Relationship Management 201: Expanding the Web

It’s Tuesday and school is back in session. That’s right, time to talk about relationship management again.

Back in July and August I posted what I have learned about developing relationships through my career in a completely different field. The lessons I’ve learned are easily applied to networking in Hollywood and I decided to share those realizations. The articles were well received — I got a lot of positive comments and e-mails about them but I didn’t feel I had enough to say to warrant another post. Time passes, and I’ve learned a little more in these last few months. Hopefully it will be of some use to you.

I do recommend reading the other posts first if you haven’t already, simply to have an understanding of what I’ve covered in the past. I called this ‘201’ because I do feel like this is about taking it to the next level. Once you start practicing the advice I’ve already given, you’ll be ready to ‘expand the web’.

Okay, so first, let me tell you about what I’ve been up to the last few months in regard to relationship management. I have my ‘finger file’, basically a Word document where I keep information about all of my screenwriting related contacts. I recently reviewed my entire file and updated it with new fields of information. It started to get a little more robust, so I decided to move it to Excel (if it gets too much larger I’ll have to create an Access database!) What information am I collecting? I know it sounds weird, but you tend to forget things about people. If a computer file seems too complicated, get a recipe box and index cards — it serves the same purpose. On each card (or in each row of your excel document) put the following basic information:

  • Contact’s Name
  • Contact’s address or e-mail address (I try to use both if I have them)
  • Contact’s phone number(s)

Those are the basics. No matter what else you do, you need to list the contact and how to get in touch with them. Here are some of the other pieces of info I collect, if I can:

  • Contact’s profession
  • Contact’s agent or manager or boss (if it is an assistant)
  • Contact’s birthday
  • Contact’s family names (spouse and kids, if applicable)

I’ll tell you why I collect those last two items in a minute. You may notice that I haven’t put any projects related to these contacts in my file. This information is readily available on IMDB if they are a working writer, producer, etc. If the contact is NOT yet a professional (meaning paid for their work) I may note that information on the card, along with the names of any projects they are working on. I try to keep this miscellaneous info to a minimum, unless I cannot find it easily by searching on the web.

The birthday and family names information is someting I learned to do in college. I’m pretty good at putting faces to names, but I don’t always remember who is married, who has kids, etc. I have 6 cousins and they all have 2+ kids each. Every year I have to learn the names of all these kids running around when I go home for the holidays and it is exhausting to remember them all. Imagine trying to do that with all of the contacts you have! You want to have things other than screenwriting to talk with your contact about. When you engage them in conversation you want to ask about his/her spouse (“How is Kathy?”) or kids. If you want to be really good at this, I recommend starting to log information like hobbies, the school the person went to, the kids’ ages, and anything significant about that contact (“Been golfing lately, I know you love to go to Pebble Beach.”) For people you know very well, you may not need the file, but for those contacts you don’t have a really close relationship with, it can mean the difference in how you build rapport with someone. If you are up for a job along with other candidates, who do you think the person is going to feel more comfortable with, the person who just answers questions or the person who engages in conversation, asks questions which get the contact talking about his or her activities and life? Yes, this works in ANY profession.

So, how much is too much? Don’t be a stalker. You don’t need to know everything. Again, each contact is different, collect the information you feel is valuable.

For example, I recently visited a new colleague (day job again) and had never met this person before. I was looking for something to talk about with him and scanned his office for clues (this is something that is critical in job interviews and meetings with people in their offices). I noticed that this colleague had a large photo of a sports stadium on the wall. When I looked closer, I recognized it as the football field of my alma mater! Instantly I had a connection with this person. I mentioned the school to him and that I had also attended and we were able to strike up a good 5-10 minute conversation just about the school. If I hadn’t attended the school, I could have asked him about football, since he had a picture of the field and must like sports. Either way, it was something I could note about this person and use to break the ice and build rapport with him.

Clues to look for in an office: pictures of family and/or pets, trophies and awards, anything related to hobbies, etc.

What if you aren’t in an office? How else can you collect information? Well, the obvious answer is to LISTEN to the person. Do they mention a wife? Ask a follow up question about her (what’s her name, what does she do, etc). Does the contact have an assistant? Talk to the assistant (always) and learn their name. When you visit your contact or call, make sure to take time to converse with the assistant too — this person is the gatekeeper to your ‘key’ contacts and you want them on your side, maybe even mentioning you or talking about you to their boss (in a good way). Besides, that assistant may someday be a creative exec. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a good relationship with that person already?

Okay, so you have your finger file. Now what?

Now you build the web.

Some people may be able to do this on a computer, but I actually do this one the old fashioned way — on paper. Visio would be the best tool for this exercise.

The purpose of the web is to show connections between yourself and your contacts. Sometimes you meet people through associations with existing contacts. Other times you will realize that you know two contacts through different means, but those contacts know each other. The best way to see these connections is to make a map, or a web. You may want to keep IMDB or Google handy for this exercise, but typically the web grows over time — as you learn more about your contacts!

Let’s start simple. You know a working writer. Let’s say he’s a writer on a TV show named Ned. You start with yourself in the center of the web. I usually box or circle the names on my web. Draw a line, like a spoke, from the circle around your name to Ned’s name on the web. Leave lots of white space around it like this:

By the way, these should be first/last names, but for the purpose of this demo, I’ve just used first names. So, now you have a connection to Ned in your web. Now, let’s say that Ned knows another contact of yours, Joel, but they do not work together (this is important). Send a dotted line from Ned to Joel’s circle, like this:

If they work together in some capacity, use a solid line. Now, here’s the fun part of expanding the web. Let’s say there’s someone you want to know in the future through that contact, someone they know well or work with. You add that person on another level of the web with a blue line:

You continue to build your web like so. You can create your own legend, color coding, etc to read it, but you want to include your contacts, their relationships to each other and to people you want to know. Sometimes your web can start looking like this:

That’s okay if it does look a little confusing — it’s just a visual representation of the connections between people. I use it as a map to see who is well connected and who may provide me with a way to meet other people. This is targeted relationship building. Most of the people you meet may be quite random, this is a tool to help you control how you build relationships a little better. I have been able to use it to some success this year and hope to improve my methods in the next few months.

This is pretty long, so I’ll follow up with some additional information in another post. Until then, start your finger file and your web!

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This post was written by Shawna on December 27, 2005

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Christmas Dreaming

It’s that time of year when I, like many others, turn introspective, pondering what has passed in the last twelve months, thinking about the next twelve and what may come. We start to formulate our ‘resolutions’ for next year. Of course, first, there’s the holiday of your choice to survive — in my case, Christmas.

My parents kept badgering me about what I wanted for Christmas this year. Sometimes they forget that I’m a grown woman who doesn’t need to be showered with presents, like I did when I was eight. Still, I know they like to keep up tradition (and in all honesty, so do I), but I was at a loss as to what I wanted materially for Christmas this year. I’d already gotten a box of brads from my sister and I had bought myself a new laptop last month. I don’t often have time or inclination to listen to music so an iPod or other mp3 player would be wasted on me. I tried to think what I wanted and I kept coming up empty.

But there are things I want for Christmas. They just happen to be things my parents can’t buy me in a store.

I want to become a better writer. Sure, they could buy me more screenwriting books and software, but those things won’t make me a better writer. Only writing and more writing on my part will get me what I want.

I’d also like to stop being a procrastinator. It’s been my lifelong bad habit, wait until the last minute, work like mad to meet a deadline…I envy people who get their work done with time to spare. Maybe someday…

I’d like a Mustang. Parents aren’t going to buy me that one, and I’ve just paid my Sentra off, so I won’t be buying one either for quite a few years yet.

I’d like to see less bitterness, hatred and spite. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I don’t hold these kinds of emotions myself, but I see it everywhere around me. L.A. is a cynical town and it can be hard to keep these kinds of negative emotions at bay and some folks have just given up the fight.

I’d like to get an agent. Again, something that won’t be gift-wrapped under the tree. This one I’ll get myself when I have my second spec ready to roll.

I’d like more time with friends. Sometimes it feels like I barely have time to e-mail, call or visit with the few friends I have. I was blessed with meeting a lot of new people this year, and I hope to develop some long lasting friendships with many of these folks. Hopefully I’ll find more time in the next year to nuture those friendships.

I’d also like to quit being president of the HOA. Ain’t gonna happen, unless by some miracle, one of the new owners decides to take a crack at it.

Finally and most importantly, I wish for all of you to get the things you want and need. Regarding screenwriting, may your cool idea develop into a great story to tell and may your great story become a fantastic screenplay.

Merry Christmas to all. And for those of you not celebrating the day, happy holidays to you. I’ll be off tomorrow, but articles should pop up every day next week.

God bless us, every one.

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This post was written by Shawna on December 24, 2005

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Dress for the job you want, not the job you have

I used to hear this at the office all the time — if you want to move up the ladder, you have to act like you already have the job on the rung above you before they’ll think you can have it.

This also applies to screenwriting.

I appreciate all of the comments and encouragement regarding my recent ‘rejection’, but let’s face it…contests aren’t writing jobs. Contests don’t make careers…well, maybe the Nicholl, but that’s different. No, if I want to be a working writer, I have to BE a working writer…even if I’m not being paid for it. I have to “dress” for the job I want, not the job I have.

I do not want to be perceived as a hobbyist or amateur. I am not those things. I am a working writer who is not yet being paid to write. The more I reinforce that for myself, the more likely I am to actually become a paid writer.

Have a game plan. Don’t just write your spec, figure out what you are going to do with it.

In my most recent class, I was asked to list the 5 things I was going to do in the next year to work toward my career goal (and of course, I had to state that goal). Fortunately, I could think of more than 5 things I was going to do, but the benefit of this exercise is it gives you small goals to achieve. So, in 2006, I’ll be doing the following:

  • Writing a ‘Cold Case’ spec
  • Rewriting my ‘Lost’ spec
  • Continuing to maintain and make new contacts in TV and film which can help me…
  • Get an agent.
  • Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing. I’ll finish my pilot spec this year.

What is your gameplan? If you are working on a spec, when do you want to finish it? When do you want to rewrite it? When do you want to send out query letters or the script itself. Stop preparing for contests that may get you nowhere in terms of a writing career…unless, that’s your interest. If you are writing just to enter writing contests, well, then, you are on a different path. If you are writing because you want to BECOME A PAID WRITER, you need a plan.

Screenwriting isn’t a hobby for me, and I’m no longer going to treat it as such. What are you going to do?

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This post was written by Shawna on December 22, 2005

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Rejected from Writer’s Arc

Just got my rejection call. Unfortunately, my cell didn’t ring, so I got their voicemail. Probably just as well.

I’ll write more later… good luck to the others!

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This post was written by Shawna on December 19, 2005

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Odds and Ends

Today is the last day for any real business in Hollywood. It will turn into a ghost town after the weekend. Since there won’t be much news to post, I have some articles I’ve been writing just to fill the lull in news commentary.

Next week while Hollywood assistants get their (probable) only vacation of the year and the bigwigs go to Aspen or Mexico or where ever they go, you’ll be able to read up on the following:

  • What I want for Christmas. In case you were wondering.
  • Rundown and Review of the Various Screenwriting Forums/Message Boards
  • Networking 201 – how to expand your web
  • Special end of year review of the major script purchases — what trends have developed this year?
  • Midseason Report — What’s coming in January

Of course on Monday I’ll get the VERDICT on the Writer’s Arc Fellowship, so come back late Monday/early Tuesday for all the scoop on my fate. Hope everyone has a great holiday and please leave any information you are dying to have here in the comments…want an update on a particular show? Need to know what I’m up to? Need the snow report in Illinois (where I’ll be until the new year)? Maybe you just want to say hi, do it here.

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This post was written by Shawna on December 16, 2005

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Glimmer of hope for Arrested Development

According to the Hollywood Reporter, Showtime is interested in picking up ‘Arrested Development’ from Fox, if Fox really does shut down the show, as it has strongly indicated. Variety also reports that ABC has shown interest in picking up the show.

Hopefully this is not false hope, but it sounds like the talks are happening for the show to get a new life elsewhere.

Hey, it happened for ‘Family Guy’ — why not?

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This post was written by Shawna on December 14, 2005

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Pitching in a sedan

To begin this tale, I’ll start with my preparations for my interview for the Writer’s Arc Fellowship.

First, I scoured the ‘net. I have a post I’ve been working on (and will hopefully finish in time for my holiday break next week) about the various screenwriting forums (Wordplay, Done Deal, Artful Writer and Two Adverbs) and their pros and cons. I found that one of the previous fellows who kept a partial journal on the Writer’s Arc website kept a more detailed and comprehensive journal on one of these forums. I then proceeded to read EVERY POST he wrote regarding his entry to and experience in the program.

That was Saturday.

There are pieces of my strategy and preparation I will not reveal, because I don’t want some other resourceful finalist (who isn’t one of my scribosphere friends) stealing all my ideas. This IS a competition after all.

However, there are relevant pieces to this story. Let’s just say that the former Fellows names were published, easy to find, and I MIGHT have contacted one of them to get some insight into the process.

Oh yeah, I’m ruthless. Take no prisoners.

On Sunday I talked to former Fellow who was not the journaling guy, mostly e-mail though we had a brief phone conversation on Friday. Found out what I needed to know.

Sunday I went to Creative City Cafe and worked on my pitches.

I’ll post all the details of how I constructed my pitches next week, particularly if my method nets me a fellowship (otherwise, I’ll be posting my method for feedback on how I could have improved it).

Finally, on Monday night I met with good, trusted screenwriting friend (and blogger) who I will not name because he might not want me to. Anyway, he let me try my pitches out on him, he gave me feedback and helped me figure out what order to pitch my ideas.

So, I spent a lot of time working on my pitches, preparing for this pitch meeting.

Monday afternoon the Writer’s Arc sponsors called me.

WOMAN ON PHONE
Hi, this is the Writer’s Arc. Is this Shawna?

SHAWNA
Yes, hi! How are you?

WOMAN ON PHONE
Good, I was calling to see if we could move up your interview tomorrow.

Milisecond of panic. Can hear a pin drop.

SHAWNA
Sure, when would you like to move it to?

(In my head: ‘please don’t say today, please don’t say today…’)

WOMAN ON PHONE
Are you available an hour earlier, at 11 AM?

SHAWNA
Of course! (In my head, I hope I don’t have a meeting!’)

WOMAN ON PHONE
Great, we’ll talk to you tomorrow at 11.

SHAWNA
Looking forward to it! (Crap.)

I had a 10 AM meeting, which I don’t really remember much of because I kept looking at my Blackberry to see what time it was. My perfect plan for the noon pitch was to go out to my car in the parking lot, give myself some time to get into the right frame of mind, and casually scan my notes before the call starts.

What actually happens:

The meeting hasn’t ended and it is 11:02. The phone is going to ring, I KNOW it is going to ring. 11:03. PHONE RINGS. Crap!! I answer — false alarm, it’s a work related thing, but it gives me the excuse I need to jump out of my chair, dart out of the conference room without even giving my boss a glance and head out to my car. Meanwhile I’m on the phone with this lady who wants to schedule a 12:30 meeting and can I call in for it…look lady, I’m waiting for a very important call, I’ll give you the moon if you will just hang up RIGHT NOW. Instead I said, “yes, sounds great, talk to you then, thankyouverymuchgoodbye.”

11:05 I’m in the elevator, headed down from the 9th floor, and WE ARE STOPPING ON EVERY FLOOR.

11:06 I look like some weirdo rushing through the lobby of the office building as I head to the parking deck. I take the steps two at a time, which, by the time I reach the 3rd level, I realize is really really STUPID, since I’m about to take a phone call with people and very much need to sound like I have not just run up 5 flights of stairs.

11:08 I’m in my car. I pull out my laptop and load up my pitch notes. The sun is shining brightly into my car and the screen on my laptop is pretty dim, so I mess with my coat, trying to drape it over the back of my seat the block out the light, and fail miserably. Can’t sit the laptop on my lap because it is too wide in the driver’s seat. Had I been thinking, I might have considered sitting on the passenger side, but I had just run up 5 flights of stairs and hadn’t really given a lot of thought to how I should sit in my car.

11:13 I accidently shut down my computer. Reboot, relaunch…now I’m thinking I’m near the zone, they are going to call any second. Though it is nice out, my car has heated up and I start sweating.

11:18 I finished scribbling some last minute reminders to myself, things I want to make sure I mention and I keep glancing at the time on my Blackberry. Panic sets in. Maybe they have the wrong number? What if they tried to call when I was in the elevator but I didn’t have a signal? Maybe I have the time wrong? The day wrong? Maybe they aren’t calling me at all and it is all part of an elaborate joke? I try to shake off the nervous thoughts by playing Spider Solitaire, but it is hard with the touchpad when your finger is shaking slightly.

11:20 Phone rings. I’m on. Showtime. And it is like I’m back in high school, ready to go out on stage during the play. I drop my panic like a bad habit and close up the solitaire. I segue into my chitchat and eventually the pitch.

Total call time: 32 minutes and 22 seconds.

The pitching went well, I think. I know I didn’t completely bomb out and I didn’t sound like a blithering idiot, but oddly I felt I started strong and ended weak, which sucked, because I saved my best pitch for last and I felt I muffed it, I know I’ve pitched that story better. Sucks.

Good news: I ask how many Fellows…could be more than 5! All depends on how the interviews go. They felt they could handle a group of 6 or 7, which is good news for all of the interviewees. Confirmed that the program is 16 weeks.

So now, we wait…until Monday. My aunt told my mom that she put in a good word for me with God this week, so I’ve got that going for me.

Thanks again to everyone for the encouragement. Win or lose, I feel pretty darn good about myself, particularly as this was my first time entering a feature screenplay contest of sorts. Nicholl here I come! 🙂

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This post was written by Shawna on December 13, 2005

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Weeds gets second season

Weeds, the hour long Showtime series got some Golden Globe love today and as a result is renewed for a second season.

I may go ahead and add this to the watchlist. Congrats, comedy writers, you now have a different show to spec!

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This post was written by Shawna on December 13, 2005

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More Globes

The official Golden Globes site listing of nominations (including TV).

Apparently they had no room at the inn for ’24’, ‘House’, or ‘Deadwood’ as best dramas…

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This post was written by Shawna on December 13, 2005

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Golden Globe Nominations

Can be found here. I’ll have commentary later.

Today is my pitch for Writer’s Arc (at 11 AM). I’ll report back this afternoon!

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This post was written by Shawna on December 13, 2005

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