Involve Your Audience

Building an audience can be a long and humbling process. Extreme networking in disguise. Every little thing counts. Every smile, every gift, every anecdote. It all builds to a greater public image with richer public value. As if offering something of value isn’t hard enough, you must befriend hundreds of thousands of random strangers along the way.

Successful performers form an intimate relationship with their audience. Like building trust with a friend, an entertainer must build rapport and loyalty with his or her fans. Something as big as inviting a fan to guest star or as small as retweeting a post can win you a fan for life. Even little acknowledgements can make a person’s day. Invite fans to be a part of what you’re trying to accomplish. Encourage them to join the conversation – and be sure to respond. Never be too proud to ask your audience questions, for feedback, or to help you out. Encourage a two-way street between you and them – and hold up your end of the bargain.

Inventory Your Relationships

When I say, ‘Inventory your relationships,’ I don’t mean, ‘Treat your friends like retail products on a stocking shelf.’ I mean, ‘Keep tabs on everyone in your network.’

Like reviewing notes taken in class, study your mobile contacts list, address book, or friends list. Take note of the people you haven’t spoken to in a while. If you find yourself curious about or missing updated information on a contact, you should reach out to him or her and catch up. Send a note, invite for coffee, arrange a phone or video call – whatever you find comfortable. Learn what keeps your friends busy, where their talents lie, what interests they have, and where they want to go next. Catch up, offer help if you can, and take notes to update your rolodex. Promise to stay in touch.

Never rule anyone out; people can change. Some of the shady characters in high school may have sobered up to start multi-million dollar businesses. You never know. You will be surprised what happens when you reach out to old relationships, especially the ones you were never close with before. You might uncover a great opportunity, discover a shared interest, or find romance. All three have happened to me. Partnerships of all kinds form out of rebooting network connections.

Recycling old relationships can be far easier than meeting new people because you already share common ground. I would even argue that keeping your network fresh by staying in touch is equally as important as growing your network, if not more so. As I have said before, it’s not about who you know, but who knows you. It is important that your contacts remember you. Stay fresh in other people’s minds, keep them fresh in yours, and keep your network strong.

It all starts by skimming your phone during downtime. Stay in touch.

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Real People, Real Conversations

The two most common icebreaker questions in Los Angeles are “where are you from” and “what do you do (for a living)?” Understandable, because few people actually grew up here and most relocated for their industry. A quick, cordial method to find common ground (if any) or extract details enough to build a full conversation.

The problem? These questions assume that work or geographical heritage define a person’s individuality. While some levels of personality and culture can be inferred, there is so much more to a person than his or her job or hometown. Furthermore, with jobs being the core topic (because jobs are more current and relevant than where you grew up), conversations tend to become networking events. Work sneaks out of the office and slips into your Saturday night cocktail.

I cannot argue the value of building professional relationships, but oftentimes adults forget that it is important to have other types of relationships as well. I find it extremely difficult to meet new people in Los Angeles. Worse, I find it impossible to develop relationships with people outside the film industry. I blame a lot of it on these icebreaker questions. “Oh, we’re not in the same industry? We cannot work together, so, I guess … have a good night!? Nevermind that there are so many other levels we can connect on!”

My best friends here can carry on conversations about things other than work and the movies. Makes a big difference when you’ve been on film sets all day and need a mental break. And it makes a big difference when you need to feel like a human being, rather than a workaholic robot. Science, discovery, politics, love, perspective, health, the world, philosophy … the list is endless.

Every conversation does not need to be a networking event. Try to steer your meet and greets away from conventional topics. Pay close attention to people who bring more to the table than their resume.

The Difference Between Liking and Respecting

I consider very few people “worthless.” Almost everyone has a redeeming quality. Many less-sociable acquaintances are quick to judge others and shut the door. I don’t think that’s fair or reasonable. No, I’m not saying you need to be friends with everyone. Hell no. But don’t throw out fools just because you can’t appreciate foreign personalities.

I make a casual mental effort to divide people into two groups:

People I like.

People I respect.

The “likes” tend to carry genuine personalities I can connect with. These individuals become friends.  The “respects” have notable skills or chapters of knowledge I admire. These individuals find a place in the business rolodex.

Most people I meet fall into one category or another. I respect a large number of professionals, but never plan to break bread with them. They sit on my contacts list anyway.

The true keepers fall into both lists. These are the people with whom you build projects, share ideas, explore the world, socialize, dine and spend the rest of your life.

Woe to those who fall on neither list.

Film Friday: What Goes Around Comes Around

Lauren Gabel

With Peter Thiel’s ugly forecast for the fate of higher education and the exponential rise of student loan debt, there’s more cynicism now than ever before towards four-year universities. It is definitely difficult to rationalize the financials, especially in the face of six-figure private school tuition. People have asked me whether I felt my degree was “worth it.” My response? Absolutely.

Today’s guest post is by friend and fellow USC classmate Lauren Gabel. Lauren currently coordinates talent for Alloy Digital and authors a great blog, Destination Hollywood, about navigating your early years in Hollywood. She beautifully paints the primary reason I have been able to actually embrace my degree:

Enter Lauren Gabel:

When you are young and in school, you hear over and over again how important networking is in the entertainment business. But I don’t think that ever really sunk in until I graduated and entered the real world. Personally, I loved USC film school. I learned so much about filmmaking—the process, the business, production, etc. But I think the best thing about going to a school like USC is the contacts you graduate with. Sure, I’ve found the occasional job on Craigslist or Mandy or the USC Job Board, but all the really great positions I’ve landed have been thru a personal connection. I met so many wonderful people while at school and I guess I made a good impression on them as well because I am continually called up and offered various gigs and positions. I am currently gainfully employed with a job that I love, which is due in part to a very good friend and the owner of this blog (you’re the best, Craig!).

I have been very fortunate, and in return, I always make sure to pass along as many opportunities as I can. When I hear about a job thru a connection, I’ll pass it along to my USC friends and people I have worked with before and can vouch for. I have gotten so many kind responses from people thanking me profusely just for sending along a job posting that only took like 5 seconds out of my day. I love seeing my friends land great jobs and helping to further the Trojan network. Maybe someday that girl that I recommended for an assistant gig at Disney will be running the studio and offer me a great job! It’s a definite possibility. We might be the assistants of today…but we will be the filmmakers and studio execs of tomorrow. After all, what goes around comes around. Right?

Film Friday: The Key to Becoming a Successful Director

Writing a screenplay, filming shorts, building a reel, exhibiting talent and advertising yourself as a “director” are NOT enough. Film is a collaborative art and it takes a strong core team. The key to becoming a successful film director (or any key-level position) is to surround yourself with talented people who can only see you as a director.

True for any profession – surround yourself with people who believe in your dreams. Family and significant others are a good start, but you need professionals who can support you and your vision. Convince the industry you are best at doing one thing above all else.

I have mentioned this before, but it has to do with portrayal. If people see you as a good assistant, they will only see you as a good assistant. Best camera operator in town? Good luck getting calls for anything else. If your agent values you as a writer, hard chance earning a push toward the big chair. Show everyone you are a good director, and they will only see you as a good director.

Start on your level. It is far easier and more effective to prove it to peers who will recommend you than to a studio executive with your reel or a script. Your network is your net worth. A friend’s “I know this great director” is far more accelerating than “I know this talented guy who is working at an agency.” If your friends don’t title you a director, no one will.

Best to build your team on level, too. You need at bare minimum a producer, director of photography, production designer, sound designer and editor who can vouch for you. Part of your marketability as a director are the talented chaps you have in tow.

If you are not building relationships with collaborators, getting constant practice or stuck working a 60-hour week, I strongly encourage you to quit your mediocre day job and get busy because you are wasting time. Don’t tell people you are a director, be a director. The only person who will believe your lie is you, unless of course your lie comes true.

Share this with peers you believe in and encourage them with your vote of confidence. Success in collaboration is a two-way street.

Three Steps to Earning Trust

Step 1:  Invite Trust by listening. For someone to trust you, he or she must first be comfortable enough to share with you. You can make them feel comfortable by listening well, patiently and without judgement. Let them know you truly care.
Step 2:  Affirm Trust by making a promise. When you identify an actionable promise you can make (keeping a secret, reaching out, delivering results), acknowledge it with a nod, hug or “you can trust me.” Be sure it is a promise you can keep.
Step 3:  Validate Trust by keeping that promise. Without question, deliver on your word. The negative effect of breaking a promise can produce far more noticeable results than the positive effect of fulfilling one. You may never be praised for keeping a secret, but you can certainly cripple your reputation by sharing it. Remind the person that trust does not have to end here.

Repeat these steps enough and you can earn everyone’s trust effortlessly.