There is nothing I love more than bringing back guest bloggers to share more stories, and ladies and gentlemen, today is that day. Writer Jody Medland, who has recently released his first novel, The Moors, is back to talk about writing and acting and all things related. This blog really resonates with me for so many reasons. One of the key ones is that over the years I’ve had the opportunity to audition for Jody for feature film roles. I didn’t book them, but they went well and best of all, we have continued to maintain a wonderful friendship. You’ll understand when you read the full post why this is relevant, suffice to say actors should not ignore every component of the filmmaking and theatre business, writers included.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to Jody Medland’s latest contribution.
– By Jody Medland
It’s always a funny moment when I happen to be talking to an actor at some form of social event and they ask me what I do.
“I’m a writer,” I say, and within moments I can see the cogs turning behind their eyes as their body language shifts and they size me up, trying to decide how best to play their cards.
I’m going to be very open and say this annoys me because, suddenly, I cease to be a person and become an opportunity. I prepare myself for the inevitable questions…
“What have you done?”
“Would I know your work?”
“What are you working on now?”
“Are you casting?”
The problem with these questions is it almost forms an immediate barrier for friendship because you’ll either be impressed by my credentials, in which case I could think you’re talking to me in the hope of landing a role, or you’ll be underwhelmed by my credits, in which case I’m going to be left a little deflated.
This is not, in my opinion, how to network with a writer.
There have been many times at parties and other gatherings when I’ve been tempted to lie about my profession so I can simply enjoy normal talks with people that aren’t motivated by “what I do,” and herein lies a common problem: How do you ensure you’re viewed as a social butterfly, and not a pain in the ass, when meeting people who may one day become influential contacts and colleagues?
When my good friend Angela asked if I’d consider this topic for a blog, I agreed to write it straight away. I felt it would allow me to share my experiences and hopefully encourage you guys, as actors, to respond, giving me pointers on how writers can improve their networking game, too.
The fact is, writers and actors are two very important parts of the filmmaking puzzle, and when our relationships are nurtured properly, they can blossom into infinite beauty.
Here are my top 5 tips for how to best approach a writer…
WARNING: The following text may contain stereotypes!
1. Don’t immediately talk shop
It always amazes me when within 60-seconds of telling somebody I’m a writer, they’ve listed a handful of projects we should work on together. Not in any other profession would people be so presumptuous and brazen.
Any writer worth their salt knows that each project, if taken seriously, takes a great deal of time and energy, and so we don’t commit to projects unless we know it’s worthy of our time.
Also, think what this says about you as an actor. To some, talking about multiple projects might make you sound like a multi-tasking Jedi, but to most, it makes you sound like you can’t focus, and I really want my actors to be able to focus. I really, really do.
2. Help me to help you
Jerry Maguire’s immortal words definitely ring true when it comes to networking and let me be really clear about something. There is nothing wrong with expressing an interest in what someone does. I, for one, am very intrigued about the life of a thespian, but only if I sense an actor is open to talking about their profession do I continue to ask questions about it.
Here’s what I do instead.
If I like an actor, I find out about them as a person – what are they drinking? What hobbies do they have? Do they have children? How do they find the challenge of juggling studies or parenthood with acting? You see, I’m hugely interested in people, which is a pretty common trait with writers, but do you know what else I’m doing? I’m seeing if I connect with the actor well enough on a personal level to be interested in working with them.
Then, if it’s convenient to steer the conversation towards creative work, I ask what they’re working on? What’s their ideal role? And finally, are they currently looking for new material? If they are, guess who might be able to help? Suddenly, I’ve turned my need (to write) into a solution to an actor’s problem (they need material).
I can have this entire conversation over the space of 5-minutes and by the time I step away, leaving them to enjoy the rest of the night with their friends, I know everything I need to know about them and we’ve usually exchanged business cards. All of this and not once did I ask a single threatening question.
Be calm, attentive and helpful and they’ll either pursue you for a more detailed chat or they’ll be happy to hear from you when you give them a call.
3. Don’t be dismissive
I was once having a personal conservation with a friend that was interrupted by an actor who’d heard I was a writer. For some reason, he thought I was able to help him launch his career and not only did he assume I would want do this for him, he started asking questions of my credentials – not in a curious way, but in a job-interviewy kind of way – as though I was auditioning for him. Upon telling him I was in the process of publishing my first paperback book, he looked dejected, muttered something about needing a screenwriter and without an apology or a goodbye, he walked away, scanning the room for his next target.
There is so much about his attitude and approach that irked me and there were only two reasons I didn’t have it out with the guy:
- a) it was at a friend’s event, so I didn’t want to make a scene, and
- b) I was worried that by verbalising the issues I had, the advice might eventually help him!
His arrogance showed a complete lack of respect on countless levels, but for the sake of sticking to the point I’ll focus on just one.
He seemed to think that because I was working on a novel, I couldn’t leverage him as an actor. In actual fact, if he’d continued to talk to me – or rather, if I’d wanted to talk to him – he would have discovered that I am a screenwriter, and that my first feature film had recently been released worldwide. Not only that, I often receive calls asking for casting leads – usually for commercials and not feature films, but still. Also, who’s to say that in 5-years’ time, I won’t be casting a part that he would have been perfect for?
Don’t be short sighted. If your intention is to network with writers, do so with no immediate expectations. The important thing is to get yourself on their brain so should the day ever come that they need somebody to play a role you’re meant for, guess who they’re gonna call?
It should also be clarified that although writers aren’t the obvious contacts who can get you cast, some writers do insist on casting their own projects and due to their contact circles, they are often tight with producers, directors and casting agents who value their opinion, so having good writers on your side is never a bad thing.
4. Know what you want
It took me many, many, maaaaaany years to take this advice as a writer, and I’m going to now put it to you guys. Before you leave your house today, and every day hereafter, know what it is you’re actually looking for.
What I mean by this is if I ask you what kind of roles you like to play, and your answer is “anything,” it not only reveals a lack of direction on your part but it gives me absolutely no frame of reference on where to place you.
The result? You’ll be lumped into a faceless abyss with the other fifty actors I’ve met that day and the chances are I’ll never even think to call or recommend you. It’s not a reflection on your acting, more the fact I don’t know who you, as an actor, are.
Now the reason I struggled with this for so long is because I can write multiple genres extremely competently, so when I was speaking to people who could potentially hire me, I’d almost be afraid to rule myself out of jobs by highlighting a specific genre I enjoyed. However, from a marketing perspective, being too vague does the complete opposite.
When people ask me what I write now, I tell them I specialise in thrillers and dark drama, but that I consider other genres if they’re a little quirky. What I subsequently find is that people remember me and it’s led to many screenwriting recommendations. Also, if I’ve clicked with the person I’m talking to and they need a writer for say, a comedy, they try to convince me to consider working in that genre as opposed to dismiss me because I seemed too desperate to be hired.
I’m telling you now that if you follow this advice, it will work for you. Think about it, if we get on, I love your look and I believe you can act, why would the fact you love performing drama on stage diminish my desire to cast you in my feature rom-com? If anything, I would relish the chance to explore new territory with you.
Let your CV and work history prove your versatility, but in a face-to-face scenario, prepare an answer that’s far more memorable and interesting.
5. Be honest
Good actors often adapt to groups of different people like chameleons and therefore quickly learn how to charm people. In life, that can be incredibly useful because it’s a skill that can be used to gain many advantages.
However, let me tell you something about good writers. They are often avid people-watchers and can tell more about you through your opening exchange than you can possibly imagine. The chances are they watched you while you were working the room, adopting different personalities to suit your needs.
Now imagine I’ve observed you at a party and you come and ask something of me. At best, I’ll be wary that the person you present yourself to be isn’t really who you are, so the chances of us forging any kind of deep connection is unlikely to happen quickly.
If you’re not going to try to genuinely connect with me as a person, there is only one exception I can think of that might make me want to work with you in any case and that is if you show an understanding of my needs as well as your own. In other words, the exchange would go something like this:
“Excuse me. My name’s Eva and I heard you’re a screenwriter. I’m really sorry, I don’t have time to chat today but I’m an actress and I’d love to give you my details, if that’s okay?”
Now in this scenario, I really respect the fact that Eva isn’t hiding the fact she’s talking to me because I’m a writer. It’s clear that, one way or another, she feels there might be a collaboration between us. She’s been direct, so has taken hardly any of my time, and although the exchange was brief, she’s been incredibly polite, so why on earth would I refuse to take her details? If I subsequently discover she has a well organised web site with a showreel, voicereel, CV and mini-biography on there, she’ll definitely go down as somebody to refer to when I’m next casting.
Some of the longest, greatest and most interesting relationships I have are with actors, and it all started with that first meeting. I just wish more people would take these considerations on board instead of feeling the need to plug themselves so that more organic working relationships have time to grow.
Jody Medland is an award winning writer who has collaborated with numerous well established names and brands.
He has not only created commercials for clients such as The Times, Kellogs, Viacom, Trident, Nickelodeon, MTV, T-mobile and SKY, and written several short films that were shown, to much acclaim, at BAFTA, but he also wrote his first debut feature film, The Adored, in 2011. Recently The Adored was signed for a worldwide distribution deal for its release in 2013. It has won Best Film at the Durban Film Festival in South Africa as well as earned four official selections in Wales, Poland, Germany and the USA.
Jody turned set up the online publishing company Pen Works Media, which produced The Emerging Light Series – a project that actively encouraged new writers to submit short stories. The success of the series has led his first full novel, The Moors, recently being released.
Jody Medland is a full member of The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain and is currently developing a string of interactive learning resources through his new company, LRN-UK LTD.