Tuesday, August 02, 2005

3-2-1 Contact!

If you have not read my previous posts about relationship management, check here.

So, it's Tuesday again, which means it's time to put aside the discussion of story, structure, character and what not and talk turkey about the business of screenwriting. Now, I am not a professional screenwriter (yet). I have not sold a script (yet). I have never been given an assignment (you guessed it, YET). What I do know is how to manage relationships. In my nine years at my day job, one critical component of my job has been to cultivate and grow relationships with others to maintain our business. I have taken many of the lessons learned there to better connect with people related to the film and television world. So, take my advice or don't...I'm just putting it out there, to try to help a few souls from making some of the mistakes I've made.

First up, I want to recommend a book. I know, not another screenwriting book. This one isn't really about screenwriting, per se, but it is a really interesting look into this world. Michael Lent's Breakfast with Sharks is a great read and pretty different from your standard 'How To' book. Oh, did I mention I've met Michael? Yup, he's one of my contacts.

Quick story: 2002 Screenwriting Expo. I did no networking. Very stupid, but then, I hadn't written a script yet and I didn't have a clue. 2003 Screenwriting Expo 2. My first day I vowed to meet at least 2 individuals I could keep contact with after the expo. One of the people I talked to was Michael. He held a panel which I attended and I talked with him afterwards. He had a booth in the vendor room, because he and and another person were co-producers on an indie film called "Hard Scrambled". I hung out with both of them in between my panels, chit-chatting and generally soaking up the atmosphere. They were both writers for Creative Screenwriting too, so I had already read a lot of their articles to get a feel for what their passions were. It was a lot of fun. I ended the expo having forged at least a passing acquaintance with these two writers. This was the start of my networking.

Here's the bad part. I didn't follow up with them...for 18 months! In March Creative Screenwriting put out an e-mail that they were hosting a mixer. I decided to go, just on the off-chance that Michael or the other person might be there, they being writers for the magazine and all. Whaddya know, they were! Better yet, after some prompting, each of them remembered me and some of what I told them about myself. In the meantime I had read Michael's book and was able to discuss it with him. I now correspond with Michael pretty often and I count him as someone I respect and admire a great deal.

I'm fortunate to have met Michael. I consider him one of the contacts that is fast morphing into a 'friend' relationship (I mean really, he is the nicest person I have met in all of L.A., he's kind of an alien here now that I think about it) and I feel very lucky to know him. In fact, I don't really consider what my contact with him will net me down the road, because honestly, his friendship means a lot. That's one great thing about making contacts -- some of them become your friends!!

The key to maintaining a relationship with someone will seem obvious after I say it -- you keep in touch. You don't e-mail them every day or call them every week, but you do it just often enough, maybe once a month or a few times a year (depending on the contact) for them to remember who you are and keep you in their mind. Most of the contacts can be maintained with a quick e-mail 'hey, how you doing, what's new' kind of messages. Others require more -- massaging, especially if they are to become a key contact.

A key contact is one you identify as possibly being able to provide you with a lead down the road. You should always look for ways to 'scratch people's backs'. Maybe you can recommend a dog walker or you have free tickets to an event. Don't go too far afield to work the contact, but hey, you are shmoozing here, try to find something that you can use. When you bump someone up to key contact, you might want to consider a coffee or lunch date (you pay, always you pay for your key contact) to get some good one on one time with the person.

Here's what you DON'T do with a key contact:

* Ask for a job. I've done this in jest with a couple of people, so they know I'm serious about getting into the business, but I've NEVER actually approached a key contact with a resume, looking for a job. Let people know you are looking, if you are, but never ask someone to hire you.

* Ask them to read your script. If they ask you what you've written let them know. I suggest you wait for them to offer to read it. If I can remember the link, I'll post it, how someone sold their first script by keeping it from the person they wanted to read it. As I recall the story (and it is killing me that I don't remember who it was!) the writer had been working for a magazine doing interviews. He had finished an interview with an agent and mentioned he had finished a script. She asked to read it and he refused to send it to her -- repeatedly. He sent it out to everyone else in the world when it was ready, except the one person who asked for it. Eventually, she got her hands on it and wanted to buy it. He reasoned that she would want it more if she couldn't get it than if he had just handed it over to her and she passed. I have no idea if this would work for others, but I love the story...and if I find the friggin' link I'll add it!

* Don't become a burden. You do not want to ask this person for favors. You want this person to enjoy talking to you and want to help you, not avoid you like the plague.

So what DO you do with a key contact?

Talk. Discuss. And it can be non-writing things. Find out the person's interests, just like you would with anyone else. In my day job, I try to find out at least one hobby the person has, so I can ask them about it when I talk to them in the future (So, have you been skiing lately? How is that Lego version of Middle Earth coming along?) Ask about their experiences, but be polite. Don't take up too much of their time. Even if they wrote a crap movie or TV show, try to find a silver lining SOMEWHERE -- it may not have been their fault, after all.

If you manage your contacts well, a couple of things will happen. One, you'll feel more confident as a writer as you travel in circles with other writers and people in the business. You can gain a lot of insight into the business by befriending an assistant here or there (Michael Lent has a great chapter on being nice to assistants -- and I wholeheartedly agree. Even in my day job I find it critical to have a good relationship with the 'gatekeeper') The other thing that will happen over time is that your contacts will want to help you. They will offer to read your script, put in a good word for you, give you advice. Do not discount ANY offer of assistance from any contact. It may not always amount to one of your big goals, but you should always be appreciative of any help offered.

Beware of charlatans or poseurs. You know what I mean. If they start asking you to do more for them than seems right (like, write a script for free...that "producer" friend might not be all he's cracked up to be) don't be afraid to back away. As I've said before, everyone is a contact, but not everyone is a KEY CONTACT. Know the difference.

I have found over time in my day job that I have been on the receiving end of relationship management. This is usually good. It means people do things for me and I find some way to assist them with what they need. Usually the person being "managed" makes out on the deal, but that's the point. Your contact should get more out of your relationship than you do to start. You should reap the benefits on the backend.

It is an investment of time and energy, but done correctly Relationship Management can really put you ahead of the game when it comes to navigating the waters of whatever industry you are in (believe me, this works just as well in IT or manufacturing as it does with screenwriting -- why do you think trade shows and conferences are so popular??)

By all means, add your two cents. I don't claim to have the market cornered on how to manage relationships.

One final book recommendation -- this one is a general guide to managing relationships: The Relationship Edge in Business. There are lots of relevant strategies for screenwriters to use.


The Awful Writer said...

Thanks for these networking/relationship managment posts. They're very helpful. I admit I'm not very good at such things, but I'll need to get good to do well in this business. BTW, I've added your two previous RM posts to my 'Scribosphere Hall of Fame' and I'll be adding in this latest one, as well.

Scribosphere Hall Of Fame

Anonymous said...

I loved Michael's book too. A very refreshing look at the industry as a whole from the inside out, and not so much emphasis on 'breaking in' to it. I will miss his articles in CS...

Scott said...

Great post! I loved theat show! Remember the Bloodhound Gang?


moses said...

great once again. and i also remember that interview/article about keeping the script from someone but all i can recall is it was a guy. brain won't allow me to help more than that.

and i've been meaning to read that Lent book. someone else recommended it to me, said it was great.

keep the contact advice coming.

The Constipated Writer said...

Great advice. I plan on attending the Expo possibly this year, so information like this gives me a little jump in my step.

TN_Dreamer said...

I am the worst at staying in touch with contacts. I've put this at a quick ref. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I had my first headhunt in the curikudos job fair held in 2006. And now i think its time to switch over. Can some one let me know when the job fair starts again.