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By Michael Schilf · January 14, 2011
“It’s not what you know, but who you know.” I’m entirely aware that this gray-haired saying is unoriginal and overused; however, sometimes we need to hear what we’ve heard a thousand times before in order for it to really sink in. And when it comes to Hollywood, the cliché is verifiable: it's all about relationships.
A strong network is valuable in all aspects of life, but in the film industry this is truer than almost anywhere else. Networking is an intrinsic part of filmmaking, whether you want to be an actor, producer, director or any member of the crew, and yes… the screenwriter too. But beginning writers trying to break into the industry can be guilty of a major illusion if they think their screenplay alone will be enough to get them in and open doors.
Although there is no doubt the quality of your script is important – it’s true that great material rises – but only if the writer of that great material can hand it to people who will read it. And in a town where “nobody reads”, it’s essential to have people in your network that can pass your screenplay along. The reality is that there are a lot of good scripts out there showcasing a ton of talent, but quite often the doors to Hollywood are sealed shut. These doors are not closed to you on purpose. It’s not like you have to go through some painful “sell yourself to the Devil” initiation. You just need to have a key – a key available from somebody in your network.
So how do you go about building a network? Join a writer’s group, and if you can’t find one locally in your area, start one yourself. Not only do you have the advantage of meeting other writers every month who read your material and give you necessary feedback, but a writer’s group also creates deadlines – a true alley to any writer.
Working on independent films is another great way to build relationships – doing freebie jobs on student and low-budget projects. Often that will give you more experience than just being a PA (Production Assistant), since you'll often be thrown into several jobs at once. And it never hurts to learn how to wear more than one hat. Get to know everybody you work with, and as they go on to other things (as do you), you'll be able to bring each other along. And who knows, you might just be lucky enough to work with the next Christopher Nolan, Darren Aronofsky, or Guy Ritchie. Remember, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” that can make all the difference.