Film Producing: Challenges in Networking

I hate networking. If there was anything I could change about my “career,” it would be just that. But, unfortunately, networking is vital in the film industry. It’s an incestuous group, we filmmakers. Unless you are willing to go outside your comfort zone, you can’t get in the club.

In the last eighteen months since I’ve decided to restart my career in producing, I have actively extended my hand with every person I’ve come across. It seems that everyone in London has a connection to someone in film. It’s just a matter of starting a conversation to find out who knows whom.

Because I know what it is to be introverted in an industry of extroverts, here are a couple steps to keep in mind when networking.

1) Don’t be afraid to talk and ask questions. 

I don’t care if I sound stupid or ignorant anymore because I’m trying to learn. Not only about the person I’m speaking to, but I am also seeing what connection I can cultivate. This may sound like manipulation, but on the contrary–there is probably something I can offer as well.

To give an example, I was at a get-together just last evening where I only knew one person. I was left to fend for myself for the better part of the party when my friend chatted away. Reaching for anything to start conversation, I asked the host about the paintings on his walls. You’d never believe that that starter question led to a conversation about the film he is trying to get off the ground.

See what I mean about everyone being connected in the industry? I didn’t have the slightest clue this gentleman was in film, yet he became the focus of my attention for the better part of the evening asking questions about his project, which led to another introduction to some industry award winners and budding make-up artists–just because I said I liked his interior design.

2) Never forget business cards.

It may come off as pretentious to whip out little pieces of cardboard, but why else did you order them? You had them made to give them out and make connections with other people in your world. It doesn’t come across as pretentious. It comes across as prepared and organized. It also saves you from wasted time searching the internet for forgotten surnames the next morning as you try to recall conversations (because what’s worse than having business cards at a party?–taking notes at said party).

If you are lucky enough to receive a business card, it is good practice to email them with a “pleasure to meet you” note or the like. A few weeks ago now, I was at a networking event, and I exchanged business cards with a sales agent that I would have loved to have talked to. I emailed a quick note, and even though it took several weeks to hear back from her (complete with a misspelling of my name), I did eventually get a response and therefore a connection into the distribution arena.

3) Go to any and every event you can.

Tell me: what is better than sitting in your comfy chair at home with a mug of coffee and a script to read? Not much. But I am here to tell you that no one is going to even know to hire you if you’re at home and not out schmoozing. Exhausting work, I know.

Back in April, Raindance Film Festival hosted the Independent Filmmaker’s Ball in Piccadilly Circus. I had not planned on going mainly because of how much of a mess Piccadilly Circus can be let alone going to a late event on a Wednesday (who does that?). But I put on a pretty dress, and off I went to the ball. Would you know it, I got a VIP pass thanks to a connection I previously made and had a wonderful time meeting editors, actors, and directors all thriving in the London scene! It didn’t matter I hadn’t passed out any business cards that night, it was a chance to be “in the club” and tell stories like:

“Oh, you were there! Yes! I’m surprised we didn’t bump into each other.”

4) Be prepared to invest in yourself.

The film industry is not a cheap one, and it is a long term investment. A lot of up front cash must go in whether it’s working on set for free, giving up your time for a project, or paying fees for events and coffees. I don’t want to think about the money I have spent in the last eighteen months toward my career without making much in return.

I have attended part-time classes for further education (and networking), worked as a runner on a feature film (not even expenses were covered), produced short films putting my own money into the productions, and bribed people with more coffee than Ethiopia has beans. But each time, I have learned something, made a connection, or challenged myself into broadening my own horizon. Not a single “investment” has gone awry. This career forces you to see how far you’ll go to chase the dream.

5) Don’t be afraid of social media. But don’t be reckless.

I’m not afraid of social media, per se, but I definitely don’t think I use it to its full extent. I don’t troll Twitter or read every blog that has to do with film. But what I do is when I come across a short film I like or person who’s views I agree with (or not for that matter), I follow them. What does it hurt? You can always unfollow them later if it becomes oppressive and irrelevant to what you want to read.

I have made several real world connections via Twitter which have resulted into finished films or future collaborations. And then, when you’re ready to start a production, Twitter and Facebook are invaluable tools to reaching out for crowdfunding and awareness. Other social media platforms like Vine, YouTube, and Instagram are also great places to search for connections and talent. Without collaboration, there is no project. So don’t be afraid to connect and share ideas.

However, always be cautious. Don’t agree to just any project without fully vetting the other side. That’s the beauty of being online. You can find out anything about anyone with the right search tools. If you don’t like what you see, whether that is an absence of social media altogether, or views you don’t agree with, just say no. Trust your gut.

* * * *

I’ll admit, even after writing this and realizing how beneficial networking is, I still hate it. But it is a necessary evil that all filmmakers have come to terms with. So, put yourself out there! You never know when or where that break will come.

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