone will invite you in to pitch face to face unless they like something you’ve written or made. There are other tips for face to face meetings and maybe I’ll blog about those, but I’m running out of steam now. I fell asleep in front of the telly in the early hours watching Spiral on Netflix leaving a half eaten brown stew chicken from the local Jamaican take away on the coffee table. An insight into the glamorous life of the television executive for you there.
Good luck Marcus.
1 I have nothing against Tiger Aspect, which was a lovely place to work when I was with them.