December 14, 2017

8 Ways to Maximize Your Film's Festival Premiere

Your movie was accepted into a top-tier film festival. Now the extra legwork begins.

The 2018 film festival cycle is almost upon us. Less than five weeks before the 2018 Sundance Film Festival kicks off in Park City, Utah, filmmakers with new projects are starting to submit, hear back, and prepare their work to screen at festivals worldwide. If you made a film that's been accepted to one upcoming, congrats! It's an increasingly extremely competitive field thanks to more affordable and accessible equipment, enabling more filmmakers to tell their stories and, thus, more films getting submitted to fests.

This year's Sundance Film Festival, for example, will screen 110 feature films. That's a substantial number, but it doesn't even scratch the surface of the 3,901 features that were submitted. That's a ton of movies! The teams behind these 110 selections will thus be hitting Park City next month to share their films with the world, make connections, gain press coverage, and, hopefully, sell their films. In order to make those dreams come true, they'll need to maximize their time and energy in getting audiences to experience something they've worked so tirelessly on. How does one stand out from the pack?

"Have an authentic, sincere experience with people, asking about their project and themselves."

To help ease those worries—and jumpstart the preparation—Sundance Institute's Liz Manashil and Jess Fuselier (of the Creative Distribution Initiative) hosted a Facebook Live session to get filmmakers about to hit the festival circuit up to speed. No Film School tuned in to hear their advice and here are our top takeaways because, no matter how prepared you think you are, you can always prep a little bit more.

1. Network

One of the most beneficial aspects of attending a film festival is that you're able to meet with fellow filmmakers and industry who are in town for a few days. While they're all working in various capacities, running to catch another screening or answer an email in a hotel lobby with wonky Wi-Fi, everyone gets some downtime to attend film-hosted parties, sponsored cocktail events, and other social gatherings. Don't blow those off. Meet some new, interesting people and ask about their work.
"I went to film school and they taught us to do our elevator pitch at every opportunity to promote yourself and to do these 30-second schmoozing activities," Manashill admitted in the livestream, "I think that's crap. Have an authentic, sincere experience with people, asking them about their project and themselves." The main takeaway here? "Don't promote. Connect!"

If Sundance specifically is your destination, check out our post from last year with some specific tips for making the most of networking in Park City.

The 2015 Sundance Film Festival at night.

2. Collect information

After you meet a few new colleagues, make sure to exchange contact information. If you have a business card, offer one to your conversation partner and ask if they're willing to share theirs. Manashil and Fuselier recommend business cards that include your name, email address, and the aspect of filmmaking you're involved in (if you're involved in a specific project at the festival, include that on the card too). If the card is white and has some empty space on it, this allows your new acquaintance to jot down where they met you.
 
"There's some drunk amnesia that goes on during festival time," Fuselier revealed, "and you'll want to make sure that people remember you. Collect email addresses [at your screenings too.] This is your future audience and that email list is worth its weight in gold."

3. Document your experience

You've made it to the festival but couldn't afford to bring along everyone who admires your work. While that's totally understandable, the last thing you want is to be the leading cause of FOMO amongst your family, friends, and crowdfunding supporters. The best solution? Document your festival experience to the best of your ability. Get someone to record your post-screening Q&As and red carpet appearances, and have a team member take a photo of audiences lining up to get into your screening. Capture the experience of viewing your film in a festival atmosphere. These make for valuable social media posts and additional bonus content/DVD extras down the line.

"Pad your stomach so that you don't make a messy, drunken fool of yourself."

4. Snacks

Never underestimate the importance of bringing food and water—and perhaps some Vitamin C—wherever you go. You want to be at the absolute top of your game throughout the festival, as fully functional as you can possibly be (exhaustion and pesky colds will threaten that stature, so trust how you feel and stay healthy). As tip two mentioned, there's a lot of alcohol being consumed at these events, and if you partake, you'll need food to soak it up. "Pad your stomach so that you don't make a messy, drunken fool of yourself," Liz Manashil cautioned, "because that's fine in other circumstances, but not in this professional one."

5. Find ways to transport and house your film's talent

Does your film feature a talented cast that wants to attend the festival and participate in press and post-screening Q&As? Check to see how your (or the festival's budget) can accommodate their travel. Having your cast on-hand throughout the festival matters, not the least because it helps gain your film further awareness.

6. Use social media

Even if you couldn't bring all of your supporters to the festival, there are other ways to make them feel included. Social media is a strong tool, helping to both broadcast your festival experience to friends and to bring in a new audience who were previously unaware of your film. Once you post multimedia of the film's premiere of yours or your film's social media accounts, you're putting the experience out into the world, available for anyone to stumble across. If journalists come out of your screening interested in other audience members' thoughts, they'll either Google the film or hop on Twitter. You want those engaged to be able to find more information about your film (often in real time), so be clear, concise, and candid in your messaging.
Hitting the ground running at the Sundance Film Festival.

7. Check with your festival press office

By the time you arrive at the festival premiering your film, you should ideally have a publicist on board working hard to get your film covered by all interested journalists. You've been accepted to a top-tier festival, and you really need to maximize the hell out of that fact. If you don't have a publicist before boarding the plane to make it to your premiere, you're not making the most of it. If you wish to be proactive, "check with your festival press office and find out who's going to be attending your screening," Fuselier advises, "and try to get those people to write pieces about your film. Every movie review counts and all press is good press."

8. Thank everyone involved in your film festival experience

Working on those opening remarks to deliver for when you introduce your movie? An important aspect to note: Make sure to thank everyone involved in the festival, from the organization's Executive Director to its Director of Programming, the extended programming team, the house staff, and the festival volunteers. Everyone has a hand in making your premiere a truly special event, and their hard work and dedication should be noted. There's no need to deliver your "thank you's" like an uninspired grocery list. Be humble and respectful, and let the festival's team shine in your spotlight as you do theirs.

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