Filmmaking and the Power of Connection

DGA member Joth Riggs of Whitestone Productions in CA was crucial in helping me recruit a majority of my crew.

Over the past nine years I’ve been in business for myself, I’ve had the opportunity to meet thousands of people in both the photography and video industries. I’ve been blessed to have been given opportunities to speak, teach, travel, and make valuable connections. I’ve extended that social network online as well through Facebook, Twitter and this blog. Sometimes people wonder why I do all that I do. Try to give all that I give. First and foremost, it’s because I feel called to do it. To use my God-given gifts in the benefit of others. It helps keep me grounded. Second, I love teaching and helping. It’s natural for me. But I wouldn’t be honest if I said all the reasons were altruistic in nature. There is a valuable business benefit that comes with connecting with so many people, and helping others connect with each other. That was further illustrated this past weekend during the making of our 48 Hour Film project, “The Last Author.” (Be sure to get your tickets to the Group D screening this weekend at the Plaza Atlanta).

A month or so ago I blogged about needing help on this project. But I didn’t stop there. I contacted people I’ve connected with via church as well as this industry. (All but one of the actors came through my church.) I also reached out to fellow colleagues I’ve met in the industry. My friend Brandon McCormick of Whitestone Motion Pictures allowed us to use their craftsman style production offices (affectionately called “The Manor”) to film the scenes with Evelyn (the last author played beautifully by Caroline Granger). My friend and photographer Adam Linke of The Decisive Moment allowed us to use their office for the spartan, futuristic office of the main character Tom Goodwin (played against his usual comedic type by Danny Williams). Friend and photographer Shari Zellers loaned me a lens (and gave us access to her office too). All these people are people I’ve met through networking and reaching out.

But I must say, the person who deserves a lion share of props is an old friend and colleague Joth Riggs (of Whitestone Productions, absolutely no relations to Whitestone Motion Pictures). Joth is a registered DGA member who has done some work for me in the past. He and I connected in the event video world. He was first AD (assistant director) on a movie executive produced by comedian Jeff Foxworthy called “Crackerjack.” They had recently wrapped shooting in Savannah, GA (about four hours from here) and I asked if he could put a word out to his crew. He did…and how. Immediately requests to join the crew starting pouring in, all people who had worked on Crackerjack. My DP, AD, boom, all the PAs, script supervisor, and one of the writers all came from that set.

And the power of connection kept going from there. My Line Proudcer/1st AD Amy Stephenson started reaching out to her connections almost immediately. She was the one who reached  out and got us our DP (literally three days before the shoot). She was also the one who got us our amazing composer (an old friend from her high school) Ryan Frayley. (More about him and the power of creating original music later this week). Amy was a dynamo!

Even our lead actress, Caroline, got on this project because she made a point to stay connected to me after auditioning for “The White Envelope Project” film I produced last Christmas. Even though she didn’t get the part, she made a point to stay connected, sending email updates every now and then. Keeping me informed of the work she’s doing, saying hi, etc.

Bottom line, this movie happened the way it did and looks the way it does because of connections. When people ask why I spend all the time doing the social networking I do, this is why.

So, here are three tips you can employ to stay connected in a way that will help your business:

  • Network in person. Go to networking events, join your local professional associations. But don’t just go to “get.” Go to give. (Read my post about  the seven lessons of networking you can learn from the movie “Swingers.”)
  • Network online. Honestly, I hope by now you’re no longer in the camp that thinks Twitter is a stupid fad for people to tell us what they had for lunch. I watch the Twitterverse closely and I see all the connections happening there. I’m constantly seeing filmmakers put out “crew calls” on Twitter (e.g. I need a DP in this city, or I need a gaffer in that city) and within minutes they’re getting responses. The same goes for Facebook. And if you’ve been able to build up a decent blog following, that really helps too. 😉
  • Take Initiative. You can’t wait for life to happen to you. Be willing to make the first move. You know how I met Brandon McCormick? I saw his film “That’sMagic” when it premiered at my church during Christmas 2008. Ater I picked my jaw up off the floor, I made a point that I would reach out to him. I emailed, had lunch, and eventually featured him as one of the artists in the film I made for Pictage, “The Creative Process.” But not everyone I reach out to reaches back. I’ve had plenty of unreturned emails or phone calls. But you can’t let that stop you. For every ten “no’s” you’ll get a “yes.” Do that hundreds of times, and over the years you’ll have a pretty nice network of friends in the industry.
  • Give More than You Get.  Give of your time. Your talent. Your teaching. I felt so honored and was so very thankful for all the people on Twitter and Facebook who helped promote the screening of our film yesterday on Twitter and the other social interwebs. I like to think that the reason people were willing to do that for me is because they see that I constantly try to do that for others, either in blog posts or Twitter retweets.
  • Work for Other Filmmakers. Make a point to work on other people’s films, and do so with a humble attitude. If you normally DP but someone would like you to be a gaffer, don’t turn it down only because you feel that job is beneath you. (Okay, if you’re Roger Deakins, you probably won’t take a gaffing job. 🙂 But you get my point. Be willing to do work that you may not normally do. If you’re an event filmmakers, don’t feel like you’re “too good” to second shoot for someone else.
  • Stay Connected. In some way, try to stay connected to people you’ve met. Retweet their tweets every now and then. Drop them an email every other month. If they’re close enough, invite them to a meal or coffee. And it goes without saying, keep all this contact info in some central database, even if it’s just Google Gmail contact. Create what I call your list of “usual suspects,” people you work with time and time again who become your go-to guys and gals.
I know I’ve blogged about networking before, and I’m sure you’ve read the important of it elsewhere. But have you really taken advantage of all that you’ve learned? Put it into practice. The investment is worth the reward.

4 thoughts on “Filmmaking and the Power of Connection

  1. I just want to add, Ron, that the main reason you get so much respect from people you network with is because you treat them with so much respect. That makes all the difference in the world. Well done, my friend.

    1. Thanks a lot Joth. I try my best to do the exact opposite of everything Kevin Spacey’s character does in “Swimming with Sharks.” 🙂

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