Film festival tips from the trenches
by Blake Robbins
My film, The Sublime and Beautiful, had its world premiere at Slamdance last January and has since played Cleveland, Atlanta, Kansas City, Charleston, Newport Beach, Milan, Cinetopia, Waterfront and Free State film festivals. We’ve won 8 awards and have been nominated for another 8. My first article for Hollywood Journal was intended to inspire you to take action and make your DIY feature film. This follow-up is about taking advantage of those film festivals once you get invited.
I recently attended my 10th festival in the last 6 months. Wondering if I’ve picked up any tips for improving your overall festival going experience? In fact, I have:
Don’t overdo the partying. Pack effectively, and light, if at all possible. Be nice to the volunteers and staff because they will discuss your behavior behind your back, and this could impact whether or not you’re ever invited again. In fact, there is an awful lot of overlap amongst the people who work in film festivals – so don’t trash the other film festivals.
2. Do the panels and workshops.
I would even encourage you to be proactive and let them know in advance that you are willing and interested in doing them. I’ve made the best connections with guest artists I’ve been on panels with. I got to hear them share passionately about who they are and what they do, and likewise, they’ve heard me do the same. So they’re a great opportunity to learn from and bond with others.
3. See films.
Sounds obvious but you’d be surprised how many guest artists don’t. Film festivals are run by passionate film lovers and the films they choose can be great for learning about filmmaking, and for spotting talent you might want to work with in the future (or not, which is also valuable). Do the math. At ten festivals, if I only see 4 films at each: 40 films at $10 = $400. Why not see those films?
If you’re like me, at this point you’ve either seen your film a thousand times or it feels like you have. Seeing it again with a new audience in a new part of the world or country can be very informative and a valuable tool in helping you learn how to make better movies. I’ve found that the more bored I am with my film, the better my opportunity to notice new things about the art form.
5. Honor the Q & As.
For an audience (and for the festival), a major selling point is that they get to talk to the filmmakers after seeing their movie. I’ve seen too many filmmakers not respect this opportunity to enlighten and inspire the audience, which then robs them of the opportunity to grow their fan base. For every film there are two narratives – the one on the screen, and the one about how and why the movie got made the way it did. Share both with the audience. To use a little marketing speak, companies spend billions of dollars to find their “highly qualified prospects.” If these people just watched your movie and stayed to hear you speak, they are your “highly qualified prospects” — make sure you honor them.
When I got started on the festival circuit, I would worry about anything and everything — posters, postcards, social media, local press opportunities (the list is endless). I realize now that if my film is playing at a festival I’ve already won, and the rest is icing on the cake. It should feel like fun, not a chore.
Passion is a powerful tool in our creative business. If a festival loves your film, think long and hard before saying “no” to them. I’ve heard stories where a filmmakers says “no thanks” to a festival because they are waiting for the bigger, namier festival to get back to them, only to never hear back from a festival like, say, Schmumdance. Trust that if you go and meet passion where you find it, good things will happen for both you and your film. I am living proof of that.
8. Frequent flyer tip.
I didn’t do this, and in hindsight wish I had. In those six months I’m conservatively at 50,000 travel miles – what if I had gotten those miles all on one or two airlines? Now remember if you’re flying on the festival’s dime, be understanding of their needs and costs, but it never hurts to offer your card number and see if they’ll put the travel on it. And wouldn’t your spouse be grateful for a nice vacation if you’ve been gone so much that year? I know mine would have. Sorry honey – I’ll do better next time.
So there you have it. Get inspired. Make your movie. Get it into some fabulous film festivals. Hopefully these tips will then be useful, and if our paths cross along the way, please make sure you say hi.Tags: Atlanta Film Festival, Blake Robbins, Cinetopia, Film festival tips, Film festivals, Filmmaking, Hollywood, Milan Film Festival, Slamdance, The Sublime and Beautiful