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The Screenwriters Coach: Networking

April 26, 2019
4 min read time

Screenwriters hate networking. And now we’re talking about strategic networking? That’s even worse! Networking is selling your soul, sucking up, laughing at bad jokes… Being strategic about it makes you even more of a %&*#.

Right?

It’s about perspective. I’m not sure how networking got such a bad rap. The dictionary definition is pretty inoffensive: network (verb) “to interact with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.” Sounds kinda like life, no?

But I’m with you. I hated “networking” too. I thought it was a prescription to put on a blazer and drink bad wine. Then I realized something:

Every job I’ve ever gotten has been through a referral.

I’ve been an independent contractor for twenty years. Every job I’ve gotten has been by referral, i.e.: someone in my “network” recommended me to the person hiring. I was going to say, “Except for my first job,” but then I realized that it came via NYU Career Services, so, technically, my NYU network gave me access to that job.

The entertainment industry is probably more referral-based than any other, so here’s what my experience tells us:

To get a screenwriting job, the person hiring must be in your network.

You don’t have to know them, but you have to know someone who does. 

It follows then, that the more people in the industry who know you and love your work, the better positioned you are to get hired, or to be helpful when the writer they’re looking for is not you. This is a numbers game. Your odds of getting jobs increase exponentially by the number of people who know and love your work.

Let me pause quickly to acknowledge that the work—in this case, your writing—must be of value. A valuable script is a script that nobody else can write. The most certain way to write something that only you can? YOUR AUTHENTIC LENS. This is the way only you see the world. When you articulate your Lens, and write through it, what you write is 100% you. That makes you irreplaceable. And that gets you paid. How do you find this Authentic Lens? Read this post.

Back to strategic networking:

The strategic part isn’t about you being opportunistic and self-serving. It’s having a business plan. Here are my top three strategies for being strategic:

  1. BE IN TOUCH WITH THE PEOPLE YOU ALREADY KNOW

Screenwriters come up with a million reasons NOT to reach out to people with whom they have existing relationships. “I have nothing new to say,” is one I hear a lot. Ditto with, “I don’t want to bother them.” Here’s my tough love on those thoughts: Get over yourself. You don’t want to be annoying? Me either. Ask how you can help. How could a lowly screenwriter ever be of help? I don’t know about you, but I love recommending the talented people I know for jobs I know they would be awesome at. Not every writing job is for me. But I can guarantee you I know a writer who can do that job really well, because my network of awesome screenwriters is solid. I’ve coached over 100 screenwriters one-on-one, I teach at universities and do seminars, and I’ve spent twenty years making theater and film. My network knows that I’m a person to call when they need a screenwriter. They also know that calling me for “a WWII war drama feature writer” will not lead to me saying, “Hire me!” because I am not a specialist in WWII war dramas. So if I try to grab that opportunity, I am not being authentic to who I am as a screenwriter and I’m not helping. When they need an R-rated comedy writer? Now that’s me.

Takeaway: reach out quarterly and ask how you can help.

 

  1. SHARE YOUR PROCESS

You don’t have to have a big win or sale in order to be moving forward. You do have to be willing to talk about your work. If someone asks what you’re working on, “I don’t want to talk about it,” is not an acceptable answer. If you want to grow the number of people who know you and your work and add value to the entertainment community, you DO want to talk about it. First, because it’s what you’re working on. Second, because they may have an incredible story or idea to add. The best thing is to get someone excited about your idea and riff on it with you. The only way to do that is to share your process. Look at my Instagram @lisaebersole and you’ll see a lot of process. I talk about writing every day. When it is going well, when I get stuck, when I complete drafts, when I completely start over, when I take my dog for a walk to rework structure in my head. All of it counts. All of it lets you into my world and acknowledges that I am constantly in process. If I disappear for a year and then return with, “Guess what? My masterpiece is done!” You probably wouldn’t care. And why should you? You haven’t been on that journey with me.

Takeaway: share daily on socials and in one-to-one interactions.

 

  1. GROW YOUR NETWORK

You probably already know these best practices, but let’s review just in case:

Go to at least one industry event each month.

You’re not in L.A.? Attend live events on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. If you need ideas, Stareable.com and Seedandspark.com do live events that I’ve attended, learned from, and made connections through.

Have active socials that tell your story.

This is the fastest and easiest way to build awareness of who you are and what you do—and find like-minded collaborators. To effectively connect on social, you have to be visible, authentic, and consistent. If you go to my @lisaebersole Instagram, you get “who I am and what I do” in five seconds. My bio tells you and all the images support the bio: I am a screenwriter and I coach screenwriters who want to write scripts that sell. The end. Except not the end, because I add to it daily and have done so since I joined Instagram.

Engage with past networks.


For starters, call the alumni offices of your high school, college, graduate school—any institution to which you’ve paid money to learn or place where you have worked—and ask for connections to fellow alumni in the area. They’ll send a list, then you can reach out to those individuals ONE BY ONE with personal emails introducing yourself and asking to buy them coffee and connect. DO NOT mass email that list, or any list you care about, ever, because that is not networking. That is spam.

You may be feeling, jeez, that’s a lot of time networking. You are correct. I spend about 50% of my time on strategic networking. I’m not an anomaly. Look at Issa Rae’s schedule in The Hollywood Reporter’s Women In Power issue. Tuesday and Thursday, she’s in business meetings 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday are dedicated to writing and creative time. If it works for Issa, I say we give it a go.

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