Write, Direct, Repeat: Film Festivals and the Short Film, Part 2

When I wrote part 1 of this article on taking your short film to film festivals, I was just settling back down from the high of the world premiere screening of my latest short, Deal Travis In. Heading back into the festival world, it felt like the perfect time to reflect on all I’d learned from my previous festival run last year. In part 1, I covered whether the festival route is the best choice for your film and how to select festivals that are a potential great match.

Since publishing that article last month, Deal Travis In was accepted into the Fantasia International Film Festival (yay!!), and now I’m gearing up to officially take this film on the road. For the second part of this article I’ll share what I learned about preparing for, attending and following up after a film festival.

VivienneAgain_Hollyshorts

Short films on the big screen: “Vivienne Again” screening at HollyShorts 2012

PREPARING FOR THE FESTIVAL

A film festival acceptance is a chance to create excitement for your film in the lead-up to the festival. When you’re prepping for the fest, think about how you can serve both the audience who will see your film in person, plus your audience who won’t be able to attend.

Create Marketing Materials

Note: Each of these items is a project unto itself. Do your research to learn how to maximize these marketing tools for your film. Ideally, you’ll work on these well before you’re accepted into a fest, but here’s a list to help get you started.

For all of your potential audience, whether they can attend the fest or not:

  • Film poster
  • Website
  • Trailer
  • Facebook page
  • IMDb page
  • Add in your other favorite forms social networking (e.g. Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube) based on where your audience goes for information about your work.

For your in-person, festival screening audience:

  • Postcards
  • DVD screeners: Be judicious giving them away, instead drive people to your screening, but when you meet someone who can’t attend your screening but you feel must see your film, offer them a screener and exchange contact info.
  • Posters (optional to bring to the fest, but nice if you do)
  • Buttons or other swag related to your film (optional): We bring buttons to every festival we screen in because these have been the biggest hits in our marketing arsenal. We put them out next to our postcards and the buttons always go super fast. Make design the priority with swag so it’s tempting for people to take.

Advanced Prep & Recon

In addition to marketing materials, there are a few other items worth prepping in advance.

  • Social networking with purpose. Track the festival’s hashtag, join their Facebook groups and jump into the conversation. Connect with other filmmakers who will be screening and make plans to meet up at the fest. Watch for which media outlets are reporting on the festival and whether they are good candidates for covering your film.
  • Drum up some PR. See who covered the festival in previous years and contact them about an advanced review of your film or to offer an interview while you’re there. See how they like to cover the festival and try to fit your film into their model.
  • Prepare basic answers for your Q&A. In particular, have audience-friendly answers ready for, “how did you come up with the idea for your film” and “what are you working on next.” These are the two questions that you’ll probably be asked the most.
Sometimes REALLY crazy things happen at film fests - Winning an award at the Flyway Film Festival 2012

Sometimes REALLY crazy things happen at film festivals: Winning an award at the Flyway Film Festival 2012

ATTENDING THE FESTIVAL

Once you arrive, you’ll want to find a balance between work and play. You’re there to do a job, but you’ve also earned the pleasure of being swept up in a world where everyone wants to live and breathe film as much as you do.

Events

  • Get your networking on. Attend every party, panel and networking event you can. Be sure to connect with people who take on different roles in film than you do, e.g. writers would do well to meet directors and producers. Socialize with the festival programmers and be personable – they already like your work, so let them get a glimpse of the person, too.
  • It’s okay to play, but not too hard. Yep, I learned this one the hard way. You’ll find yourself in a whirlwind of parties and comped drinks (and by all means enjoy!) but listen to that little voice in your head chirping that it’s still work, not vacation, because while you want to make an impression, the impression you make shouldn’t be “the girl you wish you hadn’t started a conversation with at a party.”

Screenings

  • Screen YOUR film! I want to tell you to just relax and enjoy, but I haven’t been able to pull that off myself yet. If you do find you’re extra nervous, try to shift your attention to your guests, to fellow filmmakers or to anything shiny that will keep you distracted (except to too much booze – see the point above). Survive the screening the best way you can and then get your head back in the game for your Q&A; you’ll be glad at this point you prepared a few answers in advance.
  • Attend other screenings, too. Plot out your must-sees but also leave time to attend screenings you hadn’t planned. Show your support to other filmmakers, especially to those you meet in person at the festival. Get schooled by checking out a ton of films and see what you learn that you can apply back to your own work.

FOLLOWING UP AFTER THE FESTIVAL

Once the festival is finished and you’re back to your day-to-day, don’t just drop the mic and walk away. There are still a few things you can do to wrap up your festival experience and be sure you made the most of your time.

  • Say thank you. Send a thank you note to the festival programmers. Email will work but a hand-written note is badass.
  • Solidify your new connections. Follow up with the filmmakers and industry contacts you met. Be specific in your follow-ups, crafting each message for each person. These new relationships are the true gold you’ll take away from any festival.
  • Share your experience with the online audience you’ve been cultivating by posting photos, writing a blog post, recommending films you saw or whatever works best for your audience. Leave a favorable impression of what attending a screening of your film will entail to entice fans to come out to your next screenings.

At some point though, the festival will truly and finally be over. You’ll store away your leftover postcards, hang your filmmaker badge on your bulletin board and miss all the friends you made at the festival like a kid misses summer camp in the fall.

But don’t fret, my newly film-fest-addicted friends, and don’t store those postcards too out of reach, because there’s a chance your email will go ping once again and it’ll say “Congratulations!” When that happens, break out the champagne (again) and get prepping (again) for a new fest and a whole new, crazy, wonderful ride.

Good luck, work hard and have fun!

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