Networking Getting You Nowhere? Try This Instead

"The industry is too big and too competitive to wait around for somebody to give you a job."

If passing out your business card at industry events leaves you feeling like a schmuck and still hasn't launched your career, you're not alone.

"The idea we’ve all been sold is, get a card, give it to people, have a short to show, and you’ll be successful," said Todd Bieber, who works at Comedy Central, on the SXSW panel "Build Your Tribe: Networking is Bullshit."

"That didn’t work for me," Bieber continued. "And I even had a short film play Sundance. For me, it came from finding a tribe—a group of like-minded people."

Bieber and fellow panelists Tess Greenberg, Head of Post-Production at UCB, and Julie Gomez, a freelance producer, challenged filmmakers to forget the soul-sucking search for paid gigs. Instead, they offered, focus on finding a group of people for whom you feel loyalty and mutual admiration.

"The industry is too big and too competitive to wait around for somebody to give you a job," said Gomez. "Find your own leadership and initiative!"

But how, exactly, do you create your own community—especially if you haven’t exactly knocked it out of the park with your networking skills? The panelists suggested that with a little preparation and legwork, it can be easier than you think, and so much more rewarding if you’re looking for creative, meaningful collaboration.

Below are the two basic approaches you can take.

Todd BieberCredit: Todd Bieber's website

1. Seek out untapped communities

The key is to seek out a community that already exists, but one without a preexisting filmmaking community. This could be the ACLU or a community theater—wherever you find like-minded people congregating. 

"You want to go to a place that exists, but has a lack of filmmaking community within a community," said Bieber.

"I sought out Upright Citizens Brigade before there was a film department," said Bieber. "UCB had a great group of writers and performers. I noticed there were filmmakers scattered around, but they didn’t have a film department. For two years, I edited and shot everything that came out of there for free. As I released more [videos], people noticed. Each time, more people came to UCB for filmmaking."

2. Build from the ground up

If you can’t find the right preexisting community, you may have to build something from scratch.

"You make a commitment to do something together with whatever talent you have," said Greenberg. "That’s how we started Video Mass. We’re not a film collective; we’re a filmmaking collective. We’re not trying to make film to get into Sundance. We’re just trying to help each other. You come across unknown elements—my uncle’s wife, my roommate’s friend, somebody who you can't believe you haven't collaborated with yet."

Whether you decide to build something from scratch or seek out an existing community, there are a few important questions you have to ask yourself to make sure you head in the right direction.

According to the panelists, self-awareness is crucial to being able to find the right collaborators. Here’s a quick checklist: 

What am I passionate about?

"It's at the beginning of every stupid self-help book for a reason!” said Bieber. "You don't want to end up down the road, after years of work with people who don’t have the same a passions as you. You have to put yourself in the right community, and that starts with knowing what you’re passionate about."

What am I great at?

"Starting out in your career, you are good or just average at a lot of things," said Greenberg. "Hone the one thing that you can offer. You have to bring a skill set to the group if you are looking for your tribe. Think of yourself as an asset: how would you stand out on a specific production? Hone that skill."

Finally, once you identify your own passions and talents, and have an idea of the community you're targeting, here are a few other tips the panelists offered for the next leg of community-building:

  • Only email people you are genuinely interested in working with
  • Don't say you want to learn from someone; just tell them what you're good at
  • Be a collaborator, not a hired gun
  • Don't expect things to pay off

"We’re not saying, 'Let people take advantage of you,'" said Bieber. "If you’re treated like garbage, that’s not your tribe. But don’t get a chip on your shoulder if every opportunity doesn’t lead to more money. If you’re here, you’re in it for the long haul."

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

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Your Comment


How ironic, I have been trying to do exactly what he is describing for almost 9 years now. And I am amused of how empty, souless, dead, people are inside. Some times my frustration is so big I could see everybody burst in fire in front of me and not feel anything.

I keep trying anyway.

March 21, 2017 at 7:36PM, Edited March 21, 7:37PM

Edgar More

Edgar, noooo! It can be very, very frustrating, and many of us can relate to what you're feeling. You might appreciate hearing that on the panel, Tess Greenberg said she spent 10 whole years working in documentary before realizing she hated doc, and wanted to do comedy. If you still haven't found good collaborators in another year, you could always try starting fresh in another vein of filmmaking!

March 21, 2017 at 9:52PM

Oakley Anderson-Moore

I'm already trying everything under my power to do anything. That's why my job description says all. If Jebus notices that I exist one of this days, and I'm able to make my projects, I'll let you guys know.

March 22, 2017 at 11:54AM, Edited March 22, 11:55AM

Edgar More

Giving a business card and waiting for a call never worked for anyone in any industry. People do business with people, so it is about the human connection.

March 21, 2017 at 7:53PM

Director, DOP, Writer, Editor, Producer

The still above of the 4 people is intriguing - what film is it from please ?

March 22, 2017 at 7:23AM

Saied M.

The image is titled ucb_season_1.jpg, so possibly this:

March 24, 2017 at 12:50PM


Thanks Zetty.

March 25, 2017 at 12:08AM

Saied M.

Nice read, I like the last part as well.

March 22, 2017 at 4:09PM

Keith Kim

Nice work, Oakley. It is a tightrope, paying the bills and not being wrecked by "the soul-sucking search for paid gigs." That is for certain. Indeed, some of my best-paying work and clients were precisely the ones who took the most joy out of being a creative. Most of the people I know have a hard time distancing themselves from their work. They would literally walk into a burning building to make an interesting shot because they care so much. And, unfortunately, some work, or clients, just don't deserve that level of devotion.

March 30, 2017 at 11:57AM

Craig Mieritz
Color, Light and Camera Geek

"The industry is too big and too competitive to wait around for somebody to give you a job."
- you are 100% right!

January 17, 2019 at 2:03PM

Travis Johansen - Minneapolis
Director of Photography & Producer