Networking Doesn’t Have To Be Painful

Posted May 23rd, 2013 by Ian Ravenscroft

Networking is a dirty word. No doubt about it. It can make you feel like a chat-up artist in a seedy bar or a door-to-door salesman flogging stuff no-one wants. But for me, networking is pretty much essential for filmmakers and has personally helped me to get opportunities and produce better work. It all depends on how you approach it.

 

Canal - Louis Dice Head

There were certainly times at industry events or meet-ups where I didn’t know a soul, but had so much I wanted to do that I’d get the urge to talk to anyone that would listen. This is when you start to feel the pangs of guilt for cold-calling people to their faces. But this all changed when I set up my own networking event for filmmakers. Suddenly I could see networking for what it was and experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of social interaction. I’d like to think that now, I’m not so much a networker as a potential collaborator.

Collaboration is the grease that oils the cogs of creativity, so it’s obvious to me that networking in some form is necessary to keep the machine ticking over. You might need a producer, or a director, a sound man or an editor… the list goes on. As a writer, my aim was to meet more people that could help translate what I was working on into something visual. It was often a similar story for the people I met at our networking event, but the approaches varied.

I witnessed writers pitching ideas without a single page of script to show for it. I’ve seen directors pitching action epics with not a single penny secured in budget. I’ve seen actors with no showreels, no experience, and no ideas. I’ve seen producers that have never produced… anything. In summary, I spoke to a lot of timewasters (it was one of the main reasons I stopped running the event altogether) so the key to networking, in my opinion, is not to be one of them.

My way to avoid this has always been to concentrate on myself first. And I don’t mean that in a vain way. What I mean is that before I go to others to ‘network’ for help, I have to have my own affairs in order. As a writer, and close collaborator with an animator as Dice Productions, that means writing, learning, planning, and making things. Those are the things that are within my control. I am able to produce scripts, ideas and treatments. I am able to find a style, craft a vision, have an idea. So before I go seeking help I make sure I’m doing my part of the transaction and presenting the skills and tangible things that I can bring to the table.

So, to do this I’ve written lots, and made lots of self-generated videos for our YouTube and Vimeo channels with Dice that showcased a bit of what I am about within the resources available at the time. This approach has meant that at every step of the process when meeting new people that could help me I’ve had something real to show them. Those first short YouTube videos and scripts produced for no budget led directly to our first commission from UK Film Council, All Consuming love (Man in a Cat). Then we were on our way as filmmakers, using each subsequent step in the ladder to reach the next and we’re not done yet by a long shot.

So my advice is always to make things and showcase the bit you are good at. Writer? Write something, record an audio version, make something on your phone. DOP? Shoot stuff, demonstrate your skills. And once you’ve got something, share it!

Now that we’re in a position to network directly for collaboration, the first criteria we have for working with new people is “Do we get on with them?”. You’re going to have to spend a good chunk of time with collaborators on a film, so we find it’s important to be able to enjoy their company. But you’d be amazed at how many people at those networking meetings, or via email or social media fall at the first hurdle.

When looking for new collaborators for film projects our first port of call to ask friends for recommendations. Then we’ll meet up for a chat. Not a pitch. Not an entrance exam. Not a job interview. A normal chat about anything and everything. Usually if it’s going well those chats veer into project chat and that’s when you think you might be onto something. This could happen anywhere. At the pub, at a networking event, at a screening, in the street. But importantly, it doesn’t feel like networking.

Those shark-eyed, robo-networkers who get a card in your hand before you’ve had a chance to say hello don’t get a look in. Neither do the bitter ‘everyone’s against me” conspiracy theorists or the self-aggrandizing show offs. So before you network, how about have a nice time first? When I go to an event or a meet up, I go to enjoy it. To meet cool people, watch interesting films or just have a sociable drink. As a result I’ve met some amazing collaborators for purely social reasons and they continue to be good friends as well as skilled colleagues.

This point applies equally online too, which a lot of people forget. I like to think of the internet as a particularly busy pub, so when you walk up to someone on Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo or Shooting People you should apply the same social checks as you would in person. Be polite.Tell someone their work is good. Share something cool. Go beyond faceless retweets or likes. It’s nice to be nice. We’ve met people this way and worked with them as a result. I have also emailed producers out of the blue and ended up in a meeting with them the following week. Mainly because I was polite and had demonstrated my potential to be useful despite essentially being a stranger. I’ve also received the most ill-judged communications I’ve ever experienced online, so it really is an art in itself.

An overarching thing I’ve learnt about networking is that honesty pays off. It’s such a great trait in filmmaking, so over-egging achievements or overstating importance can be a massive turn off. When people are honest, share their frustration, or excitement, or desire to improve I engage with them a whole lot more than those that present a polished ‘media image’ in an attempt to appear professional. Stick to what is true and you will likely find people that are best placed to help you progress.

Once I realised all of this, networking stopped being networking. It was just working. And now it silently comes together to genuinely impressive effect. I’m currently producing a short film I wrote for Channel 4 called Don’t Fear Death. The director Louis Hudson is my long-term Dice Productions collaborator from school. That’s 13 years of collaboration right there. But the rest of the crew came about through being good networkers, in the nicest sense of the word.

Our sound designer is a guy we met at Flatpack Film Festival less than two years ago. We admired his work, stayed in touch, and when the time was right presented a project. As a result of being open, honest, up front, friendly, and respectful he’s on board with a great deal of skill for was is admittedly limited financial reward. The composer, similarly, is a friend of a friend who we’ve only known for a couple of months. But through the virtues of recommendation, being sociable, and him having examples of his obvious talent available we were able to decide to work together. We ‘networked’ these people, but not in the traditional sense of the word.

rik ed cropped

When looking for a voice actor for the film we asked a close friend we’d met around 6 years ago for advice. He’s a TV producer now, but he wasn’t when we met him. We mentioned Rik Mayall as a template for the voice. He then promptly passed us on to his recent director Ed Bye, who we’d done a bit of work for on recent Channel 4 sketch show Anna & Katy. Being the director of Bottom and Red Dwarf he is also a close friend of Rik’s, so Ed put us on to him with a ringing endorsement. Within a few weeks we were in the recording studio workshopping the script with one of our comedy heroes.

All of those components that come together to make a film started as social meetings that took place years previously or as fresh introductions either in person or online. And now the process is starting again on our new film for Channel 4. This is when networking doesn’t feel like the right word. It’s collaborating.

Thanks,

Ian

@Ravonski

diceproductions.co.uk/

 

  1. Julie Hatfield

    Really enjoyed this. Excellent Post. Thankyou!

  2. Mo Abersheid

    Nice article. Although, networking in LA is a whole different playing field. I did it for a while and it got me nowhere, so I just started doing everything myself and hiring people as I needed them. It’s amazing how quickly you can actually get your film in the can doing a lot of it yourself. However, there are certainly positives and negatives to that as well. Your way sounds more fun 🙂

  3. Kristina Hughes

    Ian-love the article and the points. I do want to share this free tool: http://www.ShowBizCard.com. Created b/c some good folks I met did not have cards, ran out, etc.
    So glad you touched upon those “talkers”. People do really need their “stuff” together before heading out. Have a refined pitch, have written that script they are talking about, have taken headshots, etc.
    Oh & Mo…please check out the Holdon Log Meet-ups in LA. Seminars, bar gatherings, mostly good folk. Would love to connect with you.

    Be BOLD,
    ~Kristina
    New Comedy Demo Reel: http://twitpic.com/ckbeai (90sec.)

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