Start Networking Before Heading West
Written By Scott Spears
For many of us into filmmaking, who weren’t lucky enough to be born in Southern California, the dream is to move to Los Angeles someday. It could be years or months away, but if you really want to break into the Hollywood film business, you have to make that move. This is a big logistical operation for you, and it should be planned out. One of the major factors that will ensure this major move is successful is who you know out there. Ninety percent of the work I have ever gotten in film and video production has come from being referred by a friend or work associate. Filmmaking is a very personal business, and the more people who you know and trust you, the more chances you have of making it in the biz. That is why you should be networking well before you make the move.
The first thing you have to ask yourself: Who do I know in LA? For many that may be nobody or just a very small handful of people. You have to step back and assess people you know who may know somebody working in the film industry. If you’re in film school, there’s a good chance that there are people who have made the move before you. It could be somebody ahead in school who graduated before you, or it could be an alumni who was years before your time. Many film schools keep an alumni database (so they can hit these people up to be donors), bring them back to speak to film classes, or ask them to help students making the move to Hollywood. Touch bases with the head of the film program, and they may be able to steer you toward this list of former film students. This can be a valuable resource. Use it wisely.
If you did not go to film school, you may be able to find these people through the cast and crew of films you have made locally who made the jump or people who worked with them in your area. If people will make an introduction via email or a phone call for you, that could go a long way to gaining some kind of access.
What do you do with the contact? I can understand where you will be nervous about talking to somebody who’s in Hollywood, but it could be an essential thing to making a successful leap into the biz.
Networking is the life blood of working in filmmaking no matter where you live and work and in LA is how you survive. Remember, years ago, they were in the same place you are now. If you contact these people, be patient and persistent. It may take several attempts to line up an actual call. If you get no response after several tries, move on.
When you do actually talk to these people, be respectful of their time.
Come up with a short, thirty-second to one-minute pitch about yourself and why you want to come to Hollywood and what you want to do there. Understand that you are starting at the bottom of the ladder; and explain to them that you are willing to work your way up. You will not be directing, writing, or shooting a major motion picture through this contact. You will be copying scripts, fetching doughnuts and maybe driving minor stars around if, (and that’s a big “if”), you can make inroads through this call. Do some research on this person and find out what they have worked on or what they are working on currently. Everybody likes to talk about themselves so it will feed their ego some.
In the end, they may not be able to help you directly, but they may be able to steer you towards somebody who can. See, they will be using their network. Maybe someday, you will do the same.
Another method is to plan a trip to Los Angeles and try to set up face-to-face meetings. Offer to take these fine people to lunch. Some will have the time, and some will not. Plan for at least four days to a week of trying this. While you’re there, you can scout out places to live.
Internships can be a great way to get your foot in the door. Use your film school’s resources to find these or find them yourself, and then, get the school to help set up the internship through an independent study or similar program.
My move to Hollywood was a bit out of the norm, but it was through my film school contacts. A director friend of mine who was living is LA, referred me to shoot a sci-fi film in the desert outside of LA. He let me sleep on his couch for the duration of the shoot. Then later that year, his roommate (also a film school alumni) got me a thirty-minute short film that he co-wrote. In the same year, the first director friend landed an action feature, and again, I spent a month on his couch while shooting this film. All in all, I spent close to three months on that couch. By the end of that time, I have built a small network of people, and before I made the permanent move, I had another feature lined up.
One guy who worked on my student films landed a chance to work on a TV movie being shot in Ohio. The production got far enough along to do some location scouting, and he was asked to come along because he knew the area. In the end, sadly, the financing fell apart, and the film never happened, but he did make some good inroad with the LA-based crew so that he was able to use this networking opportunity to make his move west and have some work lined up. He now grips on major motion pictures and sometimes for Clint Eastwood. (Way to go, Jim!)
Another option is going to film festivals where you can meet other filmmakers, some from LA and some thinking about making the leap. You can network with them.
All of these methods can work but there is no guaranteed path. Each and every person’s journey will be different. The key to making it in filmmaking is networking no matter where you or if you stay where you are. Just like learning f-stops, acting techniques or any other skill, networking should be a muscle you develop. You cannot be shy. Get your name out there and rub some elbows, otherwise, nobody knows you’re out there.
Scott Spears is an Emmy Award winning cinematographer with over 31 feature films to his credits. He teaches screenwriting and film production at Ohio State University. www.scottspears.net