Everyone in the film industry talks about the importance of networking, but no one really explains how this works for first-time filmmakers. Here are some practical tips that I’ve picked up over the past few years that might help you in your journey. If you’d like to add to this list, email me your ideas and I’ll incorporate them with attribution.
PREPARING FOR MEETINGS
Build a Digital Résumé & LinkedIn Profile
Before you go to any in-person or virtual event, it’s best to have two sites in place:
- Digital Résumé: This can be a website or Vimeo page with your best samples, a summary of your current credentials/educational experience, and your contact details (please don’t forget those). Make it clean.
- LinkedIn Profile: LinkedIn is not a film industry standard, but it’s an underappreciated tool. I like it because it keeps me up-to-date when people change positions or receive promotions. And it’s professional, which means there are fewer social digressions about cats. Make your job title unique and put your credentials front & center in the first sentence of your About section.
Practice Your Introduction
This will be your greeting at conferences. Most folks I’ve met have had success with the following formula:
“Hello, I’m [name]. I’m a [positive adjective] [job-title] specializing in [genre #1] and [genre #2]. And I’m attending [event] to [goal].”
This might work out to:
“Hello, I’m Hina Wright. I’m an indigenous filmmaker specializing in low-budget dramas and bio-pics. I’m at Sundance in order to find financing for my new film on Maria Tallchief and connect with fellow filmmakers.”
Two key things to note:
- If you’ve won any awards, always say “award-winning” before your job title.
- Smile and look people in the eye.
Think About Your Connection Tools
You will need a way to follow-up with folks after the conference is finished.
- Business Cards: If you want to use business cards, put your photo on it and provide white space for people to make notes.
- Phones: If you want to exchange digital info, make sure you’re able to add notes in your Contact entry so you can remember what you talked about.
Subscribe to Industry Directories
Cinando is a spectacular example—I received a free annual subscription when I signed up for American Film Market (AFM)—but there are others (e.g. IMDB Pro). They will have contact details for production companies & people.
You don’t want to spam folks—that’s a good way to piss people off—but you can reach out to professionals in your realm of expertise for advice. Always do your research to make sure your interests align with the production company.
Tap into Your Existing Contacts
Ask friends and families if they know anyone who’s in the film industry and willing to talk to you. Some people may have direct connections with production companies, sales & distribution experts, and investors.
Start with Regional Film Meetings
Most cities and states have small-ish film industry associations that host conferences and meetings.
- Attend them when you can
- Listen to what’s happening in your region
- Ask relevant questions after the talks
- Thank the speakers individually
- Give out your business card
Smaller venues make it easier to meet people and have real conversations. And regional experts will have ties to national & international experts.
Attend National & International Conferences (In-Person or Online)
In the past, this was expensive for indie filmmakers. But events like SXSW, AFM, Chicago International Film Festival Industry Days, and Sundance are adapting to the new reality with virtual versions that include a lot of networking opportunities. Make time for them.
Remember that you don’t need to go to a conference that’s marketed toward your job type (e.g. Austin & screenwriting). Instead, choose an event that attracts people you’d like to have on your team. For example:
- If you need “name” actors for your microbudget horror film, you might attend a horror festival with actor presentations & parties.
- If you need a producer, go where the producers go.
I met a wonderful film composer at AFM who was there to make contacts with filmmakers.
Talk to Everyone
Some people go to conferences and try to nab the established producer who just gave the keynote talk. That’s shortsighted. If you wish to work in the business for a long time, you want to be meeting (and supporting) the up-and-comers.
So talk to everyone, from the PA handling the crowds to the guy representing the unions. You may be working with them in the future.
Arrange Virtual Follow-Ups
If you really like the mind and work of someone you talk to:
- Suggest that you meet virtually afterward to learn more
- Connect with them via LinkedIn
- Highlight their work on your own social channels
Build Long-Term Relationships
The most important networking tip? You’re doing all of this to build relationships. That means your project comes second.
So don’t push your agenda too hard when you chat to people. Instead, listen to your contact’s story, ask questions, and explore ideas. Your intro will tell the person what you’re up to—if they like you and want to follow up, they will.