When people talk about Hollywood, they often widen their eyes and say, “Well, it’s all about who you know. You know?” And that is, actually, completely true. The very first day I started my theatrical training, the school’s director, a well-respected and successful actress in her own right, sat all of us first year students down and said, “This is your first big break. The people who will give you your second big break are not us, your teachers, but your new peers who you are sitting next to right now.” We all gave each other sidelong glances, sizing each other up. Could that pimply kid next to me really make me a star? Chances are…yes.
If the entertainment business is all about being in the right place at the right time, who you are with at the time is going to really affect your life. Maybe that pimply kid on Day One decided he wasn’t going to be an actor at all, but a casting director. Wow! Instant in. Maybe that other kid next to you became a producer, or a director, or got a starring role on Broadway last year and knows a thousand other well-situated people. Sound crazy? Well, that’s because it is. But crazy or not, the truth of the matter boils down to a little rule involving the one-and-only Kevin Bacon: everybody knows somebody. (If you’re not getting the Kevin reference, it refers to the 6 Degrees of Separation game.) Which is the heart of networking.
The term “networking” used to scare the bejeesus out of me. It reminded me of a spiderweb strung across a door, trapping poor innocent little bugs who just want to be cast as “Annie” on the Great White Way. In reality, we network all the time without even knowing it. Every time you go to a friend’s party and meet a new person, every time you facebook an old childhood buddy from middle school, every time you see someone whose name you can’t quite remember and then awkwardly reintroduce yourself anyway: NETWORKING. Great! So you’re already a pro! Now we just have to get the most out of that talent in order to pump up your career. (Don’t be scared. You can do this!)
1. GET BUSINESS CARDS: I know, I know. I feel a little like a tool every time I whip out my little green and pink card with my name in all caps. But there’s a reason business cards exist…because they work. Give them to everyone you meet. EVERYONE. You only have to put the pertinent information on there: name, occupation, address, phone number, email, website. Keep it short and sweet. I like the ones with your headshot on it, because it instantly reminds them who they met. But don’t paper any producer’s car with your card, because that’s just annoying, and they’ll throw it out anyway.
2. GET POSTCARDS: These are perhaps the best communicative device you could possibly have. They’re small, cheap, and can be used as constant little reminders of all the work you’re busy doing. I’ve heard casting directors say the very best way to reach them is with postcards, because they have all the info right there in front of them, and don’t have to waste time opening envelopes.
3. GO TO NETWORKING EVENTS: Alumni parties, actor mixers, networking parties after film screenings, Q & A’s, shows, etc. Say hi. Get a drink. Eat some chicken fingers. Have fun. These are great, because you can get a nice, healthy dose of reality: even the people you’re trying to impress enough to hire you are simply humans too. Even they like chicken fingers! So bring your business cards!
4. JOIN LISTSERVS and EMAIL GROUPS: Who likes getting 4000 emails a day? No one. Who likes getting 100 emails a day with job tips, actor questions, advice and/or offers? ME. You should too. You need to keep informed about what’s going on in this business, so why not have the info come right to your inbox? And, better yet, the best people to ask all your millions of actor questions are other actors. So find them, bond with them, email them.
5. START YOUR OWN NETWORKING GROUP: This is the greatest thing you’ll ever do. A lot of networking companies offer these as part of their package, but if you want to save your money, then get together with two or three of your friends once a week. Start off with 15 minutes to just catch up and chat, and then get down to business: where to go to a good class, where to get a good headshot, where to get your reel edited? Also a good part of a networking group is having someone to keep you on your toes and make sure you’re doing your homework, auditioning, sending out your headshots and resumes. I’ve got an awesome networking group, and we chat over coffee, and make sure we’re on the right track to achieving our goals. And when I start slacking, my friends put on their tough faces and remind me I’ve got to get my work done.
So, listen, networking is a big beast of a topic. Some people have found the best place to network is at a bar. Others network at 3 am at the hottest parties in town. Others network on film sets or in rehearsal rooms or audition green rooms. Whatever! It all works if you are working it. Just remember, that guy next to you…he might be a nobody. Or he might be your potential boss. So be nice, be yourself, and remember your business cards.