29 October 2010

How To Network: An Instructional Guide

This month I've had most of my free time taken up with the trials and tribulations of film promotion. The first weekend was our trip to Philadelphia for Project Twenty1. The weekend after that, I flew to Michigan to perform some ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording/Replacement - you know, voiceover stuff) to complete my part in Michael McCallum's next feature film, Lucky. (We also recorded commentary tracks. Fun!) The third weekend - well, that was a weekend off, actually. And then last weekend I was representing Mr. McCallum at the Astoria/LIC Film Festival, where he had two films in competition.

Which means I have not had a chance to catch up on my Netflix queue.

It also means that I've had many chances to meet new people and do this thing called "Networking." And if I'm to be brutally honest with myself, here are my thoughts on it: It sucks and I'm bad at it.

Note that it doesn't suck because I'm bad at it. No, it sucks, and, also, independent of that, I am terrible at it. Part of it is shyness, the feeling that I'm bothering people when I go up and introduce myself. "HI! BE MY FWIEND!" is what I hear myself say whatever I'm actually saying. And part of it is that I know and recognize THE ROUTINE, the routine that sucks the wind out of any possible conversation if you fall into it. It goes like this:

"Hi. I'm Justin."
"Hi, Justin, I'm Peter. What do you do?"
"Screenwriting, mostly. But I also do directing, producing, acting, whatever's needed to make things happen. What about yourself?"
"I'm a producer. I'm trying to get a webseries off the ground."
"Cool. What's it about?"
"Zombie pirate ninja robots. What are you working on?"
"Well, we just finished a few short films that we're submitting to festivals now."
[Awkward pause.]

We've all got to fill each other in on whatever it is we're doing and have done, size each other up, make sure that the person understands how awesome we are. "Hey, by the way, did I also mention that I have a film that was accepted into the 2010 Pissant Film Festival? And that it won 2nd Place Honorable Mention for Best End Credit Sequence? And that it cures the cancer of everyone who sees it, even if they don't have cancer?" And once that's all done, the conversation just fucking dies. No. It doesn't even die. It wishes it were dead as it lies there on the ground, staring at you with big wet miserable eyes, pleading with you to just walk away, WALK AWAY so I can die peacefully without you looking at me!

This happens because we're thinking, "I'm networking. Who's this asshole? Can I use this asshole? Ah, give him a card, move on. I need to meet as many assholes as I can! Meeting assholes is important! All these assholes need to know how great I am! Shit, too late to jump into that conversation. Guess we'll just stand here and stare at our feet and pretend like we're still having a conversation, but what we're really having is an awkward silence because we have nothing left to say about ourselves."

When the awkward silence stretches out, and we find ourselves having to talk just to remember that we're functional human beings that other functional human beings can see and hear and even respond to, we dredge up basic questions to ask the other person, and these questions are always the stupidest fucking constructions that ever fall out of our mouths. It's usually something like "What kind of films do you make?"

More or less any question that begins "What kind" is a complete waste of time because there's no real answer to it. For example: A common meeting-someone-new question is "What kind of music do you like?" A person with even a passing interest in the arts, and especially someone who claims to be a professional working within the arts, shouldn't have a definite answer. Because the real answer would be "All kinds." How can an artist just enjoy one kind of music? Even a classical musician should be aware of this thing called "hip-hop" and have listened to a few hits that the damned kids dance to like they're on drugs.

So now my go-to response when I'm asked "What kind of films do you make?" is "Good ones." It's not just to be an arrogant prick. I genuinely have no idea how else to answer that question. The films that we've made don't really fit into any available genres except "independent" and "low-budget", and this question usually comes after I've already explained that we work on those frequencies. And even if they did fit into a certain genre, I probably wouldn't see it that way.

If you asked Stephen King what kind of books he writes, he'd probably say "Are you fucking kidding me? I'm Stephen King." Or he could also say, just to get you off his back, "I write horror stories." But he'd be thinking "Whatever I dream up." He's done thrillers. He's done dramas. He's done comedies. He's done bildungsromans. He's done things that combine all of those and more. Even his horror stories have more than just horror in them. That's what makes them so horrifying. And that's what I hope me and my collaborators are doing. Not fitting into one genre. Blending elements together to create a new piece of art. What kind of movies do we make? How the fuck should I know? We're too busy making them!

I'm sure a lot of other artists feel this way. And yet we keep asking each other these terrible questions. I think the problem is this: These questions make us talk about ourselves and each other. And who gives a shit about that? No one's actually listening when they're networking because they're too busy trying to make everyone else listen to them. We're all spewing nonsense about ourselves, talking past each other, and asking questions of that nature just encourages us to keep doing that. It leads to one-up-manship.

"What have you done recently?"
"Got my film into a festival."
"Well I've gotten my film into your mother! Boo-yah!"

I've found that the best connections I make, both within the arts and just "Hey how ya doin" bumping into people, are the ones where we quickly get over the "Hi, I'm this asshole, I do this, what do you do?" swill and get right to the "Don't you just fucking hate it when Tom Cruise isn't running in a movie? If he's not running I'm thinking 'Why am I watching this goddamn thing?'" Not talking about ourselves, but talking about other things and our opinions on them. Which, yes, is just another way of talking about ourselves, but is much truer and interesting and says more about ourselves than "My name is Kyle I am five and three quarters my dog is brown it eats its own poop."

So this is what I'm proposing:

When you meet new people, STOP talking about each other, and START talking about anything else. ANYTHING. It's the only way you can make a real connection and get a feeling for the actual person underneath all the trying-to-impress you bullshit. And that will make a much deeper impression on them, and thus help you more effectively network.

It's only by not networking that we actually network.

1 comment: