Eric Haywood has spent over a decade writing for network and premium cable television series including ABC’s Private Practice, Showtime’s Soul Food, NBC’s Hawaii, and the Fox drama Empire. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricHaywood.
Let’s talk about networking.
Specifically, let’s talk about how not to network.One of the more frustrating things about attempting to carve out a career in the highly-competitive screenwriting field is that we’re often told, either explicitly or implicitly, that all one needs to worry about is writing the best script possible. Make your work stand out from the crowd, and the job offers will follow. So we spend the bulk of our time writing and rewriting scripts, getting feedback, and becoming stronger writers. Because the cream, as the saying goes, always rises to the top.
And that’s true…to a certain extent. To be clear, I’m in no way discouraging anyone from improving their craft – quite the opposite, in fact. But once you’ve written your killer spec script or pilot (and hopefully you didn’t just stop with one, because you’ll more than likely need a few different writing samples to attract some serious attention), what’s next? Where do you go from there? You’ve got to get it into someone else’s hands, right?
Of course you do. That’s the next step in the process of landing a job: getting people to read – and hopefully, fall in love with – your writing. And for the vast majority of us, the best way to do that is via the connections we’ve made through networking.
Unfortunately, there are far too many people out there who don’t know how to do this. I’d even go so far as to say that some of you are practically anti-networking, shooting yourselves in the foot by attempting to forge new relationships in all the wrong ways. And if you only take one lesson away from this post, let it be this: it simply doesn’t matter how good your script is or how brilliant you might be in the writers’ room if you’ve blown your chance at getting someone to read you.
We’ve all heard the expression, “It’s who you know.” And while that’s a fairly accurate sentiment, especially with respect to earning a steady paycheck in Hollywood, it’s also somewhat misleading because it implies that we’re all just one magical person away from landing our dream writing job. Therefore, all we have to do is find that someone, convince them to read us, and once they see how impressive our writing skills are…bam – we’re hired. Or, at the very least, we’ll get a strong recommendation that’ll lead to one gig, and then the next, and so on. Right?
Well, if that happens to be your mentality, you’re in luck. Because in the social media age, it’s become easier than ever to locate and speak directly to many of the people who are already doing what you want to do for a living.
But there’s a catch, and here it is: in the social media age, it’s become easier than ever to blow your first impression and cause those same people to lose any interest in helping you.
I’ve seen this happen first-hand. In fact, from time to time, I’ve been the person who’s had to politely decline someone who approached me for help in all the wrong ways.
The reality is, literally thousands of TV writers, showrunners, network executives, and actors are now just a Facebook page or tweet away (okay, maybe not literally, but you know what I mean). And that’s a great thing, because it means there’s a ton of information-sharing going on, and it’s literally at your fingertips (whew…nailed it that time!). Many of these folks are very generous with their time and experience, and will frequently share stories from their time in the business that you can use as important lessons to guide your own career…all for free! But this can be a double-edged sword, because it tends to create a false sense of intimacy between you and certain people with whom you might never get to interact during the early stages of your career.
Here’s an example: let’s say there’s a showrunner on Twitter, Facebook, or Instragam whose work you’ve long admired. We’ll call her, for purposes of this discussion, "Susan." Susan has anywhere from a few thousand of a few million followers, depending on how openly she’s embraced social media. Either way, she often posts behind-the-scenes photos from the set of her show, or maybe glimpses of an upcoming script, and sometimes even shares war stories from her years in Hollywood as a way of making the process more transparent for those of us who are still working our way up the show business ladder.
Long story short, Susan’s great. So you follow her. You read her tweets and "like" her photos. And one day, you tweet something complimentary about her show, using the show’s hashtag. And much to your surprise, Susan sees it and replies! Or maybe she retweets you, or accepts your Facebook friend request, or whatever. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, right? I mean, she’s a writer, you’re a writer, and you’re both using social media to be, well…social with each other. Maybe she even follows you back or accepts that friend request. And now, thanks to a couple of witty exchanges via the interwebs, you’ve finally made a friend within the industry.
Except you haven’t. Susan is not your friend.
It’s not because you’re not a great person. It simply means that you shouldn’t mistake Susan’s casual internet friendliness for something more. Because if your next step is to ask Susan to read your script, no matter how polite the request, you very well may have blown it.
Why? Because there are proper channels for hiring writers, and very seldom do showrunners look to social media and pluck total strangers out of obscurity and put them on staff. It’s probably happened to someone, somewhere, at one time (perhaps your best friend’s neighbor’s dentist swears he knows a guy), but generally speaking, this is not a viable career plan. And what’s worse, now you’ve made Susan feel awkward because she’s been placed in the uncomfortable position of having to tell you “no.” And most people don’t enjoy being the bearer of bad news. So aside from the fact that approaching Susan in this manner is downright unprofessional, consider this: you’re probably not the first person to ask her for such a favor. In fact, you’re probably not even the first person to ask her for such a favor today. All you’ve done is add your name to the growing list of people who annoyed her.
My point is this: you’ve got to refrain from putting people on the spot on social media just like you’d (hopefully) refrain from putting them on the spot if you ran into them on the street, at a party, or in an elevator. As a general rule of thumb, if you aren’t already friends with someone in real life, you’re a stranger to them on Twitter or Facebook no matter how many virtual LOLs you’ve shared. If you get overly-familiar with someone too fast, you might be surprised how quickly they lose interest.
Real relationships – the kind that can lead to writing jobs and/or solid referrals – take a long time to build. And frankly, people who’ve spent decades developing their own careers, suffering setbacks, and clawing their way back to success will almost certainly feel insulted by someone who thinks they can simply “skip the line” with a clever tweet or friend request or Facebook direct message (if you’re reading this, you know who you are…and yeah, I’M TALKING TO YOU).
Anyway, don’t get me wrong: being genuinely friendly with people who might be in a position to help you is certainly fair game. You might even forge a real-world friendship out of it. But like I said, it’ll take time. And be aware that many people have developed a sort of sixth sense, and can tell when someone’s being chummy just as a long, slow build-up to, “So, hey…I have this script I’d love for you to read…”
Don’t be that person. That’s not networking.
- More articles by Eric Haywood
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- Writers' Room 101: Tweet Responsibly, My Friends
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