Networking is an anxiety-provoking, but necessary activity for anyone aspiring to Hollywood jobs (or any job). It’s especially difficult for writers, who aren’t known for being outgoing and comfortable around large groups.
Knowing what to expect from the experience will, in itself, reduce the stress involved. As stressful as making new friends in large gatherings (in a not-so-friendly town) can be, I hope considering the following advice will help reduce your anxiety.
You’ve got to be well-informed about movies and TV.
Depending on the kind of networking event you’re going to, you need preparation. If you know who might be there, then check their IMDB pages or Google their names. If you can, watch a film or tv show they’ve written or produced.
Watch current films and TV shows. You’ve got to know your market. You’ll need a general working knowledge of who does what in Hollywood. Make it your business to learn about current actors, directors, writers, agents and producers.
You can get some of this information from reading the Hollywood Reporter, Daily Variety and the Calendar section of the LA Times. You can also watch TV shows like Extra, Entertainment Tonight or even TMZ.
Being well-informed will give you confidence and reduce stress because you’ll have some go-to subjects for conversation.
Focus on the mindset of “trying to create new relationships.”
At the event, don’t spend the whole time with people you already know. Meet some new people, and focus your attention on them. Remember why you’re attending this event. You are NOT going to this event to sell your script. That isn’t going to happen.
Rather, you’re going to this event to begin and nurture relationships with other writers and with other industry professionals who will be helpful and even necessary in your upcoming career. How do you do that? Most importantly, talk about them, not just about you.
Think about what can you offer the people you meet? Maybe you have a screenwriting book or screenplay they’d like to borrow. A great writing class or coach they could use. You could offer to read their scripts and offer feedback. Think about their side of the relationship.
Be entertaining, be cool, be funny, don’t self-promote too much. Try not to be boring.
Set a modest networking goal for each event.
Nothing too extreme. Something like, “exchange phone numbers with three people.” Or introduce yourself to six people, and find out what they do in the film business.
You might go to a meeting of micro-budget filmmakers with the goal of offering to help on set, or as a production assistant.
Don’t worry if you’ve only accomplished modest goals. You’ll find it gets easier the more you do it.
You’ll have opportunities to strengthen your relationships the more you see some of the same people, and they may be able to introduce you to their friends in the business.
Try not to get hammered while networking.
You want to have a drink in your hand (even if it’s non-alcoholic), so you look like you’re casually enjoying the event. A couple of drinks may even help you to open up and help enable you to be “entertaining.”
However, you don’t want to be slurring your words, stumbling around drunk, shouting or breaking the furniture. You need to keep your wits about you. One reason in particular, is that you will have to try and move the conversation in the right direction.
No matter who you’re talking to, don’t be negative or controversial. You don’t know where the person you’re talking to stands on any subject. Don’t assume.
Dress appropriately for the event you’re attending.
If it’s an awards ceremony, you may need a tuxedo. If it’s a screening or networking event, dress casually, but not too casually. And whatever you do, don’t dress like you’re going to the beach or to a rave.
Remember to talk with the guests, not just the “players.”
When you talk to other guests, you can talk about what’s happening at the event. For example, how great the food is, or how great the ice sculpture looks. Don’t be negative in case the person you’re talking to happens to be the caterer or a close friend of the host.
Feel free to discuss current hit movies or tv shows, or writers you admire. Don’t interview the person, just make casual small talk. See how it goes, and if they start talking more, you can proceed to more personal topics.
Whatever you do, don’t spend the whole conversation talking about yourself. Ask questions about the people you talk with. Let them talk about themselves while you remain interested. Stay positive
You need to know when to move on.
However, if the person you’re talking with seems bored, checks his watch, or his or her body language shows they want to leave, just move on.
What if you’re talking to a celebrity or well-known producer?
If you’re talking to someone you’ve heard of, remember your preparation. Talk about their films (always being positive.) You might want to ask a question. Better yet, ask a specific question like, “I really liked that film, I was wondering how you were able to get close enough to film that rhino?”
Remember, no matter how new to this you are, you want to come off like an working professional: you want to give the impression “you’ve been writing freelance screenplays for a while.” Don’t ask them to take a “selfie” with you, or autograph a book.
Act like you’re used to seeing celebrities like them. Don’t come off like a tourist. You may have to practice this in front of a mirror before the event.
Don’t hand your script to anyone at the event.
Even if the person you’re talking to asks if they can read your screenplay, don’t give it to them at the event, even if you have a trunkload of scripts in your car. This sends a message that you’re desperate.
The best case scenario would be if you have a manager, tell your contact you’ll call them in the morning and have them send over the script. If you don’t have representation, just get their contact information and email it the next day.
Make sure you know how to follow up on the first meeting.
When you get home, jot down some interesting things about the people you met. Just some personal details or something interesting they said, to remember them by.
If you want to be more organized about it, when you get home, you can type up a networking list, or add names to your phone contact list.
You might want to make a note to try to reach your new contacts by phone sometime in the next month. Not too soon. Or your next move may be an email to the person you met, saying how much you enjoyed meeting and getting to know them.
Setting up a meeting with your contact and keeping in touch.
If everything seems to be on track at this point, you may try suggesting a meeting for coffee or a drink. If they’re an agent or a producer, you might want to practice a twenty second pitch for two or three screenplay ideas you’ve come up with.
At coffee, remember to be entertaining, be cool, don’t push. However, if the opportunity presents itself, you could mention a couple of ideas. If the reaction is good, you can go a bit further and offer to send an outline or a script.
Later, you might want to touch base with these people by sending an individual email every couple of months, or write a weekly or monthly blog about your current projects, and entertaining adventures in Hollywood, and keep your contacts on the e-mail list.