Sunday, September 28, 2008

Don’t Tell Her Who Told You

You know, for a writer, those are the suckiest words ever. I’ve heard them twice. Twice! Life is so not fair.

I’ve already written about how much I hate networking and why I’m so bad at it (namely because I hate using people and that’s what networking usually becomes).

But, okay, there’s another reason. It always backfires on me and ends with “Don’t tell her who told you.”

The first incident isn’t industry-related like the second. After my first two years of teaching when I attempted to run from the profession in every direction but back, I wanted to become a technical writer as a way to support myself while I worked on my craft. I didn’t go to college for technical writing, but to my way of thinking, if you have skills, the desire to work hard, and the natural intelligence, you can write anything well, even poetry.

But not everyone agreed with me, particularly the people hiring technical writers. Fortunately, the librarian at the school where I had taught and his wonderful wife had a friend who had done technical writing. They hooked me up with her, and she gave me great advice. I mean, she really guided me. She wanted to give me a leg up, and she knew a place where they would likely be hiring technical writers.

But there was a hitch. There’s always a hitch. She gave me the name and phone number of the guy who owned the company, but she had had an awkward run-in with him at a meeting once, and she said, “Just don’t tell him who told you to call him.” She told me to tell him that I met her at a specific conference or something like that.

Did I mention I was only twenty-four at the time? I was a smart twenty-four, but in this situation, I was simply inexperienced.

So I called the guy. I introduced myself and said something like, “Someone told me to call you. She said you might be looking for technical writers and that I might be a good fit.”

“Who was she?”

Crap! He wasn’t supposed to ask that. That wasn’t in the game plan! He was supposed to buy it, ask for my resume with writing samples, and then interview me.

My response to his question was so incredibly stupid (like something I would have said during my days in improv) that I won’t even write it here anonymously. It’s that bad. No freakin’ surprise I didn’t get the interview.

Jump ahead to the summer of 2005. I am now a much smarter twenty-eight, and I am in California for the summer in an attempt to get a sitcom pilot, a drama pilot, or two spec scripts in the hands of anyone with eyes in the industry. Based upon advice in a book (pretty worthless advice, in my opinion, unless you happen to be a telemarketer), I start cold calling agencies in an attempt to talk to someone who will allow me to send them a script.

I start with the smaller agencies. No one cares, no one wants to hear me, see me, or even believe I exist. Every single one. So, I begin in on the bigger agencies.

I call one of the biggest agencies in the industry; I mean huge. This guy answers the phone.

Guy: I’m sorry, man, I can’t transfer you to an agent. You’re aiming too big. No one here’s going to talk to you unless you know someone.

Me: That’s how it is everywhere. I did start small, but nobody wants to talk to you unless you know someone.

Guy: Listen, I know someone you can call. She’s a show runner on South Beach, but I bet she’d be a great person to go to. I’ll give you her number, but you cannot tell her who gave it to you. Whatever you do, don’t tell her who told you.

For those of you not in the industry (or don’t have a $14.95 handbook like me), a show runner is basically a producer. It’s a high-level, work-your-butt-off-to-get-somewhere-and-have-arrived position.

South Beach was the very short-lived UPN drama (though everything on UPN was short-lived, including the network) co-produced by Jennifer Lopez, the show about pretty young rich people who have reckless sex (not to be confused with the entire 2008 fall line-up on the CW). Yes, it was UPN, but Jennifer Lopez gave the show pedigree, and this was a big-time connection.

So, I called the phone number, which must have been for someplace in UPN because that’s how the receptionist identified herself. I asked for the woman, and the receptionist says, “Oh, she’s out of the office. Let me give you her cell phone number.”


I call her cell phone.

Me: Hi, my name is _________________, and I was given your name by—

Show Runner: Wait a minute. Who is this?

Me: I’m _________________, and I was given your name to call. I’ve written a few shows—

Show Runner: How did you get my cell phone number?

Me: I . . . called your office, and when I asked for you, she gave it to me.

Show Runner: I’ll have to talk to her. She should not be giving out my phone number. She just can’t be giving it out to just anyone.

Me: I’m sorry. Would you like me to call you back another time at the office?

Show Runner: I’m actually on my way to catch a flight. Who told you to call me?

Me: I’m not supposed to tell you.

Show Runner: What?

Me: He told me that you might be interested in reading my work, but he said I couldn’t tell you who told me.

Show Runner: He told you not to tell me?

Me: I know it’s odd, but he said you would be a good person to contact.

Show Runner: (awkward pause) Okay . . . why don’t you email me copies of your stuff. I’m really busy, but I’ll try to take a look at it.

Me: Thank you, I’ll do that. And don’t worry. I won’t call you on this number again. I’m sorry.

So I emailed her my stuff, and I never heard from her again. No wonder. Would you have emailed me back?

I guess I should have emailed her again to check in, then called to check in, then sent a sympathy card saying, “I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your job. I hope it gives you more time to read scripts emailed to you by freaks who call you out of the blue on your cell phone.” Live and learn.

I guess I need to justify these two embarrassing stories by saying that I was actually almost hired as a technical writer twice. The first one was for a position writing about medical treatments in a manner that an average person could understand. The interview went great, and the man interviewing me was a former teacher. We connected instantly, and he had full confidence I could do it well. When the time came, though, he did call to let me know that he had hired someone else, someone who had actually done that very same writing before. He couldn’t pass that up.

An interview for a second position was going really well. The man who co-owned the company graduated from the same college as I, and we shared a few stories of professors we knew. In an attempt to paint myself as a skilled and versatile writer, I talked about my playwright aspirations. Duh! He didn’t hire me because he was looking for someone long term, which is what he basically told me before I left. Little does he know that it’s been seven years, and I’m still not produced anywhere.

I haven’t mentioned this on my blog yet, but I actually did finally escape the clutches of the teaching profession. This past spring I was hired by an exceptional, small, privately owned company. I have the most kind, incredible, and all-around amazing employers and work with some really great people in a human services industry in a position that makes me feel like I’m doing some good in the world.

Getting the job was the story of my life. When I actually get the interview, people genuinely seem to like me, and when they check my professional references, they find that the impression is supported by my track record. I earned this position out of a pool of two hundred applicants, was actively pursued by my employers, and wound up very happy.

There’s a certain hip hop star out there. I interviewed with his/her personal assistant to be a manny. I didn’t get the job because my years of teaching weren’t experience enough. See, if you’d only checked my references . . . You would have had one heck of a manny . . .

But, for the record, I’m happy where I am now. I’m still not anywhere near my dreams, but I have been able to watch my niece grow these past two years, and I now have a job that doesn’t require every ounce of my energy. I actually have time to write! As long as I can write, I know I can improve until my work is worthy of production or publication.

But I hope to God to never hear anyone say, “Don’t tell her who told you” again!

the Broadway Mouth
September 28, 2008

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