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Cultivating Opportunity

Wendy Calhoun describes how to nurture and grow your network so it continues to bear fruit.

Photo by J.W. Hendricks

Although writers never know where their next gig will come from, it’s no secret that opportunities can come from past working relationships. The question is, after a job ends, how do you nurture those connections so you’ll be remembered when a new job arises? TV writer-producer Wendy Calhoun (Prodigal Son, Empire) answers a writer’s query about keeping in touch with showrunners and other writers and explains why the key to maintaining a fruitful network is to remember the Golden Rule.

Question: “What's the best way to keep in touch with showrunners and upper-level writers you’ve worked with in the past? How often?”

Wendy Calhoun: The best way to “keep in touch” is by treating coworkers with the kind of thoughtful attention you would like to receive. Writers provide service to other writers. Our colleagues are our first and most loyal customers. Think of cultivating your “customer base” as the single most significant time investment to make in your career. As for how often, try to be present for each person in your network at least once a year. This practice will not only boost your spirit, but position you as top of mind. You’ll marvel at how quickly your network grows and bears fruit when you least expect it.

Start by creating a contact list of everyone you truly enjoyed on each gig. Don’t limit your circle to writers with showrunner titles and upper-level ranks. Today’s production assistant is tomorrow’s executive producer. Treat every person on your list with equal value. Be sure to include executives, directors, editors, performers, and production crew members. Everyone on the call sheet who you enjoy, matters.

Don’t limit your circle to writers with showrunner titles and upper-level ranks. Today’s production assistant is tomorrow’s executive producer. Treat every person on your list with equal value.

Next, do some focused internet following of those lucky folks on your list, on the social media platform where they post the most. When you hear someone is dealing with a significant life event, positive or negative, reach out to them. Many people send kind words when they see success, but I’m more impressed by those who care enough to contact me during challenging times: a pandemic, a show cancellation, or a personal tragedy. This outreach can be done through emails and texts, but I suggest you use old-fashioned ways too.

The digital age longs for tactile experiences. Invest in stationery or notecards with designs on exciting paper. Before every new year or on birthdays, snail mail a handwritten note to folks on your list. Thank you cards are best handwritten too. I send gifts on exceptional occasions. When someone has a baby, I ship a monogrammed blanket with the baby’s name and birthdate. I’ve gifted over a hundred blankets to Hollywood’s next generation. If someone is in the hospital or grieving a death, I send flowers or meals. These are my basic moves. Get creative. Anything sent with your signature touch will be appreciated.

Last but not least, host an event for your favorites. My go-to pandemic gatherings are Zoom parties with treat deliveries. As the world starts to socialize in person again, plan a simple meeting. This can be done for free. Imagine a show reunion group walk in a lovely pocket of town or a picnic to celebrate a pitch sale. Many new writers enjoy gathering friends for screenings of their work. Imagine if you simply organized a digital or in-person watch party on their behalf. Be a connector, and you’ll never be forgotten.

Send us your questions about the craft, job hunting, your career, or Guild service (under 100 words, please) with the subject “Mentor,” and we’ll send them to an established screen or TV writer to answer. Questions might be edited for space or clarity and will be published anonymously. WGAW mentors provide informal career advice and are not expected to read scripts, give notes, hear pitches, or help find representation or work.

(This article originally appeared in the June 4, 2021 issue of the WGAW Connect newsletter)

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