Cannes Film Festival- sizzling hype, award-winning films, Hollywood stars, glam frocks, Yacht parties, Rosé on tap… Or a Lions’ Den for the Network-Phobe?
This week I am heading to the French Riviera for my third Cannes experience. Now I’m pretty partial to a touch of glamour but I’m also a screenwriter and as a breed we tend to be more comfortable tucked away in our dark writing caves than in the stark sunlight of the film business battlefield. Think of it as throwing yourself into the waters of Sharks and Charlatans, Cynics and Die-hards, Has-Beens, Wanna-Be’s and Never-will-be’s, Macho Movers and Sadistic Shakers, and you won’t be far off.
According to Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman “No one knows anything”. Who knows what film is going to be the Next Big Thing? An Oscar winner can fail at the box office and a runaway success perhaps took ten years to get off the ground and been turned down by every producer on La Croisette before scratching it’s way to the surface and enrapturing audiences world wide. But in Cannes lots of people think they do know the Secret to Movies that Make Money. Those snarled tongues spit out your pitch like it’s rat poison. Unless of course someone else expresses an interest and then the tongue whips out and rolls you back in. There’s no filter; you’re meat in the mouths of the mean.
Your festival frock must be armadillo plated because it’s going to have to hide your sense of inadequacy and despair; and protect against the cut and thrust of ruthless disinterest. Crushing put-downs behind rosé stained smiles will bat your ego from pillar to post just as surely as you find yourself hopping from one networking nightmare to another. Walking on hot coals would come as a welcome distraction. You might well ask if the Rosé and the Yachts are worth the turbulence of terror in the face of yet another Film Exec waiting to kill your idea like a predator snapping off the head of its prey.
But Resilience is Paramount. Anyone who has walked into a networking event knows the results are slow in coming. Apparently it takes 7 separate interactions on different occasions with the same person to build enough trust for them to want to buy into whatever it is you’re hawking. The fruits of your labors will not land in your lap until you have played the game, stayed the course, and borne the wounds of rejection. Perseverance against all outward signs of failure is the key. Collect your defeats along your way to success. And the flipside of Networking is that when you persist, you do meet many great people who are genuine, have a passion for what they do, are open and who, over time are willing to connect, share and engage. These people become friends and collaborators and it is because of them that we are prepared to face the fear and do it anyway.
So I’m packing up my screenplays in neatly wrapped pitches, along with my business cards and crash helmet, ready to enter the fray. I’m turning Cannes-not into Cannes-do. Wish me luck and I’ll see you on the other side.
5 Top Tips to Networking
- Preparation. Wear something you feel good in, have your business cards easily to hand, know what you want to achieve from the meeting, get an idea of the people who are going to be there. Do you know anyone who is also going? Have a 25-word pitch that rolls off the tongue and sounds like you would normally talk.
- Arrival. Enter the room smiling and head for the bar. Get yourself a drink and chat to whoever is also getting a drink. Ask what they do, be interested, see if you can be of help to them, maybe you know someone that you might be able to connect them with. Ask them if they know anyone else attending. If they do ask them about that connection. If they don’t, ask them about their networking strategy for the night. Hatch a plan together and move into the throng.
- Approach. Walk through like you have intent, smile and catch people’s eyes, approach a group that includes anyone who returns your smile. Again, questions and interest in the other person are always appreciated, be enthusiastic and encouraging, ask about their successes and their disappointments.
- Connection. Ask for their business card and permission to follow up in the next few days with an email. Say why what they do is of particular interest to you and if they are open to it, you can share your reason for being there, what you do and what you are hoping to achieve.
- Follow up. Immediately make a note on the card of where you met the person and give some kind of context. When you get back to base, put their details into your contact system and send them an email saying how you appreciated meeting them and a brief summary of what you discussed and that you’d like to stay in contact. If you do a monthly newsletter or blog or social media ask if you can add them to those so you can keep them updated.
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