Hi There,

This fortnight, a very big THANK YOU to JAMIE HEWITT for providing me with his thoughts about GENERAL MEETINGS FOR WRITERS.

Jamie is a very experienced and outstanding development producer in the drama department at Tiger Aspect in London (also an excellent screenwriter). He has twice been a script editor on the Channel 4 screenwriting course and before that a reader and shadow script editor.

You can read more about Jamie here –


‘I recently had a general with a new writer just entering the industry. As we sat down, they declared ‘this is my first ever general.’  I was honoured; I was pleased that they were open enough to declare it (we’ve all been there!), but even the mention served as a fierce reminder of how simultaneously important and vague (I mean, they’re literally called generals) these meetings are, and how little open opinion I have come across on what to do or what helps.

Generals are often the first points of serious contact that a new writer has with the TV industry, and also the second fundamental pillar of what your career will be built on (the other being your writing). Make no mistake, the meetings are just as important as the work. Learning how to do the meetings right is vital to a career in screenwriting.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to feel as if you’ve just walked off the set of The Player – ‘giving good meeting’ doesn’t mean being polished. Being yourself is paramount – TV execs are desperate to meet people with something to say that they don’t have.  But there are practical tips on how to maximize the opportunity which I’m here to help with.

My completely-up-to-date view of the internet is that everything is better in list form, so herewith I present my (entirely subjective) ten laws of generals:

  1. Do your research

This one feels like the most obvious, in many ways, and one that writers rarely fail to do. But there are some important nuances within it.  First, the basics:

Do your googling. You are going in to meet a person (or people), at a company. Figure out what both person and company have worked on before. IMDB and LinkedIn are your friends here.

Now, the nuances.

Don’t be surprised if they don’t show that much interest in talking about their own shows.  Often, the development people (typically who you are meeting for a general) don’t work intensely closely on the production of one of the company’s shows. If they did, they often know too much about it. You don’t need to have much to say about it. This changes if you are meeting about this show, but it shouldn’t happen that a general suddenly morphs into a meeting on a show.

More importantly – and this is a sub-heading which should be appended to every single one of these laws – be positive. Not just about things that you know these people have a connection to. All things in the industry. At least until you get a cue it’s safe to start slag certain things off. What you can’t research is who is best friends with who in the industry. Or which writer they have a really close relationship with but have not made something with yet. The last thing you want is to go in with both feet on something that they feel a personal obligation towards. Let them set the tone, but if in doubt – positive!

  1. What have you been enjoying recently?

To this day, I keep a list of all the shows I’ve watched at least an episode of. When I was jobhunting (and doing my own version of generals), I would keep a list on my ipad and review it before going in to these meetings: The things I’d watched most recently, and the things I’d enjoyed the most from the past year or so.

You would be amazed at how quickly your mind can, and will, go blank when somebody asks you what you’ve watched recently.  It’s a question you will most likely be asked.  On one hand, it’s forgivable to not recall a single thing you’ve seen recently. I’ve done it myself. On the other hand, it is avoidable. And as forgivable as it is to draw a blank, it also achieves nothing. Talking about shows you’ve watched is a means to find common ground in taste and ambition, which is one of your goals in this meeting.

Concentrate on watching the shows which demonstrably could be made by you and/or the people you are in this meeting with. This is partly code for making sure that you watch plenty of British television. If you’re reading this blog, you’re more than likely working in the UK and trying to make it in the industry here. Know what’s on; know what channels are making.

Though there should definitely be a focus on UK TV (UK scripted TV, though I will talk to anybody and everybody about Married at First Sight), be open about anything you’ve loved recently. Great films?  Great theatre? Passionate follower of contemporary dance?  It’s all fair game. Show your passion and show yourself. As said, this is about trying to find common ground in taste and ambition.

You are always telling three stories:

3… what you did last;

Also known as: champion your successes!  You have had some successes. Even getting into this meeting means something. You’ve written something worthwhile. Talk about that. Talk about who else has read it, and who loved it. If someone has optioned (or bought) your work, talk about that. If you’ve won an award, that’s great.

4… what you are doing currently;

Even if you’re just writing a new spec right now, that’s great. It’s terrific to hear that writers are working hard and are self-motivated. Whether this is a play you’re doing; a short film you’re making; even if it’s just a pitch you’re researching. Tell us about what it is. If it’s a commission that you’re doing for a different company, that’s terrific – you’re in demand!  TV is a bit like dating – if we see that you’re popular, it makes us want you more.

5…what you are doing next.

At a certain point in the development of your career, people will start bringing things to you – whether that’s developed IP like existing formats, or books, or longform articles. They might start bringing news stories, or bits of ideas, or original concepts. But before either of those, you will be expected to bring them ideas. What do you want to write about?  What ideas do you have?  It’s more than OK for these ideas to be just fragments, or headlines, at the moment – don’t think you need to have a slick one-liner or have to know what the third act of episode six looks like currently.

Sometimes it might just be a character, or a concept, or a job that you think is really interesting. Or a genre that you love and really want to find your version of.  It’s OK to say ‘I want to do this at some point’ and see what the reaction is. Do they lean forward? Do they sigh and agree, because they want the same, but know how tough it can be?  Do they make a face and say ‘we’ve tried that’?

This is also your chance to show your range.  Maybe this person has read a really heartfelt coming-of-age drama about growing up in a small farming community.  In their heads, they think ‘that’s what this writer will be good at.’  But this is your chance to say this is only half of your passion and expertise – you’re also passionately researching a new project about a rapping taxidermist. And now they know you are interested in both of these things.

  1. Bring your cannibal movie.

I call it this after an (excellent, experienced) writer I was working with told me a story about a meeting he had with a US studio exec where the exec progressed to asking the writer what their cannibal movie was. The writer responded with ‘I do actually have a cannibal movie…’ which was met with “God, no!  Nobody wants a cannibal movie!”

The point of the ‘cannibal movie’ idea is the idea that you secretly wish you’ll be given the chance to write one day – even though you’re aware of how commercially unpromising it is. It’s the passion project; the dream that you know you’re unlikely to ever be able to get to do. But the cannibal movie can be worth pitching (with a caveat that you know how uncommercial it is) because you’re just looking for that one other person who has a secret improbable desire to make a cannibal movie too, one day, when the stars align. There is a cynicism to development, but there is also an optimism.

That writer then pitched me his cannibal movie.  It was an excellent cannibal movie. But it wasn’t my ‘cannibal movie,’ if this metaphor hasn’t been gnawed to death by this point…

  1. Your ideas and script are only half of what you are selling. (The other half is you).

This means two things: Firstly, TV development is a long, non-linear, sometimes (Okay, often) frustrating process. Honestly, TV production is often the same. No matter how gifted you are, people are going to want to believe that they can take a really long hike with you without a map, or go into battle with you. They have to like you.

The other side of it is that the teller is nearly as important as the story.  Authenticity and honesty are a big part of what audiences respond to in projects… but it’s also a huge lure for commissioners, for producers, for developers.  That might be as literal a link as ‘you’re writing about a job that you have direct and applicable experience in’ (as with plenty of cop shows and medical dramas) or it might be that you are writing a story heavily influenced by some utter madness in your own family, or about your passions or interests.

Be yourself. Your best, positive, passionate self.

  1. There is a feast and there is a famine in any company; find out where the opportunities really are.

Don’t be afraid to ask the company you are meeting what they get sent too much of, and what they don’t have enough of (one of the answers to the latter is almost always ‘returning crime shows’). This goes hand-in-glove with the point about always having irons in the creative fire. A judicious query about what they want will help steer you towards which of the many terrific ideas you have might be most suitable for them.

Do ask what they’re actively looking for. It may not be what you would assume. A company being the foremost specialists in factual true crime miniseries might mean that they have an insatiable appetite for these ideas… or it might mean that they are absolutely drowned by these submissions (and have already kicked the tyres on absolutely every story under the sun in this genre). Hell, maybe they even have a specialist researcher who just does this and all of these projects are generated in-house. They either are desperate to hear your factual true crime miniseries… or have no interest in hearing it. You can’t know. So ask. They will tell you.

  1. What do you want out of this meeting…

If you have a really clear idea of this, that’s great.  If not, I’m here to give you the best default ambition:

The thousand yard answer to this is that – sooner or later – you want this person or this company to pay you to be a professional screenwriter. That’s a great target to aim at.

If you’re new, the easiest way for a company to experience working together with you is that you develop a new idea together.  This will likely come before getting into a writer’s room, or getting your first episode commission on another one of their shows. Optioning or developing a pitch with you is often the lowest-pressure, cheapest way of working with you, and using that as a means of developing that relationship and gauging what you’re like to work with.

If developing this original show is a good experience, it gives you work which will usually be seen by people higher up at the company and gives everybody the warm fuzzy feeling of having created something good. If you’re great to work with and they like you, it puts you in an advantageous position when they need to staff a writer’s room or put guest writers on episodes.  One good experience drives another.

  1. …and how are you going to get what you want?

If you want to get original ideas onto someone’s development slate, don’t be afraid to ask how they like to receive things. Do they want single pages, do they want longer documents?  Do they just want loglines? They might equivocate; that’s fine. You’ve got options.

You can ask what the process is for getting things on their slate. Does the whole team need to review and agree on it?  Do they prefer getting involved with something at an early stage?

If you want to get on a show or in a writer’s room, ask what/if they have coming up in the near future.  Ask what they’re working on. If there’s something in there that lights you up – tell them about it!  Remind them of your passions, your expertise, your specialisms.

  1. The follow-up law, to remind you to… follow up!

You might already have their emails.  If you don’t, (for example, if your agent has arranged this meeting), there’s nothing wrong with asking for their details in the room.

You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t follow up on meetings. A successful general is really just the start of a relationship. It’s a route to working with them in the future.  Whatever you’re working on now or next (assuming it’s not already spoken for), make sure you send to them (or get your agent to).  Worst case scenario, they’re reminded of your name.  Best case scenario – everybody you’ve had a successful general with wants it, and there’s a bidding war. One winner gets it, and everybody else gets told they can’t have something they want because you’re too damn popular. That’s what really sticks in peoples’ minds. Be prepared for more meetings!

There’s no clock on this following up. Development is not a race (or, if it is, it is a race run by sloths). And every meeting is largely a meeting designed to pay off months, if not years, from now. A nice ‘thanks for meeting me’ can be much appreciated shortly after the meeting, but the tangible follow-up of ‘here’s that cannibal movie I was telling you about’ can come aaages afterwards and it’ll still be welcome.’

Thank you so much Jamie. This really is invaluable insight from someone who knows, someone working at the cutting edge of the industry.

The next newsletter will be on Friday May 31st,

Best wishes



Twitter: @PhilipShelley1

Friday May 17th 2024