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THE RULES OF HOLLYWOOD

At the Worst Meeting Ever, Remember the Best One

July 30, 2006|Emily Dwass | Emily Dwass is writing a screenplay based on Ann Hood's novel "Places to Stay the Night."

I heard a movie executive speak at the Writers Guild a few years back. He described the kind of projects he was looking for, and I thought one of my scripts fit the bill, so I called him later and left a message with his assistant. To my surprise, the assistant called back immediately to set up an appointment.

Excited, I bought an outfit and had my hair professionally blown dry. I drove 75 minutes on the 405, barely arriving in time. When I was ushered into the office, the executive looked up from his phone, blinked and said, "Oh. I thought you were someone else." End of meeting. (The final insult was that they didn't validate parking.)

I was sure that was the worst meeting ever, until I had a meet-and-greet with a potential agent at Jerry's Famous Deli. Once again, I appeared in a new outfit and salon-enhanced locks. The agent wore sweaty tennis togs. Things were fine until midway through breakfast, when he summoned the waitress to report that his toasted bagel was cold. She responded, "It's not my fault you eat slowly." For the next hour, the agent devoted himself to a sustained effort to get the waitress fired. I sat there like an idiot until I finally excused myself, thinking that was the worst meeting ever.

And it was, until I met with a TV producer who thumbed through a Playboy magazine as I gave my pitch. I wasn't sure if the glazed look in his eyes and his appreciative smile were in response to my presentation or to Miss September. I also was kicking myself for buying yet another outfit, because I'm pretty sure I was overdressed. I was so flustered I completely mangled the pitch, and I couldn't wait to escape. No question, I thought afterward, this one gets the award for worst meeting ever.

But wait. In a stunning recount, the winner actually appears to be my last session with the producer who had hired me to write a romantic comedy along the lines of "Pretty Woman." As I reached across his desk to deliver the final draft, he began to wax poetic about the circle of life, from birth to death. I realized that this was his way of telling me that he had run out of money and would not be paying me, but that he nevertheless expected me to hand over the goods. I clutched the script and backed out of his office, shouting, "It's been fun!"

I've been wary of meetings since then. Part of my problem is that I got spoiled when I was starting out. The flip side of the bad meeting is that most of us also carry the memory of a truly wonderful, life-changing encounter. Mine occurred 20 years ago, when I was eight months' pregnant and as big as a house.

I was taking an introductory screenplay class at Pierce College. The instructor suggested that I try animation writing (I guess he figured there were cartoons in my future). He sent me to see his friend Chuck Lorre at Marvel Animation. I was so pregnant that I could barely fit in the chair. Bless his heart, Lorre spent an entire afternoon with me, giving me a crash course on how to write a TV animation script. Then he took me on a tour of Marvel, the highlight of which was getting to meet the legendary Stan Lee. Lorre later edited my spec animation script and advised me about where to submit it. This led to my first paid writing assignment, for which I will be forever grateful.

Lorre became one of Hollywood's most successful writers and producers. He's no doubt had about a gazillion meetings, and I'm betting he doesn't recall the one with me. But I'll always remember; it was the best meeting ever.

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