Sticking the Landing: How to Follow Up with New Contacts After a Screenwriting Conference
Congratulations on surviving a screenwriting conference! Between the late night parties and early morning panels, you probably feel like chilling on your couch. But your conference experience isn’t quite over yet. You made it rain business cards and now it’s time to focus on your networking end game: the follow up.
Your first step is to get some rest. No matter how excited you are to reach out to your new contacts, composing a rushed message on insufficient sleep can backfire. If you wouldn’t write an industry professional with a shot of vodka in your system, don’t do it with espresso and airport pizza standing in for sufficient sleep and nutrition. You’ll likely have a window of two or three days to catch your new acquaintance while the event is still fresh in their mind, so don’t be afraid to schedule a recovery day, if needed. As the old Star Trek adage goes, “What is necessary is never unwise.”
Once you’re feeling rested, it’s time to break out the business cards you collected. While it may be tempting to go through the pile haphazardly, remember your energy level still might not be 100%. To make sure you reach out to your highest priority contacts before exhaustion reasserts itself, start with some triage. Who did you spend the most time with? Is there someone you’re hoping to meet for coffee at some point? Industry folks often have many different people reaching out to them, so following up in a timely manner may increase the odds that they’ll remember you.
When you do reach out, bear in mind it’s just as important to be respectful of someone’s time in an email as it is when you meet in person, if not more so. Because emails reach them after they’ve returned to their usual work schedule, they may be swamped catching up after their trip. But emails and other digital notes can also be saved for years and recalled with a simple search, so even a quick note has the potentially for far-reaching future benefits.
While we’re talking about respecting people’s time, let’s also discuss a golden rule of the entertainment industry: Asking for favors usually doesn’t lead to relationships. It’s unlikely the executive producer of your favorite show has the time or the inclination to read your script and asking them to do so will likely start you off on the wrong foot if you’re hoping to form a relationship. Asking for a favor off the bat also may give someone the impression you don’t see them as a person but as a tool to be used in furthering your career.
However, this doesn’t mean industry folks don’t like to feel knowledgeable or helpful. If you have a short question (such as asking a manager if there’s a particular genre they think is on the rise), the follow-up email or tweet isn’t a bad place for it. Just bear in mind that the person you’re contacting may not have much time to respond. If you don’t hear back for months, or ever, it doesn’t necessarily mean you offended them or that they don’t appreciate the fact you valued their opinion. Time gets away from all of us on occasion, don’t take it personally. If you need help keeping your long-term goals in mind during the heady excitement of talking with an agent or producer, just remember that while favors usually don’t lead to relationships, relationships do sometimes lead to favors. As has often been noted, relationships are what this industry is built on.
Speaking of valuable relationships, be sure to reach out to everyone you met, not just those with the most impressive resumes. While this may feel more like socializing than work, these contacts are just as important as any other you can make at a conference. The funny fellow attendee you grabbed a drink with this year could be next year’s winner, and a panelist the year after. So don’t feel guilty for scheduling time to Facebook friend people you waited in lines with. That’s career work, too.
When the networking tasks are done, try to transcribe your notes while they’re still fresh in your mind. It’s unlikely that you’ll consult your old conference notebook when you write, but if you retype the insights you picked up and keep them handy (I email them to myself so keyword searches can bring up relevant advice) you can preserve what you’ve learned for years to come.
Finally, after all this, it’s time for the most important conference follow-up task off all: Starting your next script.
Good luck, and see you at the next conference!
Script Analyst / Playwright
Kathleen Cromie is a professional script analyst and playwright. Her plays have been produced in America, the UK, and France (in translation).