Script Anatomy founder Tawnya Bhattacharya offers helpful tips on how to work those networking mixers.
Tawnya Bhattacharya is currently a Supervising Producer on Freeform’s Famous in Love with her writing partner, Ali Laventhol. They are repped by UTA and Heroes and Villains Entertainment and are former NBC Writers on the Verge fellows. After teaching writing for 10 years, Bhattacharya launched Script Anatomy, a unique TV writing curriculum that gives emerging professionals practical tools to help advance their craft, in 2010. Script Anatomy clients have been staffed, sold shows, and won numerous awards and TV writing fellowships. Follow Script Anatomy on Facebook or Twitter: @ScriptAnatomy
We all know and hate the word “networking.” Chances are, if you’re trying to break into screenwriting, you hear it whispered in hushed tones like some sort of gospel. “It’s all in who you know,” people say. “Networking is key. Networking is everything.” And thus, a schmoozer is born.
We can't lie and say networking is useless. It’s not. Your personal connections could very well ultimately matter just as much as the quality of your work, in the end. In fact, most people we know who got their first staff job who didn’t get that job through a program got it through personal connections of some sort. At Script Anatomy, we like the saying “luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” and while we do everything we can to have the “preparation” part covered in our online and in-person TV writing classes, the “opportunity” half of that maxim usually arises from that dirty dirty word — “networking.”
There are about as many different schools of thought on how to “network” as there are Alfred Coffee locations in LA now — we even held a workshop on it this summer with our resident networking wizard, Gil Hizon. But in general, here’s an amalgamation of some of our favorite advice we’ve given and heard about networking in a quick Do & Don’t format.
- DO: Listen when people are talking.
This is something that will set you apart in a big mixer setting. Many people, especially if they’re talking to an exec, agent or manager, or someone higher up in the Hollywood power system than they are, will listen to a conversation with self-interest: i.e., waiting with bated breath until the person says something they can use as a springboard to pivot drastically and pitch themselves, which is not a good look (“Oh, you’ve got a summer home in the Outer Banks? I’m from North Carolina and did my senior project on the wild horses of the Outer Banks. Which is so funny because now I write topical dramas with a socially conscious edge, my last pilot got to the semifinals of the PAGE Awards” etc.). People are used to lower-level writers doing that kind of thing to them. The best, long-lasting connections in Hollywood are organic ones. Trust that those relationships will find you and don’t shoe-horn your way into a conversation. Listen to the person talk. If you have common interests or tastes, it will come up organically — maybe they’ll bring up a show that you’re obsessed with, or a book you’ve been wanting to read and can ask their thoughts on, then recommend a title yourself. Even better, ask questions; when the person reveals details about their own life or background that you find interesting, or it’s a perspective you haven’t heard before ask them to elaborate (“You’re from Chicago? I’ve never visited but have heard great things. Do you get to visit often/is your family still there/is the deep dish pizza really worth the hype?”) — execs and reps aren’t often asked sincerely about themselves, they’re too busy catching fast pitches every second after they leave the house.
Also, don’t do that thing people do at big mixers all the time where they keep one eye on the person they're talking to and assessing the crowd for who to mingle with next with the other. It’s rude and, from a professional standpoint, it’s also stupid; you have no idea where the person who’s talking to you now will be in six months, or what contacts you have in common.
- DON’T: Name-drop all night.
This is another dead giveaway that a writer is green and not ready to really “run with the big dogs,” so to speak. Name-dropping is usually a huge red flag that someone’s inexperienced and insecure — not to mention it gets annoying really fast, and most people see right through it. If you meet someone who works on a show with one of your very best friends, then okay, bring up the connection and maybe bond over your shared friend’s impressive FunkoPOP collection, rave about how talented your mutual friend is, etc.— but if you’re dropping names after every show the person you’re talking to says that they worked on, all that person will conclude is that you’re a name-dropper, not that you’re well-liked.
- DO: Ask how you can help someone else before asking them to help you.
One of our favorite pieces of advice we’ve ever heard. Some also say “be a mensch.” At its roots, the entertainment community runs on mensches. Besides film and Television, most of the performing arts professions don’t pay very well and are, to a certain extent, dependent on the “it takes a village” mentality and everyone willing to roll up their sleeves and do more than their part, no matter where they are in the hierarchy of the production. In a town largely stereotyped as one full of beautiful but lazy people looking for a shortcut to fame, taking this attitude will make you the exception rather than the rule. For instance, if you meet someone who’s adapting your favorite comic book into a movie or TV series, of course your first instinct is going to be ME HIRE ME PLEASE TAKE ME. But instead of asking the person to read your script or take your resume, start off by saying “Oh wow that’s my favorite comic, my roommate just got a job at Blastoff Comics if you or your staff needs a hookup with any of the trades!” You’ve offered to help the person without pitching yourself and still got the clear message across that you’re into comics — a great springboard to continue trading different titles of what you like. Another way to think about it is think about what you can bring to someone’s project, not what you want to get out of it.
IMPORTANT TO NOTE that this is not to be confused with being a kiss-ass. Don’t be the person who shows up at school every day with an apple for the teacher, so to speak. Few behaviors are more transparent.
- DON’T: Ask for a hand-out. Start with asking for advice.
We know how tempting it is to finish an early draft of a pilot you’re incredibly proud of and passionate about and whose potential you really believe in — but this town is full of pilot scripts right now, to the point where some say execs are getting fatigued by reading them, and the last question anyone wants to hear from an unknown writer they don’t know well is “will you read my script?” Start by asking for advice — and even better, make it advice you genuinely need, because a genuine air will automatically make you stand out from the pack — instead of asking someone to donate their substantial time and energy to your script. Asking questions such as “have you found any particular book or workbook that’s really helped your rewriting process?,” or maybe “How did you get your work to the point where you felt comfortable showing it to agents,” or maybe even “Did you take any screenwriting classes or work with any consultants who you loved and would recommend? I’m attempting a pilot outside my comfort zone and I’d like a little extra support.” This shows people that a) you are actively trying to become a better writer and b) you don't expect others to do the emotional or intellectual labor for you. Showing this kind of initiative is also a great way to impress someone enough to potentially get them to say “when you’re done with that new pilot, let me know if you need me to read it.” It’s definitely okay to ask people to read your script in some circumstances — but in others, it’s optimal to inspire the person to offer.
- DO: Set easily attainable socializing goals for the night.
If you’re the type who hates the idea of “networking” or struggles with mild social anxiety, try going to an event with the goal of only connecting with one (or two) people that you really actually like. Once you've done this you can go IF you want. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, strategizing like this can lead to making real friends and not contacts. It takes the pressure off, it's more fun, and you might even end up staying the whole time. Plus, you'll automatically not have that crazed energy of someone trying to surf the entire room until they land on an "important" person.
- DON’T: Lead with your resume.
We know we kind of covered this already, but… let’s just say if our staff members had a dollar every time we heard someone introduce themselves by saying “Hi, I’m so and so, I just sold a pilot,” we’d be able to afford a deluxe Script Anatomy compound in Palm Desert by now.
- DO: Listen to your body and practice self-care.
We all have stuff come up suddenly — a crappy day at your day job, a sudden cold, wretched cramps, a bout of insomnia — and while it’s not great to get into the habit of flaking, there’s not much of a point in dragging yourself out to a mixer if you’re not physically feeling well. If you’re dealing with something physically that a) is contagious or b) will prevent you from being mentally present when talking to people, go home. If you’re not having a good time and are just soldiering through the event so you can feel like you “did some networking,” that will show. You don’t want to be somewhere giving off a vibe that you’re not fully paying attention or anything that could be misconstrued as apathy, it’s never a good first impression to make.
- DON’T: Overload your calendar so much you don’t have time to write, read and watch films and TV.
One of our favorite party lines we hear from writers who don’t write is “It’s all about your connections anyway, and I take a lot of drinks.” Okay — first of all, if this describes you, please tell us you’re using Uber, Lyft, or public transit. Second, remember the whole “luck is where preparation meets opportunity” thing? Yeah, the preparation part is really important. Most of you, if you’re still trying to break into screenwriting, probably have a day job that takes up way too much time and pays you way too little money, so you have to squeeze in your artistic life between your work schedule as it is. If you’re out four or five nights a week at mixers or drinks, that leaves virtually no time for writing. Or for taking in other media, for that matter, which will be incredibly important when you start going on general meetings and “No, I don’t watch that show but I just had drinks with the Writers’ PA on it” isn’t quite the conversation-accelerant you once envisioned.
Script Anatomy tends to attract overachievers, we’ve got several on staff and our student body is chock full of them too, so sometimes this may be hard to remember, but taking a night to get caught up on a TV show or go see a movie is work for you too. Go see movies with friends, or watch TV shows with your friends, if you’re such a social butterfly that you want to be out and about every night of the week -- but don’t rob yourself of time with your creative endeavors by going to handfuls of mixers and LinkedIn drinks a week, especially when your time is already such a precious commodity.
- DO: Lay off the sauce!
Most writers have at least one horror story about a mixer with an open bar that, at some point, took a dark turn. If you’re headed to a big mixer where you don’t know anyone or know few people, contending with that social anxiety may already be very difficult — the temptation to bum-rush the bar like you’re trying out for THE AMAZING RACE can be real, but try to resist. These mixers will almost always skimp on the food, especially if it’s an open bar, so there’s a very fine line between being “socially lubricated” and “embarrassingly drunk.” If you don’t watch yourself, you could easily say something you regret the next morning and regret even more when you look on IMDBPro and discover who you were talking to. Our rule of thumb is try to stick to one cocktail (maybe two if you’re drinking beer or are Irish/have very high tolerance) and if you’re feeling self-conscious about not drinking for whatever reason, get sparkling water with lime. (One of our staff members loves drinking Shirley Temples after her one-cocktail cutoff and purposely never drinks them on any other occasion; they’re her special “I’m surviving this weird mixer” treat.) The best part of laying off the alcohol is you’ll have even more money leftover to tip your bartenders and the valet, because quoth the great Lauryn Hill, “Karma karma karma come back to you hard.”
- DON’T: Be afraid to ask for a wingman.
If you’re going to an event where you won’t know a lot of people and can’t bring a plus-one (maybe it’s a party for a writer list you made or an agent who reps you), look through the guest list and see if you know anyone who’s going. Even if you only met them a couple of times, send them a message asking if they’ll be there and say you’ll look forward to seeing them. That way you’ll have a friendly face to walk up to and mingle with for the first few minutes if you know nobody and it’s terrifying. If it’s a party at the agency or management company you work with, ask your rep what other clients they have who are going. Agents have a lot of clients, so chances are you’ll know at least one person who’s going.
- DO: Be a little bit vulnerable.
Like we said before — close relationships in Hollywood (the kind that tend to lead to real, consistent work opportunities) — start with an organic personal connection. So when you’re mixing and mingling with people, or even in a general meeting, you have to show moments of vulnerability even if you’re only talking about your interests. A great way to do that is copping to one or two trashy guilty pleasures — you’d be surprised how many execs in this town are Keeping Up, if you get what we’re saying. Don’t admit to anything too crazy — maybe keep your medical marijuana card in your wallet, just for the first meeting — but being able to confidently admit you have every finale number in trashy dance movie history ranked from best to worst is not only downright impressive, it also shows that you’re not afraid to be yourself and be real, which is one of the most daunting and maddening missives writers hear in this town. Writers are expected to be quick-witted yet genuine, commercially viable yet inspired, extraordinary yet accessible. A common misstep is to focus so hard on trying to be extraordinary that you forget to be accessible. Don’t be that hard on yourself — and don’t deny someone a chance to get to know the real you because you think it might not be “polished” or “on-brand” enough.
Here’s some networking advice from some of our fantastic alumni and friends:
“In person, I think it’s a good goal to establish a genuine connection. What’s something non-work related that you have in common in person? Family, hometown, hobbies? If you can connect as people, the work side will flow a lot easier. Also: in crowded spaces, use body spray and breath mints.” ~ Marc Warzecha, staff writer, THE DETROITERS
“Approach every person you meet with genuine interest and curiosity, rather than a what-can-this-person-do-for-me attitude.” ~ Sabrina Almeida, staff writer, SEAL TEAM
“My advice for networking mixers is to go to them without expectations and with an open mind. And when you talk to people, be confident in who you are and what you have accomplished, but don’t try to impress anyone. If you’re a new writer, say you’re a new writer. You’re more likely to connect with people the more down to earth and normal you are. And connecting with people is the entire point of being there. Well, that and the vodka tonics.” ~ Nora Nolan, staff writer, TRIAL AND ERROR
And some advice for those on the quieter/less outgoing in big groups of strangers side of the fence:
“If there’s food, stand by the food. People will cycle through and you’ll meet a lot of folks by default.” ~ Marisa Tam, Story Editor, THE BLACKLIST
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