Friday, September 14, 2018

The Care and Feeding of Your Professional Network

In my last post, I discussed some ways to meet people in the business. This is crucial, as most screenwriters get their breaks through referrals. But meeting someone is only the start of the networking process. Today, I’ll discuss some things to keep in mind when you do meet someone, and tips to keep the relationship alive afterwards.

1. Be aware of the environment. There are many ways you might meet industry contacts. When you do meet someone, make sure your actions are appropriate for the environment. Someone at a party does not want to listen to your lengthy film pitch. In social situations, keep the interaction mostly social. I once met an actor at a film festival party, and the moment they found out I was a screenwriter, they handed me their headshot. I guess they expected me to carry the headshot around for the rest of the party. I didn’t – I conveniently forgot it on a table. On the other hand, in a more professional situation (such as a pitch fest) stay professional.

2. Build relationships first. Too often people think of networking as meeting someone and getting them to read a script. But when you first meet someone, they have very little incentive to help you, and may even be afraid to hear your idea – for all they know, you could be a crazy person who will sue them for some imagined copyright infringement. Real networking is about creating a network of people who can help you along in your career over the long term. And you never know where an opportunity might come from. Sometimes a chance meeting leads to a big break years later in a way you never could have anticipated.

3. Start by asking questions. A good way to start a relationship with someone more established than you is to ask for advice. Most people love to give advice! Don’t overwhelm them – ask a question or two. And don’t ask just to ask, actually listen to the advice – you may learn something of value. If you reach a point of familiarity where you don’t think it’s presumptuous, you may ask to have coffee with your contact to get more detailed advice. If so, come prepared with a list of questions. And pay for their coffee!

4. Have a Good Elevator Pitch – But Don’t Use It in an Elevator! Although I don’t suggest initiating a pitch to someone you just met in a casual environment, often they may ask about your project. If you meet a producer at a party, for example, and say you’re a screenwriter, the producer might ask what you’re working on. This is the perfect time to wow them with your great thirty-second pitch. They probably don’t want to hear more than that right then, but if they like the idea, they may ask to read it when it’s done. In any case, you want to sound like you’re writing cool stuff. Elevator pitches are named based on the idea that if you happen to be in an elevator with a VIP you will have a captive audience for about thirty seconds. But I wouldn’t advocate a pitch in that scenario. You are more likely to end up with a restraining order than a movie deal.

5. Networking is a Two-Way Street. You may not think you have anything to offer an industry professional, but you probably do. Even simple things, like retweeting them or sending a complimentary email about their latest project can get them to think of you in a positive light. If you hear of an event or see an article they might like, send it to them. But be judicious… don’t bombard them with the equivalent of junk mail. Maybe there's someone among your other industry contacts they would like to meet – one of the best ways to network is to help other people network. You also may be able to help them out in some way outside of the business – a discount on something, for example. The point is, don’t just think about what they can do for you, think about what you can do for them.

6. Social media can be your friend. It’s much easier to maintain contacts these days than when I was starting out. After you meet someone at a party or networking event, you can friend/follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This also makes it easy to shoot them quick messages. Don’t abuse this ability. But if you’re a good follower and supporter, social media can keep a relationship alive and help people remember you months after you met them.

7. Do stuff that shows your talent. It’s also never been easier to show people what you can do. Depending on where your talents lie, you can make short films and post them online, write short stories for web magazines, write sketches for a local sketch comedy troupe, create a web comic... there are tons of options. And then you can let your network know about these accomplishments. It gives you an excuse to contact people, to remind them you’re there, and show them you are an active creator. Even just posting funny tweets or cool Instagram images can keep you on people’s radar.

8. It’s not a contact if you’re afraid to use it. I’ve heard people talk about a big Hollywood VIP they know, but then say they don’t want to ask this VIP to read a script because they don’t want to spoil the relationship. Caution is a good instinct. But if you’re a writer, the ultimate purpose of any business relationship is to get read. If you can’t ask someone to read something, then they aren’t really a contact. So put aside your fear and make the ask. That said…

9. When you ask for a read, do it professionally. Make sure you’ve built up the relationship enough that it’s reasonable to ask for a favor. Ask before you send the material. Make sure you give them a script that is your best work. Don’t ask someone to read something new too often. Once you’ve sent a script, don’t badger them about whether they’ve read it – a follow-up three or four weeks later is fine, but they are busy people and you are asking for their time. And if they don’t respond to the material, or they give you harsh critical feedback, be gracious. Telling you what’s wrong with your script is also a favor.

10. Say thank you! Finally, when someone does something to help you out, even if it’s just giving you advice, say thank you. A handwritten card is especially appreciated. Gifts are usually not necessary, but if you do want to give them something, the thoughtfulness of the gift is much more important than how much you spent.

Most of this can be summed up as: be nice. Self-involvement is not attractive. Neither is desperation. Just treat people well, show them what you have to offer, and the networking will take care of itself.


The third edition of The Hollywood Pitching Bible is out! If you are in Los Angeles, Ken Aguado and I will be doing a book signing at Book Soup at 7 pm on September 26th. We’d love to see you there! You can RSVP here which will help us ensure we have enough books on hand.

"Luck, they say, is when preparation meets opportunity.  Consider yourself lucky that Douglas Eboch & Ken Aguado have written a book that tells you not only how to achieve a screenwriting career, but also sustain it over time."
-Lem Dobbs, screenwriter ( Dark City, The Limey, The Score, The Company You Keep, Haywire)

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