In real estate they say the most important thing is location, location, location. In the film business it’s relationships, relationships, relationships.
Absolutely everyone in the industry who is doing well is succeeding in large part because of their relationships.
We’re good at cultivating relationships because we have to be. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. In fact, if you do it right, it’s fun.
Writers, for the most part, suck at building relationships. I don’t know a nicer way to say it. Writers have lots of other important skills, but I can’t tell you how many times a writer has said to me, “Yeah, I just had a great meeting. Some guy named, Mike or maybe Mark, over at Paramount.”
Actually, I can usually figure out who they met with because my job is to know who the buyers are. But clearly the part of the brain that is devoted to remembering these kinds of details in writers is crowded out by the ability to create authentic dialogue, understand structure or by writing in their heads all the time.
There’s a lot more to it than just remembering who you met with – just keep a log – seriously, that’s what I do – it’s meeting people in the first place. And then knowing how to build the relationship and keep in contact.
I know that’s not easy. In fact, when I started out as an assistant I was afraid I was no good at it. But once I started looking at it differently, everything changed. While I felt as if I had nothing to offer, I realized that actually it was a two way street. I saw it as challenge to meet as many interesting people as I could. It became fun for me.
So here’s the big secret that should change everything for you – we need to know good writers as much as you need to build relationships with execs, agents and managers. You may have been focused on how you can’t succeed without us, but look at it from our point of view. We can’t succeed without you!
Networking is a terrifying word, so let’s not even use it.
It’s a jungle out there right? So think of yourself like Tarzan, swinging through the forest with vines. Every time you see a vine grab it and see where it takes you. Don’t let go until you can grab another vine. Before you know it, you’ll be building momentum and moving fast.
Here’s how to swing, whether it’s on social media or in a social situation:
Focus on what you can give not just what you can get. As Marvin Acuna, producer and networking maestro is fond of saying, “Give before you get.” How? Take an authentic interest in the other person as a person, not as a vehicle to get you where you want to go. When online, don’t just hit a single button or send a form request. Take some time to research the person you’d like to connect with. Then lead with something authentic based on what you’ve learned. Maybe you liked their website, an article they wrote, or a movie they worked on. A genuine compliment goes a long way. The same thing goes in person. Starting with “Hi would you read my script?” would be like hitting on someone in a bar by asking them to sleep with you instead of saying “You look great in that outfit!” “Can I buy you a drink?” or even “Come here often?” So try, “I enjoyed your panel.” “Your book was really helpful to me.” “How did you get involved with that film?” Build some rapport first. A writer who feels she is “not good at the schmooze” recently asked me for pointers about networking at the Austin Film Festival. Here’s what I had to say: Meet everyone you can and everyone they can introduce you to. There are a lot of significant people from all areas of the industry just walking around the halls. Hard to know who's who if you don't recognize them, but get out there and meet everyone you can. Ask them who they’ve met and ask them to introduce you. Hang out. Be outgoing. Be professional and polite. Be honest and authentic and you will stand out from the rest. Collect business cards and names. Follow up as appropriate after a reasonable interval.
Recognize an opportunity when it’s staring you in the face. I was recently chatting with a screenwriter who was interested in bringing my seminar to her hometown. He had recently done well in a major contest and was getting some inquiries from execs about his spec. I told him how terrific it was that he was building relationships only to find out that he was simply forwarding the emails straight to his manager. A manager he had never met and had no formal paperwork with. I flipped. How could he pass up on all these opportunities to build relationships with film industry professionals by not taking the time to write each of them a gracious note thanking them for their interest in his material, at the very least? Not to mention doing some homework on them and the company they worked to find something personal to add. He had passed up on an awesome vine, one that most writers would kill for. Nothing wrong with having the manager send the material, but what if he and the manager parted ways someday? The writer wouldn’t have a relationship with the exec – the manager would. He sat down that very day and wrote each person a letter. And opened a door to building a working industry relationship.
Remember it’s not just about who you know, but about who you know knows. You really don’t know who you know till you ask, so leave no stone unturned. Here’s my all-time favorite story about this. When I was running producer Debra Hill’s company, Debra’s assistant’s mother’s friend had a son who wanted to break into the movie business. To make her mom happy, Debra’s assistant had lunch with the guy. After lunch, because he seemed like a good kid and was earnest and willing to work hard, she dragged me over, reluctantly, to meet Jeff. I gave him a few minutes that he used to ask practical questions, and I gave him good advice. He indeed did seem like a good kid, so I offered him an internship. He did a bang-up job that first day. Then we got a call that the movie Debra was in pre-production on needed an office PA right away. Jeff was the only one who volunteered, as all the other interns were learning a heck of a lot right where they were. Jeff did well as an office PA. He went on to become King of the PAs working on the movie, to being last PA to stay on the film, at which point Debra’s assistant moved on, he took her job, worked hard and ultimately became our Story Editor. He helped supervise the interns including a beautiful and bright young woman I hired. When Jeff used his relationships with us to get an informational interview at the company of his dreams, he had been working at this so long that he’d done coverage for me on a script that just happened to be one of the exec’s favorites as well as his. He was ready to speak articulately and passionately about the material. Through this Jeff wound up working at his dream company as an executive. When he began writing, I played matchmaker with him and his agent. Win-win for me. And now Jeff is a screenwriter working at his dream company and writing a big project. And he married the pretty intern. I think he owes me a project! That’s how the game is played, boys and girls.
Keep up the momentum. Once you’ve managed to grab a vine, keep moving through the jungle. It can be as simple as saying, “I’d like to stay in touch. What’s the best way to connect with you?” This will likely get you a business card and email address. When you use that email address, have a specific reason. Don’t write just to say “hi.” Start with a reminder; after all, we meet a lot of people. “Great meeting you after your class at Screenwriters World.” A smart young woman who met me at a talk to a group of summer interns from my alma mater wrote, “I was the one wearing red lipstick if that helps.” It did. Imparting information is always great. “I just learned my script is a Nicholl Semi-Finalist.” “I am now working with the terrific folks at WOTS.” When you meet someone you think is terrific, tell them, “I really enjoyed meeting you. Is there someone you think is terrific that I should get to know?” Wash, rinse, repeat.
Looking forward to meeting you!
Barri’s Big Ideas Screenwriting Seminar is offered across the country. This intimate and interactive weekend, gives you an insider’s perspective on the business and shows you how to put that knowledge to work creating stories that ignite industry interest, powered by your strengths and passions. The intensive revolutionizes the way you create, giving you powerful new tools to develop successful screenplays faster than ever before. The seminar includes Barri’s mentorship for a year.
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