Ahh. Networking. One of my favorite topics and for good reason. Because networking, my friends, is one of the most important aspects of building a career as an actor or filmmaker. Defined as the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts. Now, let’s take a closer look at that definition. Exchange information is what really pops out at me. And for the life of me, I don’t understand how some filmmakers, actors, musicians and all around creators seem to forget that key point. Networking is an exchange not a direct gain as many people use it. A lot of creatives think that networking is starting a one-sided conversation with someone in hopes they’ll gain something professional out of it. And newsflash, 99% of the time it doesn’t work. Networking as a filmmaker or an actor or any creative person, really, is relatively easy. It’s striking up a conversation with someone who’s work you either know or don’t and adding value to the conversation while walking away with value. This can be done online, in-person and even by mail.
People have become so bad at networking that they actually will pay hundreds of dollars to do a reading in front of someone they deem important in the industry or pay for a meet and greet in hopes they’ll be able to use that paid experience as a networking experience. And the cold hard truth is you don’t have to pay to network. That’s the lie they sell you. All you have to do is be brave and speak to these “important people” like you would anyone else, like a normal person. I’ll let you in on a little secret, back in 2020, I reached out to a director and producing team whose work I really admired. They had a hit movie in 2019 in theaters and they were heading into production on a sequel of one of my favorite movies growing up. I reached out and genuinely told them how excited I was about their work, how these films growing up shaped me as a filmmaker and told them I would love to someday speak and work with them. We kept in contact and two months later, the director of this sequel which slayed at the box office, globally, taking home almost $90 million dollars this year spent 40 minutes with me on the phone just chit chatting about the industry, writing and directing, and about how they wished that people could understand that you don’t need to be a rich magician to become a filmmaker.
Their words were and I quote, “I wish I could demystify filmmaking and becoming a filmmaker,” and guess what? That’s how I got the idea to start Actor to Filmmaker, from that very phone call in December of 2020 that changed my whole outlook on filmmaking, acting and life. When asked how to someday work with this person, they simply said keep in touch. And it’s that simple folks. Only network with people whose work you truly admire and respect and let them know this. And then introduce yourself and why you’re reaching out and keep in touch if you don’t hear anything back. But don’t spam someone with a one-sided conversation solely about you because nobody wants to hear a monologue about you until they actually do.
Imagine this, you open your email and see a message from an unknown recipient. You click on it, only to see a carbon copy blind email newsletter with the face of some random person plastered all over and some video links to their work. You scroll down and see a few paragraphs about the person going on about who they are as an actor or filmmaker, and in that moment it occurs to you that you don’t know them and you don’t care, so you delete the message. However, the next month you get the same newsletter from the same person with the same photo, layout and message. And now, you unsubscribe first and then delete. That my friends is not networking. That’s pushing an agenda down someone’s digital throat without trying to connect or build a relationship with them.
Now imagine this, you get a random email from someone you don’t know pitching you their project. And it’s coming off one-sided. They introduce themselves by name, “pitch you” a half-written logline about a film with no plot point and then tell you that they’ve gotten their work on a streaming service before and ask if you want to read their script and can get it produced for them? Again, that is not networking. That’s just random and confusing AF. I’m not sure if that email ever worked for that person but nothing in their email was enticing. Like, are you asking me to produce the project? Are you asking for pointers on the script? Are you asking for me to refer you to a professional contact? Why did you even contact me? What made you think I would be interested in this project? So many questions and none were answered. I responded politely to let the person know I wasn’t sure what they were asking of me, but regardless I couldn’t help.
I didn’t want to read their script, I didn’t want to work with them and I don’t want to learn anything about them because they’ve shown they don’t care about who I am, only if I have connections to help them advance their career. Business is like a game of chess. But one important thing is you should always respect the kings and queens, and every email you send or in-person conversation you have with someone - those are your kings and queens. You’d never meet a king or queen and disrespect them. You’d show respect by addressing them rightfully by their title, and in this case, addressing someone by their work is their title in the industry. Why are you emailing the person? Why are you going up and starting a conversation with them? There’s a reason, be open and honest.
Maybe they’re a director, writer, producer, casting director, actor, etc. There’s an exchange happening when you network with someone. When you lack the exchange part you’re not actually networking, you’re just spamming people with your information no better than an unsolicited phone call. The person on the other end of the email (or mail) exchange doesn’t have to actually exchange in conversation with you. In-person networking experiences are different. The exchange with networking via email, social media or mail happens when you exchange value as in why you’re contacting or reaching out to the person, who you are and what you’re looking for. This genuine exchange of why, who and what puts you lightyears ahead of the competition who’re blasting out emails without any genuine connection and sometimes not even using first people’s names in their emails.
And that’s what most people are missing today when networking, genuine connection. I will never email someone out of the blue with random facts about myself in hopes to book a meeting or have a conversation that will maybe someday advance my career. I seek out genuine professional connections and I sure as hell don’t pay for them. I did before the pandemic, only like three times, until I caught on to how bogus it was to pay for networking and so did SAG-AFTRA since they banned these “networking” events in some states. All my interactions are genuine, and have real value because I only reach out to people whose work I admire or have a general interest in the journey of their career. If you’re reaching out to a casting director in hopes to cast you in their latest project or work with you on casting yours and want to professionally network with them, I imagine you’d be contacting them because you’ve seen their work or what they’ve been casting and resonate with them to a degree. Then why wouldn't you use that as an ice breaker? A simple, “I love the work you did on your last project and wanted to connect with you about your current project,” will get you so much further than “I saw your latest casting and want to be cast on the project because xyz.” You don’t need to be a writer or someone who’s super skilled at networking, you just have to use common sense. What would you prefer to hear from someone who was reaching out to you? That they really liked your work or thought the project you’re working on is really cool or that they can juggle seven balls at a time while lighting a set and need a gig?
I get pitched a lot and I can honestly say the only ones I pay any mind to are the ones who take the time and explain why, amongst thousands of other people who do similar work as me, they’ve taken the time to contact me. Those are the people that will usually get a response and a little save in my email for when the right time comes to work with them. It pays to be genuine, trust me on this. If you need more tips on how to network, check out this Forbes article. At the end of the day, don’t overthink it, just be real and speak from the heart.