I've often wondered where it is that those in the film and television world make their contacts. "It's not what you know, it's..." we've all heard the saying, but where are the writers, producers, directors, etc making all these connections?
Last night I had the chance to find out, with my invitation to the British Film Council's Festival Party.
As part of its European film initiative, the film council brought a few hundred people together so that they can all exchange mobile phone numbers. It's as simple as that. A few glasses of wine and a couple of conversations later, someone might well get to know the right people for their ideas to be made.
Interestingly, there seemed to be more continental Europeans than British film makers. The party was a true melting pot of ideas and ethnicities, from Bosnians to Spaniards, each with an interest to further.
The room was charged with enthusiasm and aspiration. You could see the anxiety loosen as the bar stock dwindled. Some will turn and run as soon as they realise they can't get anything out of whoever they're talking to. This is business after all, and time is of the essence.
En masse, they are a surprisingly human crowd. The glitz and glam we may well have been led to imagine - through exaggerative and selective media coverage - was nothing near to the reality.
One producer gave me a long description of how these things work. He even compared it to a chair manufacturers' convention: "It's no different to any heavy industry in all honesty. The press has had too many columns to fill, so working in film has become the new rock and roll. The press have made it out to be such a glamorous lifestyle, when actually it's really hard work."
Looking around, he was right. These people were "running a marathon", as one director put it. They may take years to get to where they want to go, and you have to bust a gut.
To give an example, I came across one scriptwriter who had given up her job, sold her house, car and had to live with friends to set herself up in the business. An enormous sacrifice for anyone to make, and with the substantial risk that nothing would ever come of it. Her only option was devoting all her efforts to networking and pitching to developers. Still, at least she gets a glass of free wine at these parties.
I can say that there was much to learn from the experience. The number one rule is that you have to be exceptionally nice to everyone you meet (you never know when or where you might cross paths again). Secondly, you may well be spending more time promoting yourself than actually doing the "real work" of filmmaking. It's a hard graft and requires many talents; being unprepared is not an option.