The Schmooze Factor
They say 80% of your success is to keep showing up. As a writer you've probably put this into action in relation to your computer and your script in progress; but how are you doing with your relationships in the biz? The entertainment industry is a culture of people connecting. They connect over the phone, via email, and at breakfast, lunches, meetings, dinners, drinks, screenings, events, conferences, and awards. They also read about each other in the trades, and look out for each others' projects, and regularly work with people who are part of the same community. The term "schmooze" is most closely aligned with agents, but it's a valuable tool for everyone. For a writer, networking lends not only to expediting the process of breaking in, but also to creating a certain longevity in one's career.
The industry tends to attract people who are intelligent, creative, and highly motivated, and professionals look for those qualities in others. Representatives and producers mostly want to work with writers that they like and respect. In order to really catch people's attention, the characteristics for a writer to embody are "fun, smart, and great to work with." Those traits make a writer more sought after than just being brilliant on the page. For many emerging writers it can be a struggle, however, any sense of desperation will not do well with other people. Success begets success, and the more confidence you have that you are moving in the right directions, the better you will do.
"Schmoozing" is the process of networking which happens by casually and consistently participating in your creative community, be it over the internet, the phone, by mail, or in person. It is when you simply introduce yourself, make conversation, exchange cards, trade emails, connect over the phone, see each other again, and over time make friends. Schmoozing is essentially a "repeated" social interaction that allows you become familiar to others and they to you. Rest assured that if it doesn't come naturally to you, it is a skill that can be developed.
The next question then is how does a writer get the access to industry professionals and fellow writers to start building their network. These days with internet and mobile technology, there are plenty of opportunities that can be accessed from anywhere in the country (even the world), and although some still require some travel, many do not. When it used to virtually be a requirement to live in Los Angeles or New York, there are now countless opportunities afforded by teleseminars, conferences, pitch fests, writing seminars, classes, panels, award shows, film festivals, parties, destination websites, online resources, newsletters, and local writer groups – a writer really only needs to determine where to start. Moreover, many of these networking resources are free or offered at little cost.
Looking to make the connection, Hollywood by Phone (www.hollywoodbyphone.com) and Writers of the Round Table (www.writersoftheroundtable.com) bring you live conference calls with industry pros across film and media. InkTip (www.inktip.com), Done Deal (www.scriptsales.com), and TVWriter.com (www.tvwriter.com), The Info List (www.infolist.com), and Media Bistro (www.mediabistro.com) and Word Player (www.wordplayer.com) offer cyber connections. Read up on who's who with Creative Screenwriting (www.creativescreenwriting.com), MovieBytes (www.moviebytes.com), Hollywood Reporter (www.hollywoodreporter.com), Variety (www.variety.com) and ScreenDaily (www.screendaily.com). See and be seen at conferences including The Screenwriter Conference Santa Fe (www.scsfe.com), Screenwriting Expo (www.screenwritingexpo.com), ASA Screenwriting Conference (www.asascreenwriters.com), and Fade In Pitch Fest (www.fadeinmag.com), among others. Meet your peers at Robert McKee's Story (www.mckeestory.com), David Freeman's Beyond Structure (www.beyondstructure.com), Sherwood Oaks Experimental College (www.sherwoodoakscollege.com), or Action/Cut Filmmaking (www.actioncut.com). Consult with gurus like Chris Soth (www.milliondollarscreenwriting.com), Pilar Allesandra (www.onthepage.tv), Devorah Cutler Rubenstein (www.scriptbroker.com), and Sheree Guitar's Writing Workshops (www.theitco.com) to name a few. Put your screenplay to the test with ScriptP.I.M.P. (www.scriptpimp.com) and Scriptapalooza (www.scriptapalooza.com) competitions and coverage services. Join organizations IFP (www.ifp.org), Women in Film (www.wif.org) and IndieProducer (www.indieproducer.net) and local writing groups that hold networking events for their members and guests. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
If you take it that you are growing as a writer, then you can look to all your interactions to help you get feedback on your strategy, your material and gain better access to decision makers. You are not looking for one person to "get" your particular script, but to take the criticism along the way to understand how you can improve your tactics, your craft and ultimately work to cultivate the types of ideas, projects, and packages that are sought after by the marketplace. As you continue to meet people who are established in their fields, the best way to connect with them is by expressing your enthusiasm to learn. No matter where you are as a writer, your talent coupled with your perseverance is what will ultimately make a lasting impression.
The goal then is to get out there and meet the faces, voices, or online IDs as the case may be. Community begins to build when the people you know, also know each other. It builds one connection at a time, but with a consistent effort, they quickly add up to reach a critical mass. You will begin to see many familiar faces from event to event. Once you are in the circuit, then information can easily be exchanged, to keep you in the know, and for future opportunities and networking possibilities. Pretty soon you'll find yourself getting referred to the best and the brightest, because you made a great impression with several people you met along the way.
Once you have the skills to "schmooze" and the resources to know where to start, you'll be building your own network in no time. It takes a consistent effort, but the rewards are significant. You'll find yourself connecting with like-minded individuals who share your passions and your dreams. You will learn that it is a journey for everyone, and no two stories of success are quite the same. You will learn that it takes time and perseverance and that it is not a challenge for the faint of heart. You will get the access to the decision makers, and you will get their time and attention. You will learn that you're more talented than half the folks out there, and perhaps less talented than the other half. You will learn that when you are in the circuit, they look for a reason to be in business with you. Ultimately with your network in place, you will learn that you belong here; and in a matter of speaking, that fantastic house on the hill now becomes your own home.
Philippa Burgess is a literary manager at Creative Convergence - a Los Angeles-based entertainment company for literary management, film production, and entertainment consulting. For more information on her popular 5-Session Tele-Course: Million Dollar Screenwriting & Content Career visit: www.screenplaybyphone.com/career. Lectures are on Saturdays from 10AM - 11:30AM Pacific and Sundays from 3PM - 4:30PM Pacific on November 4th, 10th, 11th, 17th and 18th. Plus MP3s and online discussion and materials.