Asmara Bhattacharya is a produced screenwriter and playwright with multiple placements in the Nicholl Fellowships, Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and other contests. She wrote and directed her first short “Hard” in 2011 and will direct “Stone” next year. Check out her website, DickFlicks.net, tweet her at @hotpinkstreak, or find her at one of her panels at Austin Film Festival 2015.
Networking. To writers, this may be the most terrifying word in the English language besides pitching. And getting anywhere in the film industry depends on the networks we develop more than anything else. Fortunately, if Austin Film Festival is your destination, you’ll be relieved to know that their writers’ conference is teeming with similarly terrified screenwriters. That, plus the free-flowing alcohol, makes for a safe and laid-back environment, perfect for introverted writers to reach out to as-yet-unknown humans.
These basic tips will help you break through your social trepidation in Austin and, really, anywhere you might run into industry people.
Whom to talk to (and how)
Talk to everyone. The best advice I got my first time at AFF was to introduce yourself to strangers, then introduce those strangers to strangers. Talk to the person on your left. Talk to the person on your right. Then introduce them to each other. Almost everyone attending is a writer who’d rather be in a closet with her laptop. Be the person who breaks people out of their shell one by one.
Go up to the panelists after the panel and thank them for their time and insight. Don’t forget the moderators – they’re most likely working screenwriters, and they’re often more accessible than the panelists!
A few don’ts (don’t’s?) around the big names*
*that really apply to everyone
Don’t pitch your script, your treatment, your product, or your anything. This is not your big break, and they can’t and won’t help you with it. Pitching upon introduction is a fast road to severing a potential connection.
Don’t hog their time. They’re likely on a tight schedule, two dozen other people are lined up to speak to them, and another panel is about to commence in the same room. Take a minute or two, then let the people behind you have their chance.
This may be the hardest one: Don’t fangirl-out on your screenwriter idols. Thank them for their time, and talk to them like human beings. (Which most of them are.) They may well show interest in what you’re working on. If they do, gently nudge your fluttering heart back down out of your throat, then tell them briefly and WITHOUT PITCHING.
If your conversation mate is not an A-lister, still be considerate of their time. Neither one of you is building a network if you spend the entire conference talking only to each other. By all means, delve into your new friendship with aplomb; that’s part of the point. But don’t get so comfortable that you stop yourself, or your colleague, from circulating. You can always meet up with your new soulmate at one of the thirty-seven panels and events later that day. Better yet, introduce each other to new acquaintances and then find each other again later – you’ve both just doubled your network!
Attack the social events with a running mate. Walking up to strangers like you belong there is difficult for many of us. But pushing your friend up to a stranger with a “Haaaaaave you met Ted?” is often much easier. (Thank you, How I Met Your Mother!)
And never, ever dismiss someone you meet because they’re a “nobody.” You never know who’s going to score a competition win, an option, an agent, a deal. It’s an up-and-down business, even at the top, and good friends in an upswing phase will throw safety nets to their friends on a downswing. Shane Black openly credits a rebirth or two in his career to exactly this phenomenon of support.
Maintaining your new connections
You’re reading this online, so you’re hopefully already on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. If you are, good for you! That’s a major step. If not, get on them and friend/follow everyone you meet. Catch up on all your follows and friending every night, no matter how tired you are, so you connect while faces are still fresh in everyone’s minds.
If you make a connection with someone screening a film, try to attend their screening. You may have to choose between the premiere of their short and a panel with your hero. If so, remember that those nearer to your career level in the industry are more likely to become a meaningful, practical ally as time goes by. Does this mean you should skip your hero’s panel? Not necessarily. Just consider all the factors and how different actions might move you toward your goals, whatever they may be.
Get business cards that are BLANK ON THE BACK SIDE. You’ll remember the first three people you meet, but by Day 3, everyone will run together. Leave the back side blank so your new friends can jot down a note as to how/when/where they met you. And make similar notes for yourself on the eighty-six cards you receive.
Don’t try to be cute and put “Jonathan Wilson, Screenwriter Extraordinaire!!” or something similar. If you’ve got a produced short, web series, or feature, a production company, a coverage service, of course, design your card around those highlights. But if you’re an aspiring screenwriter with a few unproduced scripts, don’t try to make yourself look bigger via your business card. It will show. On the other hand, don’t feel ashamed and unworthy of a business card, either. Just go for a simple, elegant card with your contact information and possibly the word “screenwriter” on it.
Include some combination of your cell number, email, website, social media handles, office address. For safety, however, leave off your home address.
AFF provides a badge in a handy plastic sleeve on a lanyard. Carry your stack of cards with your name facing out the back, so people will see your badge on one side and your card on the other. (Yes, I’ve actually had people introduce themselves because they glimpsed my business card and found it intriguing!) Collect your new friends’ cards between your badge and your cards.
And if you really want to be a hero, teach these tips to the other terrified writers around you. They will be grateful for the help, and you will become a god. Or, at least, a terrific ally.
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