The film industry is based on teamwork, so networking is an unavoidable part of the process.
My approach to networking has changed thanks to a few simple, quite logical observations from Adam Grant that I recently read. Grant, the famed Wharton professor and organizational psychologist, stresses how important doing is to the art of networking—both on the part of the people you’re trying to network with and in your own life, as well. (Here is the video that Grant made, but I'll summarize his three arguments and then expound.)
1. Ask people who are older than you for advice.
This should come as a no brainer: people love to hear themselves talk. And many people (assuming they have souls and are not horrible, which some successful people certainly are!), like to help younger people. You can also teach older people things (about technology, for example) to reciprocate for their knowledge.
It may feel intimidating to talk to more senior people or tempting to mix with people who are similar to you, but if you seek out people who've done it before, their wisdom is valuable, and they'll help you get ahead. They're usually happy to share their experiences and may even be more likely to promote you.
2. People usually get where they are because of hard work.
Making films or television series is not easy. Any idiot can have an idea, but ideas are worthless unless you can execute on them. And executing is not easy: from putting together the best teams possible, to managing these teams so you can get the best out of them, to delivering final products that meet technical specifications and are also high quality is insanely challenging. It's not necessarily brain surgery, but there are a bunch of processes that must be perfectly nailed or else, well, you're screwed. And it’s well documented at this point that it takes 10,000 hours to get to a place of expertise in anything. So when you’re following point number one, respect that the people you’re networking with have likely put in those hours.
3. Don’t let the “haves” throw you off-track.
I’m adding this as a bit of a sidetrack from Grant’s list. Despite point number two above, some people “cut the line” and use their wealth and family connections to become filmmakers. This is because filmmaking requires not only 10,000 hours, but also considerable budgets. “Rich kids” are a reality. They're by no means bad people; they've just had advantages in their lives that not all of us started off with.
However, just because people are wealthy, doesn't mean they are intelligent, crafty, artistic, witty, or good at sales and marketing. And remember, you can use the 10,000 hours you need to become an expert to catch up with these people. Yes, you may have to slog it out in low paid film jobs (or a career in another related industry, as I did for five years in technology and three years in journalism), but you will be able to learn during this time, and arguably you will be better off than people who've had everything handed to them on a silver platter. I say this because when the sh*t hits the fan, yes, you may be able to throw money at the problem, but oftentimes skills solve more problems than money.
What does this have to do with networking? Well, just recognize this reality and, if you end up chatting with one of these types at an event, don’t let them throw you off your game. You are on your path and will probably be better off in the end for having had to struggle and be resourceful.
4. You have to put in the time, too.
Networking is an utter waste of time if you have nothing cool to talk about. So do something cool and then not only will networking be more productive, but people will also come to you to network. Though this point came in last on Grant's list, it is just as important as everything else here.
Why can networking seem so horrible and so boring sometimes, even when you’re with people in the film industry—or who purport to be in the film industry? Typically, this is because the people you network with have very little to talk about. Non-scientifically, about half of the people I meet at film-related networking events are hangers on, people who may have aspirations to work in film but don't have enough drive to do anything productive. It's a sad reality, but it's the way it is in an industry that is characterized in the public opinion as sexy, cool, and glamorous (even though it is usually cool, yet neither sexy nor glamorous!)
So go out there! Do something! Intern for someone! Work as an assistant! Make a film in a weekend! Learn to edit! Create something good!
From personal experience, making Amanda Knox utterly changed my life. Now people not only take me more seriously, but they come to me with excellent projects too. To conclude, inspired by George Orwell's sentiment for his 6 Rules For Writing: Break any of these rules sooner than doing anything outright barbarous.