Friday, November 21, 2008

Professional Screenwriter, Step 3: Networking

As a writer, most of your life will be spent indoors, whether it be at home or a hired office, beach hut, log cabin overlooking the lake, whatever. For the sake of your sanity, and for your career, you’re going to have to get out once in a while. If you’re following these steps, then you’ve read a lot of scripts, and you’re developing a decent portfolio of your own screenplays. Now, it’s time to network. But what does this mean, exactly? And how do you start? Where?

The easiest and most common place to network is at an ‘industry event’, where influential, and not-so influential, industry insiders gather for a specific media shindig. These events typically break down as film screenings, film festivals, script readings, writing festivals, and so on. If you’ve never heard of the Bafta Rocliffe Forum, Brief Encounters or the Screenwriters’ Festival (to name but a few), then you’re missing out on some golden opportunities to rub shoulders with people who may be able to help your career.

One of the key things about networking is not to expect anything from it. Just get out there and meet people. Say hello. Exchange business cards (most of your new contacts will be fellow writers). Follow it up with an email saying it was nice to meet you, and keep in touch, if reasonably possible, or beneficial. Soon, a large stack of business cards will emerge on your desk but after a while, you may forget who these people are. Here’s a tip I got from Cannes two years ago, possibly from Tim: when you exchange business cards, write something on the back of the card to remind yourself who the person is, and what you spoke about, or anything that will help you months down the line when you’re staring at the card, thinking: who is that?? You could even make a joke about it in front of the person: “handsome, clever, witty” or simply scribble something down once they’ve moved on.

If you’ve developed a key contact, like a producer or script editor, be careful not to bombard them with constant emails, especially if they’re just pointless: hi, how are yous? The minimum amount of time for keeping in touch with a useful contact is 3 months. That’s my ballpark, and that’s the minimum. Anything between 3-6 months is good, and the emails should be news about what you’re doing, or something specific about keeping in touch. If it’s longer than 6 months, then a little recap of who you are and where you met is helpful, and what you’re up to now. You may get replies, you may not. Keep going but use your contacts wisely. Don’t exhaust their goodwill or time with needy emails or over-friendly notions of communication.

I went to Cannes in the summer of 2006 and met a variety of producers. Six months later, near Christmas, I dropped one of the producers an email, saying that it was nice to have met her (she had read one of my scripts at this point, and had liked it) and perhaps we could get to work together if a suitable project emerged. She replied, saying she was in London in the New Year, developing an internet drama, and would I be interested in that? Yes, please! And that’s how I got the gig for Sofia’s Diary.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve bored you to death with the story of how I got to write for The Amazing Adrenalini Brothers: I went to a short film screening where I didn’t know anyone else but the director. I said hello to a guy who was also by himself, thinking ‘what’s the worst that can happen?’ We got talking and exchanged contact details. A few weeks later, a casual comment on email reveals that he’s working on a new CiTV series, and did I know any good animation writers? Bingo!

These are the shorthand anecdotes. I still had to attend meetings, have exec producers read and approve my spec scripts, and pitch ideas in order to get the gigs. But none of it would have happened without the simple ‘Hi, I’m Danny’ that started it all. (And I’ve got work out of the blog, too. The script editor of Badly Drawn Roy was a fan of the blog, and we met a few times, kept in touch, and he thought of me when they were looking for writers.)

If you find yourself at an industry event but are not sure who to approach, and feel a bit shy, make it your mission to speak to ONE person. Just one. If you come away that night with one business card, you’ll have succeeded. But by approaching that one person, you’ll quickly realise that it’s not that bad, and saying hello can lead to an introduction to someone else, and before you know it, you’ve had a great time meeting new friends and contacts.

Network, hustle and flow, but don’t be pushy, needy or desperate. Enjoy yourself.

7 comments:

Darren Goldsmith said...

Sound advice, as ever, Mr. Stack.

What if I have acute agoraphobia though?

Lucy said...

Then you will not network beyond the blogs, Mr. Goldsmith. So have therapy, STAT. A writer can never underestimate the importance of networking. NEVER.

Great minds, Mr. Stack - talked about this on my blog only this very day...

Word verification: "couth" - the opposite of "uncouth". And if you can be "over" and "under", why can't you just be WHELMED?? HMMM?

Darren Goldsmith said...

... phoning the shrink now!

Phill Barron said...

A good tip with the business cards is to write something memorable on the back of each card you give out - that way the important producer staring at the bewildering stack of cards is more likely to remember you.

I, being the clever sort, have got black cards you can't possibly write anything on without a special pen.

Jonny Quest said...

Hi Danny,

These 'lessons' in carving a career in writing are amazing. I have currently just downloaded a heap of scripts both feature films and television shows. I haven't read them yet but they are now waiting for me - I have just been too busy!!! I KNOW WE'RE ALL BUSY but I am moving forward and these last few blog entries have done wonders for my work ethic.

In other news I have my first interview for a writing gig on monday any advice? It's an unpaid gig for a community youth organisation who have a progamme on sky channel 539 called What's Up? They are expanding this with a drama series which is what I am going in for.

Keep up the good work - JQ

Danny Stack said...

HI JQ, good luck on Monday. Just be prepared. Research their channel, and the slot/series you're being interviewed for, as much as possible. Be confident. Have ideas ready, if necessary, so you can contribute to the conversation rather than just wait to be asked questions. Be passionate, show a real interest and enthusiasm. Be yourself. Go for it.

Matt Redd said...

Hi Danny

Just letting you know that I linked to your blog in the my latest post. Really enjoy your blog.

Matt