by Fiona Wheeler
Whether you’re headed to a networking event, a meeting with execs, or to coffee with an indie producer, it’s important to understand the impression your appearance and attitude are creating.
At an event I attended recently, a journalist noticed my Chanel jacket, headed over and introduced herself. She’d sort of hit the ceiling in her current field. She was looking to diversify and had recently interviewed for a job commentating on fashion. Subsequently, she’d gotten feedback that they liked her credentials but not her look; they felt it implied she didn’t take fashion seriously.
Much like the character of Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, this journalist was baffled by their expectation; that to write about fashionistas, she had to look, dress, and act a certain way. She demanded to know why. Why should she spend vast amounts on designer clothing when knock-offs aren’t that different? How did a different outfit make her a different writer?
When a group of screenwriters get together, the same questions often come up.
Why Professional Attire for Screenwriters Matters
I do think appearance matters, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most jobs have forty to sixty in-office hours a week. If you have one of those jobs, you’re expected to meet the company’s dress code and be a glowing ambassador for them every minute of your weekly hours. We screenwriters, on the other hand, get to wear whatever we want.
Pajamas all day. Pop on an old pair of flippers and a snorkel to check out the physical possibility of a ‘bit’ we’re writing. Skip today’s shower because you’re on a roll with your rewrite. There’s not much we haven’t tried and gotten away with. Even staff writers and people who work with partners consider ideal writing attire to be whatever doesn’t get in the way.
Is it really too much to ask, then, when we’re out in public representing the production companies we work with and for, that we put a bit of thought and effort into our appearances?
Let’s circle back to the journalist wanting to move into fashion commentary. The truth is journalist’s who look a certain way in the fashion industry do tend to score the better interviews with elusive subjects. Not because they’re rail thin or because they throw on the most expensive garb–being vapid doesn’t help anyone. It’s those who have taken the time to understand how and why and industry functions (and can reflect that in their ensemble and demeanor) that shine.
As Andy grew to understand and respect the complexities of the fashion industry, she also understood the importance of her own outfits. She went from Walmart shopper to glam runway drone to her final polished-yet-understated costume.
What to Wear
Last week I wrote about getting noticed at screenwriting conferences. Someone jokingly suggested that attending nude would get you noticed. True, but not in a good way. As screenwriters, we write the screenplay from which a multi-million dollar production may one day grow. Surely an integral part of our job is to inspire trust and dispel uncertainty. How can you do that when you walk up in get-up which inspires embarrassment, not confidence?
I think most mature adults know when they’re deliberately using their appearance and behavior to attract negative attention. Avoid those clichés and you should be alright.
Sometimes it helps to put yourself in the shoes of a producer or investor. If you had millions on the line and someone turned up to a meeting in head-to-toe rumpled black clothing with a sprinkling of dandruff, would your lasting impression be one of confidence?
Likewise, if you can smell the perfume/aftershave of a screenwriter before they’ve even entered the room, and you can actually see the product in their hair from your position across the table, would you like their work a little less?
If a writer came crashing into your meeting five minutes late, collapsed into a chair and sat their sweating and wheezing for the next ten minutes, would you have more or less confidence in his ability to survive the physical, emotional and mental strain that development and pre-production can put on a writer?
As screenwriters, our personal appearance should never be an embarrassment, nor should it hinder or detract in any way from our work. That’s why I tend to stick to the standard Parisian uniform (designer jacket, plain top, dark jeans, and classic luxe accessories with limited hair and beauty products) whenever I have a meeting. For men, real pants and a shirt with a collar should do the trick. Wear clothes that you like and feel comfortable in–just make sure that they are clean and becoming.
If the subtext of your ensemble is ‘polished and understated,’ you’ve hit the right note.
What you wear doesn’t change who you are or what you’re capable of, but it can alter the way others perceive you. It can’t hurt to take a little time to assess what it is you routinely project via your appearance. Perhaps all it would take to be more successful in meetings is a few small tweaks.
Fiona Wheeler began writing for the stage, has a Master’s in Screenwriting from a top film school (VCA), and has a feature in development. Born in Australia, she’s lived in several different countries and cultures. This is reflected in the diverse, global screen stories she tells.