Guest contributor Wayne Douglas Morgan discusses the importance of networking in the film and television industry.
Working in the film industry has been a dream come true for me. I was born and raised in the small city of Eugene, Oregon. The boy I was then would never have imagined acting or working in the film industry. In fact, I always dreamed of being in the military or being a police officer. But here I am today, an actor, producer and bodyguard amongst many other things (including a veteran of the US military as well as a Federal Investigator).
The first question anyone asks me is, “How did I get into the film industry?” Now, this is a long story, but in short, it was directly a result of networking. I attended the United States Naval Academy and was a member of the Midshipman Action Group. This was a group that was comprised of people from all different backgrounds and walks of life, but one thing they all had in common was the desire to make a difference. While at the Academy, I learned about how networking could help one’s career. This was a lesson that made a huge impact on me while serving in the military and one that I would take with me into the civilian world.
In 2004, I was living in Louisiana and heard about a casting call for extras on the movie Dreamer, starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning. At the time, I had two small daughters (ages 5 and 3) and I thought I might get them into the film industry. I had no desire or interest in being in movies myself, but I took my two small girls to the casting call since it was down the street from my house at the Castine Center in Mandeville, Louisiana. Now mind you, I am a big guy at 6 feet and 340 pounds. I usually dress in all black suits and have a shaved head with a goatee.
I tend to look very intimidating.
Anyway, as I arrived at the Castine Center I see a big line and walk towards it with my two little daughters next to me holding my hands. As we approach, a casting assistant came up to me and said I looked familiar and he wanted to know what shows I have done. I advised him that I had not done movies before. He said he wanted to introduce me to the Casting Director. I was thinking that it would not hurt, so I agreed. Long story short, I was offered five days on the set of Dreamer. The casting director did not say anything about my daughters.
I was a little disappointed, but I accepted the job because I figured if I got into the film industry that my daughters would then have opportunities later.
The first day on set we were at the racetrack in New Orleans. This movie was about horses and I later learned that the people who oversaw extras on a film were called “Wranglers”. Additionally, the extras were all set up in a horse stall as a holding area. During lunch, the Wranglers would tell everyone to follow the HERD to get to the lunch area.
I noticed that every one of the extras was asking the other extras how they had heard about this film, if they had heard about any other films coming and how to get work on them. This gave me an idea utilizing what I had learned at the Naval Academy about networking. I made friends with another extra by the name of Mike Kotteman, a local drummer in a band, and together we spent the day talking. We started giving my number out and got everyone’s emails.
Mind you there were about 500 extras on the set that day. I told everyone if they heard about a film coming to the area to call me and let me know and then I would send an email out to all of those on my email list advising about upcoming films and opportunities. By the end of the day, I had about 200 emails.
Together Michael and I came up with the name “The HURD (Helping yoU Reach Dreams) Casting Network”.
That night I went home and created a business card that had my picture on it and had a black and white cow design on it as well as my email address. I was tired of giving out my number verbally and started passing out the business cards. Michael came in that morning and told me that he had created a website for our endeavor.
This motivated both of us even more and by the end of the day, every business card had been given out. I started receiving calls from a bunch of people telling me about movies they heard were coming to the area or actors that had been spotted in town who were working on an unnamed project. I also started getting more and more people saying they wanted to be included on the list to receive the information I had to pass.
The list was over 500 names long and was growing each day. I created a form that would allow me to track films and actors. This would allow me to research and make sure the information I shared was accurate. I then started sending out weekly emails to the list, which grew exponentially as word of mouth got out. I started getting calls from the film commission, unions, and even directors sharing information. This style of networking really paid off and set the stage for what was yet to come.
Because so many people started visiting our website and emailing me, I decided to start a monthly film industry meeting. These meetings were created to share information and bring together like-minded creative individuals to discuss and create work opportunities. We would also talk about issues that were pertinent to growing the film industry, train people and address important topics. By this time, I was being contacted by extras, actors and crew members that included directors. By having the HURD Casting Meetups, I was eventually asked to take over Louisiana Produces, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the growth and stability of the film and television industries in Louisiana. This nonprofit organization was founded by George Brower (a pioneer and expert on the Louisiana Tax Credit program) and Lynn Yeldell (Entrepreneur and Former Chief Financial Officer of the Louisiana Institute of Film and Television). These meetups then grew to every Tuesday. The first Tuesday of the month would be the general meetup with the screenwriters’ meetup on the second Tuesday. The actors’ meet up would be on the third Tuesday and the producers’ group would meet on the fourth Tuesday of every month. We became a regular place to meet and network for people in the film industry in Louisiana.
We have had as many as 650 people at our events but never less than 20. We have been going consistently since then stopping only for one month during Hurricane Katrina and then again for the COVID pandemic. We are planning on starting up again either in February or March of 2021 utilizing social distances and CDC guidelines to make sure everyone is safe. These meetups will be on the second Tuesday of every month and will be held from 7 pm until 10 pm. We have had members network until 5 am the next morning. Needless to say, they are very successful.
The Louisiana Produces Film Meetups have evolved, and we now have two different guest speakers from the industry each month.
These speakers have included actor, writer and producer John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville, Tyler Perry’s Have and Have Nots) along with his wife, producer Alicia Allain (Maven Entertainment). We’ve also hosted actor and producer Lance Nichols (The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons, Queen of the South), Theo Crane (The Walking Dead, Underground), Rob Mello (Happy Death Day, The Walking Dead), The Ormiston Twins (Hunger Games Mockingjay, The Walking Dead), Author/Agent Tosha Smith-Mills (CEO of Talent Connexion LLC), Producer/Actor/Stuntman Christian Stokes (Escape Plan, Monster), Producer/Casting Director Mae Chapman (Created Equal, In the Electric Mist), Actor/Coach Jim Gleason (Fantastic Four, Benji), Actor/Producer Sophie Marie White (Chicago Med, 1959) and Producer/Entertainment Attorney Murray Roth (Lost Bayou, 1959) among many other industry notables. After they speak, the members of the meetup can ask questions of the guests. We then share information about films in pre-production in our area and how the members can get work on them, as well as sharing other important information that relates to the industry. Finally, we spend the last half of the meeting just networking. This is where the magic happens. We encourage everyone to bring their headshots, resumes and business cards. I have seen many film projects develop and come to life out of this group. Additionally, we utilize the MEETUP.com website as well as Facebook pages to share the information to those that are members of the group but could not attend the meetups either due to distance or working. These meetup groups can be compared to Saturday Night Live. By that, I mean many great comics and actors have gotten their start by being a part of Saturday Night Live. The same thing applies to the Louisiana Produces Meetup Groups. Many actors have used the group as the first step for their careers and are now working on big projects. People like Actor Theo Crane, Actors Kim & Misty Ormiston, Actor/Singer Armando Leduc (The Game Stands Tall, Prison Break) and actor/producer Sam Medina (Mile 22, Olympus Has Fallen) amongst many others. We have also had producers and Directors involved, like the Swider Brothers (Girls Gone Gangsta).
There is a saying, “It is not what you know but who you know that really counts.” This is somewhat true in the film industry. Obviously, you must know your craft and have a team in place (agent, acting coach, publicist, etc.) but it really does help by who you know. These meetups provide an opportunity for someone who just moved into the area or just starting out in the industry to come and get plugged into the local film community. These meetups are always free and open to anyone even remotely interested in the film industry. It is just as much their meetup as it is someone who has been going to it for years.
We also partner up with local training programs and groups to ensure we stay connected to others in the film industry, as well as educate local business owners on how a film could help their business. When a production comes into town, they bring actors who stay in hotels and eat in local restaurants and partake of local entertainment bringing money to the local area and businesses. Another example is production designers buy supplies for the sets they build from local businesses. There are many ways that a business can benefit from films coming to the area.
The networking groups have grown so much that we now have meetup groups in Shreveport, Lake Charles, Monroe, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, New Orleans and now Mandeville. Additionally, in the course of their careers, many people have left Louisiana for other destinations such as Los Angeles or New York and have established meetups there as well. We had over 10,000 members involved in the group as of last count and it is probably even bigger now.
Every film has a crew and cast working on it. These individuals work side by side for months, making movie magic happen and they really become close, almost like a family. Then when the film wraps, everyone is shotgunned to other projects. Many of these people work together on other projects. Networking allows you to get your name out there. I have seen it firsthand that a production manager needs someone to fill a position and another person on the crew recommends someone who is then brought on board. The more people you know and who know you the better opportunity you have, so long as you have a good reputation and work ethic. In the film industry, no one makes it to the top alone. Even Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee had people helping them rise to the top. Imagine if you were one of those people who helped them become who they are today.
They would then be able to Help yoU Reach your Dreams.
Wayne Morgan is former Navel VIP/Admiral Escort and Law Enforcement Officer turned actor and Hollywood bodyguard, protecting celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and John Schneider. You can read our interview with Wayne here.