How to network at film festivals
Film festivals can provide fantastic opportunities to meet a variety of different film professionals, from potential collaborators to industry leaders.
Whether you’re attending a film festival to screen your film, sell it, or just to try and generate some interest around your work, there are some important things to consider before you set off.
1) Be prepared to work hard: film festivals can be stressful and require long hours attending screenings, panel sessions and networking parties. Though it may be an exciting change of scene, you need to keep in mind that you are there primarily to promote your film. If you are a person who struggles with small talk or approaching strangers, you’re going to have to work extra hard to put yourself out there and make useful connections.
2) Make sure you carry the right resources with you: ensure you have business cards, DVD screeners of your film, information sheets or cards with details of your film’s website, social media accounts and short description of your project to pass on to people should they want it. Also think about getting translations of your marketing material – for example, if you’re going to Cannes, make sure you have promotional material written in English and French.
3) Plan your itinerary and research who’s going to be there: it’s a really good idea to prepare properly before attending a festival. Plan which films you want to see and which events you want to attend so you can make the most of your festival experience. Also focus your research on learning the names/ faces of the festival organisers and important guests so you are clued up on who’s who.
4) Utilise technology and online resources: a tablet computer can be a useful tool for showing people your trailer or a clip from your film if requested. Also ensure you keep a close eye on social media for news, reviews and opinions coming from festival attendees. Twitter is a very useful resource for festival networking – look out for relevant hashtags and lists in particular – and don’t forget to contribute your own tweets too!
5) Think about your wardrobe: it may seem trivial but film festivals can have considerable differences in style. For example, dressing for Cannes will be very different to dressing for SXSW. Think about the type of festival you are attending, the climate and the dress codes you may need to adhere to. Looking smart and professional is always important to make a good first impression, but in some circumstances, keeping a balance between smart and casual is important.
6) Prepare and perfect your ‘elevator pitch’: when you’re at festivals you will frequently be asked about your career and what you’re working on. Make sure you can answer these questions succinctly and convincingly by preparing a 30 second to 2 minute ‘elevator pitch’ in which you can explain what you do or what your film is about. If you can confidently and coherently sell yourself and your work, you will be sure to impress.
7) Don’t be afraid to talk to people: once you’ve done your background research and perfected your elevator pitch, you have to be brave enough to put your hard work to good use. It’s not always easy to approach strangers, but keep in mind that the vast majority of people at festivals are there to network. Be confident, and seize easy opportunities that come your way- talk to the person sitting next to you before a film screening, seek out people who are on their own, approach panelists after a Q&A session. Stay positive, engaging and polite and conversation should flow.
8) Enjoy yourself, but be professional: remember to have fun, but use your common sense – don’t drown your nerves with alcohol and don’t interrupt someone’s conversation because you’re desperate to talk to one of the group. It may sound obvious, but it’s incredibly important to ensure that your behaviour is professional and respectable, even at parties.
9) Your best opportunities to meet people may be away from the official networking events: it’s worth remembering that sometimes the best opportunities for meeting people are away from the ‘structured’ events where there are fewer people vying to establish connections, and where conversation may, paradoxically, be able to flow more naturally.
10) Follow up on new connections when you get home: make sure you follow up on the contacts you made in the queue for Starbucks or at the post-screening Q&A. Connect on social media if possible or, if appropriate, send them a follow up email to cement your professional connection.