08 Feb The First Cold Contact: Top 11 Don’ts

You’re a new filmmaker and you have an amazing script and you want to send it to me? Please don’t do this…

Much of this will (I hope) seem to be a statement of the bleeding obvious, but, when I was in international film sales, all these things below happened A LOT and, contributed, in every case, to a person or project not taken seriously.


But first, let me remind you of something. I know you are an extraordinary talent and have a special film that is going to knock my socks off and be a resounding success…however, the likes of me get so many unsolicited calls, emails and submissions of terrible scripts and unwatchable films that will never see the light of day, your initial contact is most likely going to be an annoyance to be dealt with, rather than the red carpet VIP welcome you are hoping for. Plus, execs are usually really bloody busy and probably expecting another call.

  1. Achillies-with-phone-brad-pitt-1100856_220_477Don’t Call Their Mobile. Don’t cold call an exec on the mobile first, call us in the office, it’s polite. Trying to be clever and circumventing the first port of call to get straight to us, especially when finding a mobile number can take subterfuge, can be annoying and an invasion of privacy.
  2. Don’t Call From A Building Site. Don’t cold call from a mobile in a busy street, a noisy café, in heavy traffic, on a train, or anywhere it’s going to be really annoying to me to have to strain to hear you over the din or where we’re constantly getting cut off. Find a quiet spot, it’s respectful.
  3. Don’t Start Pitching Unless Invited To. Don’t carry on pitching at me if I’ve already told you it’s: not a good time to talk, to speak to someone else in the office, if I’ve already said I’m not interested or it’s not what we do.  It’s fine to persevere, this isn’t the way. Be creative and cleverer, we like that.
  4. Don’t Call Outside Office Hours. This includes 5.55 PM, and don’t cold call or email during important markets and festivals when we are likely to be utterly frantic. How will you know? Do your homework. If you are cold calling a producer on their mobile during a festival which their own film is premiering at, and you don’t know this, you haven’t done your research and you look like twat.
It’s worth saying that, while often annoying, cold calling can work. We ended up selling (and producing via a sister company) a film which had started as a cold call. My former colleague and Head of International James Norrie happened to pick up the main phone. I asked him what was engaging about the person on the other end. He said “He was self-deprecating, humble and keen to work in the industry. Also somewhere quite random like Missouri which hooked me because it was so out of the ordinary.
  1. brad-pitt-phone-babelDon’t Insist On Speaking To The Boss. It’s a dickish thing to do to insist on speaking to the senior person if someone has offered to talk to you, and don’t try and go over their heads. You may consider it a pointless waste of time pitching to the intern, or someone you consider junior, but if the boss has hired them to talk to the likes of you, that’s where you start.
  2. Don’t Be Rude. If you’re prevented from getting through to the person you want to speak to, and respond by shooting the messenger, you’re not just rude, you’re an idiot too.
  3. Don’t Lie. This happens rarely and yet all too often. Assistant, “Thing Um Y Jig called to set a meeting. He’s coming in tomorrow at 2.30”. Exec, “Who?” “Thing Um Y Jig. He says he knows you”. Exec, narrowing eyes, “Never heard of him before in my life. Please cancel the meeting”.

In all these cases, there is arrogance and assumption that’s really unattractive. You will never get to me if you are rude to or have lied to my staff, I’ve just learned all I need to know about you and why I don’t want to work with you. And, by the way, my former interns have gone on to senior positions all over London.

  1. Don’t Send Emails To Info@.Or any of the equivalents. I can almost guarantee they will get lost, or treated as unimportant. Again, don’t necessarily aim for the top, find the right person and do the graft to get their email address, or, do as I used to do, (after all I was often cold calling too as a salesperson) guess it based on a more junior employee’s email address. The fact is, if an email arrives on someone’s screen, generally they will open it, and, unlike cold calling, in their own time, rather than being forced to do it RIGHT NOW. And if it’s well written and well presented (more in future blogs), they may actually read it.
This, to me, is the opposite of six above. You don’t want to be too arrogant, but you need to believe in yourself. Sending an email into the anonymous ether, especially if you’re actually including sizeable material like a script (NB don’t unless asked), there is also a suggestion that you don’t believe enough in yourself or your work.
  1. Don’t Forget To Introduce Yourself. Don’t start an email or phone call without introducing yourself, what you do and what you want, straight off. This blows my mind and is what I Tweet about most often, that people will send me unsolicited emails, without introducing themselves…WITHOUT INTRODUCING THEMSELVES.
Here is a recent typical email example:

Person: “Hi Sam, I wanted to arrange a meeting.” Me, “I’m sorry, do we know each other?” Person “No, I came across your company and thought we should meet”.

Google and IMDB provided no clue as to who he was (it’s invariably a he, and usually a young he) other than having absolutely no credits in the film industry and, having got to the courtesy of actually prompting him for further information and receiving none, concluded he was probably an arrogant knob end (see six and seven above). And I’ve given up working with arrogant knob ends.

  1. Don’t Be Over Familiar. Don’t “Hi Sam” Me. My name is Samantha professionally, some friends call me Sam and I have not given you permission to. Adding the “Hi” however, makes it so overfamiliar I do wonder if we may have met before and I am blanking, after all I meet a lot of people. If I’ve had to Google you and we don’t know each other at all, I’m annoyed. “Dear Samantha” works fine thanks very much.
  2.  Don’t Be Too Formal. Don’t “Dear Mr/Mrs/Miss” me because it’s a minefield, I am none of these and have been addressed as all of these and in each case it was annoying. Plus, you don’t need to prostrate yourself.

Let’s end positively with five dos:

  1. burn-after-reading-brad-pitt-360x200Do be confident, don’t be cocky; and do be interesting.
  2. Do tell me who the bloody hell you are so I don’t have to go to the trouble of researching you before I reply to your email, if I reply to it.
  3. Do be honest and say, “We’ve not met before but…” It really helps for context.
  4. Do show you’ve done your research “I’ve been reading about your company and researching the kind of films you do and would love to discuss…”
  5. Do tell me why you’re emailing me.

And you never know what may happen…

In future blogs I am going to give you the template as to how to pitch and position your film in person as well as in an email. There will be lots and lots of talk about genre and the importance of understand where your project fits, how to come up with a two line pitch, how to write a synopsis, how to present yourself, what materials to include etc.

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