TWIC: When Opportunity Knocks, Be Prepared

Week ending 11/8/19. As before, all names have been changed to protect the innocent…

At the tail end of last week, I got a blatant reminder of why, as a writer trying to break in, you always ALWAYS have to be prepared. Even if you think you have nothing going on, you have to be prepared. You just don’t know when you will get that email or that call… and that’s exactly what happened to one of my clients.

The week of October 28th was the last week in which the ABC/Disney’s Television Writing Program was conducting interviews with its semi-finalists via phone. Emails had been sent notifying the semi-finalists, windows of time given. And then, for those lucky enough to have a call in their not-too-far future… The prep: Conversations with past program participants, collection of all the possible questions a writer could be asked, development of thoughtful, smart answers to each of those questions. As days passed and the countdown to that final night of interviews intensified, a few writers all over town and beyond spent too much time staring at their phones, willing that call to come.

On my end, one client got her interview call on the 30th. Another mid-day on the 31st. I breathed a sigh of relief. The writers did what they could. It was out of our hands now. And then, on the evening of the 31st, just as I was wrapping up work in order to go trick-or-treating with my daughter, I got an email from my dear client and friend, Barry:

“Just got a voicemail from (let’s call her) Shelly. She said she was calling from the Disney ABC Writer Program. Gave her a call back and left a message. I had heard that ABC already made their cuts, and assumed (since I didn’t hear) that it was a no-go this year. But in the event they may still be reaching out to folks… “ 

Oh…. crap.

A few rushed emails, and then… silence. Barry disappeared. Nothing more from him. I crossed my fingers, hoping that he and Shelly of said ABC/Disney program connected, and waited.

About half an hour passed (alarming, as I know most of these phone interviews last no more than 15 minutes) before I heard from Barry again: He and the Shelly had indeed connected. Barry being Barry, he was busy thinking through where he could have provided better answers, and would have had he prepped, but for the most part, and all things considered, he had to acknowledged that he didn’t do half bad. And the thing is, I believed him 100%.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to send any writer into any high-stakes situation unprepared. But if I had to make that choice, to send one of my not-yet-working writers into a meeting or an interview unprepared, Barry would probably the guy I’d send in. Barry had long been a student of the industry, which is why he could rattle off specific shows that he liked on the various Disney outlets (ABC, Freeform, Disney Channel and FX) and the personal anecdotes that made him a great fit for each of them. He was able to rattle off names of luminaries whose path he’d love to follow, and had his personal narrative down pat.

Barry was ready to answer questions like:

  • What was the inspiration for your pilot?
  • What are you doing to improve your craft as a writer?
  • What is a strength of yours as a writer?
  • What’s a weakness of yours as a writer and what are you doing to improve it?
  • Name shows, currently on the air, that you would like to write on, and the life experiences that position you for it.

Which is why, when the interview concluded, he did not feel all that bad. He hoped that he managed to sound as though he was at least somewhat prepared, and that he provided enough relevant information not to embarrass himself. While he didn’t nail every answer, overall he felt that he did okay. Which is saying a lot for a guy who is always analyzing every which way that he could have done better.

And all of this goes to remind you: You should always be, basically, prepped. You never know when that call might come in, when you might run into someone who could be of help now or further down the line, that you ultimately want to impress. While staying genuine and authentic, you want to be ready to talk about yourself and your projects. Because opportunity doesn’t always knock twice, so it’s in everyone’s best interest that you show up ready when it comes. Whether or not it’s given you a heads-up in advance.

Want more about getting ready for meetings and interviews? Check out a previous This Week in Coaching blog post: MEETING PREP.