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Welcome back, filmmaker. Previously we discussed how to lay the groundwork for setting up your festival journey and preparing yourself for success. Now it’s time to get ready to cash in those chips and actually figure out which festivals you’ll be attending and how to maximize your opportunities once there.
Get your popcorn ready and buckle up. It’s time for the thrilling sequel.
Attending Festivals and Meeting People
Now that you’ve gotten those official selections, you need to prepare for the best part: attending the festivals.
When choosing which festivals to attend, keep these questions in mind: What events outside of the screenings will the festival host? Are there networking parties and/or opportunities? What distributors, industry professionals, celebrities, etc., might be attending? What are the workshops, panels and extracurricular activities? Does the festival have a history of strong filmmaker attendance, and how does the festival promote these attendees? Where is the festival, and is that a place you’d like to visit?
If a festival is providing you with all the extras and then some, the odds are that this is a festival well worth your time, one that could draw more filmmakers and audiences with which to network and build future collaborations (the best part of any festival). They provide opportunities for you to make the vital connections you’re seeking and often prove to be major stepping stones for a successful filmmaking career. Target these festivals for your attendance.
Now is not the time to be shy. If you’re a wallflower or introverted individual, this may prove a challenge. But if you go to a fest and don’t make new friends and connections, then what did you really go there for in the first place? To nervously watch your film in the back, shrouded in darkness with a pile of chewed fingernails under your feet? No, this isn’t The Nightman Cometh, and you’re not playing the title role — you’re the “Dayman,” and you’re the master of friendship for everyone.
So be ready to take yourself out of whatever comfort zone you’re in and meet everyone you possibly can. Get uncomfortable now so you can retire in comfort later.
As the festival progresses and you participate, you’ll make new friends and even start tagging along with each other to sit together at the screenings, have meals together, etc. You’re likely going to find your tribe and family, and it’s a beautiful thing. This is a relationship-based industry and we all rise together with the tide. Never forget that, and always pay it forward as you grow in your career.
Good Communication and Participation
Make sure that whether you’re planning to attend a festival or not, let the fest know as soon as possible your plans. Fill out any and all forms sent to you ASAP and deliver any required materials (typically your actual film) sooner rather than later.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions that will help you understand how the festival works and what to expect during it. All festivals love when a filmmaker plans on attending and will more often than not go out of their way to help you have a successful experience, so take advantage of that and ask for as much help and information as you need.
If you can’t attend a festival, make sure you follow their social media pages, participate in their postings, tag them in your own updates, etc. Be engaged and a true, active participant in the festival even from afar.
When attending the festival, be sure to participate in as many screenings and events as possible. Festivals notice who support their efforts to create a memorable event and are keener to help those who actively participated over those who showed less appreciation for the proceedings. Not only could this benefit you personally moving forward, but it could also benefit your career and your own chances of future acceptance into the festivals you supported.
Good Fest Vs. Bad Fest
Let’s face it, some festivals suck. They project films onto walls (really), make you pay to attend your own film’s screening (also, really) and don’t even put any networking events together. They’re a fantastic waste of time and money, providing little to no benefit to your career.
Beware the festivals with poorly updated, designed and promoted websites and/or social media. If the festival literally gives an award to every film that plays, that’s also a mark against it. Bad festivals don’t tell you anything about what’s going on before you arrive and don’t communicate clearly from the announcement of your selection through the opening of the fest. These festivals don’t help you in any shape or form outside of “We have a $200 a plate (really) awards dinner on closing night — pay us to maybe win an award.”
These festivals are like dead skunks on the road. You can smell them coming a mile away and, yet, you know that if you keep moving along, you’re going to drive right through it. You just need to ask yourself if you’re going to stop and examine the carcass and poke at it with a gnarly stick or to keep moving on to greener pastures.
On the other hand, good festivals are well-managed events, with updated and maintained websites and social media pages. They have press at their events, program quality films, provide networking opportunities galore, and communicate with their official selections via phone and email. The word of mouth precedes them and they already have an established reputation.
As you gain more experience and attend festivals, identifying the good from the bad will become an easy task. But as a festival freshman, look for the signs and learn how to read the bones. I believe in you.
To Be Concluded
It’s official. The reviews are in, and we’ve just broken the house record. It’s a hit — this banger just got greenlit for a trilogy and you’ll need to tune in for the epic conclusion soon.