I’ve known Montserrat, or Mozz to his friends for years now. I met him at the Manhattan Theatre Source, and he was ALWAYS good at connecting with people. He knew people. He chatted people up. (He was a bit of a flirt.) He’s also a talented writer, that helps. But, as we all know, writing talent isn’t the only thing a writer needs. They need to network. They need to get scripts into the hands of people that can do something with them. Networking isn’t an icky thing. It feels like it though. I know sometimes I hate doing it. But, it has to be done. So, I asked Mozz for his advice and his strategies for networking and getting behind the idea.
by Montserrat Mendez
The working of the net; Makes it sound like you’re a fisherman and you’re casting a net and hoping to catch a bunch of fish. I must tell you first off that I don’t swim, and I never learned, even though I’m Puerto Rican and grew up near a beach. But it was a shark-infested beach. I check for sharks even when I’m just passing by a pool.
And that’s freaking scary much like networking must be for a writer.
I can’t say that I’m a master net-worker. For my first ten years as a writer, I just didn’t know how to do it, or why I should do it. I thought that my words, brilliant as they were, on the page, would do all the work for me.
Two positive events made me realize my superior lack of networking power. The first was placing in the top thirty of the Nicholl Fellowship and being overwhelmed with requests for scripts, and not using the opportunity to make those connections and talk about my other works as a writer.
The second was, my review of a play, Thoroughly Stupid Things, which was called “A comic masterwork” by Backstage. At that point, I had the opportunity to move the play commercially, but I was to shy to pick up the phone and network. After all, those reviews were enough, surely someone would see them and ask for the play.
Watching your artistic life at a standstill is not fun. Waiting for your manager or agent to call you is maddening. You find yourself often saying, “My agent, my manager is not doing much for me, I don’t understand?”
Well, your manager or agent is supposed to be there to manage your career. Your career is up to you. Three years ago, I started a business with my best friend Armistead Johnson called MozzleStead. Ours is a company to do one thing and one thing only; sell our projects. In that three-year process I have become an expert in Networking because I had to. I had to look at that Shark in that pool straight in the eye and tell it, “well, get out of my pool I have some business to conduct.” Which is hard cause Sharks do not speak human. They do luckily understand dolphin.
Early on Armistead and I talked about the ‘Networking problem.’ It’s the thing both of us hated doing most of all; but we bit that bullet (Sharks, Bullets, this is exciting stuff isn’t it?) and started to network.
Most people think of networking or making it in the arts as a business of “who you know,” But Armi and I quickly found out it’s not “who you know,” But WHO KNOWS YOU. And it is that network WHO KNOWS YOU, who will be able to do the most for you.
Case in point, last year, a friend of mine who I had not seen in years called me and said, “Mozz, are you still writing?” and I said, “YES!” and he said, “I’m setting up an interview for you, my boss is looking for a latin screenwriter.” This guy, let’s call him, “Nicholas Gray” (cause that’s his name) knew my work from years before. He read the script that was in the top 30 of the Nicholl Fellowship, so I ended up interviewing and beating out other writers to write my first major motion picture. And I got to reconnect with a friend whose ass I’m kicking on Fantasy Baseball. Though I am getting my cast beat by Annie’s Boobs. (long story, I won’t go into it here.)
The Nicholas Gray effect, made it dawn on me that this entire time I had been playing the game entirely wrong. It wasn’t about who you know; it’s about who KNOWS ME. Knows my work, formed a good opinion of it, and then when the time comes, have them think of me first above anyone else.
This takes a ton of work, for the better part of 2010; Armistead and I called each other net workers rather than writers.
Here are some strategies that we used:
- Be a friend first: Yes, this sounds rather Machiavellian, befriending someone because they may lead to a job or a career opportunity. But don’t you flirt with a girl to get sex, or marriage or kids? I mean every encounter you have will lead to something, consciously or subconsciously. Be conscious about your friendships. Be charming and friendly. I don’t mean superficially, I mean get to know these people; share times, share dreams and goals. Never make your approach as, “Hello, I’m a writer and you can help me.” No, reach out to them and say “You seem interesting, tell me about you.” And then follow through. Yes, it’s risky, but so is that boy/girl you are flirting with… Yes, you will strike out plenty but you will also make some really amazing friendships, and then as you make friends, your circle of influence will grow. Before you have someone show any interest in you, you should show interest in him or her. MozzleStead’s second major motion picture came out of a friendship we followed through on. And the joy of working with people you love on a project you love is AMAZING. On the flip side, I’m less likely to put myself out there for someone who I never hear from and then drops me an e-mail and says, “Can you send this to your agent or manager?” Be a friend, show interest in others first. Life is about making meaningful connections and about filling it with friends, it’s okay if you choose to fill your life with connections and friends that will help you get where you want to go. There is nothing dirty about devoting time and love for the people who can make things happen.
- Create a brand for yourself an unforgettable image goes a long way: MozzleStead took this idea from great marketing campaigns, Nike, Apple and created itself an image. An image creates an impression and a first impression is important. So we created a unique way in which we package our work. (The color orange comes into play.) And then carry that all the way through from our presentations, ours scripts, our business card and our Website. It is all one created image for our work. Having your “shit” together in a way that makes it look polished and professional breeds confidence, not only your SELF, but also in the people who potentially hire you. They can trust you to deliver a project. Your image then becomes a reputation and in this business, talent comes first but reputation comes a very close second.
- Strong handshake and look people in the eye: It’s the little things that matter sometimes. Look people in the eye. You will not only show that you have confidence and self-respect but you will get a lot from the encounter. If that manager, agent or producer you are talking to is not looking you in the eye, then don’t waste your time. They are not interested. People who are going to say NO to you, are not gonna look you in the eye because they don’t want to make a human connection with someone they’re about to destroy. You could save yourself months of e-mailing and following up. Their body language will let you know exactly their answer months before a verbal NO. Become an expert in reading people. Hell, you know how to write them, so pay attention to the living, breathing examples in front of you.
- Enjoy the fuck out of it: Life is too short and the odds are stacked against you. And you taking any of it seriously is only going to lead to an energy that nearly derails you. Know that what you do brings its own satisfaction from the act of doing it. Armistead and I love writing together, we love the energy of creating and that’s enough, but then when that loved project goes out there. I am convinced that my writing life has changed because of the love that has been infused into it over the last three years.
- Risks are fun: Make that phone call, walk up to that pretty agent. The more risks you take in life the more risks you will take in your writing. I found the moment I started risking in life the riskier and more daring my writing became. The riskier my writing became, the more producers responded to it.
- Let the powerful connections come to you: So you’re building a network of friends and those friends have access to the big guys. If you ever meet the ‘big guys’, make sure you are meeting them under the best of circumstances and with the glowing recommendation of one of those friends. Then once you have infiltrated that circle, let them come to you. Know your subjects, know your history, have skills and use them. If they need a screenplay on this or that, then you can talk about story and let them figure out that you are the writer they need.
- Be a writer of Action: Recently a major agency contacted MozzleStead through email@example.com, they heard about us because we pitched a TV show to Sony through a friend we love and they wanted to take a look at five of the projects we had listed on our website. They sent releases, and soon enough we not only sent our work out to them, but I had created a page on the Website that they could access through a password. I contacted them through e-mail and said, in order to save trees, I have made all five packages available to you through our Website; just used this special password and it will link to digital version of our release forms and the works themselves. About ten minutes later, I get a phone call from them, because they though what we did was “neat,” no other writer had ever done that for them and they loved it. Now they didn’t have to print out five scripts five times for all five agents (and kill all those trees.) The agents could go home early and access the work on our Website through their own special password. It also allows me to see who accesses my Website and send thank you notes later. (the passwords are temporary so they only have a certain amount of time.) Now, maybe we’re not what they are looking for, right now, but they know that we are professionals and that our writing will grow and they all get to visit our website, and that first impression truly did count.
- Be ready everyday: Armistead and I have process meetings and we update our work constantly, while we’re writing scripts. We constantly update all our other work because we never know when something will be requested. Also be ready everyday to make a new connection. Always have your cards on you, scripts e-mailable, and be on a positive state of mind. The kind of state that makes a friend. If you are going to step out of the house, expect to meet someone who will help you. It can happen anywhere.
- Provide Value: I now do the same for others; I allow people to be my friends even though I know they may look to me for a connection. But it has given me great times, amazing dinners, fun nights out, and getting intimate connections (Not sexual) with some really amazing human beings. And yes, If I can help them, I absolutely will, because I can’t write everything. I might as well have a stable of writers that I can pass work on to, and if those writers do a brilliant job then they raise my reputation. And what I want for myself, I want for everyone. Help others, help yourself, and enjoy providing value. I have also become really picky about who those people in my circle of influence are now, because ultimately I want to help those who are going to help me by just being their best selves. I’m a huge fan of Mac Rogers, would do anything he wanted; because I know he would make me look good. I’m a huge fan of the owner of this blog, because I know some where down the line someone is going to say, “Wow. Sci-fi! know any good writers?” And then I would say, let me introduce you to Larry Pontius and Mac Rogers. They won’t let me down because they are so good, and they would add to my reputation as a person who knows his stuff in this business. And these are two writers I would love to create with so if I can help them, then maybe then someday they will help me or write with me.
- Really love yourself: Have confidence in your work. I know it’s hard but if you are out there pining and looking for approval for something you won’t believe in until someone else does, then you are defeating yourself before you even send it. Love yourself, treat yourself well, go to the gym and write everyday. Some days will be better than others; you will procrastinate, but don’t judge yourself for it. Have fun in life and be honest with yourself and with others.
- Learn to swim. Armistead is an amazing swimmer so he’s going to teach me, and then as soon as I make my first million. I’m going to go hunt a shark. I know, not politically correct. But, hey, conquer your fears and live your dreams.
Montserrat Mendez, is a writer, currently working on two motion pictures. With good friend Nicholas Gray he is working on Blanco – about cocaine queen of miami Griselda Blanco for producer John Grossman and with writing partner Armistead Johnson he is working on Chisholm for producers Brian Gambogi and Grant Anderson, the film is about Shirley Chisholm, the first african-american congresswoman who made a daring run for the democratic presidential nomination in 1972. His play Thoroughly Stupid Things, won an Excellence in Playwrighting award at the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival. He loves rock-climbing but is a terrible swimmer. You can find him at http://www.montserratmendez.com and www.Mozzlestead.com, and, of course, on twitter (@Mozzlestead) and Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/