Film Festivals Success Tips to Improve Your Chances

Written by Fred Ginsburg, CAS, Ph. D.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to attend a major film festival or conference, it is a golden opportunity for networking. Let’s face it, you are not spending all that time and money just to watch a bunch of films; you can pretty much do that at home! You are there to hobnob with the PLAYERS in the industry, to make career connections, and jump onto the fast track of the filmmaking path.

Here are some tips for enhancing your chances of successful self-promotion.

To begin with, you need to be able to mingle. Be cautious when accepting any internship or “position” (be it salaried or volunteer) that will lock you away from the “action”. The whole point of your attending is to be able to move around and meet the movers and shakers; not to earn “fast-food wages” for a few days. You don’t want to be hidden away in a back office doing menial administrative functions; nor do you want to be assigned to some esoteric booth located far away from the “action” in some fringe arena or venue.

If you are going to work for free or minimal wage at a film festival – show some backbone and negotiate a position that will benefit you, not the festival promoters!

Before packing up and heading off to the Festival, there are a few little things that you need to do.

Print up some business cards that you can hand out to the VIP’s that you will meet. Make sure that you have your photo printed onto the cards, to help the recipients remember whose card they have. Important folks at these events are deluged with students and end up with pockets full of business cards – so you have to help them make the connection back to you!

Be cautious to not reveal TOO MUCH on your business cards, which may end up in anyone’s nefarious hands. Females should never provide their residential address or a permanent phone number (which can easily be reverse directoried back to your address). That also applies to filmmakers (male or female) boasting of valuable photographic or computer gear!

It is also a good idea for YOU to write notes on the back of the business card about what you spoke about, so the VIP doesn’t have to rely completely on his/her memory. Make sure that your business cards are writable. There is nothing more frustrating than receiving a fancy, plastic coated card that refuses the offerings of an ink pen! Also, avoid any dark or busy background schemes that would interfere with handwritten notes.

But before you pose for that business card mug shot, you have to do some serious character creation! You need to transform yourself into a “visually offbeat, recurring” supporting role. There will be hundreds, if not thousands of students all trying to make connections. You need to stand out intellectually and VISUALLY. You need an “image” that will be remembered and linked to you. Your photo on the card must match your “look and wardrobe” that you present during the festival.

Design a “signature” look for yourself. Usually this is done by your choice of wardrobe and accessories. An interesting hat. A colorful scarf. Eye grabbing glasses. Embroidered jacket. You need to become a “character” that your audience can instantly recognize!

You do not need to be bizarre nor freaky. Professional and serious is fine; but add some unique flair to your ensemble.

Stockpile enough duplicate wardrobe that your appearance remains CONSISTENT throughout the event. This is not the time to show off your wide range of fashion. As much as possible, wear the same colors and styles all the time. When someone spots you on the second or third day, they should recognize you from your initial meeting on the first day!

Do your research. Find out as much as possible about your potential contacts. Who is going to be at the festival? Who is on your “meet” list? Make sure that you have enough detailed background about your prospects to support a good conversation. You will only have a few minutes to make an “impression” and grab the interest of someone you encounter.  Avoid the standard “film student” sound bites; show some depth.

Jot down notes to yourself after each VIP meeting. What did you talk about? What perked his/her interest just prior to “being called away” from you? That could be a good opener the next time you meet.

Some folks even use a pocket sized recorder, and then transcribe the essentials to their notepads at the end of the day. But keep the recorder hidden; and NEVER let anyone listen to or even know that you made a recording. The recorder is strictly for your convenience; and you will lose credibility if your interview subjects even suspect that you recorded their candid conversations. If you plan on “publishing or broadcasting” a taped interview, then you have to make that fact known at the beginning of the encounter. When people know they are “on the record”, they will give you pat answers and then shoo you away. It will not get you “closer” to them in terms of future networking!

Film festivals are for work, not partying. Attending parties is one of your goals, but only for the networking opportunities. Never over-indulge food nor alcoholic drink. The impression that you want to leave is not one of a drunken, irresponsible, glutinous fool.

One final bit of advice. Be careful. Crowded film festivals are notorious for thieves and con artists. Especially if you are in a foreign country! Never travel back to town alone. NEVER traffic in drugs nor contraband. Stay sober at all times! Be wary of any “new friends” that you may have met. Odds are, they are okay. But sometimes they’re not who you think they are!

Unless your life has been that of Don Juan in high school and college, be extremely wary of new romantic partners who are too good to be true (they’re probably not).

Keep your most important documents (airline tickets, passport, credit card, emergency cash) on your person at ALL TIMES. Never leave anything back in your room that you would miss if it were stolen!

When I used to work on films overseas, I used to keep a ziplock pouch bandaged to my thigh, and disguised to look like a recent wound. I created a “throw away” wallet filled with lots of useless stuff, like library cards, old drivers license or fake “movie” i.d.’s, an invalid credit card, and a wad of low denomination currency. In the event of a street robbery, I could surrender that wallet without a second thought!

Finally, do not forget your post-festival follow through. Send out thank you letters to everyone of importance that you met. Personalize the notes; refer to specific things you discussed. Ask about a follow up meeting… And don’t forget to include your business card with your signature photo!


Fred Ginsburg, CAS, Ph.D.,  is a highly experienced and award winning professional sound mixer whose decades of work includes features, episodic TV series, national TV commercials, corporate, and government. He is a member of the Cinema Audio Society and the University Film & Video Association. Fred holds doctorate, graduate, and undergraduate degrees in filmmaking; has published more than 200 technical articles along with a textbook, instruction manuals,  and hosts an educational website. Fred instructs location recording and post-production sound at Calif State University Northridge.


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