In partnership with Creative Screenwriting and ScreenCraft, “First Draft” is a series on everything to do with screenwriting.
The old adage is that nobody is really from Los Angeles. While there are certainly a million examples to the contrary, the point of the saying is really that people come to Los Angeles—in this case, Hollywood—in pursuit of a dream, whether it’s screenwriting, acting, directing, or any other hopeful vocation within the film and television industry.
Thus, when you first arrive, chances are you don’t really know anyone in the industry. And in this industry, who you know can be the difference between you achieving that dream or never seeing the light of day to give insiders the chance to see what you’re capable of.
Agencies, management companies, studios, and production companies usually don’t read unsolicited material. This is part of that filtration process that they are forced to adhere to because there are so many people trying to do what you’re doing. It would be impossible to read everything. And unfortunately, frivolous lawsuits are abundant, forcing these companies and individuals to protect themselves from those that would lay claim to their projects.
That leaves screenwriters wandering aimlessly, never knowing where to go and how to seek out those willing to read their work.
Here we will literally and figuratively map out where you—the screenwriter—can go in your life to make those necessary contacts that you need to make.
But Before You Begin this Journey
First and foremost, you should be working on your writing before you take anything to anyone. In fact, you should have at least three to five solid writing samples before you even attempt to utilize any network you have or create—before you navigate through the below maps that we will lay out for you.
And when you read the phrase solid writing samples, know that these scripts have to be your best work. Examples of your best efforts that you will use to showcase your talent and prove that you are worthy of that option, acquisition, or assignment. And all too often, your first couple of screenplays won’t be part of that sample group because those first scripts are always your worst. Those are the ones where you’ll make the most mistakes and hopefully learn, adapt, and evolve as a writer.
When that is done and you truly have worthy scripts to market, you must lay out a figurative map of yourself.
This map encompasses relationships in your life. The center point of that map is you. Beyond yourself, it’s those who you are closest to—family and relatives. Then come your friends. Then your acquaintances and peers. After that, you play the six degrees of separation game where you seek out friends of family/relatives, friends of friends, friends of acquaintances/peers, and so on.
Building a network of contacts starts from the center point—you—and grows in radius in the above fashion. You must work to exhaust any and all personal contacts as you reach out wider and wider until something hits. And even when something does hit, you keep going because you never know when you’ll need more.
Personal relationships like these will often be your first, and sometimes best, introductions to the film industry. They know you. Hopefully they like you or have heard good things about your work. But also understand that personal relationships offer no guarantees. Yes, it would be fantastic to be the son, daughter, niece, nephew, or cousin to a true industry insider, but even with such close relationships there is no promise unless the work is something they can and are willing to move on.
And you must always understand that just because that relative, friend, or peer is in the industry, this doesn’t mean that they can help you.
Early on in my screenwriting journey, I had—and still have—a close family friend whose son is a major film actor. I’ve been to their house and I’ve had Thanksgiving dinner with them. Despite their status, there was not much they could do for me. Yes, they have major representation, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the script I would give them would have to go through the same filtration process that every concept and script has to go through. Unless the contact is a Tom Cruise-type major star that falls in love with your script and wants to get it made, there are no promises. They’ll do what they can. Don’t have high expectations.
Mapping Your Geography
So now that you’ve exhausted that personal relationships map, it’s time to shift to the geographical locations that you have been attached to in your life. In this map, you generally won’t have any personal relationships to utilize. Instead, you’re reaching out in hopes to find some other connection.
You start with your home town. There’s often an instant intimacy when someone shares the same home town as you. And the smaller the home town, the more kismet the insider may feel towards you. After your home town, you shift to your home state. While this isn’t as intimate as sharing a home town, it still means a lot if an insider from a state outside of California finds one of their own knocking at their door—figuratively speaking, mind you. Don’t go knocking on their door.
And then you move to fellow college alumni. Much like the intimacy of sharing a home town, sharing a college can often be seen as a kinship. And as always, that six degrees of separation game can work well using geographic locations. (“My best friend went to USC.”)
As you approach these types of possible contacts, you want to be sure to open your email query with a nod to that connection.
“I’m from Philly as well.”
“We grew up across town from each other.”
The cynical will say that you shouldn’t be that loose in a “professional” email exchange, but the truth is that these insiders are often getting their asses kissed every day of the week and are likely drowning in bravado, facade, and industry formalities. It can be a breath of fresh air to hear from someone that has a link to your past—especially if you have an amazing logline for your script right below it.
Two early successes in my career came from such geographical links. When I was shopping my first notable script after leaving my studio job to pursue my writing full swing, I looked to both the state and the alumni connections. This lead me to an online group that consisted of Hollywood professions from my state’s major college. Despite the fact that I didn’t officially attend that college beyond one screenwriting course, my wife was an alumni—and the college was based in my home state. After sending email queries to a select group of them, I had a script request from a Paramount junior executive. This lead to them connecting with a contact of their own after the script tracked well. Suddenly, I had a manager based off of that referral, which then lead to meetings at Sony, Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, and Dreamworks for my first notable screenplay.
When I moved back to Wisconsin to raise my family close to home, I had a Lionsgate deal under my belt, but nothing else. A couple of years went by and I thought the geographical relocation to my home state wasn’t going to allow me to continue my screenwriting career to a notable degree. And then I got an email from a prominent producer. I was heading a local screenwriting group and he contacted me, saying that he was a Wisconsin native and if he could help in any way, he’d be available. With further conversation, I decided to take a chance and pitched him a couple of my scripts. He requested them, loved them, and later hired me for two paid writing assignments—one of which went on to become a produced miniseries, top twenty show overseas, and top two show on iTunes.
Mapping Your Industry Experience
Now you need to go look for jobs within the film and television industry that will implant you into that world. You must utilize the first and second maps to either push your screenwriting or to nab yourself a key industry job. These are the most vital contacts that you will make. They not only afford you the ability to network directly with industry insiders, they also give you necessary experience that you can apply to both the development and writing of your scripts, as well as the marketing of them.
In mapping out your industry experience to build your network of contacts, you first start with your industry job. Now, as the link above will showcase, such a job could be anything from an internship, an assistant position, and up—as well as below with jobs in studio facilities, security, as a barista or waiter in studio restaurants and coffee shops, etc. Whatever position you can find within the studio system or overall film or television industry is a perfect start.
Hitting up your direct co-workers and superiors in that industry job should always be handled with care. If you’re constantly pitching your scripts and asking for help, you will be looked upon as less of a valuable employee and more as just another opportunist. You don’t want that because such a bad reputation will spread and limit your future opportunities. So you must be subtle.
And remember, just because you’re working for a major production company and producer doesn’t mean that they will surely read, consider, and produce your scripts. They likely won’t. But that doesn’t mean that a moment of opportunity won’t present itself. Just choose those moments wisely.
After that, you move to the industry contacts that you make in your job. If you’re an assistant, you are likely going to meet many, many people—other assistants from other companies, producers, executives, managers, agents, etc.—during your day-to-day.
With most industry jobs, especially within production companies, agencies, management companies, and studio offices, you’ll often take part in networking meetings, gatherings, and events. In fact, many assistants and junior executives are required to set up such meetings to expand their network. It could be drinks, lunches, or dinners.
As with co-workers and superiors, you always want to choose your moments wisely during these events. Be subtle and wait for moments where you can casually point to the fact that you’re a writer and have certain projects that might interest them.
And then, as always, work those six degrees of separation that you may come across.
I took a job at Sony Studios security when I moved across the street from the studio and wanted to get behind those walls. I slowly worked my way up to the VIP North Thalberg gate, where I would see and converse with the studio’s major executives on a daily basis—as well as major talent, producers, agents, and managers. I parlayed that into my studio liaison job where I worked with all incoming film and television productions, as well as incoming executives and production companies.
Part of my job was making studio ID badges for them. When one new development executive came in as his offices were being occupied on lot, we got to talking and I saw an opportunity in the discussion to ask if he was looking for script readers. I had interned for director Randal Kleiser (Grease, Flight of the Navigator) as a script reader a year prior. By good fortune, this executive was looking for a new reader. I offered my services, he read some sample coverage, and my career in Sony development as a script reader and story analyst began.
When you are marketing your scripts, it truly is important to go in with a plan as you try to build your network of industry contacts. Otherwise it’s like staring into a vast, deep blue ocean where you’ve been told that no one will be ready, willing, or able to read your work—thus, you need to know someone.
Any journey requires a map to get you headed in the direction you want and need to go. While you can and should venture off of the beaten path to achieve your screenwriting dreams, you should use these above three maps to make the journey all the more easy.
“It’s who you know,” they say. Well, you’ll quickly find with these three maps that you can and will likely know more people in the industry than you could possibly imagine. MM
This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.