In Hollywood, work comes from your network. Yeah, there are job boards and Facebook groups and all that, but the best gigs come through people you know. This means that networking isn’t just something you do. You should consider it part of your damn job.
At the core, networking is just building relationships with people who can help your career. There’s no “right” or one way to do it. Nevertheless, I think there are a few important rules everyone should follow to network well in Hollywood.
Rule #1: Don’t Pay for Networking
Those networking establishments that want to charge you money to meet people are bullshit. They’re a complete waste of time. They seem like a shortcut to the rainmakers of the industry, but all they do is take your money. I’ve never seen one of those paid meetups have an effect on someone’s career.
Meeting people is free. But that doesn’t mean you won’t spend any money on networking. Be prepared to buy some drinks, pay a cover charge, or pick up the check every once in a while. But these are things you would do in any social setting.At the core, networking is just building relationships with people who can help your career. Click To Tweet
Rule #2: Work Where There’s Access
If you don’t know anyone in Hollywood, your first step is to become an assistant or a PA for an agent, manager, producer, production company, or studio – an executive with access to key people. It’s a shitty job, but everyone in Hollywood has had one.
As an assistant or a PA, you’ll learn who the players are and how to navigate the system in production. Get social with all the other assistants/PAs you meet. You can’t get to the executives without going through their assistants. Have drinks and coffee and lunch as much as you can. Talk about dreams, goals, aspirations and why you’re in this town. You may even find your tribe and create heartfelt relationships. Networking within the job is just as important as getting the first job.
When I was a PA for a season of DREAM ON, I met everyone in every department. I learned how it all worked – construction, camera, grip, set dec, electric, wardrobe, makeup, writers, researchers, etc. Sometimes when I had to deliver film to the lab at two in the morning. I would wait around and read the guild agreements (SAG, WGA, DGA, IATSE, and Teamsters). I learned a ton and the next day I would ask the production accountant and the UPM questions to clarify what I didn’t understand. I’m sure that had a real impact on how I was perceived by the executives on the show and it bettered my understanding of production in the process.
I was someone’s bitch, but I learned how everyone’s jobs functioned and who ran things. I made relationships with senior people. I answered calls, booked talent, looked for writers, read materials, did coverage on scripts, and basically automated the life of someone higher than me. The job even helped me understand where I wanted to go next with my career.
Rule #3: Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Once you get a job somewhere in Hollywood, it’s important to get comfortable being dismissed and dismissing other people.
When you’re new to the business, people are going to roll their eyes and discount everything you say. It doesn’t matter if your thoughts are actually good. You’re going to get shot down – a lot. It won’t last forever, but expect it for a couple of years.
Eventually, people will build trust with you and start to ask your opinion. Be candid, but don’t shit on people – especially creatives. Learn how to give your opinion on the spot and accurately identify problems without tearing them down.
If someone asks for your thoughts, you can’t say “Everything was great” because that’s obviously bullshit and no one believes it. They will immediately discount everything you say going forward. Instead, be simple and succinct. Start off with a compliment (there must be something you liked), transition with “But there are some problems…” then articulate your honest thoughts and graciously bow out. Try not to be a know-it-all. No one likes that.
Truthfully, even when an executive asks for your opinion, they don’t really want it. They want to see if your opinion matches their opinion, and if they can rely on you to help them push their project farther along.
Rule #4: Network Strategically and Proactively
Okay – Let’s say you don’t know anyone in the vertical you want to work in, but you’re determined to break into the business. Since people get work in Hollywood through their network, you’ve got to build a network first. I’ll give you the same advice I once told a receptionist for one of my clients.
She wanted to be an actress. She was pleasant, polite, articulate, funny, and a little weird in a good, memorable way. She did well once she was in front of someone. She just had to find the right people. Most importantly, she had to meet casting directors who could give her work.
Here’s what I told her to do:
- Don’t worry about the casting directors. You’ll never meet them right now. Focus on their assistants and the people who work in their offices.
- Think of all the movies with acting you admire. Make a list of 30-40 of them.
- Go to IMDB and find the casting directors for those movies. There will be lots of overlap.
- Look through each casting director’s IMDB and find their associates and assistants.
- Call up their offices, introduce yourself, tell them you’re an actor, and ask for a 10 minute conversation. Ask them how their career evolved. Asking people about themselves is the fastest way to make a friend. Don’t be dishonest about your intentions, but be friendly and social. They know their business requires a lot of friends.
Depending on your goals, those steps probably won’t work in exactly the same way for you. The point, however, is to be strategic with how you meet people. Don’t sit in coffee shops hoping someone influential walks in (would you even recognize them?) or crash people’s parties.
An observation I have seen over time: meet executives on a panel at a talk or convention OUTSIDE of Los Angeles (ie: New York, Nashville, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, etc) – go on the road and get a badge for the convention – when you meet people on the road and outside of LA, the competition for their time is much less competitive.
Rule #5: Don’t Stay in One Place for Long
Change is the only thing you can count on in Hollywood and in production. Sometimes you’ll change jobs three or four times in a year, depending on the projects you work on. Change will come on its own, but if it doesn’t, you should seek it out.
I once got great advice from a prop master. He told me never to stay on a TV show for more than one season when you’re young, even if the paycheck is good and you like the people. You’ll stagnate if you stick around too long. You won’t meet enough people to propel your career forward.
If you can, find work on a different show. If a producer offers you an opportunity on another project, take it. Grab any opportunity you can to meet more influential people.
Frankly, if you work as an assistant or PA for more than two years, either the job is bad (meaning you don’t meet enough people or the right people), your goals are bad, or Hollywood isn’t for you.
If you do it for longer than that, you’ll get pigeon-holed and you won’t move up. People will assume you haven’t moved up because you can’t. They’ll start to dismiss you, making your climb even harder.
I once knew a woman who worked on Friends for six seasons. Even though she worked on a massively popular television show, her network wasn’t wide enough to help her secure more work when she left. If she had left Friends sooner, she could have leveraged that show’s success in to greater things. Big credits don’t help if you don’t know anyone.
Rule #6: Nurture Those Relationships
Once you meet influential people, your next step is to stay engaged and connected with them. Don’t just call them when you need something.
Call routinely just to say hello. Be social. Ask them to hang out if you think you have that kind of relationship. If you allow your relationships to lapse, they won’t be available for you in the future when you need employment. Put them on a list and call them regularly. If you have a crap memory for these kinds of things, write down their partner’s and kid’s names so you can ask about them.
Most importantly, respond when they need help. The key people you need to meet usually won’t come to you when they need something, but if they do, make yourself available. Help them out as a favor and they will remember your contribution and likely return the favor.
Your career in Hollywood is a business. You’re a bloody entrepreneur. Every relationship you build is an asset that leads to better opportunities and more money in the future. Protect those assets at all costs so they can serve you later.
Rule #7: Tap Your Network Early
One of the unfortunate truths about the transient nature of working in Hollywood production is that key people (the ones that hire) sometimes take long breaks between projects. They might break for two or three months after a season or between films. Sometimes the break is intentional (some of these people make buckets of money, so why not take a 60 day holiday?). Other times the timing just sucks.
This means that some percentage of your network will be out of work at any given time. So you need a network that’s wider than the network you would need in any other industry.
I recommend maintaining close relationships with a minimum four or five key people in hiring positions who you can hit up for a job to stay employed. Remember, they won’t all be working or about to work at the same time. But more is always better. You can’t have too few friends in this town.
When do you reach out to your network? The moment you know when you’ll be out of work.
Start making calls as soon as you learn your last day of work. Don’t sit on your ass until your final day. Call everyone you know and say, “Hey, I don’t have anything as of September 21st. Let me know if you hear of something. If you hear of anyone who needs help, tell them I’m looking.”
Yes, I know it seems too simple to work, but if you’ve nurtured your network over time, those people will help. You might get a call from a stranger that goes like this: “Bob said you were looking for work. Come by the production office and we’ll have a day of work for you.” The next thing you know, you are employed with them for nine months on a show where they’re on the crew.
Now that you know how to network, I’ll leave you with this: Don’t fucking stop. Don’t get complacent and think “I know enough people. I can stay home in my slippers and robe, petting the kitty now.” The only time you can stop is when you reach a point where people strive to reach you.
The day you stop nurturing your network is the day your career starts waning.