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Networking- Building Contacts

Contributed By Kenna McHugh

Some people seem to have all the luck. Just about everyone knows the story of how Lana Turner was discovered at the Top Hat Café across the street from Hollywood High, where she was a student. On that unplanned afternoon, she had skipped class and gone to the soda fountain for a Coke when, it so happened, W.R. Wilkerson, the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter, walked in. Upon seeing the beautiful girl, Wilkerson approached and asked, "Would you like to be in the movies?"

Thus, fatefully, Lana Turner met the right person who took her to the right parties. At the right party, she met the right producer, who hired her for the right movie. And so began a journey that would eventually lead to fame, fortune, and a place for Lana Turner in Hollywood history.

Being "discovered" at a cafe does happen but rarely. Most often, people become stars -- or successful behind-the-scenes workers -- by moving step-by-step up through the ranks of the industry. And they do it by networking.

The key to networking, as we all know or should know, is developing contacts. A contact is someone who is interested in you, wants to work with you on a film project, and/or will recommend you to someone who might hire you. Developing those contacts isn't simple, but it can be done.

Luckily, the film industry is so dependent on freelancers that it requires those involved in it to be constantly networking to find jobs. And truthfully, if you don't make the effort, chances are you'll never be successful. The key to becoming a successful behind-the-scenes worker is to build a strong foundation of contacts and to make those contacts early through proper networking.

So, the key is to know who to contact and how to find them. The only way you're going to establish a network of individuals to help you find work in the film industry is to get out there and start looking.

First, you need to know whom to contact. Potential contacts fall into three groups: people in the industry, people in industry organizations, and people outside the industry.

Let's take a look at people inside the industry. For obvious reasons, people inside the industry are those you'd most like to have as contacts, particularly those at the top of the business, like producers and directors. There's no reason not to try starting at the top. Imagine having a fortuitous meeting with Steven Spielberg ("Jaws") or Sydney Pollack ("Tootsie"), or a not-so-famous but influent producer like Gale Anne Hurd ("The Terminator"). Quickly, you offer your business card or, if you really have it together, your resume. Then, off you go working for the cream of the business.

Unfortunately, not all of us are lucky like Lana Turner. Meeting those at the top of the film industry is rare and far between. Breaking into film doesn't necessarily mean you have to start at the top. If you're in a small town, try calling the chamber of commerce and ask if there are any local film studios. If you're near a major city, get in touch with a motion picture studio. You can even look in the yellow pages under Motion Pictures-Production companies. If you can get in to see one of these people even though they aren't Spielberg or Hurd, believe me, you are way ahead of the game.

However, don't neglect potential contacts at lower levels. Believe me they are important, if not just as important, because contacts lead to other contacts, and sometimes one of those people in the electrical, grip, art, or editorial department can lead you to someone higher up who is in a position to offer you a job.

Now that you've found a potential contact, you can just call, write or walk into his or her office and ask for a job, right? Wrong! Asking someone to give you a job or to get you a job will almost always end a conversation quickly. That's not what networking is about.

What it is about is building up a group of contacts who will, hopefully, one day lead you to someone who's actually making a film and looking for someone with your abilities. It's a slow, sometimes tedious, and often frustrating process, but it's also essential. If you approach it the right way it can also be an enjoyable experience. Not only will you be able to talk about something you love with people who feel the same way you do, but chances are you'll also meet some pretty fascinating people, some of whom may become close friends and colleagues you'll value for years to come. The key is to have a well thought-out plan so you can build a strong foundation of contacts who will help you get work now and continue to help you in the future.

In my next column, we will take a look at people in industry organizations. Involving yourself in one way or another with film-related organizations is an excellent way of meeting people. Until then, happy job hunting.

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