by Fin Wheeler
Screenwriters are a deeply superficial bunch. We spend every writing hour trying to find new ways to show, not tell, our protagonist’s flaws, strengths, and character. Despite this, we often overlook the importance of our own physical appearance.
Research has shown that in the average white collar work place, those who are better looking are more likely to get the job, and those who are taller than average are more likely to get paid above the standard.
The creative industries however, revolve a little differently. For starters, while equality has generally progressed out in the real world, gender equality within the screen industries has gone even further backwards over the past decade. A few decades ago, the way a screenwriter looked didn’t matter that much because there were relatively few people trying to make it in this business. Most folks stuck to their hometowns and the one job they would have for life.
Today, everyone watches shows like The Writers Room. They’ve listened to dozens of audio commentaries where the writer sits explaining their craft during the movie. They’ve also read an armful of screenwriting manuals and visited LA a bunch of times. They’re all set to move to LA as soon as necessary. They’re already on their third career and they also write in their spare time.
Today every other person in an aspiring screenwriter.
Producers can afford to be picky about the projects, and the screenwriters, with whom they do business. You don’t just have to be talented, skilled, and dedicated; you also have to talk the talk, and walk the walk.
It’s amazing how often the conversation of “looks versus talent” comes up when a bunch of aspiring screenwriters get together.
To clarify: Looks aren’t more important than talent in a writer. Successful producers are savvy people. They’re not going to pass on a script with excellent potential just because a female screenwriter is too good looking or a male screenwriter is no Hemsworth brother. But it is fair to say that producers, like everyone you meet, will judge you based on how you present yourself.
I once had a group interview for a writing gig. A bunch of us were sitting around in the foyer waiting. One guy, clearly a fan of 30 Rock, looked like he’d just rolled out of bed. Faded blue tee-shirt, marble gray track pants and a red baseball cap. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of color-blocking, but his outfit was all kinds of car crash. Another guy was wearing shorts.
Oh, and the guy in the shorts had also brought along his shiny new iPad to take notes. Unfortunately, he hadn’t yet figured out where the mute button was, so he sat in the corner making “snap, crackle, pop” sounds every time he wrote something down.
I’m not suggesting you need to rush out and buy designer pieces fresh from the Paris runways, but you do need to look like you took a little time and care with your appearance. It shows that you have respect for yourself and the company that you are auditioning to work for. The producers need to see that you are a competent, mature, responsible adult. A decent outfit and demeanor suggest all those things. Remember, a producer isn’t looking for the most attractive person; they’re looking for a team player who is competent, fits in, and can carry their own on a multi-million dollar project.
So, what the hell kind of an outfit projects all that?
Ultimately, it’s whatever you feel confident in. Not over-done, not under-done. You’re looking for the Little Bear of outfits: something that’s just right. Something that doesn’t have you sweating or scratching. An outfit that doesn’t distract you or the producer, it just lets you focus on whatever the producer is saying.
Personally, a plain designer jacket/blazer in a dark color with a plain shirt or tee, dark jeans and clean boots/shoes works for me.
A lot of early-career screenwriters complain when their agent or manager suggests that they invest in a few classic designer items. Yes, as screenwriters we have to invest huge amounts of our own time in each spec we write, but directors and DPs have to spend huge amounts of cash on equipment, and actors have to spend a fortune on headshots and travelling to a dozen auditions each week. Everyone trying to break into the screen industry is in the same boat.
A screenwriter who invests in one or two really good jackets, a few pairs of shoes (not flip flops), a smart bag and a clean laptop (not one covered in stickers, plus a good quality paper notebook to take notes) shows that they’re ready to play in the big leagues.
It’s also important to keep the perfume/aftershave and the hair products to an absolute minimum. Also, you’re a writer: people are going to look at your hands. Have a plain pen with no chew marks and clean, neat fingernails. As an aspiring screenwriter, you’re basically asking someone to pay you because of your attention to detail. Taking the time to buff and clean your nails shows that you value attention to detail.
If you’re going for a television writing job, every candidate who gets through the first few rounds will have a similar skill set and level of competence. The producer has a limited time to get to know each of you. How do they pick one above the others?
When I was at university, I once got a job over all the other (equally qualified) applicants because the owner of the company liked that I was wearing beige Chanel nail varnish. It is possible there was more to it than that classic little detail, but maybe there wasn’t.
A note on physical fitness: All television and film projects are hard work. There are strict deadlines and there are often extended periods where you have to work around the clock. If you wheeze into the room at a first meeting, a producer may well have concerns about your ability to endure the working conditions. Taking care of your physical self isn’t a self-indulgent vanity, it’s just another way you can show a potential employer that you are ready and capable of the tasks at hand.
So, get out there and give yourself the best possible chance of success in your next meeting.
Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.