Or: why it’s helpful to think of a networking event as an old-fashioned, aristocratic ball
Or: why it’s helpful to think of a networking event as an old-fashioned, aristocratic ball
How did we achieve this?
The short answer is: hand-picked attendees, a strong, clear goal, and lots of preparation.
But let’s start at the beginning.
The majority of our community (subscribers to our newsletter, and potential club members) are screenwriters. So when planning our next initiative, our aim was to host an event for them, something to address their eternal plight: writing is a solitary affair, which doesn’t organically present opportunities to meet other film professionals.
So, clever clogs that we are, we decided to host a networking event.
You know - book a nice place, serve drinks, hand notepads. Here you go, people! Find each other.
However, when presenting this idea to Luke, our in-house writer, his response was… less than enthusiastic.
I think it went: “Oh please, not another event where a whole bunch of writers are in a room with 2.5 directors or producers, forming a cue and basically just talking to each other, and then go home feeling meh, as nothing will actually come of it.
We can do that on our own time at any given pub.
What we want is to meet many filmmakers, who are actually interested in developing our scripts!”
Right. back to the drawing board.
How do we get lots of producers and directors to come to our event and genuinely engage with the writers?
How do we get people off the hamster-wheel and on to a forward-moving path?
Now, any coach worth their salt will tell you that to create proper momentum and generate consistent action, you need measurable, clear, deliverable GOALS.
So let’s give them one.
But what could that be?
The lightbulb moment was using GET IT MADE, our script competition, as a way to create a real drive for people to team up and work together (credit to CEO Bernhard for this one).
At GET IT MADE, writers submitted 3-page scripts which were shortlisted by the readers & team of UK Film Festival, and then the CenterFrame Community voted to elect the winner.
The prize was a chunky budget to make the film (hence the name).
Sooo… if we frame the networking event as a step in a competition carrying a sizable prize…. That should work!
Great, so that’s the carrot sorted. The great prize to lure in the filmmakers.
But we still wanted to make the process more effective, and more fun. Set it up to really get everybody active.
Thinking caps back on.
We already knew we wanted as many directors & producers as screenwriters, and as the response to our campaign was very good, we knew we could have at least that.
We also knew we’re going to create online profiles for all the shortlisted filmmakers - to show-off our ‘flock’, and for them to share the competition on social media, giving CenterFrame a whole lot of free marketing.
But from this ensued a wonderful, unforeseen effect: the filmmakers started finding each other online, and started communicating and discussing scripts before the event itself.
This introduced an exciting potential: help the participants pre-arrange 1-on-1 meetings, to discuss scripts/ projects and get to the nitty gritty of team-building at the event itself.
This point split the team:
Our CEO, Bernhard, a boistross dude who can get conversation out of a stone, didn’t like the idea of having so much structure in place, and favoured the loose networking option: simply tell everybody what the goal is, and let them find each other.
The rest of us (4 including writer Luke and yours truly) pointed out that many people don’t find it that easy to introduce themselves, that writers in particular tend to be solitary animals and would benefit greatly from some structure and a ‘leg up’.
After much (much) back & forth, what we came up with was a combination of the two approaches:
We’d have both free-ranged and structured networking:
Each writer would be allocated 6 x 10-minute slots to meet directors/ producers 1-on-1.
The directors and producers would have to read all the scripts in advance, and ask to meet the writers whose scripts they are interested in. Then the writers choose which to give their allocated slots to.
Anytime the filmmakers were not occupied in pre scheduled meetings, they were free to work the room, chat & drink.
This unique dynamic had another interesting effect:
As the writers are the owners of the projects (the scripts), we tasked them with choosing the team with which to develop and compete for the prize budget.
Thisupended the normal power structure prevailing in the film industry, where it is invariably the Producers who own the projects and choose which filmmakers and which scripts to work with.
This new dynamic challenged everyone's preconceptions, and proved very interesting.
At this point I will introduce my admittedly rather patricarchichal and very anachronistic, but at the same time very helpful, Country Ball allegory:
This whole concept put us (well, me) in mind of an old-fashioned aristocratic Ball, where parents parade their daughters in the hope of getting them an eligible bachelor, attracted both by the young ladies’ charms, and a dowry.
What we in effect created was a fantastic Ball (the networking event), to which we invited 35 screenwriters with great scripts (aka the charming ‘brides to be’), and 50 other filmmakers (aka ‘the grooms to be’).
The grooms-to-be’s job was to ask writers to dance (meet) and sweep them with their own charms.
With me so far?
Following the ‘dance’ the ‘brides and grooms’ would all form engagements (teams), for which we, the ‘patrons’, would provide the ‘dowry’ - a £10,000 production budget for the winning ‘couple’.
Of course, every Ball needs a ballroom. A place which would inspire the guests and imbue the whole thing with glitz & festivity.
A lot of thought went into that, too.
London is not short of beautiful halls and hotels, and we had a decent budget. However - when Splash is concerned, one stood out far beyond the others:
BAFTA 195 Piccadilly.
When it comes to the British film industry, nothing screams WE MADE IT! Like the home of BAFTA - “the British Academy Awards”.
We knew all the filmmakers would relish the chance to take a selfie there and post it online - which is exactly what they (and we…) did.
It didn’t hurt, of course, that the BAFTA staff and facilities are nothing short of excellent - and helped us run a smooth, glitzy event everybody was thrilled to be a part of.
But we didn’t work this all out in one magical Eureka moment.
The pieces came into place gradually, and often in response to developments happening ‘on the ground’.
This was the first time we ran an initiative of this calibre, so we didn’t presume we’d have all the answers in advance and know all the tricks of the trade.
Being a small, communicative team worked in our favour on this front, as we were able to act on feedback we got from our participating filmmakers during the leadup to the event.
A few last minute decision and innovations really saved the day and made this somewhat-convoluted structure of our Ball work:
All participants had large name tags, colour coded to indicate what they are: writer, director, or producer - so everyone knew who to look for and talk with (Writers even had their script titles on there).
We’d sent everyone their schedules in advance, so they could familiarise themselves with the people they’re going to meet, and plan their pitch in advance - making the most of the precious meeting time for genuine shop-talk.
On the night, we displayed the schedules on a massive screen for everyone to follow, with a countdown to swap places (a bit like speed-dating; See? It’s all about match-making…)
Our lively COO, Nathan, functioned as a very active MC, prompting people to start and break their meetings on time.
Myself and a couple of wonderful volunteers herded and directed people to their meetings (thank god for those name badges!) - at least till people got the rhythm of things and started shifting around on their own accord.
An on-the-spot development: a couple of writers cancelled last minute due to positive covid tests; but rather than disappoint them and their chosen filmmakers, we managed to save their meetings by supplying the relevant filmmakers with a laptop and headphones to conduct the meeting virtually, at the venue.
This enabled 2 more teams to form, AND gave us a sneak-peek as to how we might do this whole event virtually next time, with international participation.
Our ambitious networking night was a success because we thought outside-the-box and came up with a dynamic which gave it focus and momentum.
This was achieved by carefully choosing which filmmakers to invite, giving them a strong, clear goal to work towards, enough time to prepare, and a clear structure to follow.
This way even the shy and the introverted could simply follow the tracks and reach an attentive audience.
The 30 teams which formed that night are now hard at work, and in lively communication (we have a busy whatsapp group as proof!). We can’t wait to see which will end up winning over the community’s hearts and getting the coveted production budget.
But actually, this is just the cherry on the cake.
We have good reason to believe that after developing their projects for a whole month, more short films will come of this than just the one who’ll win the prize budget:
The filmmakers already have forward momentum, a great team, and development work behind them - that’s a lot to build on and a shame to give up.
If as a result of our dance more filmmakers will get to tell their story, and more scripts will have found a way to become films, we would consider THAT to be the ultimate fruits of our labour.