It used to be the case for filmmakers that the primary means of connecting with other members of the industry was through attending meet-ups and cold-calling agents and studios. With the advent of large web platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, aspiring filmmakers have more options than ever to connect with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
I spoke at length to a shadow director while on the set of Criminal Minds- who requested that he not be named- about how directors like him get their start, especially with regards to the networking process. This was something I had initially understood as perhaps a process that required resume building, film festivals, and application through official channels. The reality was however, that I could not have been more mistaken. The director told me his start was as an architecture student. He graduated with a degree that had nothing to do with film, but still had a deep interest in storytelling. To find out more about directing, he reached out via Twitter to some of his favorite writers and directors. Some of these people were so happy to be reached out to, that they invited him to their sets and began showing him the directorial process personally.
Inspired by this “backdoor” method that a lot of young directors seemed to be using, I took it upon myself to at least give their style a shot. I took to platforms like Facebook and Instagram, and sent inquiries catered to each filmmaker’s area of expertise. To my surprise, most of the people I reached out to were very accommodating and eager to lend advice. A handful of them agreed to meet in person, another portion agreed to a phone call, and only a few either declined or never got my message. One of the writers who agreed to be on record with me was one of the three candidates selected to direct the new animated Marvel film Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse. “Getting into film is incredibly difficult,” he said. “A lot of it is based on luck. But if you surround yourself with people that you look up to—writers, directors, etc.—your odds of getting noticed are much higher.”
Other students at JPCatholic have found considerable amounts of success using this new approach. Senior Ben Escobar met in Burbank with one of Blumhouse Production’s rising directors, an interaction arranged entirely by means of social media. He had this to say about the encounter, “I found that in Hollywood, we’re all on the same playing field. Much like any other profession, people carry a lot of personal baggage with them. We were lucky enough to meet some who weren’t the Hollywood stereotypes and was just as human, enthusiastic, and open as any other artist with a passion for their medium.” Ben urged caution however, when reaching out to a public figure online. “I think it’s very risky and hit or miss. Don’t do it unless you’re comfortable with the person looking through your profile on that social media platform, or even looking up your IMDb. There are a lot of factors that come into play to really secure a meeting like that.” Professionalism is key, and having prepared questions is a must. Film professionals, like all people, want to be understood and want their stories to be heard. They will be less willing to help if they feel you are only interested in their position.
The worst case scenario is being either declined or ignored, which means going back to square one. Best case scenario is obtaining valuable information from working industry professionals and even a potential long-term connection. The most sensible route, as an almost graduated student, would be to work tirelessly to get in touch with as many people as possible, before living in LA and worrying about where the next paycheck is going to come from. College is—in a lot of ways—a safety bubble, and a time to develop skills and connections. When push comes to shove, ideally one will graduate and be at least partially aware of the professional world that awaits them.