The Film Business

Why Contacts Are Such a Big Deal

How many times have you heard it said that he (or she) is “connected”? You should know that being connected only means only that he knows people, or knows people who know people, who can help them. It doesn’t mean that the person is any more important than you are. The connection may just mean that she is the niece or cousin of a bigwig, or that there is some vague business or school or hometown relationship. Being connected is a shortcut. It makes things easier. It’s helpful when there’s a buddy or an Aunt Jen who is savvy in the ways of whatever road you’re about to go down and they’re looking out for you. Before you disdain or discount the concept of connections or that much repeated term “networking,” take a minute and think about how important these may be and why.

Contacts in Film

Image by: WebWizard

If you want to be a lawyer, you go to law school. Once you graduate, you study for and presumably pass the Bar exam and ultimately you practice law. If you want to be in finance, you get your MBA, and it can be assumed by corporate recruiters that at minimum you have the basic know-how to make economically prudent decisions. If you want to teach, you get a teaching certificate; if you want to practice medicine, etc. Shifting away from the so-called “professions” it’s even more cut and dried. Building contractors must be licensed. Police officers and firefighters go through training and many wash out. In other words, there is an assumed basic skill set that you must have, and there is a qualifying certification required.

Every day hundreds of people arrive in Los Angeles with the intention of making movies. Film studios and production companies receive piles of script submissions and resumes. But there is no qualifying certification. It’s like going on a date with someone you met through the Internet. They seem OK, but how can you really know? Anyone can say, “I’m a director/producer/screenwriter.” You may be articulate, brilliant, and talented, but how can you prove you have a real and singular vision? You may be great with people, have wonderful taste and ideas, be a terrific problem-solver, but how can they (remember who “they” are) be sure you can produce? On the basis of your track record? Great, if you have one. But someone starting out doesn’t. Your short film or school experience may give them a clue, but not really. In these days of layoffs and cutbacks no one wants to make an expensive mistake. “They” have to be certain that they’re betting on the right horse. These people are busy. They’re under extreme pressure. They don’t have the time to have a cup of coffee and guess at your potential. They can’t give everyone just a few minutes, or there would be no time left for them to do anything else. So relationships and referrals are important. They serve as a filter. They lend you that minimum certification. And by the way, once someone does a favor for a friend by meeting you, they will be able to ask a favor in return. That’s politics. Most people starting out in film don’t come conveniently equipped with connections and are pretty much on their own. So what can you do?

HOW TO BEGIN NETWORKING (MEETING PEOPLE)

Tell everyone you know your plan. You are moving to Los Angeles to get your start in the film business. Is it possible that they know anyone you might call for advice once you get there? You’ll be surprised by how many people have an old roommate working at a studio, or who is a friend of a manager, or something. Entertainment is a major industry in Los Angeles, and there are lots of people directly and indirectly involved. For several years, I rented an apartment in a very ordinary building in

Santa Monica, California. There were eleven tenants. Eight of them worked in film, television, or music. When after several years I bought a house in a completely different neighborhood, the guy down the street was a location manager, a neighbor on one side of me worked on a TV show, and the one across the street was a freelancer working on commercials. A DP (director of photography) and a screenwriter shared a house around the corner. Los Angeles is likea factory town. Certain neighborhoods are overflowing with people who support the industry.

NEVER use someone’s name without asking permission first. If they seem hesitant when you ask, don’t do it.

They may not feel comfortable for reasons that have nothing to do with you—or maybe even reasons that are because of you. Either way, unless they are happy to help you make the contact, don’t do it. If they agree to help, let them set it up in their own way. They are doing you a favor. If the contact is not responsive, try once more then let it go. If the contact is willing to speak with you or answer your email, don’t take up too much time—don’t write epic emails. In the words of a friend of mine who agreed to take a call from a friend of a friend then lived to regret it, “I said I’d talk to the kid, not adopt him.”

Is there a film festival in a city near you?

Most festivals bring industry professionals in to speak. Festivals use volunteers. Usually in exchange for your unpaid assistance, you can attend as many panels and workshops as can fit around your work schedule. You will make the acquaintance of people who might be willing to give you advice. The filmmakers at smaller festivals are sometimes willing to spend time speaking with you, which is something they might not do on their home turf or at a bigger festival where they are too busy. A director on a panel at a “secondary” festival told me once that since the organizers of the event treated him so well, he felt that he should make himself accessible to the festivalgoers. I saw him speaking to a bunch of students from the local junior college. Had they met him at Sundance, it wouldn’t have happened. Use your local festival to practice and immerse yourself in the language and feel of the industry, so that by the time you’re ready to transplant yourself to L.A. or New York you’ll be more accomplished at sorting out the real guys from the fakes.

When a panelist at a festival mentions a film to watch or a book to read, do it!

If you’re going to be attending a festival and you don’t know the work of the panelists, familiarize yourself with their work ahead of time. What they say on the panel, or in the green room if you are able to meet them, will make more sense if you know what they’ve done. You don’t have to have a one-on-one conversation with someone to pick up valuable information. If by chance you do end up in a conversation, it helps to understand someone’s body of work. They will expect you to know about the obvious films, and they will be pleased when you know about their more obscure work. It shows that you are thorough and that you do your homework. This kind of research—seeing the films and reading the interviews, not just stopping at the imdb.com credits list—should quickly become a valuable career-long habit. You can bet that when you are about to have any sort of important meeting with an industry figure in the future, their assistant or intern has researched you.

Excerpted from Make Your Movie by Barbara Freedman Doyle © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved

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