This article is about a subject not often talked about in screenwriter circles: networking. Go to any podcast, chat page, blog, or other source for screenwriters and either an author is telling how “he made it” or talking about some technical detail about writing the dramatic scene and so forth. Networking is an area not spoken about very often. However, this issue is truly the elephant in the room. This process all amounts to make the most of your face time. Your query letters are not going to cut it.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming more interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you” Dale Carnegie.
Unlike paper publishing, where agents do the grunt work for the writer (mostly, sort of), the motion picture business to based in large part on personal connections. Therefore, developing the skills for these personal interactions is important. If you have never read or encountered Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Make Friends and Influence People,” I can only encourage you to find the book and read it. Written in 1936, the book outlines some of the basic steps regarding how to deal with people on a realistic and effective level.
I am not advocating developing friends for life. I am also not advocating you become a door mat for others’ opinions. Further, I am also not advocating a lack of sincerity. If you exhibit a “canned” behavior or lack of sincerity in which you are somehow acting, the receiver (in this case agents and producers) can feel that “vibe.” Do not “act” your pitch. Feel it. Be sincere.
What I am advocating is developing skills in which you can interact with the decision makers in Hollywood and being able to influence them into at least reading your script. These Carnegie principals are as true today as they were a century ago.
Fundamental Techniques in Handling People
· Don't criticize, condemn, or complain.
· Give honest and sincere appreciation.
· Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Some folks are genuinely good at social interaction. They are very successful in social settings and manage to convince folks very easily to read their material or start the way for a production. On the whole, I am not one of those people. I have had to work on the underlying skills of social interaction. Social skills are something you learn, implement, and refine (lather, rinse, repeat). Coming from a military and technical background, social interaction was not something that was encouraged. So, I have had to learn by doing. Yeah, you can too.
Being a writer means that you are constantly alone with your thoughts. What you are creating is about you. When you sell your product, that process is not about you. To be effective and therefore sell your product (the screenplay), you should develop some additional skills. Carnegie lays out seven ways to help you allow people to appreciate the information you are going to impart to them:
· become genuinely interested in other people;
· remember that a person's name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language;
· be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves;
· talk in terms of the other person's interest;
· make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely;
· make that person comfortable and give equal attention to them.
One more more item - Pay attention to details – it’s not “all about you”
There are some basic contact management rules that are applicable to all writers trying to “make it” in Hollywood. The 5x Rule is that it takes a writer five times before they make a lasting impression on that agent, producer, etc. When you meet a person take their business card and write something on the back; blond, tall, smelly, whatever. Write something that will jog your memory later. Also, you a writer remember? Carry a writing tool. At your earliest opportunity, send the person with whom you communicated an email or letter with a gentle reminder of the conversation and how much you enjoyed the time. When you attend work-oriented social occasions, it does not hurt to have along with you a “wing person” to introduce you as a sort of third party endorsement. You can do the same for them. Believe me, my writing partner and I did this back and forth act using each other as third party endorsement and it worked very well.
Here are some more suggestions that may help your ‘socialization:’
· Attend the Hollywood Networking Breakfast (http://www.changingimagesinamerica.org/hnabout.htm);
· Visit the Margaret Herrick Library (http://www.oscars.org/library/index.html);
· Attend Pitchfest (http://www.pitchfest.com/).
Of course, there are many more events that occur. Most of them cost money - a lot of money - budget wisely.
There are some additional skills that screenwriters need to develop. First, get out of your comfort zone. Most writers hang around with, well, writers. Increase your comfort zone through volunteering for various entertainment centered charity groups. And no, do not try to pitch your script while doing so. Develop a healthy self – esteem; expect, even welcome, rejection.
See movies outside of your comfort zone. In other words, if you like to write romantic comedies go see an adventure movie. Believe me, watching movies that challenge your concepts of storytelling will get the brain cells working. Remember, that the process is ½ craft – ½ networking. You are in a business. Act like a business person.
One of the things that certainly helps a writer succeed in this business is having an advocate. An advocate is not necessarily an agent or manager. They could be a fellow writer. What can an advocate do for you? Depending on their position within the industry, they can influence decision makers within the industry. Will an advocate get you “the job?” Not necessarily, but they could teach coping strategies to make that ‘pitch’ or presentation more effective. An advocate is not a ‘sugar daddy’ or ‘investment angel,’ but someone who can argue with you effectively to support or guide you. An advocate is someone who supports you so that you voice can be heard above the milieu so that you can sell that great screenplay.
Why are you reading this? Go write!
John still practices screenwriting in King County, WA along with a small rat dog, a mortgage, and a great view of the valley.