5 WAYS TO NETWORK AS AN OUTSIDER
They say success in Hollywood is about “who you know.” That’s only partly true. In fact, you need to do two things to break in as a screenwriter, and the first is far more important and difficult: you need to write at least one excellent, spectacular spec script. (Two is better. Three is even better.) It has to be excellent, not just good. You’re competing against the 12,000 or so members of the Writers Guild who have already broken in, and the hundreds of thousands of other writers out there trying to break in. With only two or three hundred theatrical releases of studio and major independent films per year, and only about 600 scripted television series airing per year (even in this peak TV era), there is a lot of competition for every writing job. And your spec has to be spectacular to stand out from the deluge of excellent material pouring across the desk of every agent, manager, producer, and executive. But once you have this excellent, spectacular spec script, who you know does matter. Most new writers get their breaks through referrals. This means someone you know recommends your script to a producer, development executive, agent, or manager. So if you don’t know anyone in Hollywood, how do you find someone who can make such a referral? Here are five ways: 1. Become strategically active in professional organizations. To meet people in the film industry, you have to go where those people are. There are many established professional organizations that anyone can join for a small membership fee. In addition to the other services they offer, Film Independent, IFP, Women in Film, Scriptwriters Network, and similar organizations have member events teeming with industry professionals. And the more you get involved in the organization, the more relationships you can develop. 2. Go to Film Festivals. Like professional organizations, major film festivals (Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, Toronto, etc.) or almost any film festival in Los Angeles or New York are gathering places for industry pros. You wait in a lot of lines and there are a lot of festival parties. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with strangers – just ask if they’ve seen any films they like at the festival. Your chances of meeting someone connected to the industry are high. And volunteering with the festival increases those odds. (There may be other festival-like events where you can meet certain types of industry people based on your areas of interest. For example, San Diego Comic-Con is teeming with animation professionals and people who work on science fiction movies and television.) 3. Network laterally. Newcomers usually obsess about meeting top Hollywood players, but the reality is the big dogs are the ones least in need of new talent (not to mention the hardest to reach). So think about building a network of people on your level. This starts with other writers. Many writers get their first agent or manager through a referral from a client, so knowing someone who could become one of those clients is useful. But beyond that, get to know PA’s and assistants and others in the entry-level jobs in the business. Agents’ assistants want to become agents and they do that by finding new talent. Producers’ assistants want to become producers, and that means finding material. Usually your opportunities will come through people at your level or just a little above. 4. Put your social media to work. One great thing about the advent of Twitter, Instagram, and the like is that you can actually communicate with people in the business. But that doesn’t mean you can just direct message Jordan Peele and ask him to read your script. Follow people you feel an affinity for. “Like” and “retweet” their posts. Make insightful comments. Ask questions. You can build a relationship online. But keep point three above in mind – if you aim for the most famous people, you’ll get lost in the shuffle. Find those lower level screen and TV writers you really admire and follow them. Also, be sure your social media feeds are filled with clever posts. More than one aspiring comedy writer has parlayed funny tweets into a job. 5. Come to Los Angeles. You can use your social media from anywhere. You can probably have some involvement with film organizations from anywhere. But networking still mostly happens face-to-face. That means if you live outside of the big filmmaking communities of Los Angeles and New York, you are at a significant disadvantage. That doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and move to Los Angeles. It’s expensive to live here and it will take time to break in. But even if you can’t move out right away, consider a strategically timed visit, perhaps building a trip around a film festival and a couple of events through filmmaking organizations. Make those initial contacts, and you can nurture them via email and social media when you’re back home. Whatever methods you use, keep in mind that good networking is about building relationships, NOT accosting people and asking for their help. In my next post I’ll talk about how to make the most of your networking opportunities. There are also a few ways to get attention without a referral. You do not need a referral to enter the television fellowships, and if you win the small handful of meaningful screenwriting contests, people will ask to read your script. But to build and sustain any kind of long-term career, you are going to have to network.