"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.
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.
No Film School's coverage of the 2017 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Vimeo.