The phrase “screenwriting it’s who you know” has been used by writers for decades to explain why they haven’t had the success they thought they deserved. They point to an existing relationship and say “Screenwriting it’s who you know”. This implies I am a better writer than that person, but I didn’t get the job because of a relationship. That is true and untrue at the same time. I would put it to you this way.
It’s who knows you.
A relationship is a two way street. Not only does the screenwriter in question know the producer/director/executive, but these people know them. I am going to drag in another old saying, “You don’t get a second chance at a first impression”. This first impression is what you will be known as. These production people will know you, for good or for bad. So it isn’t that you know them. You have no power over their decision making. It is the fact that they know you.
So how does this impact your career.
I am going to relay a little story. This will sound like I am blowing my own horn. But it is a real example that I can tell you with authority as it happened to me.
The HOSTAGE, had been in production for a while at the time of this article, it was approaching the end of primary filming. The producers had a good relationship with the distributors and capacity for two more films. This meant they were keen to get these projects scheduled and signed as soon as they could.
So they contacted me and asked me to pitch some projects to them. I had a few so I put together a quick pitch (not much more than an email). They came back to me asking to see the script on at least one of them.
This isn’t a “who he knows” scenario. It came about because they knew me. I have a distinct brand in their eyes. They came to me because of the type of work I produce and my understanding of budgetary constraints. I write a film as if I was going to make it using my own cash. This is attractive to these producers. This is the reputation I had built.
So how do you build a reputation?
Every person you meet is a great person. Every person you meet is honest. They are great writers, fantastic dancers, good cooks. They are whatever they are trying to convince you they are. This is human nature. Producers have heard it all before, “I tell unique stories with a twist”. So “Facta Non Verba” (my old school motto), Deeds Not Words. You will be judged by what you have done. Do you have a short film you can point to and say “that’s my story”, or a Blog, or a book of short stories on Amazon.
I can hear you now “I am a screenwriter, not a …..”. They need proof. No one is going to invest in you if you don’t invest. You need to build your own reputation. No one is going to do that for you. If you are not willing to do what it takes to make yourself appealing to producers you cannot expect them to find you appealing.
No one ever comes from nowhere to fame. Even the stories you hear of this happening are half truths. My brother had his own TV show for a while (I have never had help from his contacts). It took him 20 years to get that show. Twenty years of doing standup and writing for TV. He wrote plays for community theatre, just to help them. He taught comedy to people. He performed in small theatre productions. He did all that (because he loved it) and it built him a reputation. That reputation got him his show.
So it isn’t “who you know”. It is most certainly “who knows you”.