The importance of networking can never be under-estimated or ignored. Writing is a solitary pursuit but it’s important to get out occasionally to attend a media event, seminar, party or meeting which will help get your name and face known around town.
When you’re starting out, it is difficult to see where these networking gigs might be, or which seminar/event to attend that might create the best opportunities. Most of the time, these events are populated with other like-minded writers who want to meet the esteemed commissioning editor, exec or agent, but the writers end up in the corner chatting to other writers, and exchange business cards with them instead of their prime targets. Some may be lucky enough to meet a person in a position of power but the brief discussion that ensues will be unsatisfactory as the exec politely brushes the newbie off to get to the bar.
What’s important to recognise at any stage of networking is that you shouldn’t automatically assume that the person you’re meeting will have an immediate impact on what you want to achieve. If you get introduced to a producer and shake their hand, it means that you’ve made a contact. ‘Contact’. Not ‘commission’. Or ‘opportunity’. That comes later, if you maintain good contact, and if you’re lucky.
The truth is that everyone you meet within the industry is a contact. From the post room to the assistant, right up the chain to the chief executive. Blogging has become a good source of networking, too, so with the right attitude and approach, you can make friends and influence (the right) people. Barking at the inadequacies of the system and making veiled insults at people’s work will not make a good impression (and the internet leaves a trail, too, so even an on-line pseudonym can lead to a writer’s real identity).
Ted or Terry at WordPlay once mentioned that they wrote their name and contact details up on a board (at a lecture, or something) and encouraged the students to get in touch if they thought they genuinely had a good script. Not one of the students sent an email or picked up the phone. Not one. Now, they may have felt intimidated by the fact that their work wasn’t up to scratch, and that’s fair enough, but to have the contact details of two of Hollywood’s leading writers at your fingertips, and not use them? Madness.
Of course, you should only approach someone with passion and sincerity. You shouldn’t abuse their contact details just because you want a quick break and the guys seem pretty cool. A well-articulated email with a genuine query or request for advice goes a long way in establishing good relationships with people you’ve hitherto had no contact with whatsoever. Ditto with a telephone call to a producer’s office. Being polite and respectful to the assistant is a prerequisite that is often missed by irate and ignorant writers. And if you meet a producer face-to-face, try not to disconcert them with your drunken alacrity or your overzealous pitch of yourself.
Be smart, be wise, be cool. You never know who might be a good contact. And to repeat, *everyone* in the industry is a contact. Seemingly "unimportant" people could rise the career ladder quicker than you realise, so if you didn’t extend them the same interest and courtesy that you now greet them with, they probably won’t like you very much.
In my experience, writing opportunities emerge from the most peculiar and unlikely contacts. Fate is indeed fickle, so an impulsive decision here or a well-primed email there can lead to some surprising outcomes. Last year, I wrote about how I got my commission for The Amazing Adrenalinis. I introduced myself to a stranger at the bar for a short film screening because I was alone and saw the guy was by himself but was part of the short film crowd. The guy turns out to be Nick Ostler, and after that night, we exchange a few friendly emails, and he mentions the Adrenalinis, which leads to the opportunity.
At Christmas, I sent an email to one of the producers I met in Cannes, just to say ‘hello’ and this leads to a reply saying would I like to meet in London to discuss a project she’s getting off the ground. This meeting happens last week (the one where I was four hours late due to travel chaos) and now it seems she’s willing to pay me to do some initial development work. Which leaves me wondering: if I hadn’t sent her that email, would she have still got in contact? I doubt it.
That said, I have deleted countless emails that I was preparing because I realised all I was asking for was work. There was no need for the communication beyond my own selfish desire for a commission or two. That should be the subtext of your message. The main content of the email or contact should be about something else; a friendly hello or a thanks or whatever.
There is a difference between networking and schmoozing. Schmoozing is ingratiating yourself around the room, ‘pressing the flesh’ with the right people at the right time. It’s definitely beneficial and worthwhile but you need a good line in that disingenuous charm to successfully pull it off. For most of us, networking means getting an introduction to someone via a third party or trying to find the right person in the room who could be good for your career. But don’t expect an opportunity or commission to instantly materialise just because you’ve exchanged business cards.
Be patient. Choose your communication wisely, and effectively. Try to establish and maintain good relationships (someone told me recently that a good rule of thumb was an email or phone call every three months) but try not to appear desperate or needy. And be polite and respectful to everyone you meet because you don’t know who they are, and more important, you don’t know how vital they could be in getting you some work.