Filmmaker Networking 101

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, how I see some people who call themselves networking working a room, passing out business cards but not connecting to anyone. If you’re in a room with 100 people, it’s better to meaningfully connect with one person, than to get everyone’s contact info.

Some people confuse networking with sales. There are some philosophies of sales that suggest that pitching everyone is a way of closing deals. There’s some idea that you’re going to get positive feedback from 15%-20% of those you contact. But in the age of spam in our inboxes, junk ads polluting our physical mailboxes and ‘don’t call lists’ for our phones, it’s become about relationships, not numbers. That’s why Facebook is so exciting for businesses: advertisers can advertise to you through all of your so called friends. I like Seth Godin’s philosophy better: in an age when anything can be obtained for cheaper, the only reason people with do business with you is because they trust or like you.

Peddling scripts and talent is different than selling mattresses or burgers. There will always be a screenwriter or actor willing to work for less than you. Yes, even less than free sometimes. That’s what producer credits are for. In short:

Networking isn’t:

  • Handing out business cards
  • Collecting business cards
  • Sleeping with people so they like you

Networking is:

  • Connecting with people in a real way that catalyses a (hopefully positive) relationship

Here are the three easiest, most effective ways I’ve found to network. You don’t need to be handsome, have nice breasts, a nice car, to go to particular clubs to positively connect with other filmmakers.

Work for Free

I know, the more skilled you are, the more you might find working for free beneath you. And if you’re skilled and connected, you won’t ever need to. But in today’s economy, regardless your level of skill, you may find that it’s easier for people to see you do your thing, and realize, ‘hey, we actually need this person,’ than it is to send immaculately formatted resumes to people who think they don’t need them.

Working for free can be a liberating thing if you’re not late on your rent and you don’t have kids to feed. Working for free means you’re doing someone a favor. You’re helping someone. You’re not responsible, nor are you required to do more than you say you’re going to do. It can be a beautiful thing.

If you’re experienced, working for free allows you to get up close and personal with people you’d like to work with, and people you’d prefer to avoid. It allows you to get the lay of the land, and if you see people you need to impress… and to impress them. Showing up to ‘help’ allows you to, throughout the day, pick peoples brains on who’s who, where to find work, and how to weather storms. This is often the most timely information about the business that will only make it to the general public via blog posts, news pieces and cinematic satire years later.

If you’re inexperienced, showing up, shutting up and paying attention will get you a paid gig faster than most film school degrees. It’s a lot of work, names and jargon to memorize and the art of ‘being available but staying out the way.’ Evan Lazuli over at theBlackandBlue blog talks about your first job on a set, being a Production Assistant. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a great place to learn.

Ultimately, the proof is in the pudding. If you want to work with people, show them they want to work with you. I’m very pro the meritocratic notion that your talent should shine for you. If you don’t have any ‘natural advantages,’ working for free might be the best way to open doors.

Sign up for an Extreme Film Festival

12 hour, 24 hour, 48 hours… Extreme film festivals are great places to meet folks you’d like to work with and folks you’d like to avoid. These film festivals tend to have big networking soirees where the emphasis is to meet people and build teams for the shoots, so people are generally open to dumb questions and fumbling around, ‘getting to know people’. The shoots are short, the deadlines are fixed, and you know when you’ll be done, so there’s usually no long, drawn out holding your breath waiting months to see the fruits of your labor. And these festivals creates scheduled artificial filmmaking stress, and that’s where you separate the ones you wanna work with, and the ones you don’t.

A couple of extreme film festivals that stand out include

Get yourFilm to a Festival

Another great way to network with other filmmakers is to get your film into a film festival. I mean, you make the best little film you can make, get into a film festival, and rub shoulders and chat with folks you might like to work with. Yes, there is a cultural divide between the shorts folks and the feature folks, and the documentary folks are sometimes given the dank corner ‘over there,’ but at the end of the day, you’re in the room, and if you don’t act silly and pompous, you can ask real players for notes on your film. This is a dicey prospect because most filmmakers will be there to promote their own films, but you can make connections. And people may not like your film, but they may like your pluck, and you never know where it might lead. Maybe a good memory, maybe a paid gig.

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2 Responses to “Filmmaker Networking 101”

  1. Phil Dyer says:

    Great advice! But I can still sleep with people so they’ll like me, right?

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