Another very useful blog post from Stage 32. Today’s is called Why Networking Is a Dirty Word.
Today’s blog marks the return of one of my favorite people on the planet, Julie Gray.
The author of Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas, Julie Gray is a script consultant and writer living in Tel Aviv, Israel. A Huffington Post and Script Magazine contributor, Julie is a favorite speaker at the London Screenwriter’s Festival and has taught story at Warner Bros. Entertainment, Oxford University and The San Francisco de Quito University in Quito, Ecuador. Julie directs the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon, consults with prose and screenwriters all over the world and volunteers with Amnesty International in Israel, helping African refugees to tell their stories, as well as with Natal, a non-profit for survivors of terror and war.
Can you see why Julie is one of my favorite people on the planet? But wait, there’s more.
Julie has selflessly helped hundreds of screenwriters and other film creatives througout her career both personally and through her recently retired website, Just Effing Entertain Me. She recently launched her new site, Stories Without Borders (how perfect is that name?), where her passion for screenwriting and those who choose to pursue a life in the craft shine through.
Compassionate, brave and selfless, they don’t come much better than Julie.
And she knows a thing or two about networking too. The evidence lies below.
“It’s who you know”. We’ve all heard it. It is perhaps one of the top three truisms about Hollywood, the other two being, ironically, “Know the rules before you break them” and “There are no rules”.
Networking. The word is both specific and vague. Like – go to cocktail parties with other writers? Invite people to lunch? Go to screenwriting events? Hand out business cards? What kind of business cards? What should I wear? Oh did you hear SO-AND-SO will be there? MAYBE HE/SHE WILL READ MY SCRIPT!
Oy. This is a pernicious and slippery slope. We’ve all done it, the nerves, the desperate feeling… It doesn’t even feel good to think about, right?
Let’s forget that kind of networking. Let’s call it something else.
Let’s call it Relationship Building.
Relationships have two basic building blocks: shared interests and reciprocity. Relationships are the framework within which we share valuable resources, services and information. Relationships are reciprocal – we benefit mutually.
Think of your day-to-day life. You need a lift somewhere, or a cup of sugar, or the name of a good dentist. Who do you call? No – not Ghostbusters, smarty pants – you call friends or family members and ask for help. People with whom you have a relationship. Who do they call when they need help baking a pie or changing their oil or choosing a good vet? You.
“It takes a village” is not a cliché; it is fundamentally important to our well-being and happiness as humans. Not to go all Jared Diamond on you, but man evolved away from being solitary from hunter/gatherers, subject to every whim of nature when
we settled down into a cooperative lifestyle in which we exchanged goods and services. For thousands of years, humans have lived in a shared economy, an eco-system, if you will, of resources, services and information. It’s how we not only survived but how we flourished. We need each other.
As writers, this is especially true. Writing can be a very isolating occupation, filled with long hours and frustrations. Both the world of Hollywood and traditional publishing can seem like exclusive clubs to which you do not belong. So you wait, standing in line in the rain. How do you get in?
“It’s who you know” does not mean simply that you have met a person who might be advantageous to you, therefore you “know” them and they now help you. That isn’t how it works. That is not relationship building, that is just rude.
Let’s take it back to what we know – in our normal lives: When a friend or acquaintance – someone who’s company you have enjoyed even just a little bit, asks a favor of you, generally, if you can, you do it gladly, right? I do. If it’s someone else – well, we’re all busy, right?
You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Another truism. Truisms are called truisms for a reason. If I help you bake that pie, that’s money in the bank for me in two ways: 1) It gives me pleasure to help someone I like and 2) I know that when I need help, I can ask you. And I know for sure I will need help at some point – we all do.
It’s how we humans are wired – for cooperation and reciprocity. Relationship building is mutually beneficial.
So forget networking. A pox on it!
Build relationships with other writers.
Go to events
Bring a business card
Talk with people – actually talk with them
See if there is a favor you can do for someone else
Get to know people who are on your same level or above
Consider mentoring a writer who is starting out (don’t forget another truism of Hollywood: Today’s assistant is tomorrow’s executive).
Apply the same relationship building skills with other writers that you do in your home and your office. Reciprocity, cooperation, sharing of resources.
Relationship building is like dating: you have to kiss some frogs and there will be missed opportunities. That’s okay. There will be other chances.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things like this will happen:
You will stumble upon people who only take. Dump them.
You will stumble upon people who do not share your interests or trajectory at all.
You will stumble upon people who are simply not interested in you. That’s okay.
You will stumble upon a GREAT connection – at the wrong moment. Let it go.
Recently, a client of mine wrote a great one-hour drama pilot. I mean – really great. So I hooked him up to have lunch with an HBO/Showtime producer, an NBC/Universal fellow, and a writer on Netflix’s From Dusk Til Dawn. These are all my friends and they are happy to meet this new writer. Because I wrote that letter of recommendation to NBC/Universal. Because I have sent many good scripts to the producer. Because I helped get that writing gig. And my friends have helped me, too, in many ways. All I ask when I connect people to my connections is that they join that circle of giving themselves. Circle of giving – not circle of taking. Nobody wants to belong to a group of people like that.
When our very own beloved Richard Botto asked me to write an article about relationship building for Stage 32, I did not hesitate for a split second. Because I believe in what Richard does – community building. And because Richard is my friend. He was there for me during a very tough time in my life – you don’t forget those kinds of things.
You’ll find that most people are actually very generous with their time, their resources and their connections – people love helping other people. It’s scientifically proven.
In the world of writing, especially writing for entertainment, which is so collaborative, relationships areeverything. It’s how you hear about those opportunities before anybody else has heard of them, it’s how you get that recommendation or those great notes. It is how you get introduced to people who are interested in your work.
But relationships don’t happen overnight and they will not blossom at all if you are not patient, sincere and generous yourself.
Here are some common sense guidelines:
1. Meet liked minded people; go to events, participate online, get out there.
2. Primarily think about what YOU have to offer someone else (and no, it’s not your script)
3. Give relationships time to build. Check in. Grab a coffee. Have no agenda.
4. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Don’t network – a pox on networking! Build relationships!