Networking & Creating Relationships
With the American Film Market just around the corner, it’s time to master the Art of Networking! For Indie filmmakers it’s one of the most important weeks of the year. And the better you are at networking and creating relationships, the more successful you’ll be.
Early on in my producing career here in Los Angeles I would be at a party or event and all to often people would approach me and say “Suzanne, I hear you’re a film producer, I’m an actor, here’s my headshot”. Or, “hi, my friend told me you’re a producer, I’m a director, he’s my reel.” Or “here’s my screenplay”, “my composer CD”, etc. It drove me crazy! In every other business in the world we create relationships (or should!) first. Don’t just jump right into action… “please read my script”. Create a relationship, talk about the possibility of working together, the opportunity and the benefits that that could provide and then and only then make a request (take the action).
It was because of this that I created a seminar at that time called “The Magic and Power of Career Relationships”. In the entertainment industry (like every industry) networking is critical and yet most people have absolutely no idea how to network or how to do it properly. Like location is to a real estate agent, the same holds true in the entertainment industry. Instead of “location, location, location”… it’s “networking, networking, networking”. You want to create authentic relationships with people. In that workshop, every week for the six weeks of the program the homework was to have a party each week and at the party (and during the entire six weeks) you were not allowed to talk about your career. So often when we are meeting people for the first time or we are in a group of people, we get nervous or scared and we feel comfortable only talking about our jobs and careers.
The idea of not being allowed to talk about your career for six weeks, really helped people break that habit. So, if you love hiking, you would invite your friends to go hiking and you would ask them to bring along the casting director friend of theirs, because you’ve done your homework and you know that she loves hiking as well. Or you know that director you’ve wanted to meet loves gourmet cooking as much as you do so you ask a friend of yours who know him to invite him to your gourmet food cooking party. Your friends will feel comfortable inviting their friends because they know you are not going to talk about anything other than hiking or gourmet cooking. During the workshop if someone asked you what you did, of course you told them. But the whole idea was to get people sharing about the things in live they love, get excited about and are passionate about other than their careers. It was a lot of fun and what surprised me more than anything was that during that 6 week seminar the participants got more jobs than in any of the Flash Forward Institute seminars combined! And people got back in touch with who they are and all the other wonderful aspects of life that they loved.
Here are 10 tips on networking and creating relationships that can help you break the ice and break through your fear:
10 TIPS ON NETWORKING & CREATING RELATIONSHIPS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY or ANY INDUSTRY – The Key to Success in Every Business
1) BE THE CEO: You are the president and CEO of your company. Whether you’re a producer, writer, costume designer, editor, actor, etc. you are the CEO of your company (you!). What this means is that you are 100% responsible for your career. It’s your job to take responsibility to network and create relationships. Put out your hand and say hi. When I am at a party or event, I make a point of meeting at least 2 people and I don’t leave until I have accomplished that goal. And I don’t mean just exchanging business cards. I mean really meet them and get to know them and have them get to know you. I urge you to take this on. REALLY look at this word, RESPONSIBILITY, and start to notice if you’ve been leaving it up to someone else to be the one responsible to approach you at a networking event. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just start to observe yourself and if you feel it’s been a weak area than take the actions necessary to change it.
2) RESEARCH: When possible do some research on the person you are going to be meeting. Know who they are and know about their company. I promise it will impress them and it will make a difference. Another benefit is that it’s a great way to put you at ease in the conversation since you are talking about them and the work they do, or the contribution they’ve make, etc. These days with the internet it’s easy to access information. So, take a look at your target list and start finding out more about each of the people/companies on your list.
3) ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: We are a culture starved for acknowledgment. It’s not just in the entertainment industry, it’s all pervasive. Genuine acknowledgment is sorely lacking and desperately needed. If there is something you really admire about the person you’re speaking with or about their company, begin with an acknowledgement. Start with authentic acknowledgment. It will make them feel great and it will put you as ease since the emphases will be on them and not on you.
4) BE MEMORABLE: As I noted in my intro to this article, when people don’t take the time to create a relationship it drives me crazy. In the entertainment industry we don’t talk about our passions, we talk about our resume. “I worked with these five directors,” “I’ve had two audition this month,” “I’ve had two screenplays optioned….” Personally, I have to tell you, I don’t care! I want to know who YOU are as a person first. It’s like we’ve forgotten who we are. So, I’m here to remind you. You are someone with unique talents and interests. In every other industry in the world people include their lives in the conversation they are having. We’ve been speaking our resumes for so long, we really have lost touch with the essence of who we are – our hobbies, our families, our favorite movies, what foods we love, countries we’ve visited, our passions outside of this industry. It’s time to get back in touch with that. Exercise: Write down a list of four or five interesting, unusual, unique, wonderful, remarkable, memorable things about yourself that have nothing to do with your career. It is a fantasstic exercise. Read over that list from time to time and choose which ones to mention in your next conversation. I promise you’ll stand out. You always want to be remembered and this in an excellent way to ensure that.
5) CONNECT: Another way to create relationships with people on your target list is to volunteer at festivals, screenings, panels and events. Make a point of joining organizations and go to meetings. Meet people. Get involved. I did this a ton of times when I first moved to Los Angeles and every time, I volunteered at an event I asked to be at the name tag table. That way I got to actually see and greet people as they arrived. It worked wonders for me, and it will for you as well.
6) NURTURE YOUR CURRENT RELATIONSHIPS: Before you can do this, you’ll need to know who you’re already in relationship with. And the best way I’ve found to do that is to create, what we called in the Flash Forward workshop, a Map of Relationships. It’s a graphic, spatial display of everyone you know in the industry. Use a big poster board and place yourself in the center of the board and then organize the names of the people you know into categories. List the producers, agents, casting directors, actors, studio execs, financiers, post-production experts, etc. If you want to you can color code it by putting a red dot for example beside the folks you know well and a yellow dot by the people with whom you may have just exchanged a business card at a film screening. Be as creative as you want to be in designing your map.
7) GET REFERRALS: Another way to create relationships is by using referrals. If you know someone who knows someone you want to meet, have them make the introduction or at least ask if you can use their name when you call to set up the meeting or pitch. I am certain that it is the same in any business. A call that comes in from a referral gets priority status. I do it myself. I look at my Map of Relationships and see where I can connect the dots. Who might know that person at the studio that I want to get to. It is so valuable. The important thing here is to please be sure to get permission to use their name when you make the call.
8) SET UP A MEETING: Magic happens when you’re in a room. Try to set up meetings with people whenever possible. We tend to get laze today and use email all to often. Get face to face with people or at the very least get on the phone. Have cold calling become fun! Also, when setting up calls and meetings make it easy for people to say yes. One way to do this is to say, “I’d love to have ten minutes of your time”. Everyone can fit in a ten-minute meeting. Make a specific list of the people you want to meet and give yourself a specific timeline to do it. For example, “I will have eight 10-minute meetings set up and scheduled with the people on my list within the next thirty days.” If this scares you a little, that’s okay. It’s all about making a commitment and sticking to it.
9) BE A PEER: Another great idea is to volunteer to produce and moderate a panel. It’s all about putting yourself on their playing field. When you put together a panel you are stepping into leadership. When you call the potential panelist, you are approaching them as a peer – and when you meet them at the vent, you already have a foundation of relationship. When you’re at the event you get to chat with the panelist before the panel begins and it’s your job to introduce them to each other and have them feel at ease. One of my students wanted to meet casting directors. She was an actress and she called Women in Film and offered to do a panel for their members. She got to put the panel together and moderate it. It enabled here to create professional one on one relationships with six casting directors!
10) REMEMBER TO HAVE FUN! Be yourself. If you’re nervous say so. Make light of it. There are over seven billion of us on the planet. It’s just one big giant sand box and we’re here to play together and have fun. So, stick your hand out and say “Hi”.
NOTE: Any time you are making a request of someone always ask at the end of the conversation “Is there anything I can do for you?”
EXERCISE: Meet four new people this month. That’s only one a week! Do that every month and in one year you will have met nearly 50 new people. Congrats!
Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. (www.snowfallfilms.com) having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. Her book titled Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking was published by Focal Press (www.suzannelyons.net/indiefilm). She’s hosted over 130 informational videos for the industry (www.youtube.com/suzannelyons). When time permits she does private career and business coaching. Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.