The art and craft of networking—it’s vital to your survival as a screenwriter…
June 10, 2015 § 3 Comments
You can’t sit in your protected bubble, writing your specs and believe that Hollywood will come knocking at your door with balloons, champagne and a giant check like you just won the lottery. It’s not going to happen. You have to get out there and make them notice you—mix it up and meet with other filmmakers, make valuable contacts, be a good contact, help and support others, share your work, take it on the chin with criticism and rejection, come back again with better work, create opportunities, open doors and move farther down your screenwriting pathway to success.
Networking is vital to your success over the long haul. If you’re just starting out, it will take a few years to build solid contacts and you’ll need the time to create a body of work. You have to offer something of merit and not expect that just because you wrote a screenplay that anyone cares or owes you a read. Also just because you know someone in the business, it’s not their responsibility to give you a break. Make your own breaks by creating well-written screenplays that reflect your unique “voice” and talent. You must have something amazing to offer—if not you’re just one of the many aspirants in the pile of 50,000 scripts a year that bounce around Hollywood.
Yes, a contact can help open the door, but it’s up to you to close the deal. You must respect that when they introduce you or help pass your script along, they are sticking their neck out for you and their reputation is on the line. The worst scenario would be if you used a contact to secure a meeting or a read and you blew the meeting or wasted their contact’s time being unprofessional. It would reflect badly on your contact and you’ll burn your bridge with them if you fail to respect these working professionals. Every project is either a new opportunity or a failed opportunity. It depends on the way you choose to play it.
A writer’s life’s blood is their relationships and this directly leads to securing work and getting hired for jobs. A solid discipline to follow during this long period is patience as it will take time to establish yourself as an excellent screenwriter before you can fully cultivate your film industry relationships. I’m sure along the way you’ve already discovered that many contacts talk more than act. Talk is cheap and it’s free to string you along with promises and excitement around a project and this can end up with the question, “If you can do a rewrite with our notes we might option it.” Don’t work for free and if you do—calculate the risk/benefit on your part because you’re giving away your most precious commodity—your time.
You’ll come across people who drop names and spin fabulous stories of their endeavors, but under closer scrutiny they’re really a house of cards ready to collapse. Professionals can immediately recognize an aspirant by their talent and the way they act. Given time, you’ll get better at recognizing those who are serious and those who just talk. If you always keep true to your word and focus on becoming a better screenwriter, your integrity will stand out and you’ll be on your way to building a solid reputation with those professionals who will recognize when you are ready, and will be happy to work with you.
As you build your solid network of contacts make sure that you are generous with those who deserve your time. If someone helps you—pay it forward. Offer help to others and it will eventually come back to you ten fold. If asked, read a contact’s script and offer notes. Help out with a live script reading. Work on a contact’s film production or short movie. Support a contact by attending their film’s screening. Even if you help someone and there is no pay, always do your best work because you leave behind the imprint of your reputation. Show your contacts at every level that you are a talented and generous professional who takes the craft seriously. When you project a professional attitude you will attract like-minded artists.
As you gain experience over time, you’ll quickly learn how to weed out the aspirants and bullshitters from the professional minded folks. The professionals are the ones who you want to keep as contacts. Professionals in Hollywood like to work and collaborate with people they can trust to deliver the goods on time. They will always evaluate you based upon your talent, but if they find it difficult to work with you, they will usually pick the writer who is a team player over the diva who is more talented. There just isn’t time to put up with a screenwriter’s ego getting in the way of a working relationship.
If you’re a team player and collaborator you’ll recognize your contacts who are team players and people you can trust. If you’ve helped them in the past, they will be more likely to go out of their way to help you when asked. As you build a solid network of contacts—be a solid and trusted contact yourself. It can’t be a one-sided relationship. Respond to your contacts in a timely manner, help them when you can, and show them from your actions that you are worthy of being in their network. If you do ask a contact for help, do not play that card unless you are absolutely ready.
I’ve kept many important industry contacts for years and never asked them for help until I was finally writing at a level to seriously compete as a professional. The mistake many beginning writers make is prematurely asking a contact for help with they are not working at a professional level. Learn patience and focus on becoming an excellent screenwriter first before you consider using your contacts for help.
You never know where your contacts will lead and that is why you need to build a solid list through networking. Here’s a good example of my own personal experience: After I graduated from film school and I was just starting out, my girlfriend at the time had a friend who was a producer’s assistant and she believed in my spec script (my fifth script) and got another assistant interested whose boss was about to form a new production company. He opened shop and got his boss to option my script, they eventually bought it, produced the film and it sold internationally. My contact’s position in the company grew over the years, he eventually became the President of Production, and years later he hired me for over a half-dozen paid script assignments.
You never know where your contacts will lead. While you are networking and building your solid relationships, make it easy for people to contact you. Spend the money for professional business cards. Do not print them on your computer or use a typewriter logo or other icons on the card. If you’ve ever seen a true professional’s business card it’s plain, simple and clean. No fancy icons or director’s chairs—just contact information. This is part of your professional image that you project and your card will represent you long after you hand it out. I remember once spending a half hour talking to a guy who name dropped and inflated his projects only to have him slide me a business card printed from his computer. His card listed five jobs that he supposedly does including “director, writer, actor, producer, and P.A.” I’m not kidding. The guy listed production assistant with those other abilities.
After reading his ridiculous business card, he lost all credibility and I didn’t believe anything that he said.
His amateur business card didn’t hold up to the professional image that he tried to project. In this wildly competitive business, networking and solid contacts are the life’s blood of a screenwriter’s career. As you work on your craft and build your professional reputation, it’s important to cultivate your business relationships and respect the opportunities they can offer. But you can only utilize your contacts to the fullest when you are working at a professional level. When you establish yourself as a working screenwriter, your professional contacts are so important and will mean the difference between working and not working.
Also remember to always be generous on your way up the ladder and pay it forward.
Keep networking and building solid relationships with a trusted network of contacts that can help lead you down the road to success.
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“A professional respects his craft. He does not consider himself superior to it. He recognizes the contributions of those who have gone before him. He apprentices himself to them.”—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
“The professional understands delayed gratification. He is the ant, not the grasshopper; the tortoise, not the hare… the professional arms himself with patience, not only to give the stars time to align in his career, but to keep himself from flaming out in each individual work. He knows that any job, whether it’s a novel or a kitchen remodel, takes twice as long as he thinks and costs twice as much. He accepts that. He recognizes it as reality. He conserves his energy. He prepares his mind for the long haul. He sustains himself with the knowledge that if he can just keep the huskies mushing, sooner or later the sled will pull in to Nome.”—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
“This is, if not a lifetime process, it’s awfully close to it. The writer broadens, becomes deeper, becomes more observant, becomes more tempered, becomes much wiser over a period time passing. It is not something that is injected into him by a needle. It is not something that comes on a wave of flashing, explosive light one night and say, ‘Huzzah! Eureka! I’ve got it!’ and then proceeds to write the great American novel in eleven days. It doesn’t work that way. It’s a long, tedious, tough, frustrating process, but never, ever be put aside by the fact that it’s hard.”—Rod Serling
“Life in the movie business is like the beginning of a new love affair. It’s full of surprises and you’re constantly getting fucked.”—David Mamet
“The time we have alone; the time we have in walking; the time we have in riding a bicycle; are the most important times for a writer. Escaping from a typewriter is part of the creative process. You have to give your subconscious time to think. Real thinking always occurs on the subconscious level.”—Ray Bradbur