There’s this episode of Friends in which Ross and Rachel each come up with a list of famous people with whom they could “mess around” without their partner considering it cheating. When Isabella Rossellini — who was on an earlier draft of Ross’ list — enters the coffee shop, Rachel tells Ross he can still “go for it” with Ms. Rossellini, even though his final list (without her on it) has been laminated. When Ross approaches Ms. Rossellini and propositions her, he assures her that “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Her response? “For you.”
I thought about that when I received an email from an actor the other day. He was very interested in doing some networking. He had made a resolution to do more of that in 2008, and his outreach (completely disregarding tips in my FAQ or published interviews or even this column’s archives) was mildly inappropriate, and also happened to detail what a phenomenal opportunity this proposed get-together would be. “For you,” I thought. (And then I immediately laughed about the Friends-like moment, then felt weird about being snarky, then looked more deeply into the issue, and finally came up with a column-worthy angle, naturally.)
There’s the kind of networking that’s beneficial for everyone to the same degree. People come together to build relationships that could pay off in several different directions. Producers connect with directors whose vision they find inspiring. The directors need financial backing from people who believe in them. The producers need directors whose creativity inspires them to throw open their wallets (or find investors willing to go on the ride). Agents connect with casting directors on whose projects they want their up-and-coming actor clients seen. The CDs need access to the agents’ highest-end clients in order to fulfill the producers’ mission of a cast list that can make their project profitable. Casting directors connect with filmmakers whose work they enjoy. The filmmakers need CDs to help align them with top actors. The CDs need to work on higher-level projects to create relationships with higher-level agents who rep the higher-level actors. It all feeds into itself.
And actors network to connect with everyone. They meet writers who want to create vehicles for them (or at least who want to recommend the actors, on projects they’ve created). They need to meet up with filmmakers and showrunners and producers and playwrights and agents and casting directors… and find a way to spark some sort of motivation in each of us to think of them when we need an actor of their type.
But when actors network, is it always one-directional? Is it always about how wonderful the opportunity would be for the actor, should this networking turn into something? Does the relationship, inherently, exist at the superstar Isabella Rossellini/”random goofy coffee house guy” Ross level? Or is there a way for actors to maximize what they “offer” the pros they encounter, in their networking endeavors?
Well, of course there is, or there’d be no point to this week’s column. Duh. 😉
I was thinking about the networking I see going on at the bigger actors’ showcases. For instance, I’ll be attending the CBS Diversity Showcase this week and it is always a “see and be seen” event among casting directors, agents, managers, and even writers, directors, and producers. In addition to seeing some really talented actors doing great material in a fast-paced, comedic environment, we all also seem to dig the pre- and post-show reception opportunity to connect with our colleagues and, you guessed it, do a little networking. There will always be a manager whose voice I know well, over the phone, but who I’ve never met in person, when I hit one of these showcases. And it’s great for both of us to get a little face time, so that our relationship is a little deeper, next time he calls to pitch an actor on a project I’m casting.
The actors who have just showcased for us will definitely be surrounded by industry types. We now know their work and, assuming we like it (and, c’mon, of course we do, this is a very high-end, selective showcasing environment and these actors are ready for prime time [see a recent wonderful blog post over at backstage.com for more on that]), we’re going to be approaching them to talk about our little indie film project or the pilot we’ve been tapped to cast. Agents are going to do a lap and chat up the actors they hope to represent in the future. In addition to our own industry-to-industry networking, we’re looking to connect with the actors at these things. Lots of multidirectional networking going on.
But when a new-to-town actor reaches out to a CD or agent and says, “Let me take you to coffee,” there’s a whole lot of potential up-side for the actor getting this meeting. And a whole lot of potential down-side for the industry pro. Which is why this sort of invitation isn’t often accepted. You maximize your chance for making this type of networking thing happen by bringing something to the table other than your sparse resumé, out-of-market headshots, and new-to-town enthusiasm. Obviously, the greater the chance that we might be scooping the rest of the town on tomorrow’s “hot new star,” the greater the chance that we’re gonna see that meeting as filled with up-side for us too.
And that’s what you want to create: a win-win meeting. It’s good for you. It’s good for us. And your ability to sell us on why it’s good for us (we all already know why it’s good for you, potentially) is key. I’ve written before about approaching networking opportunities as if you are a host at a party, trying to introduce as many guests to one another as possible. Yes, at the time I covered that topic, I was looking at ways to make networkingphobic actors a bit more comfortable with the undertaking. But the “who can I put on your radar” approach is also a great way to add to the potential up-side, when you’re trying to network.
For example, it’s one thing to say that you’ve worked with the hot young filmmaker everyone’s trying to score a meeting with at Sundance this week. That certainly helps eliminate some of the risk, when we’re deciding whether to take time out to meet with you. But to say that you and the hot young filmmaker du jour are meeting up for coffee and you’d both love to have a particular agent join you to see if there’s possible synergy in the relationships is to present a whole different level of opportunity. Now the agent might not only be meeting with a great future client (you) but perhaps meeting with someone (the hot young filmmaker) who will be a long-term source of work for potentially everyone on that agent’s roster, should they hit it off and become besties.
So, whenever you can add to the incentives for a meeting to take place (by introducing a third party to whom the industry pro would love exposure OR even by being a powerful hyphenate yourself), you’re far more likely to be met with anything other than that painful “don’t call us, we’ll call you” vibe, after you’ve gone to the trouble of reaching out.
Here’s another point I’d like to make about directional networking: Take advantage of opportunities that are presented to you. My colleague Mark Sikes recently issued a challenge to readers, offering them the opportunity to score a general with him. How many of you took a shot at that? I hope most of you did (but I suspect only a few of you did, sadly). The point is, there are times when we do a little one-direction networking with you, without needing any of the up-sell on the up-side. It’s mentoring. It’s an important part of our job. It’s good karma.
When we show up at SAG Foundation events to provide a glimpse into what it’s like, when you come in the room for us, take advantage of these opportunities. Sign up and show up. And don’t follow us out to our cars afterward, begging us to help you get an agent (and then follow up the next day with a phone call, an email, and a fax for good measure). Be professional and be a professional. We’ll notice that. I promise.
Yeah, we’re hoping to demystify the process of how we do our jobs, somewhat, when we speak at these events. So there’s an up-side in that the folks who attend, hopefully, will rock that much more when they’re invited in for an audition or meeting, thereby making our jobs easier. But it’s not like we’re there specifically hoping to find “the next big actor” while we’re speaking about whether we watch demo reels or if postcards are effective marketing items. In fact, we don’t expect that to happen at all. (We’re thrilled if it does, but that’s not our motivation in showing up at these events.)
Here’s a question for you: How often do you network in the direction you’re asking us to network? How often do you meet with new-to-town, enthusiastic, completely-clueless-to-the-biz actors upon whose lives you could make a huge positive impact, just by showing them how to format their resumé or where to download sides? Not too often, right? (“Why would I? What’s in it for me? Who has the time?” Exactly.) Well, let’s seek to change that. Do a little mentoring. Pay it forward. Invest in a relationship with someone who offers you absolutely nothing whatsoever in return. (And let two things wash over you, here. One: note that agents, managers, casting directors, producers, and directors are asked to do exactly this type of thing every day by many newbies. You do it a few times and consider the ridiculous volume of requests to do it we’re fielding and you’ll understand why it’s both rare that we engage in it and a huge deal when we do. Two: mentoring can be a wonderful way to remind yourself of how far you’ve come. It can allow you to get a different perspective on the day-to-day stuff you’re facing. It could even connect you with someone whose career will skyrocket long before yours does, and that person might be so grateful to you for the early support that you’ll benefit in ways you never imagined possible.)
Networking in Hollywood is often seen as an “all about me” venture. That simply doesn’t have to be the case. We can change the direction of networking right now.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000821.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.