I am good at a few things in life, but sadly networking is not one of them. At a BBC event recently, when a very important executive producer said to me, ‘Are you having fun?’ I thought he said ‘Are you the fun?’ – and responded that of course I was the fun – ‘Don’t worry, the fun is here!’ I trilled, and did some jazz hands to prove it. Mortifying. The time before that, I arrived at an industry party at 7pm, knowing no-one and somehow found myself at 2am in The Groucho Club singing ‘When You Get Caught Between The Moon And New York City’ on my knees, round the piano, with my 5 NBF’s (none of whom I’ve seen since) and forcing one of them (a vegetarian) to eat sausages. So I’m not sure what possessed me to go to another networking event last night, apart from the certain knowledge that if I am ever to succeed as a screenwriter I have to meet some people who might actually read my stuff.
I’ve been a member of the brilliant Raindance Film Festival for nearly a year and every month they hold a “Boozin’ and Schmoozin’” event, which so far I have avoided attending. But when it fell on a night when I was in London and had no plans, I decided to drag my fellow screenwriting friend along to sit in a corner, not make eye contact, and catch up on gossip – that is how you network, right? Hmmm, it turns out Raindance don’t allow that. Fortunately they don’t do anything like speed-date networking, or God forbid, name badges, but they do ask you to gather round while the energetic Rory jumps on a table and invites anyone else to jump on the table and say something – anything! The hope and enthusiasm in the air was almost tangible and wide smiles eagerly surveyed the crowd. Geeks, freaks and ne’er do wells (my favourite demographic), mostly young, shuffled to the front to have their say. At 18 I knew everything (I actually remember having that thought), and at 35 I probably know half that much but I enjoy seeing epic confidence in action.
After a slow start some people moved forward, inviting actors/producers/musicians to help make their zombie/horror/eco-thriller film, other people selling their own services as actor/director/producer/writer/cinematographer/musician (that was all from the same person) you know – the usual stuff, then something unsettling happened. There was a group of female film students there and one by one they jumped on the table and declared they were desperate for work experience (fine) but this was followed by “I’ll do anything you want, I’ll be your bitch, I’ll be your slave!” which was followed by…laughter from the crowd, and applause. Now. I KNOW the film industry is in a dire state and I KNOW the only way to get your foot in the door is from experience and I KNOW it is almost impossible to get experience without working for free, but I have two issues with what these young women were saying. The first is that no-one should have to work for free, and the only people who can afford to work for free are generally people with money/some family support. This is how the industry has been fed for years and I think it is poorer for the lack of cultural diversity which this practise has encouraged. Work for expenses, work for £20, just don’t work for free, and producers will stop expecting people to work for free – do you think they would ask the DoP to work for free? (obviously if the entire crew are working for free a runner shouldn’t insist on £20, that would be weird). The second issue I have is, of course, with the language used. I know it is just a figure of speech but it is one that almost convinced me to jump up on that table to tell them to get some self-respect! I didn’t of course, because I would have fallen off and landed head first in the candle simply because it was a networking event, FACT. However, if I had, I would have said this:
In my 15 years of working I have learnt a couple of things. Mainly that the film/television industry is actually one of the best industries for women to work in (despite the current debacle at the BBC), but it is still not good enough, women still earn less than men and this is partly because women are going round offering to be people’s bitches and slaves – in 2012! Say you’re a hard worker, say you’re willing to learn, say you make an excellent cup of tea but never ever offer to be anyone’s bitch slave. It’s time to make a difference – people about to enter the industry might actually see equality in their own lifetime so why don’t they start believing in it now!
Of course I didn’t say any of this, I just laughed and clapped like everyone else but that’s what I would have liked to say, so that’s why I am saying it now. So, networking events…hmmm, maybe I’ve changed my mind, and maybe next time I’ll get on the table, what’s the worst that can happen? Ok, so I still need to work on my actual networking skills as we only spoke to two people after the table sharing, but one of them was super interesting, and I managed not to make a massive dick of myself. Bonus.