Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Let's Visit a Film Festival!

I've attended and/or had films in festivals such as Tribeca, Austin, Silicon Valley, Atlanta Underground, Boston Underground, The Hamptons, Garden State, and MystiCon. In partnership with the folks at Vegas.com, I've written up a few tips about working a festival, especially if it's your first time. And if you are off to Las Vegas, definitely hit up the Las Vegas Film Festival, the Vegas Indie Film Festival, the Nevada Film Festival, and the Nevada Women's Film Festival.

1. Bring business cards.

Have cards printed up and bring at least 200. Collect other people's like baseball cards. If you're a creative, you might be tempted to put "Writer" or "Director" on your card. You should! But you need to do something a little extra, as everyone's card will say the same thing. What will make yours stand out? What will make you memorable? Will it be a spiffy production company logo? A neat design? Include a fun fact? Whatever it is, stand out from the crowd.

2. Have an idea? Have your brief pitch ready.

When I'm at Austin and the name of my film is on my badge, I'm typically asked, "What's your film about?" It's a great conversation starter. If you have a film in the festival and you're asked this question, have your answer down to three or less sentences. Seriously. When people are asking you what your screenplay/film is all about, it's expected that you'll give them sparing yet effective information. If they want more info, they'll ask you for it or else it'll come out in conversation.

3. Horizontal networking.

It's tempting to go to a festival thinking that you'll be in the right place at the right time and that an Academy Award-winning panelist will take a sudden interest in you and mentor you and help to make you a star. Does it happen? Not that I know of, at least not at film festivals I've attended. Definitely meet and greet everyone you can, but far more valuable to your creative career is horizontal networking - that is, networking with people who are at the same professional level as you. You can help out on each other's projects, offer to read each other's scripts, and if one of you makes it big, you won't forget your friends who were there in times before. As an example, when I went to Austin in 2014, I sat next to a fellow in a panel audience who had written a western feature script. Mine was sci-fi. We chatted, exchanged cards, and went on our way. The next day he wrote me an email to say that he was attending another panel, met a producer from SyFy, and referred me to him, as I had that sci-fi script. That is how things happen. Meet everyone, be cordial to everyone, and share your project with everyone you can. This can only help you and your career.

4. Don't be shy.

Don't be obnoxious, either. At panel discussions, don't be the one who hogs the microphone, desperate to be noticed. Be assertive, yes. Be thoughtful, absolutely. The best way to sound smart is to ask an intelligent question that will benefit more than just yourself. A big difference between amateurs and professionals is that amateurs see fellow attendees as competition while professionals visit a festival to meet an army of potential future allies. You're there to make friends and connections, so it's okay to be a little outspoken and to go for the brass ring. You're all there to network, learn, and connect together. Be the person who other people want to be around!

5. Attend as many panels as possible.

This is where the learning happens. How one film is green-lit and made is very different from how any other film was put together. Sometimes, such as at festivals like Austin, they'll schedule two (or three or seven) amazing panels all at the same time. While it's up to you to decide which to attend, this is also where allies come in handy - you and your friends can attend different panels and then share notes afterward. Take plenty of notes at the panels, but be sure to listen carefully to each panelist and come up with questions for the Q&A. A good question is a great way to stand out, and at an after-party or meet-and-greet later on, the panelist will recognize you and you might be able to continue the conversation. It's practically a guarantee that if you attend a panel, you'll learn something valuable that you didn't know prior.

6. Have fun!

If you go to a festival with a stratospheric goal such as "be discovered," then you might wind up disappointed. If you set your sights at a more reasonable, "make lots of contacts, network, and eat," then you'll have a blast. And quite likely, your chances of "being discovered" are much higher if you exude friendliness and a genuine interest in the projects of others. Filmmaking is a collaborative pursuit, and the chances that you'll wind up working on something successful will absolutely depend on how successful you are at forging strong connections with people who believe in each other and each other's work. Have a wonderful time!


Jared has taught screenwriting in the Lehigh Valley, at Emerson College, and Salem State University. His creative work has appeared on MTV Networks, in the Tribeca Film Festival, and the Austin Film Festival. He offers screenplay coverage at www.screenplay.guru.

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