RONA’S REEL TAKE: Tips for a Successful Film Festival Experience, Part 3

Rona Edwards is a film and television producer, having produced eleven films, some of which have won awards at film festivals, with many more in development. She was Vice President of Creative Affairs for Emmy-winner John Larroquette (Night Court), Academy Award-winner Michael Phillips (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind) and Emmy-winner Fern Field (Monk), before she was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of producing. A contributing writer to Produced By, she wrote the critically acclaimed books, I Liked It, Didn’t Love It: Screenplay Development from the Inside Out and The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals (Your All Access Pass to Launching your Film on the Festival Circuit) with former studio exec, Monika Skerbelis. Together, they are the founders of ES Entertainment and ESE Film Workshops Online, providing online film courses without leaving your home. Twitter: @ronaedwards @ESEFilm

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US actor Willem Dafoe speaks during a conference at the 32nd Guadalajara International Film Festival in Guadalajara, Mexico. (Photo credit: HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)

US actor Willem Dafoe speaks during a conference at the 32nd Guadalajara International Film Festival in Guadalajara, Mexico.
(Photo credit: HECTOR GUERRERO/AFP/Getty Images)

In Part Two of this series, Film Festivals: The Cannes Do, Tell U Right Approach (tips for a successful festival experience), we learned about targeting the right film festival, the importance of a logline and other value-added tips for submissions to film festivals. Today, we take another step closer to the big event.

ACT TWO – Acceptance Into The Festival:

You’ve been accepted into a film festival. Panic ensues. The sweat on your brow tells you that you still have work to do in order to really take advantage of the promotion a festival has to offer. You’ve set your goals; you’ve targeted the festivals. But now what?

Oh boy, the work is far from over! Exhausted? Get your stamina up because now you have to become part brand-maker, advertising guru, and PR person all in one. In order to promote your film, you need to benefit from any and all publicity the festival has to offer. You have to be your own Social Media Maven to spread the word. You have to take the initiative because no one else will do the groundwork for you (unless you can afford to hire someone). But never fear; here are a few courses of action you can take that will put you on the right path to public relations’ heaven.

  1. Most festivals are in towns that have local media outlets, i.e., local newspapers, radio and/or television stations – time to take advantage;
  2. Create an eye-catching postcard, business card and poster to help attract an audience;
  3. Send an email out to everyone (both business and personal) in your database about your acceptance into the festival;
  4. Write a press release and send it to your local newspaper announcing your acceptance;
  5. If you have a blog, announce it on your blog, etc.;
  6. If your film is a genre or specific niche film, comment on blogs that discuss those kinds of films;
  7. Don’t forget to post your trailer or a link to your trailer on the festival’s Facebook page and tweet it to your tribe.

First off, you need to create an eye-catching, memorable business card, poster, and postcards for your film. We discuss this at length in our book, The Complete Filmmaker’s Guide to Film Festivals, but we can also help you step-by-step in our ESE Film Workshops Online course, Maneuvering Film Festivals – a four-week online course in which you get me and Monika Skerbelis as your personal, one-on-one, mentors for the duration of the class. We help you hone your goals, create your press kit and strategize your film, festivals and brand. Even so, there are a few things you can do on your own to help capitalize on publicity opportunities.

Script EXTRA: Developing Your Screenwriting Brand

Branding is important and should be carried throughout each item you create (letterhead, biz cards, posters, postcards, giveaways, etc.). An image on your postcard and poster needs to be attention grabbing and capture what the movie is about. It needs to be recognizable so that people will see it and automatically know it’s yours. Also, here’s where a good tagline comes in – something memorable. Something that can sell your film, and have some sort of accessibility to it, can make all the difference in attracting an audience or leaving them cold. In addition, your contact info (whether a web site or email address) needs to be on everything that advertises your film. Consider using a QR code that takes the audience directly to your trailer and website. There are free QR code generators all over the Internet that you can use to create this.

You need to find a place to hang your poster in the festival’s allotted areas that will make your film stand out from the other festival entries. Postcards are useful to handout to passersby on the streets and placed in coffee houses and/or other locations. Business cards are a must so as to present yourself in a professional manner to industry insiders. However, this is just the beginning of your promotional endeavors.

Once you are accepted into a festival, do your research as to the local newspapers, radio and television stations that exist in the town where the festival is taking place. You can ask the programming director if they have a list, contacts or connections there, or just Google the area yourself. Then, start emailing the local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote your film. How do you do this?

Script EXTRA: Download tons of FREE Screenwriting Resources Instantly!

Make sure you have an EPK (Electronic Press Kit) prepared to send out which should include stills from the film, the trailer, cast and crew lists (especially if you have anyone notable who worked on or in the film), and a press release. With the downsizing of so many newspapers (and with many of them solely online now), having a ready-made press release that they can print verbatim saves them time and money. They don’t have enough reporters on staff anymore so you’ve helped them out by giving them something printable and most likely they are in need of content. Some cities that have local television stations will set aside public access time to interview filmmakers. Contact them in advance, send them your EPK and let them know you are available for interviews. Radio shows can interview you over the phone or via the net before coming or when you arrive in the town. A lot of towns have an online presence, too, and you can send them stills and your press release so they will have ready-made content to publish online. By doing so, you get free publicity prior to your coming to the festival and hopefully advertise your film in a way that attracts the local audience to come see it.

In addition, ask for copies of TV and radio interviews so you can upload them to your website or YouTube channel. Or, at the very least, link them to your site and visa versa. Connecting all the dots for this is a terrific way to promote your film and encourage others to Share, Like and Comment as a Call to Action (CTA). Engagement is key so, make sure you email and not only announce your film’s acceptance but follow it up with an additional posting via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Linkedin and Pinterest, include the time, date and venue your film is screening, and get people to retweet and share it. Upload pictures to Tumblr, Instagram and other such sights, live streaming video on Perescope (to your Twitter account) and Snapchat (or Facebook Live and Instagram Video) of your announcement or take your audience behind-the-scenes of your festival experience. In addition to the other social media sites previously mentioned, illustrate your experience at the festivals as well as during the production of the film. Engage your audience in an interactive way to support and root for you, as well as being vested in attending your film’s screening by you sharing your postings and giving them value-added material as a special giveaway. But use each site with specific goals in mind. Don’t have them all do the same thing or else why would I as your audience want to subscribe to all of them? Instagram can be candid photos from the set. Tumblr can be blogging your experiences while Live video on any number of sites can give audiences a “you are there with me” personal experience.

Script EXTRA: Zen and the Art of Guerrilla Script Marketing

Lastly, if yours is a film geared to a certain audience, go to the tribe. If its target audience is senior citizens, go to the senior center in the area and hand out postcards or talk to the administrator to see if they can organize a trip to the festival’s movie theatre to see your film. If it’s a film that has a disability in it, find an organization that champions it and invite them. There are so many ways to attract an audience. Go to where your peeps are and inform them of something that they would be interested to see. Most people will thank you for it.

In the last article of this series, we’ll learn about what it’s like to attend a film festival and all the things a filmmaker needs to know to have an enjoyable yet rewarding experience.

2017 Copyright Rona Edwards – No reprinting without permission from author.

If you need tips for developing your screenplay, take Rona and Monika’s upcoming online class,
Screenplay Development from the Inside Out (starts March 22nd)

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