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The Power of Networking

Remember the old Hair Club For Men commercial? The one where Cy Sperling bobble-headed his way through the benefits of membership before proudly proclaiming – “I’m not also the Hair Club president, I’m also a client”? Well in some ways, minus the stammering and the head bobbing, I guess I’m sort of a modern day Cy Sperling. I’m not only the CEO of Stage 32, I’m also a member.

Further, like you, I am a screenwriter. I also dabble in acting and producing. But over the last couple of years, my primary focus has been seeing my work through from concept to completion, from page to screen. It’s been an interesting ride. One filled with glorious complimentary chatter followed by chilling radio silence. From “Let’s do lunch!” to “Who are you again?” From “We’re a go!” to “We’re gonna have to back away.” Like a poker player’s tale about a bad beat on the river card or a fisherman’s yarn about the big one that got away, there’s a commonality, a relatability, to a screenwriter’s horror stories. We all share the same experiences – the rejection, the near hits, the promises not kept. All of it used to weigh on me. But not anymore.

The genesis of my new found attitude can be traced back to November of 2010. I was in Santa Monica attending the American Film Market with my partner in Fair Warning Productions, Curt Blakeney. Our goal was to find a production partner for a project we were developing. We had Val Kilmer attached, some other name actors waiting in the wings, and investor interest.

AFM basically works like this: Thousands of filmmakers, producers and screenwriters from the four corners of the globe bring their concepts and completed films to the Loews for a week of pitch meetings with hundreds of production companies seeking content. If you’ve been around this business for any period of time, that may sound like the logline for a horror movie. And for many, it is just that. Relatively speaking, only a handful of attendees will crack deals. The rest will go home defeated. But not before stopping off at the Loews bar to share bloody battle stories with their empathetic brethren.

A couple of days after AFM, Curt had a thought: What if there was a way for these creatives to make new connections, market themselves, and promote their work for the other 51 weeks of the year? The notion grew legs. What if an actor in New Orleans could audition for a project in Michigan? What if a screenwriter in London could connect with a director in California? And then … what if we could connect all creatives globally without them having to leave the comfort of their couch?

Thus, Stage 32 was born.

In our 5 short months of existence, our member base has grown to nearly 50,000 spanning nearly every country on the planet. As important, the site is serving its intended purpose: People are finding work, getting projects off the ground, locating funding, and, in short, making valuable connections that will help further their careers. Further, Stage 32 networking meet ups are happening around the world. In the last month alone, Stage 32 members have convened in Los Angeles, New York, Denver, Florida, Alabama, Amsterdam, London, Athens and Sydney. Dozens of projects been launched as a result of these meet ups, proving once again that who you know is just as important as what you know. And, assuming you have honed your craft, the more people you know, the greater the probability of success.

I’ve met a ton of talented screenwriters and producers through Stage 32. We’ve exchanged scripts and project ideas. On a few occasions, people have been generous enough to pass my work along to managers, agents or producers. In one instance, my script, “Lucky Lorenzo,” landed in the hands of a manager at a major firm that also has a production arm. He loved the script and wanted to speak about representation. That conversation led to another and, suddenly, there was talk of the firm producing the film as well. Then, unfortunately and alas, there was a firing, a retirement, and no more momentum.

Under normal circumstances, having flown so close to the sun, this news would have been devastating … a major psychological setback. But, now with Stage 32, I found resolve. I put myself back at it, networking every day, and within two weeks, I landed an agent. The connections that placed my script in that agent’s hands all were made through Stage 32.

I’ve been asked many times what the biggest mistakes aspiring screenwriters make. I think there are two. One, reading screenwriting books as opposed to screenplays add a means to learning the craft. And, two, spending too much time writing, and too little time networking. The greatest concept in the world won’t mean a thing if it doesn’t get exposure. Marketing yourself is equally important as marketing your work. That notion, especially if you lived outside of Los Angeles, used to be daunting. But with a site such as Stage 32, there’s no excuse. Networking needs to be part of the work day.

If you’re already a member of Stage 32, I thank you for joining and strengthening the community. If you’re not, I welcome you to come on board. I believe you will find it to be an invaluable resource. Upon joining, your first wall post will be from me. I hope you’ll take the time to respond and introduce yourself. Remember, I’m not only the CEO, I’m also a member.

Richard Botto is the co-founder and CEO of Stage 32. He is also the CEO of Fair Warning Productions. His most recent foray into the crazy world of independent film was as an associate producer of Sam Levinson’s first film, “Another Happy Day,” which premiered at Sundance in 2011. Botto is also the former publisher and editor of Razor Magazine. His screenplays have been quarterfinalists, semi-finalists, and finalists in various screenplay competitions including the Nicholl and Austin.

To view the original Hair Club For Men commercial, click here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDk_ZfYuyfY)