Everybody wants something. And, no matter the project, you probably have something to offer the people in your network that they want. The secret to acquiring free or low-price assets (or simply some advice or help) on any project is to find what the people you know want, match it up with what you have to offer, and then propose a trade agreement.
We shot Subtext on the Los Angeles Center Studios film lot. This film lot is usually a very expensive lot to shoot on. Sets have been rumored to go for upwards of $10,000 per day to rent. The Matrix, Mad Men, and House are just a few productions that have graced their stages. There was no way I could afford $10K per day for Subtext, but Los Angeles Center Studios (LACS) had the perfect bar set for my film. So, I found the right people and proposed a trade agreement.
LACS also happens to house a film school where I was teaching at the time. This film school had a significant number of very talented students who needed both experience and connections that they could use after graduation to get jobs.
So, I approached the president of the film school and offered a trade agreement — if the school would provide the location and insurance for our film shoot, we would hire ten of their students to work on our union (SAG) project, pay them (more info on that later), and introduce them to the members of my film collective. The school would get to brag that their students had procured employment while still studying and I could fill my roster with talented filmmakers.
I hired an assistant director, a second assistant director, some gaffers, production assistants, and a few acting majors as extras. I introduced them to the professionals working with me from my film collective and I got my locations (a fully equipped bar set and a lovely outdoor view of the skyline of LA) for free.
The point is — if you can find a way to give people what they want and/or need, you can ask for what you want and/or need. In this case, I knew the school wanted to get its students on a professional set before they graduated and I knew that I could give them that experience. I employed this tactic often in this film. And it worked! I even traded giving voice lessons to a friend’s kid for teaching me how to fill out some of the more technical union paperwork.
How to find what people want with any project
First, the more you know about the individuals in your network, the better. You may have a brother who is a personal assistant who you happen to know is obsessed with exotic insects. And maybe your brother breeds ghost mantises. Could you get your brother to spare one of his 200 mantises for your personal assistant friend? And, if you could, would you be able to ask her to get her boss to record a voicemail message for your mom who loves his television show?
You hopefully get where I’m going with this. If you didn’t know your personal assistant friend loved weird insects, you wouldn’t be able to connect the dots between her and your brother’s insect side hustle.
Incidentally, I was inaccurate before when I said that everyone wants something. Everyone wants many things. And the more you know about the more whimsical fancies of your friends and acquaintances, the more likely you are to use one of your resources to satisfy it.
Often, though, what people want is simply a positive experience. If you can work to make sure that the creation of your project is an uplifting process, the process itself may be valuable to an individual to share their time with you.
Experience-wise, it’s also a great idea to look to schools and colleges when you are seeking out assistance on any endeavor. Everything from social media to dress designing could be a potential experience (and potential publicity) for young folks entering the work world. Here’s one more example.
Let’s say you have a formal event to attend and you have nothing appropriate to wear. But, let’s say that you plan to take a lot of photos at this event and will probably post these photos to social media. It’s worth it for you to contact the young clothing designers in your network to see if they would be willing to let you wear one of their outfits. Why would they want to do that? They get a free model (you) and they get exposure (you posting pics on your social).
The most important aspect of trading favors with your network is making sure that each individual feels good about the exchange and that it’s a fair situation. If you feel things aren’t balanced on both sides of the transaction, it’s up to you to make it right.
There are so many things that can be traded. Babysitting, lessons in whatever you know how to do, writing cover letters for job applications, errands, posting about a cause or product on your social media, a strategic introduction to one of your well-known contacts, a few nights of cooking and bringing over dinner, yard work, or mentorship — anything can be a valuable commodity. It’s up to you to figure out what is valuable to whom.