Who’s Your Mafia?

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“Who’s your Mafia?” That’s the question a former cinematography professor posed to the class as they stared blank-faced back pondering the question. “Who’s your family? Who are your connections?” That’s how the lecture regarding working in the film industry started. The crux of the lecture was about building a network of colleagues as connections to the film industry, what he called your “Film Mafia.” Anyone who works in this industry knows that connections and recommendations are everything for getting your next gig. You don’t show up with a film school degree in your hand and apply for a filmmaking job in the HR office (well maybe for an administrative job at a large studio you might), but everything is so word of mouth in this industry. I don’t think I’ve even ever worked a gig where it wasn’t through someone I knew. Even my new upcoming job (which I actually did meet with an HR person at a large company) was indirectly acquired through networking in my new country.

You may ask what this has to do with anything regarding low/zero budget filmmaking. My answer to that is everything, assuming your not making a self-reflexive essay film or experimental video (which by the way are totally fun things to do to loosen yourself up). I’m saying that films are not really made in a vacuum – you most likely need crew, subjects to point the camera at, need to build a social network for your film for exhibition and distribution, even if you did make a solo film.

I took for granted the Film Mafia I had built up over the years back in San Francisco, whether for getting gigs or pursuing my passion projects, through going to film school, internships, and networking opportunities. I had a moment of panic here in Stockholm where I hit a wall and realized I had no “Film Mafia” or any connections to rely on, and for a moment I lost my…

Ok, so long story short, I did have a couple of connections to the industry through my wife (not to mention a great support network of her old friends), and it was time to get out of my funk and start having Fika with people. For those of you who don’t know what Fika is, it’s essentially a Swedish cultural tradition to meet up for coffee and a pastry, much like British tea-time. It was just time to hit the pavement and start shaking hands with new acquaintances. The following tips apply to both careers and personal passion projects in our film world.

  1. Personal Introductions – If someone you know has a friend in the industry (or pursuing filmmaking in general), by all means ask to be introduced. I’m not saying just meet them and ask for a job; rather, be sincere in meeting with them to learn about the local industry or filmmaking scene. The acquaintances I initially made were crucial in helping me understand the local culture regarding both work and filmmaking in general. Additionally, whenever something in my area of expertise came up, they were sure to direct it my way.
  2. Social Media – Facebook, LinkedIn, MeetUp, etc. is super important in today’s world of networking. I’ve made industry friends and acquaintences, learned of industry events, and met filmmaker groups through social media that included Expat groups, industry specific groups, and hobby groups. I’ve attended industry events such as Stockholm’s first Colourist After Work MeetUp, as well as attended independent filmmaking groups that act as a support group for indie low/zero budget filmmakers ranging from pitching ideas to actual production of their films. It’s easy enough to search for local filmmaking groups in your area with the various social media apps.
  3. Volunteer at a Film Festival – Film Festivals are a great place to meet other filmmakers, as well as the people running the shows; even more importantly, meeting the people choosing the films that screen. For many of us, projecting on the big screen is the ultimate goal of our cinematic pursuits. So why not hang out with like-minded people and make connections with your local scene. I also believe that many of those who actually take time out of their lives to volunteer at a festival tend to be really dedicated filmmakers and great supporters of your projects. If you don’t have extra time to volunteer for a festival, even attending some screenings are still a great way to meet other filmmakers. And hearing filmmaker Q&A sessions are usually pretty enlightening also.
  4. Join (or start) a Collective – Collective filmmaking groups are an excellent way to find peers and crew up for making independent films. Whether they are informal film club styled groups or full on registered non-profit organizations, they are a great environment for collaborative filmmaking. Do an online search for “film collective” and you’ll find many operating around the world. Though they all vary with their mission statements and goals (ranging from idea pitches and screenwriting, all the way to production, and on to exhibition, the one common goal they have is the support, encouragement, and promotion of independent filmmakers and their projects. I personally am looking into finding or creating a film collective here in Stockholm to pursue my personal projects. I encourage everyone who’s looking to connect to other filmmakers to research their local filmmaking collectives and connect with like-minded individuals; or, start one of you own if one doesn’t exist in your area!
  5. Internships – My very first paying gigs came from my internship at a non-profit/public TV station. I cannot stress enough the value of a good internship in the specific field you want to pursue. Where else are you going to gain industry standard skills and get noticed for the 110% work ethic that you put into it? Producers remember their good interns and call them back for real gigs. So do all their colleagues and the other interns you work with. It is the best place to build your professional network, as well as make really great like-minded friends and acquaintances that you can call on for future projects.
  6. Film School – You’ll certainly be amongst like-minded individuals at film school. I’ve made life-long friends and have gotten many a gig from all the connections I’ve made at school. And it doesn’t even have to be an expensive school in LA or NY. There are many great hands-on production classes available at your local community college where you can explore and hone your filmmaking skills. In fact, I would definitely explore your less expensive educational options before committing to a $50k+/year tuition. When I worked at a university, the one thing I would advise parents and prospective students on was to ask all the schools how much hands-on time they would have on a camera. You will be surprised at how few students in large programs actually get to touch a camera; in fact, many schools have a large population of tuition-paying, undergraduate “film studies” students numbering in the hundreds to support the 10-30 production students who actually get to make movies. It is definitely something to look out for when applying to schools. Trust me, try your local, public community college first – you’ll save money and figure out if filmmaking is really your passion.

In conclusion, the main takeaway from this article is that you need to network if you want to pursue filmmaking and have people actually watch your films, regardless of the types of films you make or size of the production. Filmmaking in a vacuum is possibly one of the most isolating and frustrating experiences I can think of. Networking is key to every aspect of filmmaking, from pitching an idea, to finding crew, to finding an audience. And don’t worry if you’re shy or somewhat introverted, us filmmakers are a bunch of weirdos that love nothing more than to talk about filmmaking and whatever projects we’re pursuing. So get out there, meet people, and find future collaborators!

Hej då & Cheers!

 

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