Networking is one of the best ways to get a job in the film business. Here's how to make it less painful.
One of the most frequent questions we get around here is some flavor of: How do I get a job in film? And one of our most frequent answers often catches people by surprise. Yes, you have to do the expected stuff: work hard, make stuff, build a reel, get yourself onto sets when possible. But in some ways, the most important thing you can do to build your film career is to network with other people who you might like to collaborate with, learn from, or work for.
This fills some filmmakers with emotions ranging from dread to disdain. Why shouldn’t your work just speak for itself? When it comes down to it, there are a lot of people making great films and angling for the same attention. One thing that will really set you apart is, well, you and your relationships.
Here’s the good news: our industry is filled with opportunities to network, and it is not actually that hard to do. You are a filmmaker. You’re presumably already creative and curious about the world. Bringing that same creativity and curiosity to events where you can meet industry people will serve you well. And if you follow these six tips for preparing and making the most of your schmooze time, who knows? You might even start to enjoy it.
Try to approach each conversation in an authentic way without needing anything specific from the people you meet.
1. Do your research
Just like with a successful film shoot, prep can make the difference between a lackluster and great experience. Fortunately, many events will provide lists of attendees in advance—ranging from Facebook RSVPs to official publications of industry delegates with bios—that you can mine for info. Get a sense of who will be there. Is there anyone from a production company that you might want to work with, or who has worked on a project that you admire? Put their names on your radar so you can potentially seek them out at the event.
Now, I’m not saying to go full stalker. You don’t even have to let someone know you looked them up. But you can have that info in your back pocket so that when you run into them at the bar and check out their nametag, you can drop something like, “Hey, Didn’t you produce [that movie I love]?” and start a conversation from there.
2. Reach out ahead
If there’s someone you know for sure that you’d like to meet (or someone you’ve met previously that you’d like to reconnect with), consider hitting them up in advance. You could email if they have an email address on their public site, or even @ them on Twitter.
You don’t have to share your whole life story. Just let them know that you saw they will be there and that you’d love to connect. Even if they don’t respond there will be benefits, including the fact that your name will be on their radar, and you’ll have a place to start a conversation from if you do meet in person.
3. Set a goal
How will you know if you’ve succeeded at your networking efforts? Well, that all depends on what your goals are. I advise you to set some modest benchmarks based on what you believe you can reasonably accomplish. A goal might be as simple as: I will talk to three people who I haven’t met. A goal might be: I will exchange business cards with one person and follow up with that person after the event.
If you set these goals too high (I will walk out with a job offer!), you are not setting yourself up for success. Start with a modest task and up your game with each event that you attend.
Once your goals are set, keep them on the backburner and try to approach each conversation in an authentic way without needing anything specific from the people you meet. Nothing turns potential contacts off faster than feeling like you are only talking to them because you want something, or that your eyes are scanning the room for someone “more important”.
4. Bring a wing
Uncomfortable walking into a room full of industry people without knowing anyone? You’re not alone. So...don’t be alone. Bring a wing-person with whom you can check in throughout the event. You might have other friends who are trying to break into the industry, or with whom you have worked, who might appreciate the opportunity to network with a buddy. This is also a great way to follow up with people who you met at other events; maybe they’d like to attend the next one with you.
You and your wing can approach people or other groups together, which can be a lot easier than doing it alone. Here’s the catch: don’t be too dependent on this person. If you spend the whole time talking with only them, then you’ve defeated the purpose of being there together in the first place.
Chances are the other attendees are just as in-the-dark about how to strike up a conversation with a stranger as you are.
5. Sit next to someone
It’s so tempting to leave empty seats between yourself and a stranger or to sink into the comfort of your phone while waiting for a panel to begin. But before and after a panel, talk, or workshop can actually be some of the best times to meet someone new. After all, you’re both just sitting there, waiting for the same thing, and you likely have common interests.
So what do you say once you’ve plopped down next to your future business contact or maybe even friend? After the panel is easy because you can comment on what you just saw. Beforehand? Start simple: Hi, I’m Sarah. Maybe next it’s: What brings you here tonight? Or: I heard this speaker before at SXSW. She’s so interesting.
These lines may seem cheesy, but chances are they are just as in-the-dark about how to strike up a conversation with a stranger as you are, and they’ll appreciate that you kicked things off.
6. Have an exit strategy
One of the biggest challenges about networking (after you’ve already overcome the hurdles of getting yourself in the door and starting to talk to someone) can be getting stuck talking to someone who just...keeps...talking. I still stand by my advice to approach each conversation with an authentic interest that’s not tied to specific outcomes, but sometimes you really need to extricate yourself and move on.
It’s useful to be prepared with a couple lines that easily let you escape these situations. This might also be where your winger comes in handy. Can you set up a bat signal that lets that person know you need a rescue? Or just be able to say something to the effect of “It’s been so nice chatting with you. I’m gonna go check in with my colleague.” And even if you get stuck in a corner with Mr. Mansplain, remember that you're still making progress by speaking with someone new in the first place.
Good luck out there. Hope to network with you at a film festival soon!
What makes networking easier for you? What are some networking no-no’s? Let us know in the comments.