THE POWER OF THE PHONE / by clayfrost

We’ve been talking about doing some blogs on indie producing but found it hard to know where to start.

Then I realized, there is no good place to start, and that by just picking a few topics to talk about in no particular order may be the best way to impart some advice.  So here goes.

So you thought that the movie industry was sexy.  That everything about it would be red carpet and celebrities.  Well, if that bubble hasn’t yet burst for you, let me be the lucky guy to break the news.

The journey of making an independent film, while perhaps noble depending on your content, is by no means very glamorous, especially when you’re getting started.  Let me drive this fact home by talking to you today about making phone calls.

Yup…you read right. Phone calls.

Boring I know, but trust me, if you want to make a movie, you need skills on the phone.  It might not seem like it at first, it might actually feel like the complete opposite, but trust me, developing some phone skills and not being afraid to just pick it up and dial whomever you think can help you out at that particular moment will prove invaluable.

On a daily basis I have to call up people who I don’t know and most of the time I’m asking for help or money or both.  Getting good results with those kind of odds takes some practice and a little bit of guts if it’s not something you’ve done before.  So how can you be effective when picking up the horn?

Step One – Pick it up.  Except for a blackberry in your back pocket, phones don’t dial themselves and even if they do, they rarely call the person you want to speak with.  Muster up the courage and dial the numbers.  Remember, the person you’re trying to reach is most likely a human being.  Even if they’re a big shot executive or someone with crazy deep pockets that can fund your whole movie, they’re just like you.  Maybe a person with a way better job or waaay more money, but still… just like you.

Step Two – Have a plan.  If you’re calling someone it’s because you need them for some reason.  Sounds stupid, but you need to know what that reason is.  If you actually reach the person that you want to talk to, they might actually be ready to talk so you should be too.  Don’t script out your conversation but jot down any notes or questions that you don’t want to forget about.  Also, it’s likely you’ll need more than one conversation to accomplish whatever it is you’re after so be sure to end the conversation with a follow-up plan.  Are you going to call back in a week?  Can you email them the documents?  Should you send smoke signals next Friday?  Whatever the case may be, just make sure you’re both on the same page when the call is coming to a close.

Step 2.5 – Have a plan for leaving a message.  This piggy backs on Step Two.  You don’t want to pull a Paul Rudd in I LOVE YOU MAN and leave a message that makes no sense.  If you get to voice mail and aren’t prepared to leave a message…HANG UP!  Trust me, you’ll do better by calling back next week than leaving a message that makes you look like a bumbling buffoon.  If you are prepared to leave a message, leave them your clear, concise reason for calling, clearly leave your name and clearly leave a number that you can be reached at.  Did I mention this should all be done CLEARLY.  Oh, and after all that prep and clarity to leave the perfect message…don’t expect a call back.  Basically think of voicemails as something that can be referenced when you call them back and hopefully get through to a human.

Step Three – Be nice.  Remember, you’re calling them.  You may not be excited to be spending the day making phone calls but put your smile on, realize what the potential benefits of your labor are and dial.  Also remember that you’re most likely going to have to pass through a gatekeeper if you’re calling anyone significant and gatekeepers like nice callers.

Step Four – Gatekeepers are your friends.  As just mentioned, in Hollywood–or any industry really–when you’re trying to talk to someone of influence that can really help you get your project made, they’ll have someone else answering their phones and you want that person to love you.  Don’t be fake, but understand that the gatekeeper is fielding thousands of other callers like you so put yourself in their shoes.  Ask their name, treat them like a human, thank them for their time, remember them the next time you call, etc.  Realize that this person is the only one that can grant you the access that you want.

Step Five – Be persistent and keep notes.  If you get through on your first try, count yourself lucky but don’t expect it the next time.  Busy people are hard to get a hold of… deal with it.  If it takes 3 calls then it takes 3 calls, if it takes 30 then it takes 30.  Just keep track of when you call and what the result was, like answering machine, left note with assistant, no answer, whatever, so that next time you call, you remember.

I think that’s enough to get you started making productive phone calls to people that can help you make your movie.  Not an exhaustive training by any means but that should get you dialing at least.   Being good on the phone is certainly a skill that falls into the “Practice makes perfect” category so start calling.