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How to Build Industry Relationships – Brian Medavoy

How to Build Industry Relationships

It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. This is an age-old adage that means more in Hollywood than most industries on the planet. And — if you want to build strong, lasting relationships, you need to start by getting to know the most important person in your life. Yourself.

As an actor myself, I’ve experienced (more than) my fair share of ups and downs. I’ve failed, I’ve succeeded. I’ve self-sabotaged, I’ve risen from the ashes. Today, I’ve learned that building relationships in Hollywood begins with building a strong relationship with yourself. This means you need to face up to everything — your strengths, weaknesses, and hard truths you may have been avoiding. Perhaps you have a dark past of hurt and shame — things you don’t want to own up to. But here’s the thing about self-awareness — it serves no purpose unless you take action.

While this may sound counterintuitive, trust me. By being open and honest about your shortcomings as well as your talents, you’ll quickly garner the respect of agents, managers, and casting directors. These are people who want to know everything about the actors they hire, while you brazenly showcase how you’ve risen in the face of adversity.

You see, Hollywood is overflowing with people who hide their truths. Talent alone isn’t enough. You need to be an open book — you need to be self-aware — you need to be, and share, the most authentic version of you, warts and all.

Only once you identify, accept, and commit to your strengths AND weaknesses, will you be able to hone the prior and iron out the latter. From there, you can start the practical work on landing your dream acting job.

Like Phil Jackson always says, “The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” This is as true in basketball as it is in Hollywood. None of us can ever be as smart as all of us combined, so keep this in mind when building a team. You want to find people who accept and complement one another’s strengths and shortcomings.

Building Connections — It’s Threefold

When it comes to building your reputation in Hollywood, there are three phases I believe to be of utmost importance.

Phase #1: List Creation.

When looking for representation, cast your net wide. And remember — you won’t fill that net overnight. Sit back, be patient, and keep your options open. Don’t simply cold-call every agency and management company in town. Think carefully — who do you truly want in your network? Try to pick 3–4 “personas” to pursue. Agents and managers are merely two examples, and while they’re great, don’t neglect producers, writers, or even fellow actors.

You should prioritize searching for people with interests that both align with and challenge your own. It’s not about connecting with the biggest players in the fame game. It’s about perspective, which can only be gained through network diversity.

Once you have your categories, add 5–10 names to each to finalize a list of 15–40 people you want to build relationships with. 

This should feature an eclectic combination of characters, from people you want to work with to people you want relationships with, to people whose work you admire, to people you simply want to acknowledge your existence.

These people could all prove crucial when it comes to connecting with the right representation. After all, we must always remember the transitive property of relationships. If you “click” with person A, and person A loves his agent (person B), you’re already on the right track.

Phase #2: Research.

The more you know about someone, the more likely you are to connect with them eventually. It’s not stalking — it’s called due diligence. In this business, there are few secrets, and you’ll be better off for knowing as many of them as you can. Read the trades and search high and low to identify the types of talent representatives you should be working with.

Try to answer the following questions for each person on the list you created in the previous step.

  • What’s their background?
  • How did they find success? 
  • What are they working on? 
  • What do they like?
  • Are they on social?
  • Do you share a network?
  • What can you offer them?

When it comes to adding value, always think as far beyond the box as possible. The support you could offer them might not even be related to your career; like a skill that could help grow their business, valuable connections, or a random insight they’ve never thought of before.

I’ve said it already, and I’ll say it again — the strongest teams are those featuring individual players that all recognize and respect both their strengths AND weaknesses. Let’s say an agent lacks diversity on their client list — a comedian could be just what the doctor ordered.

Ultimately, you need to research how potential connections treat others. Do they truly care about other people? If someone has a reputation for being an a*hole, they’re probably an a*hole — and there’s nothing you can do about it. Likewise, a reputation for laziness is almost always earned. That’s why you need a hard-working, patient, and diligent team that cares about you and your future success, especially if you’re just starting out.

Phase #3: Outreach.

You’ve got your people-list, and you’ve done the research. Now, it’s time to tune into their radar and start connecting with them…one by one.

When it comes to handling outreach, there’s no shortage of methods — but most tactics typically fall under one of two categories: casual or direct.

The prior involves conveniently being in the places where the person spends a lot of their time and searching for opportunities for authentic engagement.

You could connect with them on social media in a genuine way, like by commenting on their posts or offering casual yet valuable insights. This is a great (and popular) starting point for any strong relationship. You could also show up at public events or panels they’re likely to be at, giving you an opportunity to introduce yourself without seeming like a stalker. Again, due diligence.

Direct outreach, on the other hand, involves approaching people with a more formal and specific request related to your goal. For example, you could request a meeting or ask to pitch a project, but either way, you need a clear purpose. If you don’t know the person already, it’s best to introduce yourself through a mutual connection they already know and trust, like an assistant or even a family babysitter.

If someone treats people with respect, be it a mutual connection or a stranger, it’s a good sign. It should be a given, but sadly, it isn’t always. If someone is willing to meet with you based on your passion, it’s a sure sign they want to believe in you.

They want to discover the next big thing. All they need is convincing — a job they want you to do.

No matter how you reach out, always focus on the exchange of value and relevance. Both are easier once the homework is done.

And at the end of the day, never underestimate the power of respect. There’s a fine but crucial line between confidence and arrogance. No one likes obnoxious actors, so respect people’s boundaries. Even if you can’t see them in a digital space, they’re there.

For more advice on how to build connections in the industry, take a look at my blog, How to Get a Meeting in Hollywood.