How to make the Most of Attending a Film Festival (with or without a project)

Carole Kirschner Screenwriters Get Most out of Film Festivals.jpg

There’s a reason hundreds of screenwriters pull their parkas out of their closet and trek to Sundance every January: film festivals are full of opportunities for writers at any stage of their career.

Maybe you think attending a festival without a project is a waste of time (and yes having a film actually in a festival can make networking and access to festival events easier), but if you can keep an open-mind and have the willingness to put in the legwork beforehand, film festivals can be prime places for any writer (with or without a project) to learn, be inspired, and network (I prefer “connect”, but you get the point).

I did a presentation at the Whistler Film Festival last year and I saw writers who were crushing it, and getting a lot out of the experience. I also saw writers who hung back and left feeling disappointed.

So I want to share with you 5 tips to make the most out of your next film festival experience:

1. Always be Prepared.

Before you go, do your research and get organized. At all major festivals (and even most minor ones) there will be multiple events happening at the same time. Plan accordingly. Make a schedule that incorporates all of the events, films, meetings and parties you hope to attend. Lock down the important things well in advance: buy tickets for the movies you’re dying to see; if you managed to land a meeting, set a place and time to meet. Also, don’t forget the logistics: secure a place to stay, know how you’re going to get around, and what your budget is (multi-day festivals can be expensive). And even if you don’t have any “official meetings”, prepare a logline for yourself as well as the elevator pitch for any completed scripts you have. You never know who you’re going to run into and when you’re going to run into them (yes, if you hit it off with a producer in the bathroom line-up and they ask about your projects, should be prepared to pitch them right then and there).

2. Stay Flexible and have Fun.

While it’s a good idea to arrive at a festival with a plan of attack (especially at multi-day fests like TIFF or Sundance) don’t be so rigid with your time that you don’t leave room for the magic of synchronicity. At a festival you never know who you’re going to run into and what kind of experiences and opportunities they are going to bring with them. So stay flexible! You might end up chatting with a director you’ve been dying to meet and end up grabbing dinner together, or find an impromptu Industry Panel that’s mind-blowing, or maybe the movie you were going to see sold out and you end up selling your script to a major producer at the festival lounge (okay, that last one is extremely rare, but not impossible). Go with the flow, there is no “right” place to be and no “right” people to meet. A festival is a career opportunity, but it’s also a life experience, have fun!

3. Say hi to everyone.

Talk to everyone, because anybody might be a somebody. The guy charging his phone in the hotel lobby could be a big executive, the woman stocking up on free festival popcorn might be a producer. Say hi, be friendly, ask them what movies they’ve seen. If the conversation flows that way, talk about your screenplay (but don’t ask if they want to read it!). Give them your card and if they want to read your script, they’ll let you know. Opportunities are everywhere, just keep an open mind and be on the lookout for people you think might be fun to talk to (not just people you think are important). You can always tell when someone’s doing that… and it’s annoying. So please don’t be that person. 

4. It’s a FILM Festival, see the FILMS!

I can’t tell you how many writers go to festivals and don’t see one film because they think it will “eat into their networking time”. See the films! Go see the movies made by your mentors and be inspired, see films in the same genre you write in order to find collaborators, see something outside your wheelhouse to get in touch with the industry zeitgeist. If nothing else, seeing films at a film festival will give you a great conversation starter while networking. Also take note of any creative team members you love. Was the music in a short film incredible? Maybe reach out to the composer for your next project. Did a film totally align with your personal esthetic? Send the director a congratulatory message and ask for a coffee. At the end of the day all creatives are out of work at some point and looking for like-minded collaborators.

5. Follow Up.

Once the festival is over, and you’ve returned to real life, make sure to follow up with everyone you met. It’s one thing to have a great conversation at a party, but a whole other thing to grow that into a relationship. This will be a lot easier if you take notes on the people you meet while you’re still at the festival. At the end of each day, make a note of everyone you met, where you met them, and any specifics from your conversation that might jog their memory later on. Drop these specifics into your follow-up email. If you’re interested in a networking spread sheet template to help you keep track of everyone, drop me an email at carole@carolekirschner.com and I’ll send you one of my favorites.

What are your tips for making the most out of a film festival experience? Let me know @CaroleKirsch!