With a background in acting, I have long been used to people viewing my intentions to connect with them with a lot of suspicion. Actors generally get used being seen as wannabe leaching snails so this is something I have come to embrace. This continues even as I have long since begun producing a lot of new material, a lot of which casts myself, and a lot that doesn’t, purely for my love for creating things.
Networking, however, is a necessary evil of the film industry and I have come to learn it the hard way. It is a strange industry, the common laws that apply to other industries of our country have no place here. But most of us who are in there, still love it, for our love of something we think will be our own, a story or a creation we can create with our sweat and tears. So, we stick on.
An important aspect of networking is connecting with people so they can do you favours, and you can do them favours and so and so forth – you hope the chain might land you somewhere bright. You meet all sorts of people here, the good, bad and the ugly. And they can be extremes.
Networking is also crucial for what one may call is polishing your creation. They both go sideways. Sometimes, polishing your creation could help you network as well. Let me explain.
Last year, as Raindance’s festival was in full swing, I had the pleasure to attend one of their networking events where I managed to speak to a great number of fantastic people from all around the world. I had no films of my own screening at the festival, I had just gone along. A short film I had been working on had just wrapped and I was positive about the future so it was time to be inspired and congratulate people whose work I had watched and loved.
I followed through after the meeting with all those I had spoken with. Some responded to me later, some didn’t. And that was fine. As a producer, I felt it was really important to be able to get a whiff of what these directors were like in life and how that reflected in the works they were creating.
Then, a few weeks later, I had an idea. It’s nothing new, most do it all the time. I decided to send a full cut of our finished short film to these connections I had made. Those whose films I hadn’t been able to watch at the festival, I made sure I bought them if I could, so I had watched what their work was like and what kind of background they would come from.
Of fourteen connections I had made at the film festival, only four responded and sounded like they vaguely remembered me. That was fine. I sent through the link to the film asking their opinion. What creative feedback can a producer get? Shouldn’t it be the director sending in the work?
People generally forget how creative you have to be to be a producer. It is not just all the talking and pitching and selling and stressing to get people together that we do (I have learnt it the hard way), but having the vision to put the right people in the right spot and tapping into people’s artistry, knowing that they have it in them even before they know.
As a micro-budget film producer, your task is even harder. I was in that place. So, I just sent the link in. Perhaps it was the fact that I was playing the lead in that film as well, or something else, only one person responded to me, that too with genuine, solid feedback.
The random guy I chatted to for some minutes at the bar, is someone whose now a name I will remember forever – not because his feature was so well received at Raindance 2012, but because networking, it seems was successful in this case. Because there was a creative exchange of ideas, and even criticism that helped me see how a filmmaker who makes films like his perceives a production like mine.
Networking was also unsuccessful on many occasions. I paid money to buy copies of films before approaching some people I had met from the very same event. Couple of those who acknowledged it, promised to do it “as soon as…” and that day never arrived. Some highlights of my career have been recently spending four hours travelling from Birmingham, in middle of a shoot to attend a private bar screening of a short film of a filmmaker who I was invited by. Unfortunately, a few weeks later, when I sent him invite for an online private screening of my own short, he was never to be heard from. And there goes my perception of his work ethics.
Similarly, I attended another such screening of a short recently where the filmmaker laughed when I said it was my intention to produce a feature soon, adding in that he’d gladly watch my short if I sent through a link. He was never to be heard from, but last I checked, he was still trying to pitch his feature’s script to people, whilst my feature is now reaching end of post.
It is not that there was a polite decline to say they were too busy, but a ‘yes’ that never happened that broke the circle. It occurred to me that a lot of us, with the limited time we have, are selective about what we choose to watch and what we don’t. We heavily subscribe to people we think have potential to get us somewhere and therefore invest our time and energy in engaging with them.
Similarly, many refrain from engaging with those who do not fit that description. And people who are seen approaching you for feedback, are generally that type. And there, we make a mistake.
Our stereotypes about this industry are sometimes so sound that humbleness can be mistaken for lack of inspiration, talent or capability.
Being approached for opinion is a very big compliment to your artistry and a big responsibility and hence needs to be handled with care. I was recently approached by a producer who was trying to put together a feature film but the crowdfunding campaign did not do so well. I was a bit hesitant, I did not know him and was pleased to see that somebody had put the faith in my experience to ask me this question.
What would have been a mistake is to tell him I’d help and go silent. Or just stay silent altogether. Oh my. If he did make that film, he’d be sure that I didn’t get an invite for a screening. But that’s not why I helped. That was just explaining a possible consequence.
What is the gist of all this, we may ask. This is a brutal industry, but it is people like us who make it. If you really want others to be free and open to your work, do it to others first. Similarly, networking is crucial, and it doesn’t have to be face to face. I have made some wonderful contacts who live all around the world using a wonderful tool such as the internet. What has helped me the most is actively welcoming work I can give free opinion on and welcoming feedback from others on mine. As a producer, solid criticism is bound to hone your skills. It did for me.