Networking is rather like dating…

August is probably the wrong month to network seeing as every producer I’m talking to is buggering off to find some sun, but I’m nothing if not perverse, so it’s been a bit of a cracking fortnight on the schmoozing front.    But I realise that most screenwriters would rather hack off a toe than go out and network, so I thought I’d talk about how to make it seem less painful.   

Last week I took part in a frantic day of pitching, that turned into an intense day of networking.

The screenwriters’ forum group I’ve helped to set up managed to collaborate   with our regional Producers’ Forum and organise a training day in which Euroscript‘s Charles Harris came and led us in a pitching workshop, and pretty   amazing it was too (I would recommend any course by Euroscript after seeing Charles in action).

Several of us bit the bullet and pitched scripts we were working on and then got feedback from the room. There’s really nothing like a room full of producers   and screenwriters for getting an instant focus on the story you’re writing. I quickly found out that my ‘romcom’ Learn to Croon was actually nothing of the sort (I think Blake Snyder would definitely class it as a Golden Fleece story).

But pitching was only half of what the day was about. It actually got a lot of writers meeting up with a lot of producers. I had my pack of one-page pitches in my bag (because you never know) and one of the producers there was quite happy to take them away. The next day he phoned and asked to read two of my scripts.

After the event was over, a few of us hightailed it over to Wolverhampton’s Lighthouse centre where producer Roger Shannon was showcasing his latest short film. I could happily have gone home and crashed out, but I forced myself along   (because you never know).

And indeed, I met two more very useful contacts.

I guess, like most of you, I’m the kind of person who has to force themselves to network. It’s extremely difficult to get out of your comfort zone and   schmooze people. But I can say with all honesty that every single breakthrough   I’ve ever had with my screenwriting has been the result of chatting someone up, never through sending something off in the post. And this fortnight has seen three   projects come to life purely through the power of gab.

Caroline Ferguson wrote a great article on networking for the now defunct ScriptWriter Magazine a while back in which she said:

‘Successful networking builds reputation,  influence, momentum and genuine advantage. If you can deliver ‘the product’, networking will blow open the door. Also, human nature suggests that film-makers are more likely to employ a writer with whom they’ve engaged on a personal level,    someone they like and trust rather than a person who is simply a name on a screenplay.’

She’s not wrong.

At the risk of getting all Swiss Toni on you, I find that networking as a screenwriter is rather like making love to a beautiful woman dating. I often find myself using very similar techniques (no, hear me out…) :

Get out there 
If you’re interested in dating you have to realise that no hot girl is going to turn up at your door, you have to go out to where the hot girls congregate and talk to them. It’s the same with people in the film industry. Go to where they congregate. I don’t volunteer to help run a monthly Screenwriters’ Forum or my regional Writers’ Guild branch because I’m a noble philanthropist. I do it because I know it gets me away from this desk and into situations where I will meet people who might be good for my career. And if either of those groups organise events with guest speakers I know that I’ll be one of the people who’s running the event, not just some schleb who’s turned up to sit at the back.

Use your social proof
Another dating concept I picked up while researching a screenplay on seduction artists: ‘social proof’ is that currency you have when you walk into a bar and people know you. It makes people who don’t know you think you’re popular. This is why politicians, when they walk through a crowd shaking hands with total strangers, always see someone in the distance and point to them. It says ‘Hey, I’ve got an old friend here. I’ve got social proof.’ So if you’re at a festival or an event, don’t be the loner giving everyone the Thousand Yard Stare; use the friends you have there as your base camp from which to take on the whole room; give each other social proof  (but don’t do the politician pointy thing – it makes you look like a twat).

Use non-threatening body language
This could be an article in itself, but there are a few body language cues I’ve forced myself to adopt and have now pretty much internalised. Make eye contact when you’re talking; smile and appear friendly (I have one of those faces where people always ask me why I’m giving them a dirty look); turn your body slightly away from people (facing strangers head on can be intimidating – look like you’re ready to leave or passing through as you introduce yourself – then turn to face them more only after they seem comfortable).

Ask them about their passion
Yes, you can talk about your passions and what you want to do, but only after you’ve asked someone what they do, what they’re working on, what they’re really into at the moment. People like to talk about themselves. Allow them to feel their own passion and perhaps connect it with you.

Don’t pitch
Same thing really. Don’t storm in pitching your scripts. A lot of people hate being pitched to, especially when they’re having a drink and socialising. My mate Paul Green of the NFTS told me when going to Edinburgh for the first time: ‘Don’t be the guy pitching to the big names; just hang out with them, get drunk with them, have a laugh with them. They want to work with people they know they can have a laugh with and be comfortable around. Leave the pitching for later.’ I guess you could call it the pitchers not pitching rule. (Pitchers of ale? No? Never mind.)

Don’t be negative
Who wants to hang around whiny, cynical, complaining, bitching, black-hearted doom merchants who only see the shit things in life? Hands up. No one? Good. Me neither.

Leave on a high and get the digits
Don’t hang around staling out the environment if you sense you’ve said all you can to whoever you’re talking to. Every schmooze has a natural high point, so make sure you leave on it (you’re a busy person, you have things to do and other people to chat up). Swap cards if it’s appropriate.

The follow-up
It’s no good collecting a nice colourful stack of business cards; you need to put them to use. So always follow up every card you collect with a friendly, non-threatening email after a few days. Nice meeting you, maybe mention that thing you talked about (re-connect to their passion). If you did talk about a project of yours, remind them of it and send it to them (or ask how they would like it – hard copy or PDF). Facebook is great for this. I add people to Facebook all the time and it’s an easy way of keeping in touch.

It’s not enough to write great scripts. Half of being a screenwriter is getting off your arse and getting out there meeting people who can get those great scripts made. Just think how brilliant that is – half of your job is going out having a good time!

So go out and network this week. You know you want to.

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