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Your Screenwriting Career: Control your career through friendships

I've got great news for all you screenwriters out there!

YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR CAREER SUCCESS!

I'm not saying that in some spiritual or theoretical way; I literally mean that you have the ability to create the screenwriting career of your dreams, and you already have the tools to do it.
As usual, I'm going to start with a logical truth:

Basic Logical Truth #4
Friends help friends.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
(A) The Importance of Film Industry Friends
(B) Where to Make Film Industry Friends
(C) 4 Easy Steps to Making Film Industry Friends

(A) The Importance of Film Industry Friends
If your best friend was the president of development at Fox Studios, it's a safe bet that they would bend over backwards to help get your screenplays off the ground, and onto silver screens.  Now, a major step down, it's just as probable that a producer friend whom you only speak with once a month would be more than willing to help you as well.
Some of you might think that having a great screenplay is all you need, and in some cases, that does get the job done.  Though consider this scenario:
You have an amazing action script that Lionsgate is interested in, but the producer who's interested has a friend who wrote a good (not amazing) script with a similar story and tone.  The producer is more likely to help develop his friend's script and get it off the ground rather than yours.  This is NOT a bad thing.  This is a great thing!  You now know having friends is important, so, let's get you some friends!
For those of you who don't live anywhere near Los Angeles or New York, you may have written off the "networking" approach due to proximity problems, but I assure you, that is not a  problem.  Yes, it'd be great if you could spend more time close to the industry you're getting into, but it's not necessary.  [WARNING: shameless plug :-) ]  InkTip has gotten new screenwriters from around the globe produced, and almost 100% of those produced screenplays really developed out of a newly formed friendship-the producer and screenwriter see eye-to-eye on things, and a friendship develops.  When a friendship develops, as I discussed above, both parties become bound to one another, and are more likely to work to each other's benefit.  On InkTip of course, how your screenplay is written and its marketability, in the eyes of the producer is what will start the dialogue. So, let's explore ways to build industry friendships in other ways.
First, I'd like to point out that I'm using the word "friendship" instead of "relationship." I have read countless articles and books that promote networking and building "contacts," and "relationships," but those contacts are the equivalent of social "acquaintances" and professional "resources."  Acquaintances and resources don't bend over backward for one another-friends do.  And remember, Dale Carnegie, one of history's most influential professional self-help authors, chose "How to Win Friends and Influence People" (bolding is my inflection) for the title of his book.


(B) Where to Make Film Industry Friends
There are dozens of great events that you should take the time to explore.  If your career, your dreams, are important to you, then save some money and make it a point to go to some of these events. There are a few pitching events out there that can provide an opportunity to make new friends.
Film festivals should be another priority.  I'm not saying that you need to spend your life savings in going to all of the notables such as Sundance, Toronto, or Cannes, but it would be wise to attend when you're able.  This includes the smaller film festivals in your area, or not too far from you. Go to screenings, and get to know some of the other people watching movies. Hit some bars and parties in the evening where the filmmakers will congregate, meet them, and make some new friends.
For those of you who are not social butterflies, pitch events are great because though it may seem daunting at first, the fact that these pitch meetings are already set up for you, you just need to show up and say "hi."

(C) 4 Easy Steps to Making Film Industry Friends
Making friends and being a caring person is paramount to your success as a writer, and as a human being.  Everyone chooses friends who make them happy, so happiness builds friendships.  In his book "Delivering Happiness," Zappos.com CEO and Internet entrepreneur, Tony Hsieh opined that, "Happiness is really just about four things: perceived control, perceived progress, connectedness (number and depth of your relationships), and vision/meaning (being part of something bigger than yourself)."  These are not just keys to an individual's happiness, but they are keys to building great friendships.
1: Perceived Control & Progress: Be Interested in Them
A smart writer will ask more questions than producers do.  The writer asks questions about what movies they like, what things do they hate in some movies, and how their day is.  The latter isn't a joke; asking about them personally elevates your rhetoric from professional to personal.
If you're at a pitch event, and you've just pitched a producer, ask them for notes.  Don't just take a "no" or a "yes" as the end of the conversation.  Ask them how they feel you could improve your pitch-how they would pitch it.  Ask them for advice, and be open to opinions that may differ with your own.  People love giving advice, and if you're able to listen to their thoughts, they will appreciate you even more.  You don't always have to take someone's advice, but listening is key.
By asking for advice, you are in essence, giving them perceived control over your project, and thereby providing perceived progress in that they are now involved in something that is growing.  It will make them feel connected to you, and your project. This applies to any conversation you have with industry professionals. This also means that before attending pitching events you need to have your pitches brief, rehearsed, and mastered. Specific to pitching events, you should be able to pitch a story in a minute or less, thus providing you with a few minutes to focus on real dialogue with the producer.  You're pitching your screenplays, but you're selling yourself.
2: Know Who You're Talking To
If you had one movie produced, and you meet a random stranger, who once they hear your name, they're able to quote your movie, you're going to be flattered and interested in hearing more.  Nurturing people's egos is rarely a bad thing.  So, if you know who you're going to be meeting at any given event, do your research on them.  Have some brief talking points that highlight your knowledge and admiration for their career.
I recently received an email from a writer I've never met, who opened by complimenting me on "Imaginary Friend," a film I produced for Lifetime.  Going through my nearly 100 emails per day is time-consuming, and I often want to dismiss what I can, but I definitely kept reading that email.  I'm having lunch with the writer next week.  End of story.  Showing interest in someone else's life works wonders.
3: Be Persistent
It's very easy to become disorganized about all the contacts you may have made at an event, but keeping track of those people, even the ones who weren't necessarily interested in your script but like you as a person, is very important.  Be sure to get as many business cards, emails, and phone numbers as you can.  Make phone calls or send emails every four to six weeks  "just to check in, and say ‘hi'," tell them about a project you are working on, wish them a happy birthday or merry Christmas, etc.  For that matter, offer your services to them as a reader or anything else they need done that you can do from the comfort of your home.
Calling back to the above steps 1 & 2, occasionally ask for advice, or send congratulations for new projects of theirs you heard about going into production.  Keep track of their careers, and remind them of your interest; this is important.
4: Meet Up
Whenever possible, meet up with your new contacts and friends.  If you've just met them, invite them to lunch-not to pitch them, but just to pick their brain. 
Again, like in Section 3, you should offer to help out where you can-be willing to do coverage or notes on scripts for the producer or company.  And don't forget, having something like that on your resume looks pretty nice too.
Your goal is to establish friendships, and as long as you remember your goal, your actions and behavior will be apropos.
In Summation
You're not going to like every person you meet, but there's no reason to not form friendships with those you do like.  If you're reading these words, then you're obviously caring enough to want to improve on your career, and it's that "caring" that will get you to your goals.
I truly wish the best to you, and every single person reading this, because you are already showing a willingness and desire to achieve progress.  It's my interest in you, our perceived progress, and my connectedness with you that inspired me to write this.
Best of luck to you, and please feel free to tweet to me with any questions, thoughts, or new article topics.
 

About the Author
Gato Scatena is a producer with Scatena & Rosner Films, and former vice president at InkTip.  His most recent productions include the film, "Filth," starring James McAvoy, the upcoming comedy, "Mantevention," starring Mario Van Peebles, and Lifetime's "Imaginary Friend," starring Paul Sorvino.  Scatena & Rosner Films is in development on more features for 2015, and also works in film tax incentive financing.

Questions for Gato can be tweeted to @GatoScatena on Twitter.

Written by: Gato Scatena - producer, Scatena & Rosner Films
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