Like any freelance work, carving out a screenwriting career requires a degree of hustling. Even with an agent / manager, most of your work will likely still come via the connections and relationships that you make yourself. So networking, in some form, is an essential tool for screenwriters, which is tricky since for most of us the thought of introducing ourselves to perfect strangers is horrifying.
Whether you’re looking to meet other screenwriters for help and support, or to meet potential employers (aka producers) the reality is that you’ll probably have to go where they are gathering. Maybe you’ve plucked up the courage to go to Story Expo in Los Angeles this September or the London Screenwriters’ Festival in October? Since most of us are introverts who shine in one-to-one situations but hate large crowds of people, the thought of actually doing it might be overwhelming.
Here are my top tips for face-to-face networking.
1) If large crowds are overwhelming, try attending smaller events first until you’re a bit more comfortable networking.
2) If you’re taking the plunge at a large event but big crowds of people feel daunting, try arriving early when fewer people are there.
3) Know when you’re at your best. If you’re a morning person but hate busy, noisy bars late at night it’s fine to skip off at 8pm and instead make the most of the early-morning fellow coffee-grabbers when you feel more comfortable. But if you hate early mornings, arrive later when you’re feeling more awake and stay chatting with your fellow late-nighters.
4) Take heart – everyone else is probably feeling the same as you. This is especially true at writer events.
5) You’re in a room full of people who love the same thing you do – storytelling in film & TV. If you can talk for hours about the film and TV you love to those who aren’t that interested (friends, family) you can definitely chat to a few people who are as passionate about it as you are.
6) Networking isn’t about selling yourself directly. You don’t need to be interesting, just interested. Be inquisitive. Ask people about themselves. If you’ve both just been listening to the same talk, ask what they thought of it.
7) Don’t feel you have to pitch your project to everyone you meet if you’re not comfortable doing it. It’s better to form a relationship by simply being friendly and follow-up with the pitch at a later meeting.
8) If you are worried you’re going to be so nervous you forget your own name, try scripting your introduction; “Hi, I’m Sarah, I’m a writer, mostly horror and thriller.” and practice saying it out loud.
9) Introverts draw energy from being alone. If that’s you, be sure to re-charge by taking five minutes out to go for a walk, or sit alone in the lobby.
10) Set a goal to talk to a specific number of new people. That could be as few as four or five. Once you’ve reached your goal, reward yourself. Perhaps with a chocolate treat (that’d be my bribe to myself!) or maybe simply giving yourself permission to leave the event.
11) Think quality over quantity – it’s OK if you strike up a meaningful conversation with just a couple of people you admire and respect. That’s networking too.
12) Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Find your own style.
I was recently asked to speak at a panel for the European Producers Club at the Cannes Film Festival. Networking with over eighty very experienced film producers who love doing this kind of thing and are brilliant at it was terrifying. But the reality, of chatting to people who love what I love, was great fun – at least for a little while until I knew I’d had enough and needed to recharge by being alone for five minutes!
Networking is just an opportunity to meet a few new people in our industry. Some will become firm friends, others might be able to help you right now, others may be able to put you in contact with someone else who can. You won’t know until you give it a try.
- More articles by Hayley McKenzie
- Balls of Steel: Give to Receive
- Writers’ Room 101: Networking the Right Way