Apparently today is The Rapture and therefore we’ve only got five more months until the end of the world; which is a shame because I like the world – most of my favourite things are in it.
It may seem a bit pointless to keep blogging in the face of the end of time itself; but we’ve still got a little while and since all the pious, nice people will be leaving at 18.00 today, the rest of us bumholes should really learn how to get along better.
Starting with emails.
It’s really easy to misinterpret emails, the reader can easily take offence at what the writer assumed was an innocuous or amusing comment. I know I’ve done it, from both sides. I’ve pissed off and been pissed off in return – over minor misunderstandings of tone which escalate horribly.
It’s kind of hard to get around that, an obvious method is to write an email and sit on it for 24 hours – does it still seem jokey or harmless the next day? Honestly though, have you got time for that? This is the age of instantaneous communication and deliberately slowing it down seems to be missing the point. I think just a thoughtful re-read before sending helps. Ask yourself: “if I were (name of person you know who is massively over-sensitive) would I be offended by that?”
A bigger problem for me is the constant stream of emails from people looking for help/advice/acting roles/a script read/promotion on this blog … and all sorts of other stuff. Some of these people behave atrociously – they can be rude, ignorant, aggressive and sometimes even abusive … which is odd when they’re trying to get something out of me.
I like to help people, if I can. I like to offer advice (when solicited, I try not to spout too much here because I don’t really believe anyone should trust my opinion) and I love it when someone gets ahead because of something I’ve done for them.
But it is a drain on my time, time I don’t really have to spare. Every email I read or reply to is time I’m not spending on my work or, more importantly, my family and friends. So it’s irritating when an email doesn’t conform to a vague set of eSocial niceties. In the spirit of fostering a more pleasant eEnvironment, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of things which may help; both with me and with anyone else you choose to email:
- Try to spell my name right. It’s a very small courtesy and an obvious indicator of someone who’s genuinely interested in me and my thoughts. Yes, people make mistakes. I do all the time; but at least try – especially when my name is quite clearly part of my email address.
- Try to include your own name. Obvious, perhaps; but it’s amazing how many people don’t write their name at the bottom of an email and leave me wondering how to address Mr or Ms firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Try to include some personal information other than my name. Asking me about something on my blog or a specific project or perhaps even a vague compliment (difficult, I know, given the quality of my work to date) about something you’ve seen or read puts me in a much more receptive mood. The more specific, the better. If you’re asking someone to do something for you, then at least pretend it’s THAT person you want help from – not just any one of the hundred people you’ve emailed today. Remember, there is a scriptwriting community and we do talk to each other – if you’re sending the same email to hundreds of people, we’ll find out and be annoyed.
- Don’t start the email with unsolicited abuse cloaked as feedback. I love hearing honest opinions on something I’ve written – but only when I ask for them. Being told your script is awful because of x, y, z by someone you trust and have asked is really helpful. Being emailed a negative critique of a produced film by someone you’ve never met and who, crucially, has never actually read the script the film was loosely based on and therefore has no clue if what they’re slagging off is your fault or not is not the best way to curry favour. It’s a bit like telling someone you’ve never met that they’re fat and ugly immediately before asking them out on a date – it rarely works.
- Don’t send me something you want me to critique/review without asking if I want to critique/review it. Sending me a script and asking me to read it is presumptuous and scary. You don’t know what I’m working on. If I’m writing something similar to the script you send … great, I’m now worrying some whack-job is going to start shouting about how I stole his idea. If you send me a book to review without asking – where the fuck did you get my address from? Besides, as I’ve already mentioned – I’m usually quite busy. Perhaps I don’t want to critique/review your stuff. Be nice, ask first.
- Please remember that no does actually mean no. Contrary to Rom-Com logic, no doesn’t mean persuade me. It does actually mean I don’t want to. Don’t press it. Having said that, I can think of at least one occasion when I said no and the guy in question came back with a wonderful string of cheeky flattery and an offer of payment for my advice. I didn’t take the payment, I didn’t really believe the flattery; but I did read the script because he introduced himself, was polite, funny (without being sarcastic) and made an offer which showed he respected how much time reading his script would take.
- If I do read your script and I offer some feedback – don’t fucking argue with me. If I’ve missed the point or haven’t understood it or are too bound by my idiotic 3-act obsession … fine. Just say thank you, quietly disbelieve me and never, ever talk to me again. I don’t want to know why I’m missing your obvious genius – it wasn’t that obvious to me. Sorry.
- Just because I don’t immediately hand over the personal phone numbers of every producer I’ve ever met doesn’t mean I’m a cunt who’s refusing to help you. Don’t email me back a load of abuse about how I’m keeping you down or not giving you the break you obviously deserve for being mental.
- If I spend an hour or so outlining how to get jobs from the Internet, how to approach people, how to go about getting your script read in response to an email you sent me – at least have the decency to say thank you. In fact, no matter what response you get from anyone you email under any circumstances … say thank you. You may bump into that person again at sometime in the future and be reliant on their help to progress in your career; but more importantly than that, it’s nice and polite and that’s all it really takes to make the world a better place – being nice to everyone you meet or eMeet.
- Try to write in sentences I can read. Punctuation is very useful and really isn’t that difficult (says the man who’s never really understood the semi-colon) – if you’re embarking on a career as a writer, then being able to write using capital letters and sentences and things is quite useful. Nigh-on essential, I’d say. If you’re dyslexic, get someone else to proof-read it first.
- Try to get to the point relatively quickly. Not instantly, introduce yourself, say something nice, make your point and sign off in a friendly way.
Hmm … a list of eleven things seems oddly unbalanced. Ten would have been better. Less verbose would have been better still.
In a nutshell, just try to be polite. It’s really not that difficult – just treat the email as if you’re saying it to someone’s face and you should be fine. Don’t be rude, say thank you, don’t be pushy.
And if there’s anyone still reading after all that – here’s an example of a recent email conversation which I think sums up exactly how to eBehave (with names changed to protect the nice and comments from me in red):
Hi Phillip, (spelt my name right)
I’ve just been chuckling away at some of your very funny stuff online. (a generic compliment – these embarrass me and I rarely believe them) I am also very intrigued by the teaser trailer for The Last King Of Wales (a specific mention of something which is actually quite obscure, he has been paying attention). I’d be very keen to audition for an acting role in this if it ever goes in production (should there be a suitable character in it of course!(no demands, just a pleasant request qualified by reason) I’ve read your recent blog and fully appreciate you’re not a director or casting director or producer! (a lovely way of showing he’s both asking me specifically and understands I probably can’t help anyway) But you are (not your, he knows the difference!) a very funny writer and I’m no good performing stuff I’ve written (a compliment and a bit of humility). So I thought you might be able to forward my details on to someone if it takes off. (Again, no demands – just a reasonable request framed in a hopeful manner).
Yes, I’m a complete nobody so you can be as rude as you like (-; (humilty, humour … I like this guy!)
My showreel clip is streamed for a couple of minutes at www.xxxxxx/xxxxx.xxx (in 2 short parts at the foot of the page….the other clips on there are just home made garbage, but the breakfast guy one demonstrates my normal accent). (humility again, plus a link I can click at my leisure if I want to or not)
My short (short is good) summary cv is attached. (I said attachments were bad, but at this point in the email I like this guy and it’s not a script with litigous potential hanging over it, it’s just a cv so I don’t mind)
Best, (pleasant sign off)
There, wasn’t that lovely?
Unfortunately, the film he’s enquriing about is never going to happen; but that’s not his fault and honestly, if it was going to happen, I would have passed on his details because he comes across as a nice guy and it’s no skin off my nose.
Further to that, when I replied explaining the film was dead, he emailed back expressing regret and switched from the formal ‘Phillip’ to the ‘Phill’ I use to sign emails – that, to me, shows initial respect by using the full name, coupled with genuine interest (or at least observation skills) by noticing I’d used the diminutive. He even asked a question about the trailer in question which again showed genuine interest and not a mass-mailing, chuck ’em out and see approach.
We actually had a fairly lengthy email chat, all of which was pleasant and enjoyable and has left a lasting impression. Once he found out I couldn’t help him, he kept up the interest and the pleasant chat – but never outstayed his welcome. If I met this guy in the pub, I’d buy him a drink – because he seems like a nice guy. If he’s not a nice guy, at least he’s good at pretending he is via email and that’s an important skill in life.
I’m not saying this guy lives up to my personal standards and has therefore passed a test only I am worthy of setting – I’m just saying he’s a stranger who made me feel like he was as interested in me as he was in advancing his own career.
That is effective networking – it’s not about getting work right now, it’s about making yourself seem like the kind of person who might be fun to work with in the future. So when you email me (or anyone else) just think carefully about what you’re going to say and let’s all just try to get eAlong for the next five months until the end of the world.