Why You Should Think of Networking as Making Friends

I used to be nervous about networking.  I felt like it required meeting important people and somehow convincing them to use or hire me.  It felt awkward and manipulative.  The NY Creative Intern opening kickoff event last year featured a passionate DJ, Phi Pham.  He said something along the lines of:

“Don’t think of it as networking, think of it as making friends,  because that is how you really network.

From the latter point of view, you help people you want to help and you never know who is going to make it big.  My professor, George Nicholas, once said, “I’d rather hire someone I like than [someone I don’t like] even if he’s more talented.”  At the end of the day, film is just another job.  Of course people are looking for someone skilled, creative, attentive, competent, and hardworking, but we’re also on set 12+ hours a day and 5-6 days a week.  If we’re going to spend that much time together in close knit areas where emotions and anxiety run high, we might as well work with people we genuinely like.

The show that set the stage

It’s been one year, since the “networking snowball” that was the production of Petunia wrapped. That’s how Liz Mansfield, just one of my former co-intern/classmates, describes it.  Ironclad PicturesPetunia was like our cushion from Hofstra University to the real world. We would create a community within a community.

It all started with the president of NY Creative Interns and Hofstra Alumni, Emily Miethner. She received an email beginning with, “Evan Altshuler suggested I contact you about finding a NY based intern. I am a co-writer and producer on a new film entitled ‘Petunia‘ starring Thora Birch (American Beauty, Ghost World, Now and Then), Oscar Winner Christine Lahti (Chicago Hope, Jack & Bobby), [Eddie Kaye Thomas (American Pie, Harold & Kumar)] and Michael Urie (Ugly Betty).”

Emily and I met way back in 2006 at freshman orientation. In May 2010, we graduated together and I gained a B.A. in film studies and production.  So seven months later, on December 13th 2010, Emily recommended me to the producer.  Excited about the prospects of working on a feature film with name actors, I sent a cover letter and a killer résumé immediately. I met with the producer, Theresa Bennett, at a delicious dessert café. We talked about the movie, the process, the expectations, ate chocolate cake, picked my first day and then she said, “We’re going to need more help.”

(Left to Right) Liz Mansfield, Audrey Zao (Me), and Sarah Kerlin on the set of Petunia.

Sarah Kerlin (May ’10) and Liz Mansfield (Dec. ’10) were the first people I referred. It was office work and I knew that both of them were interested in being producers at the time.  Sarah came in from Boston, had her interview and was slated to start a few days before me. We would work mostly opposite days with one overlap.

(Left to Right) Audrey Zao and Sarah Kerlin in between takes of the wedding reception scene.

When Sarah walked in that first day, they needed her to make product placement deals. That was basically all that was said before she was pushed into the pool. The producers (Theresa Bennett and Jordan Levine), production manager (Canella Williams), and production office coordinator (Jaymi Rosano)  tested our self-sufficiency and leadership.  They had other things to worry about, so it was significant if we could learn to walk on our own. On just the first day, Sarah had already confirmed deals with wedding cake, chocolate fountain, and soda companies. They promoted her immediately from office intern to Product Placement Coordinator.

I still hadn’t had my first day and I was nervous about making deals with companies all by myself.  Yes, Sarah did well, but would I? I started off easy, doing what I was comfortable with, but then I knew I had to make calls at some point. Finally, I picked up the phone and made the requests for the appropriate person. I eventually became more comfortable and soon knew what to say and how to appear professional.

They had no idea they were talking to an intern.  It was exciting.

With Liz’s interview scheduled, they still needed more of us.  They said, “Maybe we can get NYU students.”  Sarah responded, “ Forget that. We’re getting Hofstra kids.” Why should they hire strangers to intern, when we could get people we knew who deserved this opportunity? Although the internship involved office work initially, for production, we would get to choose our trade. We would intern for professionals in the department we were truly interested in, such as: the wardrobe, office, prop, art, craft service, hair and make up, grip and electric, background casting, or assistant director department. We made the calls.

Liz Mansfield visiting set from the office. Paperwork in hand.

Liz was the production manager on a short I directed in 2009.  She was such an essential part of the crew, I promoted her to producer for my following film. For the interview, Liz took the long bus ride from Buffalo, NY and joined the Petunia family. When the time came to choose, she would decide to stay in the office and work closely with the production office coordinator.

Tim Clark (May ’12) was a lovable grip on my senior thesis. With two Tim’s on the production, the latter being very tall, we started calling Clark, Tiny Tim, a nick name continued on Petunia. He drove down from Maryland and had his interview that day. He would end up choosing the Assistant Director (AD) department as a set intern, working under another (not so tall, but still taller) Tim.

Jeff Seesselberg (May ’10) was an equipment savvy, hardworking cinematographer and gaffer at Hofstra. We thought this would be an excellent opportunity for him. He came over from New Jersey and would join the electric department.

(Left to Right) Bryan Ridgell, Liz Mansfield, Audrey Zao, and Sarah Kerlin

Bryan Ridgell (May ’10) was a self-sufficient, competent, and creative worker. He had already deemed the title of being a “hustler” for grabbing every potential career advancing opportunity that came to him. This is a term Sarah and I would later lovingly call ourselves, as well. Bryan would join the background casting department.  So that was five of us.

Sarah and I were in direct contact with the producer, Theresa. We needed more food, art and props, wardrobe, etc. Although Petunia had stars, the film’s budget went mostly to them: their air flight, hotels, rates, etc.  Everything else, we needed another option, so we made product placement deals.  Around the second week, I came in and they gave me my first intern for assistance in product placement. I magically found myself in a position of leadership.  I distributed my work with slight panic, but excited the same. The intern was David Sarrafian, another former Hofstra student recommended by Sarah.  (Now six of us.)  I instructed him to do as I did, but then have the companies later contact me, to keep the consistency. I re-organized our shared documents to better suit our needs, especially now that more people were using them.  When he left early for work, now Tim became my intern.  He asked a question I didn’t have an answer to, so I told him to do what I always did, “Ask Theresa.”  Suddenly, his face glowed with excitement, “I can do that?” I had not realized that Sarah and I were the only ones in direct contact with the producer. Everyone else either went through the production manager, office coordinator, or us: the perks of calling dibs.

At the end of pre-production, Theresa called me and told me I would also be credited as Product Placement Coordinator. Then she asked if I wanted to be a Prop intern (my choice trade) or Thora Birch’s assistant, who was also a producer. After having a sufficient fan moment, I realized I did not know how it would lead me down the career path I wanted, so I recommended Sarah instead.  Little did I know, Sarah was being promoted again.  She had done such a great job in product placement, she had proved that she knew how to make things happen.  She went from intern to paid Locations Assistant. She took the offer to be Thora’s assistant, as well, and gave her her number.

When production began, we excitedly wore our telemarketer walkie headsets. We learned the ways of walkie lingo and the rules. We ran around, did what we were told, took the initiative to help before being asked, tried not to step over the heads of our department, and just did our best to be reliable and valuable members of the crew.

(Left to Right) Dave Michaels and Sarah Kerlin summing up their relationship... Aside from the head butting.

Sarah pulled Dave Michaels (May ’10) from New Jersey to be her location intern. Diana Ziskin (May ’10) worked in the craft service department. It turned out that the art department needed extra help and wanted an intern as well. So I messaged Jack Saari (May ’11) who I had worked with recently on the short, The Breeder.  He proved to be very handy, as well as artistic. But Petunia was still asking for more interns.

(Left to Right, top to bottom) Jeff Seesselberg, Bryan Ridgell, Dave Michaels, Sarah Kerlin, Audrey Zao, and Chris Angellini. I was an extra in the wedding reception getting people to dance.

So Chris Angellini (May ’10) became an office intern and would later intern for Sarah in locations.

(Left to Right, top to bottom) Tim Clark, Bryan Ridgell, Audrey Zao, Sarah Kerlin, and María Esquea on the last day of filming.

María Esquea (May ’11) responded to Sarah’s post announcing the need for interns. At the time, María was not close to Sarah, but she made the jump and messaged her anyways. She became a set intern.

(Left to Right) Stephanie Cieplinski and Audrey Zao on the honeymoon set

And finally, Stephanie Cieplinski (May ’10) and David Salazaar (May ’10) became set interns too.

Amongst the the certain pitfalls and expected disgruntlement on film shoots with miserable weather, we helped lighten the mood by updating each other with ridiculous stories in passing, joking around with crew on walkie and on set, appreciating our hands on experience, learning from our peers and heads of our department, and making new connections. Sometimes film sets feel like gratuitous work with long hours. Other times it feels like getting paid to hang out with friends all day or all night.

On February 13th, 2011, we dolled ourselves up, drank ourselves silly, passed along still cameras and attended our first real wrap party spending 12am Valentine’s Day, appropriately among loved friends.

One Year Later

It’s been exactly a year now.  We have received jobs thanks to Petunia crew members and each other.  We’ve also worked with familiar Petunia faces again.  The more we work, the more we realize just how small the film industry can be.

  • Mom Caves: Theresa Bennett hired Sarah Kerlin to be her casting PA.
  • X Factor:  (Referred by) Liz Mansfield, Sarah Kerlin, Dave Michaels, Stephanie Cieplinski, and I worked together again along with Craft Service PAs from Petunia, Nikolas Stergiou and Carolina Gimenez, as Production Assistants (PAs) for registration, audition booths, people moving, crowd hyping, camera logging, and shooting.
  • Just Dance: Referred by Carolina Gimenez, Sarah Kerlin and I were art PAs.
  • Royal Pains: Referred by Location Manager (Ben Gamer), Sarah Kerlin was a locations PA.
  • 1, 2, Guess Who’s Who: Referred by Nikolas Stergiou, I started as an Art PA and was promoted to Set Decorator.
  • Supporting Characters (aka This is My Girlfriend): The Assistant Directors (T.J. Federico and Tim Duff) hired Stephanie Cieplinski as script supervisor (and actor) and Dave Michaels as location manager.  One of the PAs, Alejandro Ramia, was now the 2nd 2nd Assistant Director and one of the electrics, Jordan Bell, also worked on the project.
  • The Magic of Belle Isle (aka Summer at Dog Dave’s): The Production Manager, Canella Larrabee, hired Sarah Kerlin (who became known as Canella II on Petunia) as an office PA, and Tim Clark and Liz Mansfield as office interns.  The movie starred the director of Petunia, Ash Christian.  The Costume Designer, Nikia Nelson, and the Gaffer, Boris Cifuentes, also worked on it.
  • Nous York: The Prop Master on Magic of Belle Isle, Jerry DeRogatis, who I met through Sarah, hired me as Prop PA.  Boris Cifuentes and two other electrics, Dan Wong and Andrew Engert, also worked on it
  • Spell:  David Salazaar as Unit Production Manager, Jeff Seesselberg as Key Grip, Chris Angelini as Craft Service, and Maria Esquea as Costume Assistant (and promoted to Costume Coordinator) worked on this production.
  • Franny: Ash Christian and one of the producers, Jordan Levine, brought on Sarah Kerlin as Production Coordinator who hired Chris Angelini as Locations Manager, María Esquea as Office PA, and Tim Clark as an Office and Set Intern, but he would later become Executive Producer.  Normal.  The Script Supervisor, Alexandra Toterotot, the Sound Mixer, Allison Jackson, and the Art Department Coordinator, Bridget Rafferty, now Production Designer, came back from Petunia as well.  The Production Designer on Petunia, Daniel Kersting, came by to help his good friend, Bridget, too.
  • Ironclad Pictures: Ash Christian and Jordan Levine formed this production company and have hired Sarah Kerlin permanently as their Executive Coordinator.

It began with one short referral, from one Hofstra alumni to another. It grew to fourteen. You never know who is going to get you connections. I bet none of us realized by hanging out at school, we were networking. In the first year of going head on in my film career, I was able to get paid gigs consistently and referred from one job to the next. It was a while before I actually sent a resume again, because a reliable referral was worth more.

What are you doing to nurture your friendships and networks?

(Left to Right, top to bottom) Dave Michaels, Tristan More (non-Hofstra), Sarah Kerlin, Tim Clark, Bryan Ridgell, Liz Mansfield, Jeff Seesselberg, Jack Saari, Chris Angelini, María Esquea, Diana Ziskin, Chris Kiernan (Hofstra party crasher), Audrey Zao, and Larry Knobel (Hofstra guest) at the wrap party. Not pictured: Stephanie Cieplinski, David Salazaar, and Dave Sarrafian

About the Author

Audrey Zao, born and raised in Massachusetts, graduated Hofstra University for Film Studies and Production and Creative Writing. She now resides in New York City as a freelance filmmaker and writer. View her website: http://audreyzao.blogspot.com/

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