Submitted by R. Dekker Dreyer
Just like every other starry-eyed young director in America I had ambitions of traveling to Park City, Utah in January and showing off one of my masterworks to a crowd of adoring sophisticates and landing that well-earned three picture deal. After you get into one of the well-known festivals, you might imagine everything comes together like magic. This is a pipe dream. The film industry is an industry, a job. From my own experiences at festivals around North America, and more specifically Sundance and Slamdance, I’ve compiled a list of ten things filmmakers need to know about festivals. When I was selected for Slamdance 2003 I found very little information online about what to do as a filmmaker at a festival and I wanted to provide this information to other directors who may be packing a bag and hitting the circuit. If you’re a serious filmmaker I suggest you study this list and take it for what it’s worth.
1) Nobody knows who you are. You have to be very outgoing and make friends quickly otherwise you’ll have wasted your time.
2) Your movie needs an audience and it is your sole responsibility to bring in that audience. Bring flyers, posters, post cards, a bull horn, and a giant panda suit, anything to attract attention to your film.
3) Celebrities are available to give you advice, make sure you ask good questions. I can’t stand people who ask things to the effect of, “How do make it as a director?” Truthfully, asking this will make you look like a fool in front of very important people. If you’re asking this kind of question you’ve ruined a great opportunity. Questions of that nature are greedy and give the impression that you don’t care about the craft, only yourself. Ask questions that matter, like, “When you’re directing do you...” or “I’ve seen you in ______, how did the scene where you escaped the mental hospital come together for you as an actor?” These types of questions are things you can learn from and they make the person being questioned feel good that you are interested in their work.
4) Be prepared at any moment to pitch ideas in a professional way. If your film is well received you may be asked about future ideas. Have handy, non-disclosure agreements, treatments, budgets, demographic information, comparables reports, and press clippings. Make well presented packages, nice folders and business cards are a must. The Movie Producer’s Toolbox from www.movie-producers.net is great tool for putting this package together.
5) Participate in roundtable discussions. There will be many chances to sit in on discussion panels on wide range of film topics. Sit in on as many of these as you can and ask intelligent questions while sharing your own experiences.
6) A word on parties. There are lots of them. There is a lot of free liquor. Do not abuse the free liquor. Parties are a casual environment to meet up with your contemporaries. They may be the first point of contact with some important people, so be careful to make a good impression. Dress to impress, and do not get drunk.
7) Bring a camera. Take as many photos as you can, they can be used in promotional materials about you and your film in print or online. Capture it all and let the world see how great you are.
8) Film festivals are expensive. Visiting one may cost you upwards of $800 on the low end. Make sure you can afford this by saving money from the time you submit your film. Even if you are not selected you may have financed your next short, so remember to save.
9) Many of the people you will encounter are professionals so be smart when you talk to them. Even if they are not the president of Universal you still may need them as a valuable contact. If you’re serious about making a living in the entertainment business then you need to respect the fact that everyone in the industry can help you in some capacity.
10) Leave your pride at the door. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for what you want or tell people about your goals. The only time you will look foolish doing this is if you haven’t really thought about your future as a filmmaker. If you’ve done your homework and know what you want and you’ve made your own plan on how to get it people will respect you and want to help.