"All the pretenses are gone," second assistant director Maura McKeown remarked at the DGA's Women's Steering Committee's Spring Mixer in Los Angeles on May 27. "You're here to meet people who might hire you, so you can just cut to the chase." McKeown, who had been attending WSC mixers faithfully for 10 years, was especially pleased about this year's structure.
Called "A Mixer for the Director's Team," the gathering was, as event producer and DGA member Donna Parish described it, "specifically aimed to help UPMs, ADs, seconds, second seconds, techs; really everybody who's not a director who's a member of the DGA. There will be another mixer geared for the directors in the fall."
According to WSC Co-chair Kari Skogland, her decision to split the mixers arose because industry professionals who "look to hire directors and those who want below the line [talent] are different people." Putting job-seeking directors and job seekers of the director's team under the same networking umbrella was simply "not fair to the majority of our members."
And while the schmooze-it-up contact-making essence of past networking mixers was alive and well, and though some below-the-line mixers had been done before, the format on May 27 was dramatically different. There were no panels to be heard from. There were no clusters in the lobby of three or four aspirants sitting in circles vying for attention from the one industry professional in their group.
Indeed, the big innovation this year was in offering the women members of the director's team four one-on-one interviews, each lasting five minutes, with production executives who could focus solely on them.
This is the first time we've used the one-on-one format," Parish said. She was responsible for "getting all the VIPs there" after sending out "more than 150 faxes." She targeted "mostly UPMs because they best represented below-the-line hiring."
The logistics of providing more than 70 DGA hopefuls their individual sessions with the 17 "VIP Guests" who were able to attend were daunting, yet everything clicked into place with surprising ease thanks to the help and support from DGA staff.
To promote optimal use of allotted time slots, each VIP had been given a huge notebook of resumes. "If they didn't have resumes in front of them," Parish said, "meeting so many people would just be a blur."
The open books were icebreakers and gave industry guests counseling guidelines at a glance; as when Carnivale's production supervisor Cliff Rogers spotted names of people he and first assistant director Sandra Middleton knew in common. "It's a small business," he said, then gave Middleton other names she might contact and a word of advice: "Always start with the guy at the top."
Perhaps the notebook's greatest value will be its longevity. Months ahead when there are jobs to be filled, the industry pros won't have to riffle through stacks of disparate resumes but can reach for their "all-in-one" DGA binders. The book will also make Guild "follow-ups possible," DGA Special Assignments Executive Regina Render said, "because we've kept a list of who met with whom."
After their sessions, director's team members milled about in the boardroom, buoyed with hope. "Even if someone isn't hiring at this moment," first assistant director Chase Newhart said, "they may be down the road." They came away with e-mail addresses, invitations to shadow on shows, even offers to collaborate on personal projects.
The mixer created win-win situations because the VIP guests also benefited from the one-on-ones. "It was a great whirlwind of a lot of strong, good, professional assistant directors coming my way," observed Christine Larson-Nitsche, production manager on Arrested Development. "Even in a five-minute interview, you can pick up on somebody's vibe and you can look at their experience on paper and it's really something. The next time I need a second second... I can look at my resumes of the people I met tonight and just give one of them a call. I am always looking for good ADs. There just aren't enough to go around."
Second assistant director McKeown, who wants "to segue from single-camera to multi-camera television," was optimistic after her four sessions. The people with whom she interviewed "were very open to meeting someone new" and definitely encouraged further contact.
"I absolutely think this was the DGA version of speed dating," McKeown laughed. "You want to tell the person you meet all about yourself, learn what they're doing, find out if there's going to be any sort of fit and do it literally in 300 seconds!"
Parish, who ran around for two hours timing the five-minute segments of one-on-ones with a stopwatch, said that the WSC will repeat the formula next year; "but with longer sessions."
Render, who also made the "speed dating" analogy, was pleased with the positive responses to the mixer from both the director's team members and the production executives. The event was, she said, a great way "to help our members become more pro-active about soliciting work opportunities; one person at a time, one job at a time."