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Networking 101: How to Work Your Connections

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Tristen In a business that is, arguably, more about who know you than actual talent, it can be hard to navigate the murky waters of your “network”. Many of us struggle with the etiquette of how to approach an industry contact. So, I’m here to offer my best advice from both sides of the “asking”.

First things first, make sure that your house is in order. Before approaching someone in a position to help you, you must make sure that any proof of your awesomeness is ready to be seen. For example…

If you’re an actor:

Have you taken an ON-CAMERA audition class?

Trust me, you don’t want that casting director you’ve been pinging on twitter to FINALLY call you in, only to bomb when you don’t know which side of the camera to read. Or if you’re still asking “should I sit or stand”. Taking an on-camera class gives you the rare opportunity to observe the way you behave under pressure. It builds confidence, and confidence is something that gets you the job!

Do you have a good reel?

If you don’t have any work to speak of, or you haven’t been able to track down any of your tape, it’s time to make one yourself. I talked about this in my first Ms. in the Biz piece here. You can write your own scene, or LOOSELY mimic one from a program that showcases your “type”. Do it. Do it now! When I was casting my comedy pilot, I only looked at actors with reels to see if they were funny. It’s not because I’m a big jerk, it’s because I didn’t have enough time slots to gamble on someone that might not have comic timing. Take the guess work out of it and just show us what you can do!

Do you have a GREAT headshot?

I’ll be the first to tell you, headshots are tough for me! I never feel like I get one that is truly “me”. And, good grief, are they expensive. But, one thing people can never say about the shots my agent uses, is that they don’t look like they’re of professional quality. They look great, they say “I’m here to stay”. And a professional photo gives people more confidence in you. When your products and business tools look great, it conveys the idea that you are not a risk. You are someone to be trusted to get the job done. And really, that’s what producers/directors/casting want to know.

If you’re a writer:

Do you have, at least, two scripts to show. I mean, really, really good ones? For me, when I started making writing contacts, I only had two scripts. A spec of my favorite show and an original half-hour script. People who love you are always going to want to see more. They want to be sure you’re not a one-trick-pony. Make sure all of your material is in proper format, is free of spelling errors and, if it’s meant to be funny – be sure there are jokes. You want an actor to read your material and be excited to deliver these lines. Until your stuff is on this level, you MUST wait to send it to your industry contacts. Do not risk blowing your one chance!

If you’re a director or producer:

Do you have anything to show your skills? And I mean anything! You can’t expect someone to stick their neck out for you if you don’t have tape of your work to show them. Buddy up with another filmmaker and film something, pronto.

Okay, you’ve got your stuff. Now what?

Now, it’s time to make all of your stuff easily accessible. If you have tape, throw it up on Vimeo or Youtube, and brand the channel so that people can find you. If you send me the link to one youtube video, I can surf around your other stuff as well. It makes it very easy for people to get to the goods!

Make an email signature with all of the relevant information! Careful, not too much. You don’t need to have links to every. single. thing. you’re signed up with. Too many things/links to choose from may work against you. Just add the things that you think will benefit you the most if a contact were to go down the “you wormhole”.

For example, in my simple email signature, I have my headshot thumbnail, a clickable link to my website, phone, email and clickable icons for Youtube, Twitter and IMDB. In my case, I don’t need LinkedIn or Facebook. It’s just too much. I would rather folks find their way to my youtube videos, as I think they showcase what I’m selling in the best light. Also, any additional info can be found on my website, if someone is really interested in all that.

Okay, yeah yeah, got it. Now what do I doooooooo?

Okay, so you’ve got yourself some shiny new contacts and want to make them work for you. How do you do it? How do you ask them to keep you in mind for their next project? Or how do you ask them to read your script? Here’s my opinion and you’re not going to like it. You don’t.

Asking someone for a favor, especially when you’ve just met them, is just no good. To be truthful, it tends to make people feel really uncomfortable. Since I’ve been in this town, I’ve found that, contrary to the scary Hollywood tales, people are generally very nice. Most casting directors/producers/agents/directors are looking for great talent and are super excited when they find it. People want to help you and they don’t want to hurt your feelings. So, when you ask them to help you, and for whatever reason, they don’t want to, it gets awkward. Here are a few reasons they may not want to help you. Hold on to your pants, we’re gonna get real!

  • They may not actually have the ability to help – I have a friend that works as a casting assistant and she has complained to me that so many people kiss up to her to get an audition. Yet, she has absolutely no power to do so.
  • They may not have time to help – Every time you want someone to “meet with you for coffee” or read your feature length script, it’s costs them time. And time is precious. Personally, I read at an average speed. So, at best, it’s going to take me 45 minutes to read your feature. Not to mention call or write back with thoughts or notes. Not everyone is willing to gamble that time on someone they hardly know.
  • They may not want to waste a favor on you – Full disclosure: I’ve asked for another actor to refer me to their agent before. It didn’t work. And I’ve had many actors ask for a referral to mine. Now, I don’t blame anyone for asking, I get it. But, I want my referrals to really mean something. So, when I call my manager and ask for him to look at someone, he’ll know to listen. If I did it every time someone asked, I’d start to get annoying pretty fast.
  • They might not like you – I don’t like to dislike people. But some people make themselves easy to dislike. Try to limit your negative Facebook posts. Choose wisely about when to get political. And just be a nice, positive person as much as you can. People like to help people they LIKE! I remember a few years back, I was interning at my agent’s office. My job was to open all of the actors headshot submissions, toss the ones that were not stapled together or were black & white, and organize the pile. While opening envelopes, I came upon the headshot of a girl that had been my scene partner in acting class years ago. I hadn’t spoken to her since then, but I remember she was nice. I happily put her headshot on the top of the pile with a post-it note that read “She’s a great actress”. To this day, I’ve never seen or heard from her and have no idea if she ever got a meeting. But I helped her because I liked her.
  • They may not be interested in what you’re selling – This kind of goes with the point above. They may not be a fan of your work. Don’t fret, just keep getting better at your respective craft until…

Someone OFFERS to do you a favor.

This is what you’re working for. The best case scenario is that everything about you, your material, your professionalism, talent and energy all create this perfect storm around you and your contacts OFFER to help you. I am lucky enough to have had this happen to me a number of times. Unbeknownst to me, a friend or contact has forwarded my info on to someone that could help me…just because.

See, people LOVE helping other people. And people want to help YOU! If someone believes in you, has the time and the ability to help you, they probably will. The number of times I have been asked to refer someone to my agent and did = maybe twice. However, I’ve sneakily given my agents the info of, at least, four actors that I’ve loved. Two of them got meetings. The thing is, I was so excited to help them because I believed in their work and knew they would make me look good. And that will happen for you as long as you keep working on your materials, stay positive and…

Do unto others!

What can YOU do to help your contacts? It’s a great thing to be owed a favor in this town. So, take a moment today to see if there is anything you can do to help someone else out. Maybe you know how to edit and can help someone with their reel. Maybe you can introduce two people that would do really great work together. Whatever it is, come from a place to humility and service and trust that others will notice and do the same.

Lastly, if you do decide that the timing is right for you to approach a contact for a favor, ask once. If they say “no”, trust that they will reach out if they ever change their mind. Resist the urge to keep asking. Be brave enough to drop your ego and ask for feedback on your script/video/reel. They may not have time to give it to you, but if they do, take the parts of it that can help you and ditch the rest. Do not become defensive, just thank them for taking the time to give you their opinion. And then get out there and make more contacts.

That’s it for today. What advice do you have for reaching out to contacts?

Tristen MacDonald

About Tristen MacDonald

Tristen MacDonald is a working actor & screenwriter in Los Angeles, currently recurring on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and the spokesperson for three national brands. Other credits include recurring on NCIS: LA, Grey’s Anatomy, Nickelodeon’s Henry Danger, national commercials for Amica, Taco Bell, Toyota (and dozens more), and the Groundlings Sunday Company. Tristen is also the founder of Happy Actors, an online community providing tools, resources, and training to help actors thrive. Happy Actors’ mission is to reshape the collective psyche of the next generation of artists and rid the world of “struggling actors” forever.