How To Build A Team – Part 1

I recently returned from a trip to the Cannes Film Festival in France. I was able to take a detour, and spend a day with an old friend from film school, David. He had decided that film wasn’t for him, and became a photographer instead because he liked the mobility and freedom, whereas film required approval, and crews, and unions, and so much more. Plus, he wanted to leave America because he hated Donald Trump.

As we sat outside that French café, I realized two things. One, it was somewhat stereotypical that two white liberals in their twenties who grew up in middle class America and went to film school were now sitting outside a French café complaining about American politics. The second thing I realized was David’s experience underscores the importance of building a filmmaking team, rather than the auteur method that many film schools advocate.

Time and time again, filmmakers make the same mistake of being a hyphenate on their projects. They’re the writer-director-producer-cinematographer-composer-actor-craft service guru. The fact is, each one of those jobs has its own skill set; a craft that needs to be cultivated over time, not gangbanged into submission. They think because Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, or Stanley Kubrick did it, so can they, but these filmmakers had something going for them that young budding auteurs didn’t. They were Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and Stanley Kubrick.

In fact, if you look at the credits for most of these auteurs’ films, you’ll see they had a writing Partner, and a producing Partner, and their scrolling credits still include dozens (if not hundreds) of people and companies.

There’s an old saying, “Jack of all trades, but master of none.”  Meaning those with an unfocused skill set lose out in the job market.

So, the question becomes, how do you work to build a team?


Everyone will always tell you that networking is an important step to finding the important partners in your life.  However, many of us, particularly artists, are introverts, and don’t know how to engage in this activity.  If you don’t know how to network, then warm up first.  Start locally and start small.  As Seth Godin said in his important Ted Talk, ‘find your tribe.’  Meet other aspiring creators, and find ways to break the ice with them.  Go to places like art schools, film school reunions, local comic shops, anywhere where creative people gather, and find your common interests.

Ask yourself, what brings you together?  Is it your passion for art and storytelling?  Is it your drive for success?  Or is it something as simple as the fact that you both like the comic book shop you’re both in?

Find your tribe, and build your tribe.

Join An Improv Classes

In addition to being another great place to meet creative people, Improv classes are a great exercise for people to think on their feet.  This is a skill set that you need in networking.  Hell, this is a skill set you need in life.

Not only does this teach you to think on your feet, but Improv classes also teach you about storytelling, about working as part of a team, and about getting outside of your comfort zone and pushing yourself.  All great artists pushed themselves outside of their comfort zones, but also pushed society outside of it’s comfort zone, usually to both their, and society’s benefit.

These kind of classes, if done right, also teaches you how to work with partners, and how to critique their work constructively.  This is very important, because if you don’t know how to give constructive criticism, you could risk offending your partners, and then they won’t want to work with you.

Network Smarter, Not Harder

One of the big mistakes people make when trying to network, is they go to advertised networking events.  These usually take place at bars, where people have to pay an entry fee, and everyone is looking for the big fish who can finance their project, or give them a job.  The truth is, the big fish who can give you that lift up, don’t go to networking events at bars.  The big fish are people who are in their 40’s and 50’s, and don’t want to go to bars, because they are working 60 hours a week on their own projects and investments.

The way to network is by showing you are a person of high quality through DHV stories (Demonstration of Higher Value) and then asking for referrals.  Show that you will be of benefit, both to the person you are speaking to (since they will look good by referring you), and the person they are referring you to (either through intelligence, work ethic, creativity, or pure profit).

Also, make sure to compare and contrast with your peers.  That means making sure you are the hardest working person in the environment you are in, and also comparing notes about what you are doing; and make sure to celebrate the achievements of your peers, even if they are better than your own.

Look Good

What do I mean by look good?  Let’s start with the basics.  Groom yourself!

Yes, make sure you are clean and smell good.  If you have facial hair, make sure it is trimmed and well-coiffed, not ratty and musky.  Make sure your breath smells nice, so people won’t want to rush away when talking to you.  People (especially film people) are highly visible, it’s a process of our evolution.  If they see someone who looks unprepared, unprofessional, and downright homeless, they will dismiss you as another kid with an unachievable idea.  However, if you are wearing something that looks like you made an active choice about your apparel, then they will not dismiss you.

This brings us to another important question: What is your position’s uniform?  Now, I am a producer.  The standard uniform for someone like me is nice jeans, a button down shirt, and a blazer.  I will accentuate my outfit with a pin or a hat, but I know that people will accept me more if I wear that uniform.  Now, if you are a more eccentric artist, your uniform might be a bright rainbow colored jacket that anyone from across the room can see, but you need to know that going in, so that people’s confirmation bias will work for you, not against you.

Be Prepared

When you are seeking out new partners and new team members, you need to be prepared to express yourself, and convey what it is you are trying to do.  What are your projects and what will a successful version of them look like?

For filmmakers, this comes in the form of a logline.  You take your story, and boil it down to 2 sentences.  Here are some examples:

  • Bruce is a local union rep, but when a shady lawyer shuts down the plant, Bruce and his top union members are invited to the Billionaire’s private island to negotiate, only to discover he wants to hunt them for sport.
  • Fathima is a Muslim woman who works for a recycling center, but when she sees an ominous Twitter post calling for an end to recycling and environmentalism, she is stalked and hunted by a mutilated nuclear power plant worker.
  • Jane is a bisexual woman in Indiana, but after following fake news articles, her and her friends are kidnapped by a gay conversion VooDoo priest who wants to torture the gay out of them. Now Jane has to help her friends escape, before they are mutilated to death.

You’ll notice that the format outlines the main character, and the conflict of the story, without going much past the first act.  The job of the logline is to entice and intrigue, just like all art should.

For those of us who are not in film, we develop a 5 sentence elevator pitch.  Here are some examples:

  • PERSONAL: I’m currently studying education at [insert college]. One of my greatest strengths is my ability to make the conceptual practical and I’m interested in securing an entry-level role at a nonprofit that allows me to teach and develop curriculum. Because nonprofit programs and fellowships were a key part of my development, it’s important for me to pay it forward and help student develop to their highest potential.
  • BUSINESS: Do you mind if I give you an example of a recent project? The Marine Corps of Southern CA came to us because they were under a direct order to increase delivery of energy through renewable resources. They had a marginal goal in their RFP, and instead of the few kilowatts required I was able to deliver over 10 megawatts within the existing project budget. Obviously they were thrilled to get a thousand times more energy than they were expecting from their budget. My name is ________ with ________________ and we focus on water and renewable energy contracts.
  • ARTISTIC: I’m working on a series of mixed media paintings on canvas, a drawing series and a series of prints that received enthusiastic response from library patrons when I exhibited last month at Library of the Stars in Phoenix. One librarian told me that no other art exhibited has brought so many positive comments!

It’s that simple.


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