The world is getting smaller every day -- and the industry is even smaller.
For those of you who don't read my blog, (and why don't you read my blog at www.Facebook.com/pitchtv ?!) I just returned from a whirlwind business trip around the world. In October I was in France, Los Angeles (C'mon, California is like another country), China and Mexico.
Yes, my ass hurts from the horrible airline seats.
Plus, during October I also had discussions for deals in England, Canada, Ireland, Korea, India and Pakistan. AT&T and I have a love/hate relationship.
There are differences when working with people from different countries. I thought we could take a quick look at how to work in various countries.
MIPCOM, the huge TV buying and selling conference in Cannes, France, used to be really formal. Virtually every man was in a suit and every woman was in a dress or pantsuit.
Years ago, there were only two men on the conference floor not in suits, one guy with long silver hair in a pony tail and wearing a Hawaiian shirt (I forget his name) and me wearing my famed button-down superhero shirts.
Now the conference is very casual. Sure, many suits are still in suits, but you will see people in jeans, shorts, costumes and anything else while in meetings. Avoid meetings on the beach during the day though, because there are topless women on the beaches. Not that I have anything against that, nothing at all. But if you want me to pay attention to what you're saying, make sure there are no naked breasts behind you.
Meetings on the beach at night, however, are a whole different thing. On the opening night of MIPCOM we went to a bunch of parties, one of which was on the beach. We weren't all invited, so we had to sneak in. It was a party for European TV buyers. We all had to pretend to be from different parts of Europe and interested in buying programs to get in. Lucky me, I was the only one in our group who was interrogated, but I played my part well. Once we all got in, we corralled a bunch of chairs on the beach and the group started drinking…a lot. (except for Tahir and me)
The one issue for me in doing business is I don't drink. I don't have anything against drinking, I'm just a lightweight who doesn't like the taste and I don't enjoy puking into other people's shoes. (I'm pretty sure they don't like it either.)
If you are doing business at night in France, be prepared to drink.
I spent one evening with an Irish distributor in France at the Hotel Carlton, talking about production war-stories. That evening included a huge amount of alcohol, the slurring of words and people walking at a 20-degree slant. Being the only completely sober person at a huge event can be quite humorous.
On a side note, I find it interesting that I can have great business meetings and photos with executives who I personally admire, yet I get more reaction on my blog to a picture I took with Lisa Kudrow after her presentation at MIPCOM. I'm not doing any business with her, it's just a photo. (The great tip here is to take pointless photos with beautiful famous people, even if they don't know who you are.)
In Los Angeles almost anything goes. One thing is obvious: LA people pay the most attention to LA credits. It's a very ego-centric town. Try to get some LA credits.
You can have lots of great meetings in offices, but it's during dinner and drinks where most deals are made. You get to know someone better over dinner and drinks than you do in a 15-minute meeting and people work with people they know.
Business deals are often done in expensive restaurants. Personally, I prefer to eat in family-run joints, but that's not where the deals are made.
The biggest differences I have seen in how business is done are in China. For instance, when you accept a business card in China (and in most of Asia), you should accept it with both hands, and look at it. Business cards are held in high regard in the East. If you just grab it and stuff it in your pocket, you're saying that you don't care much for that person.
The Chinese put on a great show, but they don't like criticism in public. I ran into this during a show-and-tell session with several Chinese animation studios presenting their work. I started giving notes in an open forum and the room got very quiet. Unnaturally quiet, kind of like when a 5-year-old is the center of attention at their parent's party and that toddler suddenly tells his parents to go F… themselves. I felt like that 5-year-old. I asked the producers if they would like to step into another private room to discuss their show. I gave very direct notes in private, and they listened intently. They thanked me for my honesty for the next two days.
All business meetings in China entail drinking. A lot of it: regardless of the time of day. Every time we were in a meeting, at a lunch, at a dinner, or at an event, there were toasts. Our hosts would go from table to table making toasts. (The trouble is that we had 20 or more hosts and they each came to our tables alone. That's a lot of toasts) Toasts in China are made either with half-to-full glasses of wine or with small rice wine shot glasses (104 proof). Each toast entails draining your glass and displaying the empty glass to everyone at your table.
Drunken-ness ensues for them and a lot of pressure on me to drink more than just water.
Feature animation producer Max Howard told me he also doesn't drink, so we were sober buddies. He was slicker than I was, though. Max would fill his rice wine glass with water so he could participate in the toasts without keeling over.
Mexicans are very casual. So casual that it's sometimes hard to get crews to show up on time. However, when they do finally show up, their attitudes are great and they work hard.
I have found the execs in Mexico to be very bold and direct, and they like it when you are too. The more open and direct you are, the more they like it.
After work, they like to go out and drink, both in nice restaurants and in tiny family joints. However, I saw less per-capita consumption in Mexico than anywhere else.
There are also some similarities in doing business in most cultures.
• Drinking is common, as I'm sure you've already guessed.
• Ass-kissing, always a good standby.
• Dancing. Not necessarily good dancing, just dancing.
- In Mexico at the end of the week we had a party and everyone did their own dance across the floor. Nothing worthy of So You Think You Can Dance, but it was all fun. My moves were more from my martial arts training than dancing, but it was memorable.
• Singing. Again, not necessarily singing well, but a willingness to show-off or have fun in front of the group makes up for a lack of talent.
- In China, we enjoyed rousing ballads from Clifford Coonan of Daily Variety and Peter McHugh of Gotham Group and a three- way group-harmony of Row, Row, Row Your Boat lead by Kevin Geiger of Animation Options. Good times.
• Make a fool of yourself.
Actually, acting the fool almost never makes you look like the fool. If you do it well with a great attitude, people remember you as the life of the party, but at least they remember you and people do business with people they remember.
Just remember not to puke on your host or stick your tongue down the throat of the hostess, (don't even try to tell me you haven't seen that happen) have a good time and do great business around the world.
Mark Simon is an award-winning animation director. He is co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com , the ultimate resource for TV show creators. He is offering AWN readers a FREE MONTH of his TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards. Go to www.TvPitchTips.com  and register for your weekly audio postcards of insider Hollywood pitch tips, tricks and secrets.