by Ken Aguado (@kaguado)
Networking – it’s a mystery. Or at least it seems to be, based on the number of times I’m asked about the topic. This might be a reflection of how impenetrable the process seems to the uninitiated, or it might just be a proxy for how hard it is to break into the entertainment industry. After all, showbiz is famously about “who you know,” and networking is one of the ways you get to know them.
In any case, I have found that the people who ask me about networking tend to fall into one of two categories (or both). The first kind of person is one for whom the social customs of showbiz just seem to be a great unknown. This is totally rational. If you’re new to the biz, why would you know it? The second kind of person is one for whom any social setting is cause for panic. Some people are just shy or uncomfortable in groups of people that number more than two. Most of my tips below are advice for the former kind of person, but it’s possible it might also help with the latter kind, if only as a confidence-builder. I hope so.
First of all, let’s make one thing very clear. Networking is not about selling your script, or getting an agent, or making deals. Yes, it’s about these things – eventually. But the main goal of networking is to meet people and form long term relationships. The sooner you understand this, the sooner your goals will seem more attainable. Here are my top ten film industry networking tips:
1. Know Where to Go
Look for social settings that attract the kinds of industry people you want to meet. Film festivals, screenings, seminars, and various film or TV events are all obvious destinations. Night clubs, not so much. Of course you’re looking for events where established entertainment professionals mingle and are accessible. So, for example, a screening or panel event may not be ideal, unless it’s followed by a reception. One avenue people often forget about is working for, or helping organize, events or festivals. If you can find your way into working for a top event, you can often form relationships with significant people in a work setting, and that’s a great way to bond with them.
2. Know Why You’re There
Networking is work. You’re not there to party. You’re there to make new contacts. In general, networking events are not ideal places to bring a date or a spouse, especially if your date or spouse does not have the same career goals as you. You don’t bring a date to work, do you? If you do decide to bring an accomplice, have a prearranged understanding with them that allows you to “work the room” solo, meeting up at a later time. Everyone has a cell phone so this is easy to coordinate. Lastly, dress appropriately for the event, and don’t get drunk.
3. Know How to Set Goals
Set realistic goals. Think about who you hope to meet. Get lists of attendees in advance, if available, and know who they are. Who or what kind of person do you want to meet? Remember, you don’t have to meet everyone. If you get to know one or two significant people at an event, that’s a good day. You are not in the volume business. Play the long game.
4. Know How to Approach Someone
Unless you’re a stalker, rules of etiquette apply. If the person of interest is talking to someone else, wait patiently for an opening and don’t interrupt. When the person you want to meet is available, ask if you may speak to them. If they say yes, introduce yourself politely and briefly. Tell them your name and what you do. “I’m a film student at USC,” or “I’m a filmmaker who just completed their first feature,” or “I’m a screenwriter” is enough. Do not tell them your life story and don’t pretend you are their best friend. Know what you’re going to say before you approach them. Which brings me to the next tip…
5. Know Something
Be knowledgeable about industry news and who’s who. Know about movies and television. Be interesting. Have a point of view, but stay away from politics and religion. Be an expert in the field you want to pursue. Lastly, be prepared for the question, “So, what are you working on?”
6. Know What Not to Ask
Do not ask the people you meet to read your script or look at your film, and do not hand them a resume. In fact, don’t bring any of those things to events, unless it’s required by the event itself. Don’t ask for any favors when you first meet someone.
7. Know How to Ask for Help
Instead of asking for favors, here’s a trick: The best strategy is to ask for “advice.” So, for example, “Can you offer any advice about how I can get people to read my script?” is better than “Can you read my script?” If you master this approach, you will be amazed how well it works and the doors it might open.
8. Know When to Move On
Read the signals and know when it’s time to say thanks and goodbye. Ask the person you’re talking to if you can write to them with a follow up question or two. Most people will say yes, even if they have no intention of replying. If they say yes, ask for their business card or email address. You can give them your card too, but always ask first. Networking events are not an excuse to hand everyone you meet a business card.
9. Know How to Follow Up
Follow up with the people you meet. Send them a “thank you” or “nice to meet you” note. Don’t overwhelm them with emails, questions, jokes, or anything, um, inappropriate. Friend them on Facebook or Linkedin. Let the relationship take its natural path. If the relationship takes hold, ask to meet with them in their office or for a cup of coffee at some later date. Bingo, you now have a new contact in the entertainment industry.
10. Know How to Relax
Networking can be stressful for some, especially if you are the second kind of person I mentioned in my introduction. If I’m describing you, the only advice I can offer is to remember that you’re trying to do something you love. Focus on your passion for your craft and the rest will come.
Ken Aguado is a producer and co-author, along with Douglas Eboch, of The Hollywood Pitching Bible. Follow Ken @kaguado. LA Screenwriter readers can get 30% off The Hollywood Pitching Bible by buying here with coupon code ATWAMKK4