So you’ve made a movie. Congrats! You’ve been through every stage of production, you’ve created something you’re really proud of, and now you’re ready to share your work with the world. We’ve already talked about how to submit to film festivals; now, let’s talk about what to do once you’re actually there! When we first started sending our short film Biters & Bleeders to festivals, I would have loved to have someone sit me down and tell me what to expect. So, with that in mind, here are my best film festival tips.
Don’t just roll up to a film festival without doing any prep work. You don’t need to spend a ton of time or money to get ready, but one thing that will make it easier to network is if you have some materials prepared. You can make business cards, get a QR code that directs folks to your website, or make a small flier with information about your film. That way, if you meet folks you want to maintain a relationship with, you can give them your card (or whatever materials you prepared) so that they can get in touch with you in the future. Like I said, this doesn’t have to be overly difficult or expensive; you can design something simple in Canva and print it at Staples, or use a service like VistaPrint. If you’re really on top of it, you can wait until they have a sale and get a really good deal on your materials. This is also a time to take stock of your branding and online presence in general; are you happy with how your website looks? Do you have a filmmaking Instagram or Facebook account? Remember, this is your chance to get your film in front of people and hopefully build lasting relationships. Before you even arrive at the theater, make sure you’ve made that as easy on yourself as possible.
Another aspect of being prepared is thinking about what you want to say. Think about how you want to present yourself and your work to other attendees. One of my favorite film festival tips is to think about your elevator pitch; if you only have thirty seconds to pitch your film, what do you say? You should also be ready to talk about your upcoming projects in case someone is interested in finding out more about your work; this is something distributors and investors are going to want to hear about, so be ready to talk about what’s coming up next. If there’s a chance you’ll be called up on stage to speak about your film or accept an award, spend a few minutes thinking about a basic outline of what you want to say. That way you’ll look polished and professional even if you’re caught by surprise.
Put yourself out there.
Obviously you’re no stranger to putting yourself out there; submitting your work is already an act of vulnerability. But you can’t stop there. Once you’re at the film festival you worked so hard to be a part of, you’ll have to put yourself out there to meet new people. This is one of the most important film festival tips I have, because why even attend a film festival if you’re not going to network? We’ve met all sorts of amazing people at film festivals, people who have gone on to work on our projects, support our company, donate to our crowdfunding efforts, and become good friends. We’ve found people at horror film festivals especially to be really friendly and welcoming, but even if people aren’t approaching you, it’s important that you make an effort to connect with folks. That can be scary, but it’s vital for your career. If you don’t know how to approach people, try complimenting them! You can tell them how much you loved their cinematography, ask them questions about their amazing special effects, or praise their script. People love to hear how much you enjoy their art, so this is a great way to get a conversation going.
Think about who’s who.
When you’re networking, think about who’s who. Who is a filmmaker in your niche or genre? Who are the distributors? Who has a skill you want to learn? Obviously, you’re going to want to connect with folks who are kind, friendly, and eager to talk with you. But you shouldn’t spend all your time talking to just one person because you click and are enjoying yourselves. It’s important to connect with a wide variety of people! If your goal is to get distribution, make sure you introduce yourself to any distributors that are in attendance. If you are looking for filmmakers to collaborate with, find folks who work in your genre or make similar movies to you and take the time to connect. I want to be clear that when looking for folks to network with, finding kind, friendly people should be a huge priority. I’ve talked about this before, but no matter how talented and hardworking someone is, if they’re not a decent person you shouldn’t be working with them. So think about who’s who, but also think about who’s nice. Both of these things matter a lot.
Film festivals can be a lot of fun, and every festival has its own vibe. Try to match the energy of the people attending, but remember to be professional. Many film festivals provide drinks or have a cash bar; enjoy yourself, but make sure you know your limits and don’t drink too much. Try to befriend people, but keep in mind that this is a professional event and you are looking to make professional connections. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself or that you should pretend to be someone you’re not. Be yourself, but be your most professional self. Wear an outfit that makes you feel confident and will be comfortable in. If this part makes you nervous, try to get a sense of how people typically dress for this specific festival. You can look at photos of past years and pay attention to how dressed up or down attendees are. Some festivals are more formal than others, so it’s good to have an idea of what to expect before you’re getting dressed the day of.
These are my top film festival tips; if you’ve been on the festival circuit for a while, what tips would you give someone about to attend their first event? Let me know and I can do another round up of film festival tips!