A Filmmaker's Guide to Authentic, Effective Networking

A Filmmaker's Guide to Authentic, Effective Networking

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

If you're trying to succeed as a filmmaker, you've no doubt heard this piece of advice. And as much as it pains me to admit this (as someone who's super introverted and who would prefer to be a hermit), it's damn good advice. Your connections can make or break your success in the world of film.

For starters, making films is a collaborative craft. It takes a good deal of labor and plenty of teamwork to get a film made, especially once your projects get more ambitious. For that reason, your network should consist of passionate, likeminded filmmakers who you can trust when it comes time to make films you care about.

But your network is about far more than just crewing up your projects. It’s also an essential tool for getting ahead in the business of film. Whether you’re an industry worker looking for your next job, a freelancer looking for new clients, or an indie filmmaker looking for financiers and distributors, your network is the key to success.

So with all of that in mind, today's episode of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast is all about how to network in a way that is authentic and non-sleezy.

Here's some of what you'll learn in episode 9: 

  • The two distinct types of networks that every filmmaker should start building immediately.

  • Why you should forget everything you think you know about networking... (it has nothing to do with cheesy events and handing out business cards).

  • The best places to meet likeminded filmmakers, even if you're super introverted like I am.

  • How to start new relationships in an authentic way.

  • The tools and strategies I recommend for following up and maintaining strong relationships over the long term.

  • How one aspiring Hollywood editor made his dream come true through connecting with highly successful filmmakers.

Here's the episode. You can also listen and subscribe through iTunesStitcher, PocketCasts, and the Google Play Store.

If you enjoy today's show, it would mean the world to me if you'd leave a rating and review on iTunes. That's the best way to support this small indie show and to help new filmmakers find it!


 
 

The first season of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast is sponsored by my friends over at Music Vine.

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That’s why all of the music in this podcast comes straight from the Music Vine library. Here's the playlist of songs from this episode.

You can get 10% off your first purchase when you use the code FREEDOM at checkout. Enjoy.


Practical Takeaways from Today's Episode

There are two types of networks you should start building immediately and continue building for the rest of your life.

  1. Your personal tribe
  2. Your professional network

Your tribe is a small group of your closest, most trusted filmmaking friends. These are the people you can count on to help you with your projects, just as they can count on you to help with theirs.

Your professional network, on the other hand, is what most people think of when it comes to networks. It’s all about having a wide range of connections who could potentially further your career.

So now let’s dive into some of the core ideas you’ll need to start building both kinds of networks.

Forget everything you think you know about networking

Seriously, just forget it all. Genuine networking has nothing to do with showing up at cheesy events and handing out your business card to a bunch of strangers and calling it a day. I’m willing to bet that no one has ever gotten a job in film or made a meaningful connection that way. 

And while you’re at it, forget about “networking events” anyway. They’re almost exclusively full of inexperienced filmmakers who have one thing on their mind: “How can all of the people here benefit me, and how can I persuade them that benefitting me is in their best interest?”

No thanks.

Instead of that silliness, we’re going to focus on forging sustainable long-term relationships that are built on a foundation of generosity, trust, and reciprocity.

Playing the long game and building real relationships

A lot of people view their networks as a finite resource, as if the people in that network can be summed up as a single favor waiting to be used. Or worse, they want people to do them massive favors immediately, before a relationship has really formed.

This, my friend, is not how relationships work. These things take time and patience in order to develop into something worthwhile, and it takes energy and persistence in order to get it to that stage. Think of it like dating. You’re not trying to have a one night stand here. Instead, you’re getting to know people and building something more meaningful with them over time.

When you approach your networking this way, it might not feel as if you’re accomplishing much. After all, you probably want all of the benefits of a network right away without the long wait. Sorry to say, that’s just not how it works. 

So the real lesson is this: start building your network right now, preferably long before you actually need the benefits of a network. And as you’re going about building that network, focus on forming quality relationships with a few people instead of a bunch of shallow, surface level relationships with as many people as possible.

More about that in a minute, but first let’s talk about places where you can start filling your network with quality people.

The best places for indie filmmakers to network

There are a ton of places filmmakers can network these days, both in-person and online, but in my experience many of them are pretty hit or miss. There are a few good ones, however, that have worked consistently for me in building my tribe.

Small local film festivals and niche festivals

Yes, the larger, more prestigious festivals often have important people at them, and yes, sometimes you can create a bit of serendipity and make some good connections at after-parties and things like that. It’s been known to happen.

But if you’re serious about finding likeminded filmmakers and forming relationships, the smaller festivals are a goldmine. Attend a few screenings, pay attention to the Q&A sessions, and strike up some genuine conversations afterwards. 

Open screen nights, or anywhere local filmmakers screen their work.

Most cities I’ve been to have some sort of “open screen night” where any filmmaker can drop by and show their work on the big screen. Even if you can’t find something like that, search for independent theaters, coffee shops, breweries, bookstores, and any other places that might screen the work of local filmmakers.

Local meetups for creatives

Most cities, and even some mid-sized towns have meetups and happy hours for filmmakers. These are great, particularly because they’re smaller, more intimate versions of the “networking events” that everyone hates. This is the best way to work your way into existing groups of filmmakers in your city.

In order to find these, dive into the depths of meetup.com and similar sites, or just do a quick search on google and facebook for “[your city] filmmaker meetup.”

You should also look into events for actors, theater workers, musicians, writers, or any other types of creatives that might one day contribute to a project you’re working on. Again though, it’s about building sustainable relationships, so be sure to offer these folks value.

Small indie film sets!

This one is the most important of the bunch. If there are filmmakers in your town working on projects, see if you can stop by for a day and meet some new people. Offer to be a PA or take BTS photos, and use the opportunity to really have some great conversations. I’ve made some of my best filmmaking friends this way.

Starting off new relationships on the right foot

In his phenomenal book Give and Take, Adam Grant shares a surprising takeaway—some of the world’s most successful people are also some of the most generous. They give their time and energy more freely than seems reasonable, and they do it without expecting anything in return.

And sure enough, over time this strategy leads to incredible success in all sorts of industries, including the entertainment industry.

So when you’re making a new connection—whether it’s someone who might become part of your personal tribe or your professional network—put aside your self interest and adopt a giver mindset. Here are two concrete things you can do:

  1. Ask people what they’re working on, what they’re passionate about, or what their dream project is, and be genuinely interested in what they say. Seriously, so few people show sincere interest that this alone will set you apart from the mass of schmoozy networkers.
  2. Ask if there’s anything they need help with right now. If it’s something you have the power to help with—whether it’s connecting them to someone in your network or actually helping yourself—don’t hesitate to do it, especially if it’s something quick. And even if you can’t help, tell them you’ll keep your ear to the ground for them and you’ll let them know if you come up with solutions.

If you only do these two things when making new contacts, you’ll already be well ahead of every other filmmaker trying to network their way into the system.

But it’s the following step that really sets you apart from everyone else.

Keeping in touch with your network

This might seem obvious, but if you don’t tend to your network, it will begin to decay. It’s true with your closest personal relationships, and it’s true with your network.

For that reason, it’s essential to develop systems that help you stay in touch with the people who become part of your tribe and part of your wider professional network. 

There are a lot of ways to do this, ranging from simple and manual to complex and automated. And there are a gazillion different tools and methods you can use to help with all this, which I’ll get into momentarily.

More than anything else though, whatever system you use should help you deliver value to the people in your network, even when they’re not expecting anything from you. When you consistently give value, you build an immense amount of social capital and goodwill that will go a long way once it comes time to ask your network for favors. 

Now, value can come in many forms, but the simplest and most effective for filmmakers is to just check in, see what people are working on, and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. It really doesn’t have to be more complicated than that. However, you can also send people useful articles and videos, make introductions that might benefit them, or any number of other useful things that show you’re generous and thoughtful.

The system I use for keeping in touch (and two tech tools to help)

A Slack team (or facebook group) to stay in touch with your tribe

For maintaining my personal tribe of filmmakers here in Denver, I have a small Slack group with a handful of members. As you may or may not know, Slack is a workplace and community chat app that has grown insanely fast over the last few years. It’s super flexible, fun, and best of all, free. So sign up and start a team to house your local tribe.

I use this group to stay in touch with my filmmaking peeps, and it’s never particularly formal or anything. But I do make a point of providing as much value as I can.

For instance, whenever I come across film jobs that might be a good fit for someone in the group, I’ll just post a link in Slack and tag them. Or I’ll share articles and videos that might be of interest. Whenever someone in the group has an interesting idea for a project, or a script or video that needs feedback, I’ll spend a few minutes and share my thoughts. 

These types of things take relatively little time, but they build up a ton of reciprocity with the people in the group. Plus, it builds a culture in there where everyone is helping one another, which is great. 

Alright, now let’s talk about how to stay in touch with your broader professional network. To be honest, I haven’t been very good at this in the past, but recently I’ve started working on a system to approach it more methodically. Here’s that system in a nutshell.

Start an account with a basic CRM. These pieces of software are technically designed for companies to keep track of leads and customers, but it works beautifully for managing your contacts, keeping notes about your meetings, scheduling reminders to follow up with people, and all sorts of other cool stuff. I've included a few of the best starter CRMs in the resources down below.

Whenever I meet someone new and get their business card, I’ll take a few moments when I get home to enter them into my CRM of choice. I’ll jot down some notes about them, their interests, etc. Then I set a reminder to follow up with them in a month or two to see if there’s anything I could do to help them.

The great part of this system is that it keeps track of everything. Every time you have a meeting or catch up with someone in your network, you can add a few notes to their profile in the CRM, and that information will be there waiting for you in the future. It’s kind of like a digital brain that makes the networking process smoother and better for everybody. And it makes you look super thoughtful whenever you follow up out of nowhere and provide value.

Some additional tips to help you become better at networking

  • Quality of contacts is always more important than quantity. If you only meet two new people at an event, but you have great conversations with them, that’s significantly more valuable than handing out 30 business cards.
  • Networking isn’t limited to events. Particularly when it comes to people in your city, find ways to connect with them outside of a work context. This helps you build the relationship in a more meaningful and natural way.
  • Learn how to be a more skilled conversationalist. This is a skill that anyone can learn. It just takes practice. While you’re at it, learn some of the tricks for remembering names.
  • When you’re forming new connections, don’t be afraid to share what you stand for and what you passionately believe in. This will result in stronger connections with the right people while repelling the wrong ones. It’s win-win.
  • Ask people for advice about things you’re having trouble with. People love giving advice because it makes them feel important, so don’t feel like it’s an imposition. Pro tip: actually follow that advice if it’s good, and then tell the advice giver about it when you follow up. They’ll think you’re awesome.
  • The best way to find great people to work with is to tap into the extended networks of people already in your network. When it comes to finding quality cast and crew for passion projects, asking for recommendations from the people in your network can yield surprisingly good results (which means you can avoid the headache of posting ads online).

Further Reading & Resources

App: FilmTribe

This is the filmmaker directory I’ve been building, and I plan for it to one day be the most comprehensive database of indie filmmakers anywhere. Best get in on the ground floor!

App: Slack

This is the chat platform I use for just about everything, from running my company to building communities, but it’s also a very useful tool for building your own tight-knit tribe and staying in contact with the people in your network.

CRM Apps: 

  • HubSpot - This one is completely free, but it's also a little clunky and overcomplicated.

  • Highrise - This is far and away the easiest CRM to use, but its free account is limited to 250 contacts. That might be enough for most people, but if you're an active networker, you'll eventually have to pay. If I used a web-based CRM, this is the one I'd pick.

  • Insightly - This one's a happy medium between Hubspot and Highrise. Its free account offers a bit more latitude than Highrise, but it's not as much of a pain to use as Hubspot.

  • Vipor Plus - Unlike the other three, Vipor's an actual app that you download either on your Mac or iPhone (sorry Windows and Android peeps). It's my choice because it's a great cross between a personal CRM and a calendar, so it doesn't include a gajillion sales features that I'll never use.

Book: Give and Take - Adam Grant

This isn’t so much a book about networking as it is a book about success. And can you guess what makes some people more successful than others? They’re unselfish givers.

Book: Never Eat Alone - Keith Ferrazzi

Once you’re convinced that being a giver and building authentic relationships are the keys to success, this is the book that will give you more practical strategies to accomplish that than you can shake a stick at. Seriously, this book is so damn useful I can hardly believe it.

Article: How to Maintain Your Professional Network Over the Years - Harvard Business Review

There are a lot of great articles about networking on the Harvard Business Review, but this one really nails a section of this article that I couldn’t go into a ton of depth on. If you’re really curious about the intricacies of maintaining a network, check this out.


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