A true story: The back yard of my house butted a neighbor’s back yard. The nice folks who lived there had two kids and were pals with a family from a few doors down with three kids. My daughter played with all of them in the adjoined yards. Our families partied every Halloween, and I got to know the other neighbor, Dave, a lawyer who was also a talented guitarist and interested in the entertainment business. One day he noticed on his company’s internal bulletin board that another lawyer from his firm — 3,000 miles away in their LA office — was looking for help on a possible documentary. He called me and asked if he could put me in touch with them.
The rest, as they say, is history. A few years and award-winning documentaries later, we’re premiering a film at Tribeca and HBO while waiting anxiously on the Oscar short list… thanks to my neighbor, Dave.
And that’s how business gets done.
Sure, it’s plain luck that I had a good neighbor. But I don’t live in LA or New York, where there’s a fair chance of meeting someone in the business. So, is it luck or something else?
I hear stories like this all the time:
- Running your grocery cart into an executive at the supermarket that turns into a job interview.
- Sitting next to a colleague from another company on a plane back from NATPE, resulting in a major program sale.
- A cold call to an unlikely employer happens to coincide with the company’s timely initiative and someone who worked at the same place you did, and they want you to help.
- A computer hack forces you to send out an email to all your contacts to correct the disaster — and gets you back in touch with a former colleague who takes your next pitch.
The message, I suppose, is to be prepared for the unpredictable. You never know where or when opportunities will show up. While a neighbor with connections is never a substitute for talent and ability, at some level, you will need positive contact with others to get things done, especially in the media and production business. In the current crowded environment, it seems to me that this truth is more prevalent than ever.
If you’re a program producer or supplier, it’s exhausting — impossible, really — to to keep up with the changing cast of characters at the cornucopia of cable networks, broadcasters, streamers, digi-casters, and the dizzying array of non-traditional outlets. You can’t know everyone, even if you specialize in a niche like crime or docusoaps and have a portfolio of hit shows. The most successful companies know how to keep track of the key people in the business, but I suspect the ones with the most success are those who not only have a solid reputation, but who often find a connection that transcends standard business relationships — a former employee or employer now in a different role, a friend of a friend who sparks a productive connection, a previously unknown colleague who happens to sit next to you at the bar at a Realscreen Summit. You get the idea.
One of my favorite quotes is from Louis Pasteur (and as far as I know, has nothing to do with his invention of pasteurization): “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” If you’re prepared, you’re more likely to find a chance to create an opportunity. I know it sounds like an ersatz Tony Robbins platitude, but you tell me if it’s true. Get in touch via MichaelC@MandCMedia.com, as I’d like to hear from anyone who has a similar story — or perhaps one who disputes my theory that Mister Rogers was right. Won’t you be my neighbor?
Michael Cascio is president and CEO of M&C Media LLC, where he advises selected media and production partners, and produces documentaries. He is also a guest speaker and writer, whose recent article for the Sunday New York Times revealed how his experience as a backstage janitor prepared him for a career in television. At National Geographic, A&E, Animal Planet, and MSNBC, Cascio has won four Emmys, two Oscar nominations and a “Producer of the Year” award.