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by Betty Stojnić

“Networking” can sound a bit like “team-building”: a clunky compound seemingly designed to sap the fun out of what should really just be called “hanging out”. For a collaborative profession like filmmaking, however, meeting new people is what keeps things fresh, both for individuals and the community as a whole. A light-hearted conversation at the pub can turn into a new screenplay or a fully costed budget plan in less than two hours. This is where networking events come in: there’s no longer a need to be at the mercy of chance encounters (or LinkedIn) if you’re looking for new collaborators, partners, or friends! To find out how it benefits people in the film industry, we ask both regulars and newcomers for their take at our first networking session of 2020.

“It’s not about what you know, but who you know” goes the cliché. Opportunism aside, this is doubly true for the film community, one which thrives on group efforts and large projects. Networking events can help maintain this social cohesion and gather people together in a friendly setting to discuss activities old and new, recent events in the film industry, or simply to chat and get to know one another.

Sound designer and Cinetopia regular Ali acknowledges that while these events may seem slightly intimidating at first, they quickly prove themselves to be fun and insightful: “Like a lot of people, I am not particularly at ease amongst large crowds. But I think that once you start to relax a little, you realise that you’re just talking to people about similar interests. Don’t think of it as a business transaction or as trying to find work. Think of it as making friends; you work in the same industry after all.” 

Indeed, while some of the most intensive networking happens on set, a comfortable and relaxed ambiance can help people kick back in a way that a work setting just doesn’t allow. “I think these kinds of events are really important,” Ali continues. “When you’re on set, you’re trying to do a job. You have to focus and you can’t necessarily spend much time forging relationships with people. Plus, I work mostly in post-production, so it’s very nice sometimes to be able to share that camaraderie at a social event. You meet people who are kindred spirits in a way and you might have fun despite yourself.”

Open networking events can also connect people who otherwise might not have an opportunity to meet, such as filmmakers and actors of various demographics and experience, or international students curious about the local film community. Seif, a cinematographer who started attending Cinetopia’s networking nights a couple of months ago, says that these events foster “one of the key components of this industry: people just meeting each other. People who work in film usually only meet on set, in post-production contexts, at film premieres and stuff like that. But networking events are very useful for people who are just starting out or for those who want to meet fresh blood, as well as international folk who feel insecure about sending out emails, their CVs, or showreels. So this is a nice, informal way to just have a conversation. Whether you ultimately get something out of it or not, you’ll always be able to at least have a nice chat.”

By this token, an inclusive, accepting atmosphere can make or break a networking event. Film student Angie feels especially appreciative of an environment where they can speak to just about anyone – from other students, to seasoned writers and directors. She observes that not all networking formats are the same: “One networking event I went to was huge and everyone was dressed very smartly. I didn’t speak to anyone. I prefer more casual events; I feel more accepted. The mood seems to be that no matter where you come from, you’re more than welcome to talk to anybody. It depends on what kind of person you are and how ready you are to talk to people. But I think everyone needs to put in effort and time to get to know others. We get to meet new people and talk about various events and things we’re interested in, from film ideas and work opportunities, to festivals. I think even as students we should do that more often, and I don’t understand why we don’t.”

Networking events aren’t just for people who work in production either; those working in exhibition and curation also make great use of them. Paul, a film festival organiser, comments: “I think networking is important as long as you get a decent number of people across a variety of expertise. Before they became a bit more popular in Edinburgh, you could go to a networking event and only meet two people and a dog. When you go to an event with a lot of people from different professions, you do learn a lot. I’m likely to meet festival directors, production people, people who are studying film, and so on. You get all of these aspects of the film industry and you get to learn what’s happening ‘on the ground’ much better than you otherwise would.”

But to get the most out of networking, you need to be consistent and open-minded, particularly if your end goal is to integrate into the local scene. Paul adds: “I think you have to go regularly because then you get the real value of the event. One-off networking events are fine, but when you have monthly ones you start to really familiarise yourself with the other attendees. You get to know the issues they’re experiencing, and how they’ve developed over time.”

There’s a multitude of approaches you can take in order to meet filmmakers with whom you might want to work, including social media. But face-to-face networking underscores one of the most unique aspects of film as an art form: its ability to create a common, creative space for many different people.

Whether you’re a veteran or a beginner timidly coming to the event by yourself, few things beat being met with interest and enthusiasm from your potential colleagues. To brave the waters and give it a shot yourself, keep an eye on our popular monthly networking nights at the Brewdog on Lothian Road. Though the numbers now far exceed two people, we also have a regular dog!

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Betty is currently a Masters student in Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh, and has previously worked as a journalist and in other roles at a number of film festivals. To her, cinema is ‘our story through time.’

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