Saturday, February 28, 2009

Chronicles 69 - Foot in the Door

The previous post chronicled my last (failed) campaign to find and attach a UK producer to one of my projects. I sent out a whole bunch of emails and everyone passed except a major UK distributor who seems interested--his reader loved the script and we're hooked up for another meeting.

I have another round of meetings in London next week on the back of a new email/phone campaign. This time I have a number of producers interested in getting involved with the project and also have some major UK producers that want to meet me. Why? The numbers game, that's why--something I learnt a long time ago when selling life insurance/advertising space.

I know I have a good product, it doesn't scream 'commercial', but it is of a certain genre--British, urban, gritty--it's solid, original and the voice is strong--it just needs to find its home--so I decided to keep on plugging away--hence the numbers game.

In the numbers game there is one absolute fact: if you make no calls then you'll get no sales AND if you make a LOT of calls you will get a LOT of rejections (the majority actually) BUT with persistence you will get a YES.

In life insurance we used to do all our cold calling on Friday night--about 60-100 calls. If you worked the system this would give you 4 appointments on Monday, 4 on Tuesday and 2 on Wednesday--then--on Tuesday you would cold call again with the aim of filling up the rest of the week i.e. 4 face-to-face meetings per day.

Statistically salesman would then close 1 out of 4 of these meetings with a signed deal. I was never organised or together enough to really work the system on a daily basis, choosing to spend most of my nights blowing my commission cheque in the local pub, HOWEVER, when I did work the system I did discover that--it bloody well worked! The numbers game is a universal law, as is the persistence required to work this game.

Of course we would never directly tell people that we were 'selling life insurance'. We would buffer the hard sell with soft, fluffy euphemisms such as: 'financial consultancy'. Sounds more palatable doesn't it? We also had various scripted presentations and sales techniques for the face-to-face meetings aimed at creating the impression that we were sophisticated financial experts, (there to help, to advise) rather than coming across as the foot-in-the-door brush/encyclopedia salesmen of yore.

However, despite all the smoke and mirrors, a veteran of the insurance industry gave us budding salesmen a very interesting pep talk one day. He said, "Even if you give the worst cold call presentation ever i.e. if you were to go and knock on people's doors and say, 'I sell life insurance, would you like to buy some?', then, statistically 1 in 57 people will say yes". This, my friends, is one of the most valuable pieces of information I have ever been given. It has stuck in my brain ever since--AND--many years later (I only worked in life insurance for about 9 months) I found myself in a position where I had to apply these principles. I found myself, alone, with my first (or rather our--it was co-written) screenplay in my hands along with a phone and a copy of the Hollywood Creative/Agents Directory by my side and I was wondering how I was going to sell our first script to Hollywood.

Applying the life insurance principle I hit the phone. I got a LOT of rejections of the 'referral only' variety BUT to cut a long story short, after many phone calls and after finding a London-based entertainment lawyer I managed to get my script out to about 25 contacts--most of them were production companies but some were also agents and managers.

Many of these production companies called me back, to pass, but still there was an interest there in the writing which led to a number of meetings on my first trip to LA. One producer invited me to her home and even referred me to an agent, who passed. Nothing concrete or tangible came out of that campaign and that first screenplay is now gathering dust on my shelf, still, I discovered for myself that those same numbers game principles coupled with a pre-prepared, strategic phone presentation that I had applied earlier to life insurance also worked with Hollywood.

Flashforward to a few weeks ago. After my first campaign targeting UK producers hadn't produced any tangible results I knew that it wasn't the product as such--I just hadn't hit my stats yet. So, this time I upped the numbers, got hold of a number of on-line databases and went out a lot wider.

I never solely rely on email. Email is great because it allows you to present a project in a concise, lucid and comprehensive way BUT not everyone responds to unsolicited emails, so, I create a special folder for non-responders and follow up with a telephone call. This creates more responses, it puts a voice to a name or you may find that you've used the wrong email address, that person was on vacation, travelling or even sick. Of course, with the follow-up call you might not reach the person and then you have to leave messages with assistants and leave voice mails and even then a number of people still don't respond. In this case I usually let another week go by and call again. Eventually, you reach a point where you catch most of the people on your list.

Apart from the UK campaign I am currently pursuing US casting directors for the romantic comedy project as a conduit to agents and bankable talent. Charles Dickens said of the French Revolution: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". I would say that this statement has ALWAYS applied to the film industry. It has always been the worst time and the best time to make a film. All recessions and depressions create opportunity as well as misfortune. Currently things are slow in Los Angeles--the SAG situation, the economy etc. The upside in the indie space is that the market will be less glutted with competing product AND people, such as casting directors, actors, directors etc. who in a fecund economy would normally not be available or would be too expensive, suddenly become more accessible.

I have a number of things developing at the moment on various projects--how many of these things will manifest into actual celluloid I have no idea, it could all be a mirage (it often is) and God knows I've been here before, many a time, but anyway in the spirit of self-chronicling here is a litany of the possibilities du jour.

The underlying material which I based my first true-life-story script commission on is now a book that is currently being promoted by a major publisher with serializations appearing in newspapers as we speak. The producer is hoping that this interest will attract directors to the film project and thus MY screenplay. The book is already out to a number of directors.

The second assignment script is going out to directors and I'm having a notes meeting next week on my 3rd assignment--a family comedy. The producer loves what I have done so far so that's good. The only downside is that after this notes meeting I will have to actually go back and write. Yikes!

Last week the director of my rom-com got the script to a bankable actor's representation and the reps (agent and manager) have recommended said actor that "this is something he should do" and "that it would be a good project for him". Encouraging, and it's great that people at that level are reading my work but I try not to get too excited or emotionally attached since I've been here before. Actors at this level are fickle and it's a fickle game. What I am happy about is that we managed to get the gate keepers on our side. That's a plus.

Apart from that I'm waiting back from 4 top US casting directors and have a bunch of meetings set up in London--a mix of distributors, sales agents and potential co-production partners. The numbers game continues--a mass mail out email campaign with follow-up calls has manifested into a number of meetings and also a number of other producers are currently reading the script. The foot is firmly in the door, all that is left now is the hard part, closing one part of a long series of deals. In truth, selling life insurance is easier. :-)

Ciao for now