Standard Story Company

A Filmmaker’s Guide to Networking (without being a weirdo)

If you’re like me, “networking” has never come naturally. 

In fact, I always considered my introversion a weakness for my film career, especially while living in Los Angeles where there’s so many film people to connect with. 

In my mind, networking meant small-talk, awkward parties, and a general feeling of sleaze.

Eventually, I knew I had to man up and just do it if I wanted to leave my restaurant job and start putting my filmmaking skills to work for real money.

And a few months later, I had a new career as a freelance editor.

So here’s my best tips for how to network with intention when starting from scratch, actually find work, and not look as desperate & awkward as we actually are. 😅

Friday Film Notes is brought to you by:

From sweeping cinematic scores to quirky jazz beats, Artlist has the perfect soundtrack for every scene & genre. That’s why they’ve been my go-to source for stock music (& stock footage) for years. Get 2 months free!

Is it really all about “who you know”?

It’s not all about who you know. Just mostly.

You’ll never have a long career without real skill and talent… But there’s a lot of great filmmakers out there right now, working in the shadows, and missing out on opportunities simply because they’re not plugged in with the right people.

Here’s a case study:

I was friends with an actor in college here in LA who we’ll call Jimmy. Jimmy was a solid actor, but USC had a ton of solid actors. What made him special was that he seemed to know almost everyone in our school.

This wasn’t an accident.

Jimmy told me that he intentionally tried to expand his network and meet new people every single day.

I figured he would probably end up being the most successful person I knew in the film industry… and I was right. Jimmy is crushing it both in-front-of and behind the camera right now. His creative talent + his ability to network have been a deadly combo for him.

The other talented actors from USC? 9 out of 10 of them are still sorely underworked and paying the bills with day jobs.

So where do we start?

How do we be more like Jim, especially if we’re natural introverts?

 

Setting Your Intention

When my networking journey started, I was working as a waiter at a crappy steakhouse, and making my own short films on the side.

Scraping by wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I decided to use the editing skills I’d been developing while cutting my own films to start making a better living and working alongside actual pros.

Networking wasn’t the only change I made at that time, but it was absolutely the highest leverage work I did.

And the first thing that helped was knowing what I actually wanted out of all this networking.

Sometimes we go to events “to network”, but don’t have an actual goal of who we’re looking to meet, what we’re trying to learn, or where we’re trying to get a foot in the door.

As a result, those events are likely to be a waste of time.

I knew I wanted to meet editors & assistant editors, learn the landscape of freelance editing, and get a foot in the door anywhere I might be able to land a first gig. This narrowed down WHERE I networked, WHO I looked for, and WHAT I talked about with anyone in earshot.

It wasn’t long before everyone in my circle knew I was trying to break in as an editor, and willing to do whatever it took if anyone had a decent lead on a gig.

I was asking friends if I could take their friends to coffee (if they knew someone with a connection to the editing world).

But I knew nobody would just hand me a gig, so my intention with networking wasn’t to directly ask for one.

The purpose of all this was to arm myself so I’d be ready for a job, know exactly how to present myself as the best candidate, and get on the radar of people and companies responsible for hiring editors.

And I figured if I kept those relationship warm over a long enough time, eventually one of them would cave and throw me a bone on some lame gig their regular editors wouldn’t want to do. And then I’d have a foot firmly in the door.

Networking is all about the long game.

 

Make it a Habit

One of the key’s to Jimmy’s networking was the fact that he was ALWAYS trying to meet new people in the film industry. Wherever he went, he made it a habit to introduce himself to people and get to know them and their goals.

As a fairly reclusive introvert (who can at least play the part of an extrovert on set and on YouTube), I can’t pull that off lol.

But since I only had a few leads to editors in my own circle, I knew I’d have to expand my circle and do some cold outreach somehow.

So I decided to do it digitally, but still make it a habit.

I made a commitment to reach out to 2 people online every single day – in fact it was the very first thing I did everyday after making my morning coffee. I wasn’t allowed to do any other work until I had 2 messages sent out.

Sometimes this took the form of emailing post production houses asking a couple of quick questions. Sometimes it was messaging Los Angeles-based editors on LinkedIn or Instagram.

Most of them didn’t respond (probably 90%).

But the ones who did taught me some very valuable inside information (I was making sure to ask questions you couldn’t easily find answers to online). And at 60 attempts per month, it didn’t take long before I had a decent number of leads.

My goal was to eventually move over to meeting up for coffee, which would make the connection feel more real, and greatly increase the odds of landing an actual work opportunity in the future.

But going from message to coffee was a tough sell. Even getting coffee with friends of friends was tough.

So here’s how to improve your odds.

 

Give more than you Take

Don’t go into any networking encounter trying to see what you can “get” out of someone. This is when networking feels sleazy.

Instead, try to see if there’s anything you can give.

Networking is not about trying to extract a job or opportunity from someone you just met at a party. It’s simply about making friends with people, and getting tighter with them over time. If you’re able to do that and hide any sense of desperation from the equation, the gigs will eventually come naturally (assuming you seem fairly competent!).

The film world is very casual, and most of the best work comes through word of mouth referrals, and casual texts/emails. So ditch the business cards.

But how can you “give” when you’re still a nobody with nothing to really offer?

There’s always something to give. Offer to volunteer on their next project. Offer to give them feedback on their script, or connect them to someone you know who they could benefit from meeting. Or you can just… be a homie.

Reciprocity is ingrained in our DNA. So if you’re able to provide value to someone who has the power to help you, then there’s much better odds that they actually will help you.

You can also “give” by making everything as easy as possible for them.

Want to meet that seasoned editor you emailed for coffee? Offer to meet whenever and wherever is most convenient for them.

Beyond that, don’t make them struggle with the back and forth emails of picking a time/date. Just offer 2-3 concrete times and days, and let them pick one that works for them. Less emailing = good.

Come across an interesting article or piece of news in their field? Send them a 1-2 sentence email with the link, and end it with “Thought you’d enjoy this, no response necessary.”

As someone who gets too many emails, there’s nothing that makes me happier than the words “no response necessary”.

Again don’t go for the kill and ask for a job or gig.

Instead, ask who they’d recommend you try to meet to achieve your desired goal. If they want, they’ll give you the contact info of a specific person you should talk to.

That’s a much easier lift for them, and still super valuable for you.

In fact, that’s how I landed my first real editing gig. Over coffee, a freelance editor gave me the contact info of a former client who works with a lot of young & hungry editors.

I emailed that former client a couple of quick questions, letting him know who sent me (because warm referrals like that are golden).

A few weeks later, I was working out of his office cutting a corporate video for Netflix 🤯

 

Follow Up!

You have no idea how many times I’ve typed out a detailed and thoughtful response to a stranger who reached out to me seeking advice, only to never hear from them again.

It’s honestly amazing. And part of the reason I don’t do it much anymore lol.

So whatever you do, if someone is kind enough to help you in any way – thank them for taking the time to share their advice. Even better, after a week or two, follow up and let them know you actually applied their advice (and it was helpful!). End that with a “I’m sure you’re busy, no response necessary” for a grand slam email.

Hearing/seeing that their advice was actually helpful is a very gratifying feeling for a mentor, and it’ll make them want to help you out again in the future.

It’s so easy to follow up like this, and if you don’t, you’re just fumbling at the goal line.

 

Results

I networked my way into finding a second regular editing client very shortly after finding my first, and was able to leave my restaurant job entirely within the span of about 3 months of starting this mission.

It was a crazy and rapid change in my life, and it made me kick myself for not prioritizing networking earlier (and realizing I already had most of the skills I needed to make good money editing).

Unfortunately, at this point in the story, I got comfy and totally stopped sending out messages and growing my network 💩

If I had kept up my networking habit, who knows what I’d be doing today. Actually, maybe it’s time to bring it back…

 

 

My favorite things this week:

🎮 Games: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Only about 12 years late to the party on this one, but I bought this on the Switch a week ago on a whim and… I get it. I’m completely sucked in. If these newsletters stop coming, blame this game.

📼 Movies: The Piano Teacher

This was a 2001 French film from Michael Haneke which had been on my list for a long time. If you’ve seen Haneke’s 2007 film Funny Games, you know that he has an amazing ability to make his audience hate him 😂 Despite that, I loved both of these movies. Just be aware that they’re both very unpleasant to watch at times.

The Piano Teacher was a fascinating character study of a repressed woman that took me to placed I really did not expect (or want) to go. The star, Isabelle Huppert, absolutely owned the part. I looked her up after watching, only to learn that she’s one of the most celebrated European actors of all time. Go figure.

Haneke has a great talent for knowing when and how to hold on long takes. He tends to let scenes play out very simply and cleanly while his characters do despicable things. I’m a fan, and will definitely be watching some of his other films soon.

 

That’s it for this week.

Let’s make some movies.

-Kent

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top