Alright—I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the REAL stuff—how to improve one’s writing—how to survive the writer’s life—how to get ahead in Hollywood. This isn’t a gossip site or a celebrity-worship site, and this particular entry should not signal any great change of focus. HOWEVER, there are many rumors that fly around this town about how a working professional should APPEAR, and I thought for the sake of a well-rounded blog, I would go ahead and INDULGE.
First off, let me just start by saying the RUMORS ARE TRUE. It does matter how you present yourself in meetings and at parties, and it’s something that deserves some discussion. You might just LOVE tucking yourself in front of your laptop in your favorite worn out old Chips t-shirt and those bun-hugging fluorescent sweats. This may be an outfit that sets you at ease and starts your synapses exploding with creative thought. It may even be an outfit that you identify with your writing persona. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that other people will be similarly impressed. That outfit does NOT say, “I’m a one-in-a-million do-it-my-own-way auteur who will infuse all my writing with similarly fresh and quirky energy.” Nope. It’s says YOU DON’T BELONG. It says you’re not current, you’re not hip, and you don’t have your finger on the pulse of modern culture. THAT’S ALL.
When you go into a meeting or attend an industry party, you need to think of it to some degree as a job interview. Yes—your writing SHOULD speak for itself. That SHOULD be all that matters. But it simply is not.
Think about it from the perspective of working producers and development execs: They have a LOT of projects on their table, and guess what? Like it or not, there’s a fairly LARGE amount of qualified writers vying for the same jobs. Even if you’ve written a super-bad-ass, totally fresh screenplay and someone REALLY WANTS TO MAKE IT, they will still need to WORK WITH YOU for months on end—writing, rewriting, attending meetings, negotiating… That's a lot of time spent in the same room with you, and if your script gets sold, you and this producer will be in it together for the LONG HAUL. So—who would this producer MOST want to be in this situation with? Someone who dresses goofy, and may come off as a bit wacko or overly idiosyncratic? Or someone who appears relatively LIKE THEM—or at least who they THINK they are: Hip, modern, and living in the NOW.
I’m not saying that you need to act like someone you’re not. I’m just saying that to a degree, the impression you make in a meeting or at a party WILL effect your ability to sell projects, and it is therefore in your interests to come off as cool and well-adjusted as possible. Dressing hip will also make you appear more in-touch with current cultural trends, which will in turn suggest that your SCRIPTS are also written for OUR CURRENT TIMES, rather for the market fifteen, or even five years ago.
So how does this translate into practical advice?
Well—first go buy a people magazine, and look at how the celebrities dress. Then watch Entourage, as they try to stay pretty current with the times. A writer is an odd hybrid between an artist and an industry cog, and as much as possible, you want to strike this balance with your wardrobe. Dress a little bit more conservative than a similarly-aged celebrity, but definitely more artsy than an agent or exec.
In Los Angeles, the current aesthetic for young, up-and-coming writers is to basically dress like you are still in college, but have more money. Hipster retro sneakers, expensive jeans, a fun button-down shirt (preferably a label), name-brand sunglasses of the Wayfarer or aviator variety, and an expensive cell-phone tend to be the norm for the guys. For the gals, a playful but tasteful skirt, nice shoes, a more business-y top, name brand sunglasses, and an expensive purse or bag seem to be the counterpart.
In New York, imagine the same thing but with a corporate twang and more black. Also, guys can get away with actual leather dress shoes or hipster boots far more so than in Los Angeles. Plus, it’s cold there (like all year long), so scarves and nice jackets come into the mix. Sunglasses are also still seen as pretentious by many New Yorkers—an association that has long since withered by necessity in the sunshine state.
If you’re rolling your eyes by now, and thinking GIVE ME A BREAK—I’m with you in heart. I am. This IS silliness. It SHOULD NOT matter. But if you’re gonna play the game, you might as well play it all the way… Right?
The expression FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT is often bandied around in Hollywood, and for producers and creative execs, it might be a term that applies. For writers, dressing NICE and dressing CURRENT is really less about pretending like you’re already SUCCESSFUL than it is about pretending like you already BELONG. This is an industry that prides itself on SHAPING CULTURE and being on top of every TREND. And although everything I’ve written here can go right out the window for writers who are already well-established, NEW WRITERS still need to prove that they GET IT.
Think of your wardrobe as just one more tool in your arsenal. If new clothes and a hipper “look” make you feel like a phony, then fuggetaboutit! But if you CAN pull it off, an updated appearance is an easy way to set producers at ease, and to ultimately make them more receptive to reading your scripts.