Here are some thoughts from Suzanne Lyons a producer at Snowfall Films on finding a good mentor to boost your screenwriting career.
1) WHAT IS A MENTOR?
A mentor is someone that you respect who is in a position to advise you on how to accomplish your goal. He/she is someone who can give you advice and guidance. A mentor is NOT a coach. They are not there to push you outside your comfort zone or make you accountable for your actions.
2) WHO WOULD BE A GOOD MENTOR?
Look at what your goals are… “I am producing my first film in the $200,000 budget range;” “I am going for acting roles in one hour TV dramas;” “My goal is to have my action/adventure screenplay optioned;” “I plan to make the move from writing to directing.” Now, who would make a good mentor? I know the actor is thinking it should be a casting director of one hour drama. Not necessarily. I suggest you think outside the box first. Maybe the supervising producer of your favorite TV show would make an interesting mentor. Perhaps it’s an actor who’s been doing those types of shows for years. Also, it’s not necessarily the biggest name. For the writer, it may be the Director of Development at a studio that is doing similar projects. Also, if you are taking on a goal that is a completely new learning curve I would suggest having 2 or 3 mentors.
3) MAKE IT EASY FOR THEM TO SAY YES
When I was looking for a mentor, the criteria were 3 ten-minute conversations over a 6 week period. Nearly everyone can say yes to that request. Or perhaps it’s a half hour coffee meeting. Something easy and doable. 99% of the time it will naturally go beyond that, but start there and make it easy for people to say yes.
4) HOW TO MAKE THE REQUEST
I suggest you start by writing an amazing letter or e-mail and include the following: A) Start with the request telling them why you are approaching them in particular. B) Tell them what it means to be a mentor, ie: 3 ten-minute conversations (in person or over the phone) over a certain period of time. C) Introduce yourself. Tell them what you are up to accomplishing with your project/career. Then, tell them you will be calling them within the next 48 hours to see if they are available and interested in being your mentor. If someone they know has referred them as a perfect mentor for you, please note that in your letter. Also, if you are going through their agent/manager, then make your request very specific with regard to when you need to hear back from them. Always create a little urgency.
5) WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM YOUR MENTOR
Your mentor is an advisor, not a coach, as I mentioned earlier. You want advice, guidance and strategy on how to accomplish your goal or project. For example, you can get suggestions on your goal and timeline… suggestions on people you should meet and ideas on how to reach those people. Perhaps they can help you with your pitch and how to perfect it. Show your mentor your strategic plan, your goals, your list of people/companies you want to meet and ask “what do you think and what have I left out.” Also, I suggest that you request guidance on areas where you are stuck.
6) MENTOR ETIQUETTE (MENTICETTE)
Once you have a mentor, follow through. If you set up a specific time to call, then call when you said you would. Be professional. Keep your word at all times. It is a business relationship. Always acknowledge them and always thank them for their time.
7) BE PREPARED
Don’t expect your mentor to generate the conversation. Have your questions ready. Brainstorm with friends and colleagues if you need to and have a list of questions ready. Please take responsibility for this… be ready and prepared.
8) DON’T PUT THEM ON THE SPOT
Your mentor is there to give you advice, guidance, suggestions. Don’t ask them to read your script, watch your reel, listen to your CD, go over your portfolio, etc. If they ask, that is excellent. If they want to extend the meeting from 10 minutes to a full hour, great, but let them make the offer. Also, please don’t ever use their name without permission. If they suggest you call a particular person or company that they know personally, always ask them if you can use their name. Never assume that you can. You are requesting their wisdom, not their rolodex.
Remember to acknowledge your mentor on every call or meeting. Thank them for their time. This is very important and something we all to often forget to do.
10) COMPLETING YOUR AGREEMENT
When you have had your 1/2 hour coffee meeting, your 3 ten-minute conversations, your lunch meeting, etc. and the business relationship agreement is complete, thank and acknowledge them again for their contribution to you as a mentor. Thank them for their time, advice, wisdom and expertise. Remember it was a business agreement and now it’s time to complete that agreement.