Monday, 18 January 2021

HOW DO I MAKE CONTACTS? - Screenwriter's Survival Kit

Welcome to a brand new sub-series on this blog, designed to be one-stop shops for your big craft and industry questions. 

To inaugurate, I'm going to talk about one of the most vital yet still poorly-explained parts of building a media career, in any field but focusing on screenwriting here. The big N: Networking. This can be especially troubling for those living away from the big media hubs, or have some difficulty in social circumstances. You may be socially awkward, or not used to being hyper-proactive in a job sense. 

However, it is a vitally important part of this business: you need people to make your movies and shows. You need people with some level of power or resources to know you exist, and playing the lottery with screenwriting contests and just waiting can be a needlessly big gamble. Whether it's for a producer, director or development person, the process is the same.

WHAT DO I DO?

First, after having written and polished a quality script, find a company/producer who makes stuff similar to your script. If you have an action thriller, find people who make action thrillers. Comedy: comedy. 

You can find people with greater ease than ever before: sites like IMDBpro and Linkedin offer ways to get directly in touch. There's also production company websites, which usually contain a generic/office email: HUZZAH! They've already done half the work for you. A little more brain juice, and you'll quickly figure out the email of the person you want. Producer, executive, script editor, assistant - all people to speak to.

In the email, you don't need to be heaping wild praise, or desperately begging for attention. Short and sweet is the desired. Start by say 'Hi, I'm a screenwriter (mention if something you worked on got an award or distinction. If you're currently on a course, even better. They love students, as they aren't a threat. Otherwise, just what genre you write in).' 

After, write a quick bit of praise. Something like, 'I really liked your show (quickly say why, just a line) and I'd like some advice on getting into continuing drama/hour-long drama/animation/sitcoms. If it's possible, could we do a five minute phone/zoom chat?'. 

NEVER EVER attach a script or CV without asking to do so first. Dumping stuff onto someone is only going to turn them off. You want to make their lives as easy as possible: the less demanding you are, the more willing they will be to hear you out. 

BUT WHY A MEETING AND NOT A SUBMISSION?

I'd say doing this is better than gambling on a blind read - you'll get a meeting, where you can become more than just another anon email, and make a contact in the process. This is how I did it - I was humble, open-minded and asked industry people for advice. Now, I'm in the business. This advice works.

WHAT DO I SAY IN THE MEETING?

It's an informative conversation, not a shopping list. There's no right way to go about it, save for not going overly-personal, or insulting the other's person's work. Some easy pointers, if you are having trouble, include:

  • How did you get started?
  • What are your influences?
  • What was you best experience on a project?
  • What keeps you going, even when things don't go well?

As for talking about yourself, which they likely will ask about, you just simply talk about your writing background, if you've won anything/placed anywhere, and maybe do quick pitches of whatever script you've ready to show. A logline, maybe a quick descriptor of the main character and the conflict. Be cool, be calm and, above all, be a good listener. Industry people love to talk, so let them. When it comes time for you, be chipper and upbeat: monotone will make you sound like you don't care. Don't force it, but I guarantee you will find, as you get comfortable, you will be more engaged, and be more charming to the other person. 

AFTER?

They will ask 'Can you send it/something along?' At which, you send the script and your writing CV. Good time to chase up would be 10-12 weeks. Indeed, checking in every couple of months with a simple 'Hey, how are you?' goes a long way.

You may not realize it, but you do have the ability to network with greater ease than you may be aware of. Once get in the groove, it may become your favourite part.

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