This post was originally published on John Corcoran’s Smart Business Revolution.
I’ll let you in on a secret. Interviews are a great way to network. It’s a novel way to introduce yourself to someone prominent, yet flattering at the same time. This is about 50% of the reason I do my podcast. (The other 50% is that I enjoy the creative process of putting a show together.)
I first discovered this technique in late 2012. I was rolling off my last project and trying to figure out what to do next. I had been watching a lot of movies of late, then I heard a quote from Julie Delpy about the moviemaking process. What she described sounded a lot like entrepreneurship. That got me thinking that I might like being a film producer.
But I had no experience in the field and very few contacts in the industry. So how could I break in? A journalist friend suggested I start an interview site, and now I’m suggesting the same to you.
Step by Step: Create an Interview Site
- Choose a relevant domain name. I chose MakingFlix.com.
- Create a blog on WordPress. Don’t worry about designing a custom theme or anything like that. Just choose a theme that seems consistent with your topic.
- Pay the $13 or so that WordPress charges to use your own domain name. It suggests a higher level of professionalism.
- Write an introductory post explaining what your blog is all about and ideally what inspired you to start it. On MakingFlix I discussed my realization that filmmakers are entrepreneurs. This subtly demonstrated that even though I’m not a filmmaker, I have relevant experience that might be of value to the community. Someone else who, say, wants to become a makeup artist, might instead show off the amateur work they’ve done on friends. The point of all of the above is to demonstrate that you’re serious, even if in a lighthearted way.
- Reach out to everyone you know via email, Facebook, Twitter, you name it, and let them know you’ve started a site about X and would appreciate them referring you to anyone they know who works in field X.
- Marvel at the response and start cranking out posts.
- Optional: Find that you really enjoy it and start a podcast or YouTube channel or other content site to boot.
For #6, it’s not like I got to Steven Spielberg right out of the gate (or at all), but I didn’t need to. Instead I talked with experienced, often unsung filmmakers who knew a lot about how the industry works. The kind of people who might value having a partner with experience in startups.
And that’s exactly what happened.
I found a number of ways I could have entered the film industry, though noone offered me a job outright. But I ultimately concluded that the day-to-day work of producing a film would not be as fulfilling as the work I do in tech companies. As a producer, I would likely be out scouting locations or begging investors for money than hanging out on set with movie stars. I honestly prefer to sit in front of my computer most of the time, with the occasional novelty of a sales call. (Ironically, one of the best opportunities I found involved working with a tech startup servicing the film industry, but I didn’t feel a passion for the product and I would have had to move to LA.)
And in a way, that’s kind of the point. Without interviewing, I may have entertained grandiose dreams, perhaps even gone to USC (which has a producer program that feeds the major studios). But by interviewing people I was able to learn a lot from many experienced people while spending very little time or money.
Here’s another benefit of interviewing: it gives you a deadline. Once start getting responses, you’ll feel motivated to post them. You may even promise to the interviewee that it will be posted on a certain date, and that you’ll tweet them when so. Telling others of your plans is a powerful motivator.
How to Get the Interview
As I said, comb through your contacts, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn accounts. Anyone you think might even remotely be a candidate, ask for the interview. Here’s an example of the email I sent to people I had targeted.
Subject: Can I interview you?
[MUTUAL FRIEND] gave me your contact info, and I believe he told you I’m working on an interview project about filmmaking. The focus is the non-creative aspects — planning, budgeting, raising money, dealing with locations etc.
The idea is to learn from professionals like yourself about the behind the scenes things that are so important to bringing a movie project to fruition. You can learn more about it here: http://makingflix.com/2012/11/16/hello-world
Interested? Please let me know if so. Thanks!
-Derek [my cell #] [link to makingflix.com]
Notice what’s not in it. Though I’m making a request, it’s one that enhances his own reputation. The first rule of networking is to give before you get. Try always to be adding value when you contact someone new. Just asking to pick their brain over coffee usually doesn’t cut it. Also note that this one was sent in response to a “warm” lead – referral from a friend. In “cold” cases it’s better to be straightforward and say you admire them and want to learn more about the industry. If I got a positive response (I would say at least 50% responded, maybe more; only a couple said no), I sent the following:
Great! I look forward to hearing your insight.
Below is a list of questions. Answer whichever ones you feel are appropriate and give as much (or as little) details as you feel necessary. The idea is get a sense of how you manage to get things done in such a way that an aspiring filmmaker will come away with a few tips, do’s and don’ts.
Your answers will be posted on http://makingflix.com/, and I will send you an email when it’s live.
Questions? Shoot me an email or call [cell phone #].
Thanks a million!
Briefly tell us your name and background. Optionally provide email address, phone, web etc.
What current or recent project are you working on, and what is your role?
Please provide links to IMDB and/or this project’s web site, Facebook page, Kickstarter page etc (whatever you think is relevant).
What are some of the things you had to do to personally prepare for this role, especially as it relates to getting the project off the ground?
How much time would you estimate you have devoted to this project?
What was the most difficult challenge you had in bringing this project to fruition?
What was the best part of the project for you personally?
What’s the biggest thing or things you learned from doing this project?
What’s one piece of advice would you give to someone considering a project like this and/or a career like yours?
Will we get a chance to see this project on screen? How and where?
What’s next for you after this project?
After the Interview
Make sure you let them know when you post it! I like to Tweet it out with a cc @ message to the guest. They often retweet it. I sometimes email them the scheduled publication date in advance (another deadline motivation) . These days I also send an inexpensive thank you gift.
Whether you’re looking to change fields like I was, or want to elevate your position within your current field, interviews are a great tool. Try it!
PS It wasn’t long ago that TechStars co-founder David Cohen did essentially the same thing, though with more credibility than I had. He introduced himself to the Boulder community by interviewing and writing about local startups. It seems to have worked out okay for him!
Derek Scruggs is a serial entrepreneur in Boulder, Colorado. His Semi-Random Walks podcast airs twice weekly.