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Advice Sessions: Building a Network

We’re back again with our third week of filmmaker advice sessions! One of the great benefits to a hybrid festival in 2021 was that we were able to stay in touch online, even as pandemic restrictions ease. This year we caught up with 30 of our filmmakers with Instagram live interviews to talk about their films, their process, and advice they’ve received while starting their careers. This is the third of four installments, in which we’ll be sharing their advice with all of you to get you on your way to making your next short film.

Your support network

These films are a testament to the force of teamwork and a shared vision, making work through passion and care. Emily Macrander says it’s about “just having the right people around you and making sure that you network with other people that want to make films, because you definitely can’t do it on your own [...] The main thing is finding people that support you and will help you make the film and just doing it and writing it.” These films demonstrate what a team of like-minded creatives can achieve by pulling together and telling a story they all care about. Nay Tabbara says “kindness is the most important thing on a movie set,” since the team is putting their time and energy into your vision.

Kizzy Dunn thanked her team that supported the production of Plot 9, saying “everyone basically gave all their time for free, which is amazing and a massive testament to how great people can be when they want to create something”. This was crucial for so many people; in a process that can be all-consuming and stressful, the collaborators are key. Lauire Barraclough also reminds us to “find your network of collaborators that you work well with and are friends with that you just want to make fun stuff with”. For these filmmakers, being surrounded by a creative support network gives them the confidence and expertise to work effectively. Dubheasa Lanipekun says “people have been very generous with me and given me lots and lots of advice and I think that’s one thing, take advice from everybody.”

Growing your network

It’s great to hear how supportive these filmmakers’ networks have been through the process, but how can you find these networks in the first place? Masterclass offers a series of approaches to finding and maintaining your network, such as attending film-related events and preparing your elevator pitch. They emphasise the importance of a two-way relationship, finding ways to support those in your network as well as seeking help from them. They say “networking is a two-way street, and it’s important to help your connections in any way you can. Whatever you have to bring to the table, use it generously to let your contacts know you care about their success.”

To build and grow your network, Masterclass recommends you “check entertainment sites or social media postings to see if any film-related events are happening near you. Sign up for advanced movie screenings, especially ones where the cast or crew will be in attendance to answer questions about the project.” This can be a great way to collide with like minded filmmakers and build those connections that you can both benefit from. Make sure to really communicate with the people you meet and learn as much as you can about their own interests as well as articulating your own projects.

If you’re venturing out to seek a wider network, something being made increasingly hard with pandemic restrictions in place, go where you’ll find others like yourself. Independent short film festivals, and festivals targeting people breaking into the industry are great for meeting people at a similar level who are excited about their films and looking to meet other people to collaborate with. Kino Short Film does a free open mic night for short films, The Film Bunch run networking and screenings (geared towards being inclusive for Deaf and HoH audiences), and film clubs in your local area are a great way to gauge who around you is active in the film community and might be a first port of call for the next time you need to discuss ideas, have a sounding board, and collaborate.

** As an etiquette rule, if you can’t pay the people you’re looking for, acknowledge that you too are working on no budget and that you understand it’s not an ideal scenario but you’re looking to attract people who are looking to work collaboratively and see what interesting work you can do together. Don’t expect people to work unpaid, as this is a perpetuating privilege disparities entrenched in the industry, but for many student films and really grassroots work, this is often the case and people will understand this. If you’re taking a fee and you expect different departments not to be compensated, consider rethinking your project and priorities. **

What if you’re not the kind of person who is comfortable crossing a room and introducing yourself to strangers? Traditional networking setups no doubt favour certain personality types, but there are plenty of ways to meet people without having to stand in the corner of a room at a networking event trying to lock eyes with someone. Social media is a great tool at connecting one-to-one with fellow filmmakers. Film Connection explains that “your profile on all these websites is important, this is a chance to tell people about you and what you do, why you should be hired, and what previous experience you have.” Check out our previous post on social media tips and make sure you’re following people whose work you admire, but also your peers. At a grassroots level, so much of filmmaking teams are built on informal networks, many friends and family, so it’s likely that people will be looking to work with you are much as you are them. Send them a message, introduce yourself and why you like their work, and leave the pathways for communication and opportunity open. You don’t need to be asking for anything, and always remember to offer greater value to other people, and enter with no entitlement or expectations of what others can do for you. Join Facebook groups, The Dots, follow Twitter callouts using hashtags, and keep your communication personal and transparent.

With the last two years pushing us online to stay connected, there are so many different ways to find your crowd - and communities which have popped up to fill in the gaps in-person networking has left. Remember, no film is ever made alone (unless you’re Bo Burnham, probably) and if you’re not one for working collaboratively you’ll likely find getting yourself involved in projects or getting your ideas off the ground will be a lot less fruitful. Networking doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, or a dirty word, it’s a part of the filmmaking process and something grassroots filmmakers are hugely reliant upon. It can also be a lot of fun to find people who care about the same things you do, to find people to learn from, and to find people who support your passions and projects.

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