A Screenwriters’ Guide to Holiday Gift Giving
Right around this time of year my writers and I sit down and start making lists. Lots and lots of lists.
With the end of the year and the holiday season just around the corner, it’s now time for writers, no matter their career stage or whether they are just starting out or already working professionals, to show their appreciation to those who mentored them, employed them, rooted for them and offered their support. After all, this is the time for good cheer, for gift giving, for selfless overtures delivering messages of gratitude. So these days my clients and I spend a lot of time making in-depth Santa-Like lists, making sure that no one is left out, and that everyone that needs to be thought of is included.
Despite what one’s cynical inner voice might tell him, the reality is that this time of year offers a perfect opportunity to reach out to others in the industry – be they other writers, reps, producers, directors or executives – with a heartfelt wish for happy holidays and a great year ahead. It’s a great way to reconnect without an agenda or an ask, to foster a relationship, and, appropriately, make it all about the other person.
This doesn’t mean that you should get a Tiffany watch for everyone you’ve ever met in the industry; instead, start making your list, and figure out who’s getting cards, and who’s getting gifts.
Send holiday cards to all of your industry contacts, executives, producers, agents and managers you’ve met along the way but have not yet worked with. These can be folks you’ve met in generals, through networking events, panels, or when they expressed interest in your work. The rule of thumb here is that if you met with them or communicated with them in the last 2-3 years, they should get a nice, hand-written holiday card.
Also send holiday cards to other writers, whether you’ve worked with them in the room, participated in a writer’s group with them, or sat alongside them in a screenwriting class.
Be sure to personalize each and every card with a message; if you have physical addresses, send hand-written, paper cards. If a physical address is not available, an eCard will do, but be sure to write in a personal message, one that is thoughtful and reflective of the relationship.
If holiday cards turn you off, or if there’s just not enough time to handwrite all those holiday cards and get them in the mail before the holidays bring the town to a full stop consider sending New Years cards and gifts – this allows you to potentially separate yourself from the onslaught of holiday gifts and cards.
Send a gift, or a gift card, to:
- Your showrunner, development executive, current executive, director or producer
- If you are in a TV writer’s room, be sure to also send a present to your 2nd, as well as any additional upper level writers who have taken on a mentorship role with you. However, there is a hierarchy in the room, and it’s important that your gifts (and their perceived value) reflect as much.
- If in a writer’s room, also be sure to give a small token present to each member of your support staff, such as your writer’s PA, writer’s assistant and script coordinator.
- Your agent, lawyer and/or manager
- Also be sure to send a gift card to your rep’s assistant
- If repped by multiple reps in an agency or management company, you may send a gift basket to the office, OR send individual gifts tailored to each
- Any mentors or industry champions
- This may include friends who have put you up for jobs, given you recommendation letters or referrals, screenwriting consultants, readers, or anyone who has been instrumental in helping you improve your craft or your move your screenwriting career forward
- Contest operators or program directors
- If you placed well in a significant contest that has been working hard to get you attention, or were lucky enough to be named to a television or feature writing lab or program, be sure to send gifts to those in charge of the contest or program.
What makes for good, or at least acceptable, gifts? Here are a few gift suggestions – and no-no’s – to consider:
- If you’re not sure, play it safe. Chocolates, cookies, and other high-end holiday goodies are always a fun treat. If money is tight and you are a kick-ass baker, a home-made treat can also be fun!
- Coffee books are a great holiday item! Find a title that offers up inspiration, art or industry content. Otherwise, if you are able to find old, leather-bound classics or even antique poetry books for a cheap price, those make a gift everyone remembers and talks about!
- Unless you know that the recipient drinks, don’t send him a bottle of wine or liquor. However, if you do know that the person on the receiving end of your gift likes a particular varietal of wine or hard liquor, don’t hesitate to send her a nice bottle.
- The more personal you can make the gift, the better. If you know that there’s something particular that the recipient would like, collects, would appreciate or respond to, send it along! It will speak volumes to the importance you give this individual.
- Gifts for the home are usually a safe bet – bowls, carafes, gadgets and candles are always a good option when steering clear of candy and alcohol.
- Gift cards are a great option too, particularly when it comes to assistants who don’t always have a lot of cash on hand and can therefore put a Starbucks, Amazon or Target card to good use.
If sending holiday cards or gifts, unless they are sent to a private home, you want to make sure that they are received before the industry shuts down. This year (2017) the industry is closing for the holidays starting December 15th. Therefore, you want to make sure that your gifts and cards are in the mail by December 7th or 8th, at the latest.
If sending New Year’s cards and gifts, you have a bit more time. Most offices are opening again around January 3rd, 2018, so you want to get your gifts and cards in the mail right around that date, so they arrive within a week, rather than closer to the middle of the month.
Final Tips & Thoughts
It’s useful to keep a spreadsheet, and update it each year with your card-sending and gift-giving choices. When you’re sending just a handful of gifts, it’s easy to remember who received what, but when your list gets a bit more crowded, it become hard to remember what you sent to whom. As the years pass, you want to be consistent, not send the same thing twice and not accidentally downgrade the quality of the gift (particularly to an agent, manager, showrunner or executive you continue to do assignments for) because you couldn’t remember what you sent the year prior. It may be a simple oversight, but could send the sort of message – of dissatisfaction or loss of affinity – that you didn’t intend for.
Even if such overtures as card sending and gift giving feel forced, remember that other writers in positions similar to yours are taking them on. Which means that, by default, those who chose to not participate in this end-of-year ritual may be noticed for the wrong reasons by default. If, for example, you are a staff writer and decide not to send your showrunner a small holiday gift while your counterpart does the opposite, the absence of your gratitude and appreciation may inadvertently speak volumes. Don’t get me wrong: when all is said and done, no one is going to remember the exact size or value of the gift you gave to them (unless the gift is an entirely unique and memorable stand-out). But they will remember that you thought of them, and that you invested the money and time to let them know as much.
At the end of the day (or the year) each writer has to sit back, evaluate their list and consider what they can afford. There is no need to break the bank here, so don’t commit yourself to the sort of spend that will put you in a significant hole. Put together a budget and a list that is palatable. The important thing here is not the size of the gift or what it cost, but the gesture and the thought.