Tuesday, December 9, 2008

How to Network

Last post I discussed networking mistakes. This time I’m going to take a more positive approach to the subject. Networking is important in the film business. This is an insanely competitive business. There are so many people trying to break in, the “buyers” are always overwhelmed. You need to build advocates for your work to break through the clutter.

The most important thing is to be engaged. If you sit in your apartment pounding out screenplays all day it will be hard to network. You need to be out there meeting people. The best places to network are where industry people congregate. Okay, maybe you can’t wrangle an invite to the Paramount holiday party but there are other things you can do. Go to film festivals. Join groups like Film Independent (in LA, IFP in NY) and Scriptwriters Network. Take classes. Get involved in an equity waiver theater company where you’ll meet aspiring actors and directors. Really, if you love film so much, why wouldn’t you want to do those kinds of things?

(That’s one of the reasons it’s important to live in Los Angeles if you are trying to break into film or TV writing. It’s not impossible to do it elsewhere, but you will run into a lot more people to network with in your daily life if you’re in Los Angeles. Even going to non-industry events in LA can be networking opportunities.)

So now some rules of networking:

First rule of networking: Nobody is doing you a favor. If you are talented and your work is good, you have value in the business relationship. Do not approach networking like a beggar looking for a handout. When a development exec reads a script from an unknown screenwriter he’s hoping it will be great – because his job is to find great scripts! If your work is great then networking is really creating mutually beneficial relationships. Which leads to…

Second rule of networking: It’s an ongoing relationship. When you meet someone the goal should be to build that relationship not to get them to do something for you. When I go into a pitch meeting with a producer who I’m meeting for the first time, my goal is to establish rapport more than to sell a specific idea. Once the relationship is established I can go to that person again and again with ideas. And hopefully they’ll come to me when they have something they need help with.

Third rule of networking: Nobody is unimportant. As I mentioned last time, lateral networking is the most valuable. The producer’s intern will become her assistant and then a development exec and maybe even the head of the company – often in startlingly short time. The mailroom of CAA is filled with Harvard MBAs because it’s the entry point for aspiring agents. The guy delivering your script could be a major player long before your movie ever gets made.

Corollary to rule number three: What you need to be looking for is talent and drive. There are a lot of people in Hollywood going nowhere fast. I believe in being polite and respectful to everyone. But when I meet someone who is talented and driven, no matter what their job is right now, that is a person I make it a point to stay in contact with.

Fourth rule of networking: Quality is the commodity. All the charm in the world will not help if you don’t deliver good work. Make your script great then get everyone you can to read it. If it’s really great then your writing will do your networking for you.

I’m often handed a script and asked if I will give it to my agent. The thing is, I only have so much credibility with my agent. I can really only give him one or two scripts a year before I’m bugging him. His primary job is to sell his current clients after all, and if I’m constantly asking him to read other people’s scripts then that’s time he’s not spending on my career.

And if I give him a script from a prospective client the first thing he’ll ask me is have I read it and is it good. If I say yes and it’s not good, then my recommendation starts to lose value. Believe me, if I read a great script I will be anxious to give it to my agent. It will make me look good and if the writer turns into a client who makes him money the agent will owe me one. So if you’ve networked and built a relationship with me, don’t ask me for a referral, ask me to read your script and let it speak for itself. But it better be one of the best two scripts I read all year!

Now go forth and network!

1 comment:

Susan said...

Best tip is that no one is unimportant. Corollary: Be nice to everyone. "You Never Know!" The lowly coffee schlepper may turn out to be the producer, director or married to one. And the bottomline is that it's nice to be nice as well as smart.

Susan RoAne
Author of Face to Face: How To Reclaim the Personal Touch in a Digital World and The Secrets of Savvy Networking