What is networking? Why is it so important?
I remember the first day we started the MAIFB courses, our programme director, Professor Will Higbee, stressed the importance of networking to us. I had no idea what networking was at that time.
According to Google, networking is the exchange of information and ideas among people with a common professional or special interest, usually in an informal social setting. Well, in film business, you will often come across networking in film screenings, festivals, film markets, and after-parties as well. On these occasions, the room is always filled with cinephiles, filmmakers or people working in other areas of the industry. If you’re interested in someone’s work or knowledge, it’s the chance for you to talk to them under these circumstances. Most of them would like to have this informal talk with you or exchange the information you want.
Networking is the common way people meet each other and expand their personal networks in film business. As a producer, that could be the way for you to find your investor and fund provider. Or as a film sales person, that could also be the way to find your next buyer. So as a film business student ourselves, it’s extremely important for us to know how to network with people. It’s the thing we need to face every day in our future professional career.
Where should I start?
So basically, networking is talking to a stranger in a certain environment. Sounds very scary, right? Although I love to talk to people, talking to strangers freaks me out. Especially when having English as my second language, it makes networking an even bigger challenge.
Luckily, the MAIFB programme arranges a series of courses and networking events for us to get used to this process. We had a networking dinner with MA Creativity students and some tutors during the induction, pushing us into this networking thing at the very beginning. To be honest, I was terrified confronting these many strangers at a dinner, since it was my first week in the UK and I was still getting used to the English-speaking environment. Although I’ve only met my classmates for two days, we just stuck with each other as they were the only people I was familiar with at that time. However, that was not what we were here for. We were forced to be separated and talk to the people we didn’t know. It was kind of uncomfortable for me from the beginning, but as soon as I started talking, I found it was not that hard. Everyone came from different cultural backgrounds, and some of them came from the countries I knew very little of. It was fun getting to know their stories. And it was good to know what other programmes are doing in order to have future cooperation. As for the language part, English is not the first language for most people in the room, so we were all listening to each other patiently. The native speakers also showed great support, which I really appreciated.
Later during the courses, we had industry tutors came in and taught us some useful skills in networking. Those were very practical courses to learn from. I’m glad that we have something like these to help us get the hang of networking.
Some tips for networking
As a beginner in networking, I’m going to share some personal tips that help me doing networking:
Yes, it’s scary. And it makes me nervous. But as long as you’re mentally ready to talk, you’ll tell yourself to do it. You can start with complimenting others, which will easily move onto a conversation. Don’t have too much pressure on yourself. It’s just talking, what’s the worst thing that could happen?
I had my business card ready before coming to the UK. As a student, I simply put in my course name and studying level (MA). I also included my LinkedIn and Instagram account, which display my past works.
It proves to be a useful conversation starter. I met one of my favorite directors Anthony Chen, who won Caméra d’Or with his debut feature Ilo Ilo, at a screening in London. He happened to be sitting right next to me and I decided to say hi and introduce myself. When I gave him my card, he was quite interested in my courses and asked me for some details. I met him again the other week after the screening of his new feature Wet Season. That time I was able to have a further discussion with him about his films.
Being polite to everyone is the most important thing. Good manner is always welcome and people like a good listener. It will help you give a good impression.
As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. That’s true. The more networking you do, the more experienced you will become. Do the research and find out who will be attending the same event as you do, then try to grab them and have this casual conversation. You’ll find yourself gradually getting it as you go.
I’m totally new and was bad at networking before coming to the UK. But with the help and support from MAIFB courses, I feel like I’m not that stressed doing networking anymore. So, I hope these tips could give you some help. Good luck with your next networking event!