Notes from a Panel Discussion on Reading the Room & Networking

Catalyst Ratchets Up to a Higher Gear

The rains fell hard on the boulevard during the night, but we’ve cleared the skies a little to begin Day 3 of the Catalyst Content Festival here in Duluth. Dozens of films were screened in various locations including the Norshor, the Zeitgeist Zinemas and other venues. Documentaries, drama, comedy, reality shows, animation, podcasts and more were on display.

At the Old City Hall there were orchestrated meetings between content creators and executives all day and will continue into the weekend. Peppered throughout the week are nearly two dozen panel discussions and workshops to help creators hone their craft and advance their networking skills. The region’s army of volunteers is helping bring it all together for the countless guests who have come to Duluth for the festival.

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Kudos to the Catalyst staff for their flexibility and efforts to ameliorate the vicissitudes of weather and the self-evident construction complication.

Late Thursday afternoon I attended a panel discussion in the Spirit of the North Theater called Reading the Room, a.k.a. How to Make Contacts, Capitalize on Relationships, and Leverage Your Content Project into Future Work. There was a treasure trove of useful advice and what follows are notes I was able to scribble down during the lively discussion that ensued.


The panel was comprised of:
Vinca Jarrett FilmPro president and attorney from Boston
Steve Adams Head guy at Buffalo 8
Sofie Monroe Founder of Daymaker Productions
Erica Kraus Producer
Jessie Albert President, Xpansive Media
Mike Rotman Writer/Producer/Director

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Photo by the author.

Right from the start you could sense the energy from this panel with oodles of experience and a desire to share, help others. There was a lot of great advice shared and shared with authority. You could tell these were veterans who have experienced the thick of it. From the moment they took their seats the discussion took off like horse bursting from the gate at Churchill Downs.

The first bit of advice related to maximizing our experiences here at the festival. “It’s better to build relationships than pitch. To pitch too soon is like going on a date to get to know someone and talking about marriage.”

This got a laugh but was a totally apt illustration.

Mike Rotman went so far as to say, “Everything I’ve done comes out of a meet and greet. Get to know people, not pitch pitch pitch.”

Someone else said, “Always know who you’re meeting with. And always have something in your back pocket.” (Should that be on the inside or outside of my wallet? Or was this a metaphor? What if it ends up in the wash?)

Several times one or another of the panelists mentioned the word rejection. Freelance writers learn early on that rejection letters are part of the game. These veterans wanted to underscore that rejection is a common occurrence in Hollywood as well. “We are all slammed. Don’t take rejection personally,” Sofia said.

On the positive side, Vinca reminded us, “Festivals exist for meeting people.”

An informal poll was taken and we learned that about half the audience was from Minnesota, a quarter from L.A. and the rest from elsewhere. I personally spoke with people from Asia, Atlanta and Germany in the first half day.

Each member of the panel had a microphone and for the first half hour it was non-stop advice and industry stories. Every comment seemed to light up another panelist who had an add-on insight. Eventually there was a Q&A.

“How do I get a meeting with a producer?”

A: “No cold calls.” Agents mediate for the purpose of efficiency to avoid wasting peoples’ time.

Someone else suggested hiring an entertainment lawyer to help you reach the right agent of manager. “No one will read scripts if you have no history or body of work.”

Mike noted that he personally has only had one project due to an agent. “The path is slow. Your job is to prove to the agent that you can make them money.”

Jesse stated, “You’re not ready until you’ve written 10 scripts.” I’m sure a few hearts dropped at that, but it reminded me of some advice I was given as a young artist. “It takes a thousand bad drawings to make a good drawing.”

A Hollywood life is less glamorous than you might imagine. You work all day and then read 5 scripts each night before you go to bed.

Another downer piece of advice was the suggestion to hire a casting agent for 5–10K. In other words, this game is not for the faint of heart.

Erica noted that it requires persistence and perseverance. “If you’re scared of hearing no, you might as well not start. You’re going to hear many nos.”

This actually was quite refreshing to me, though. Too often wanna-be writers are told they can be millionaire bestselling authors or bloggers. Just follow this formula (that I will sell you for $29.95.) Hucksters take advantage of ignorant people telling them how easy it is to turn $2000 into two million in penny stocks. As PT Barnum said, “A sucker is born every minute.”

This panel, however, wasn’t selling. They were telling us how the game is played. It was a variation of tough love, and they were earnestly helping us to get realistic, managing expectations while still nurturing dreams.

Right through to the end of the hour the panelists flung pearls into the audience. We left with pockets and purses full of them. Here are a few more quick ones to take to heart.

“Don’t burn bridges.”

“Be dependable.”

“Technology has changed things. There’s been a paradigm shift.”

“It’s very hard to get money for your project.”

One attendee said afterwards, “One of the best hours I’ve spent in a long time, with three more days to go.”

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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