Being a screenwriter is about more than writing. No matter how taut and compelling your writing is, or how fresh and engaging your characters, there will always be skills you need alongside the ability to write a killer script, in order to cultivate something resembling a career. One of the most important of these is networking.
What is networking? It’s cultivating a complex network of contacts, whether they be acquaintances, friends, co-workers or even family, so that you can access their particular skills or resources in the future. Networks can get you jobs, learning opportunities, support for a project, and a plethora of various other, wonderful things. You never know when you’ll need a friend who caters, a cousin who designs wedding dresses, or an old co-worker who has started directing independent films… until you do.
There’s a bit of a cynical edge to it, if you let it. A serial networker who can’t infuse said networks with some kind of genuine personal interest can seem like a user to the people within that network, especially if they have a ‘me first’ attitude. A genuine networker doesn’t just collect and use relationships, but makes it a two-way relationship. Helps a friend out because they need it, not so there’s a favour to collect later. You need to be a fair networker, someone who gives as much as they get.
Proper networking also relies in a strong organisational ability. If you’re not someone who can recall every connection they have instantly, complete with face, name and personal details, some kind of organization system is helpful. Even if it’s just a fishbowl of business cards on an unused bookshelf. Keeping the names, numbers and resources of potential contacts is essential.
It also requires a level of outgoing confidence, in order to meet contacts in the first place. I’ve gotten unpaid internships just because I was the one person to go up to a guest lecturer after a class and express enthusiasm for the lecturer’s business. Feeling confident in walking up to people you want to meet, in emailing people to follow up on potential connections, and to meet with them, is essential when you’re just starting out.
And when they know you, you want to be remembered. That’s when the student director you wrote a short film for comes back for a second, or recommends your work to a friend. That’s when your solid work at an internship leads to an offer to participate in the writing process at that company. You do good work once, and you will create your own opportunities. Be friendly and quick on your feet on first meeting, and leave something behind, either a business card (if it’s a general meet-and-greet) or a leavebehind document (if you’re pitching a project and want their involvement).
And you have to be a smart networker, who knows what projects they can take on and which they can’t. Nothing burns a connection as fast as accepting a job, then not having the time or skills to deliver on what was promised.
Keep a file of names and information as you go. Keep a professional and clean appearance if you think you’ll encounter a networking opportunity. Don’t be afraid to pursue opportunities, or to try and make your own. Check out networking sites like LinkedIn and Stage 32. Try to be someone other people will try to network with. Offer something valuable. Work your ass off.
Every opportunity has the potential to create more down the road, after all.