Promoting Your Film—and Yourself—at Film Festivals: Tips You Only Learn After Your 20th Film Festival.
The other day I was attending a film panel at SIFF, moderated by filmmaker, attorney, and all-around-great-guy Steve Edmiston. After the panel, Steve and I were talking with a few filmmakers who were newer at festivals when Steve started busting out with all these great tips for how to navigate a festival your first few times. I realized that there were a lot of things that I just took for granted about festivals after having attended way more than I care to remember. But I can still recall that feeling I had in my first few film festivals that I probably could have done a lot more, better, and had more fun doing it if I’d just known a little more going in.
So, until someone comes up with a definitive film festival attendee’s playbook, I’ve asked Steve to join me in listing some of our favorite tips for getting the most out of a film festival.
Douglas Horn: Steve, we started of talking with filmmakers about their festival badges. Can you share some of those tips?
Steve Edmiston: Oh, where to start. I’ve got a whole list on badges. Seriously, I love the stinkin’ badges. Here is one of my favorites – deconstructing the festival badge ecosystem. Introduce yourself to a festival volunteer, ask what the different badges mean. The volunteers will be happy to divulge the insider info! In about 90 seconds, you will learn there are distinct badges (or colors, or stickers, or photos, or lanyards) for volunteers, programmers, jurors, filmmakers, board members, vendors, and major sponsors and donors. Your knowledge of badges is your introduction. Walk up to the person you want to meet, introduce yourself, thank them for being what they are. Have fun with your new best friend.
DH: That’s awesome. The volunteers and sponsors do so much for festivals that they really do deserve a high five and a “Hey wassup.” And it’s true, these folks often have a whole different kind of lowdown on what’s going on at the festival that can really pay off, over and above meeting some cool folks.
I think my top badge tip would be that if you have postcards for your film—and you probably should—stick one of them in the back of your festival badge holder. That way, if someone asks you about your film, you can just flip your badge around and show them your postcard. Half the time, it’ll flip around on its own and then you’ve got a conversation starter—I can’t tell you how many amazing festival conversations I’ve had that began when someone pointed at my chest and said, “Oh, it that your film?”
SE: Sweet, you’ve taken us to Jedi-mind trick territory. A related tip – now that you’ve created a secret space in the holder between your filmmaker badge and your postcard – you’ve got a virtual PEZ dispenser for your handouts, i.e., more postcards (with your screening time) and business cards. When it’s time to exchange some information, nothing like literally lifting your badge up (unintentionally, of course) for closer inspection while fishing out the card! If they haven’t already noticed, that’s usually when my new best friend says, “I love your poster!”
DH: Nice. So about postcards—here’s my big bugaboo…filmmakers, please make it easy for me to follow up on your film if it looks cool. I just got handed half a dozen short film postcards in the past week that had no website or contact e-mail on them and I thought, what’s the point? I mean I guess I can Google the film’s name, but really it feels like an extra step. Honestly, at this point in history, even hand typing in a URL is like manual labor. I just made up cards for DIVERGENCE at Comic-con and I put QR codes on them. They’re ugly, but these days I feel like anything without a QR code is Victorian. I assume you’re pro-postcard, Steve. What do you think?
SE: I like where you’re head’s at. I’m a junkie for postcards and you need to fully exploit the real estate they represent. You’ve got to have all forms of contact info available; really, why wouldn’t you? And while we’re at it, low tech still works in a pinch — why would you ever fail to have your screening place and time printed on the card? If not printed on the card, then printed on a sticker that you place on the card. If not on a sticker, then lay down some sweet, personalized handwriting with a nice “hope to see you there!” note.
DH: Yes, exactly. I’m an Avery label kind of guy myself. I would always print postcards with key art, title, tagline on the front and more art, synopsis, contact info, whatever on the back but leave plenty of room for the all important screening times label and festival laurels. Then you can get a big print run done pretty cheap and just grab a stack and a couple of quickly printed sheets of labels and sticker them on the way to the festival. I’ve seen too many changed screening times to ever feel comfortable getting a whole order printed two weeks before the festival. That’s just tempting fate.
Oh, and in addition to handing them out onsey-twosey, filmmakers ought to be placing a stack of postcards on the lobby table at the various festival venues. What else, Steve? It’s been a while. And what do you think about posters? “Bigger is better” or “More trouble than they’re worth”?
SE: Well, here’s one more badge/postcard tip that might be more a confession. There are times I don’t have a badge at all from a festival I’m attending, because I don’t have a film at that fest. So, I’ve got no stinkin’ badge that is legit for that festival. I haven’t ever figured out why that should stop me from my appointed tasks. My scheme is this – I pick a favorite lanyard (something awesomely generic and present at virtually every festival in some capacity – say, IFP), I take an old badge holder, and insert my postcards for whatever film I’m promoting (we’re always promoting something!). Sometimes I’ll put an old badge from the fest I’m attending on the flip side — hey, then I’m a festival alumni! If I don’t have that, I’ll use a badge from something fascinating to talk about – like the American Film Market – it works great for almost all purposes (most of the time — party crashing safety not guaranteed).
Posters. I’m old school here and I love ‘em. The digital revolution is here, but I can’t help but notice the “stop and stares” a good poster creates in a lobby. Bigger is better, but of course, expense is an issue. A favorite tip – when I’m not able to support local businesses – a legit goal – I’ve found some incredible long distance printing relationships that I use for posters. Sharpdots.com comes to mind (for postcards, too).
DH: Oh, you’re a bad boy, Steve! But you’re right, people do tend to treat you differently when you’re not wearing a festival badge. I just had that happen to me at SIFF—I skipped the badge for an evening party that was invite-list (So why bother hanging a dumb lanyard around my neck if I didn’t need it to get in, right?) And I got some “What are YOU doing here looks”…for a festival that I had two films in! So it was a good reminder that badge=insider.
I agree about the power of posters. They really do make your film look mo’ bettuh in people’s minds. And at most festivals if you can get in there the first day and stick them up in 3-4 main venues, you’ll be seen by about 90% of the festival-goers. Any time I’ve printed big runs, I’ve ended up with way too many leftover posters. Like hundreds. So I’m not sure that’s a great use of funds. For the past few films, what I would do is Kinko’s print maybe 3 posters and get them laminated, then bring them to festivals and put them up in key spots—again with the showtimes on a sticker on top of the lamination. Then I’d take them down and roll em up in a tube again for the ride home. I guess it does look a little bit chintzy, but you can get a lot of mileage out of three posters. And just like the postcards, you really want at least a web site on there. I’ve started adding QR codes to everything these days, too. We just did a large run of posters for DIVERGENCE because I think we’ll be giving them away at Comic-con and maybe 3-4 more Cons we’ve been invited to this summer. I’m hoping that won’t be another stack sitting in my basement. (Anyone want a poster from Trailer: the Movie! or Full Disclosure?)
Okay Steve, here’s something I’ve seen but never done: Photocopies of positive reviews taped up next to your poster. Even art house theaters do this for indie releases. It always seems like a great idea, of course I never have the reviews when I want them. Have you seen this or tried it? Seems smart, huh?
SE: I like it! I always say, “to seem smart is to be smart.” Sometimes I try to say that using my Billy-Crystal-as-Fernando voice but realize how much that dates me. And while you’re at it, when your poster or postcard is laying on that big lobby table with a zillion others, lay that small stack of one-sheet reviews side-by-side with your art. It almost seems like a third-party endorsement of your third-party endorsements, which makes it incredibly and irrationally very legit, if it’s been placed right next to your poster. And after I do all this stuff, it’s usually time to buy popcorn.
DH: Mah-velous! Okay, well I feel like we just brain-dumped about a dozen festivals’-worth of experience here—at least where promotion and networking is concerned. I feel like we could do that much again on what to do after your film has screened—plus maybe a cool sidebar about crashing parties where we were mistakenly omitted from the official invite list—but let’s save those for another article.
Thank you for joining the fun, Steve. I hope you’ll check in, as I’m sure there are going to be a lot of reader questions and comments.
Steve Edmiston is a feature film screenwriter and producer, and also loves his day job with the Invicta Law Group in Seattle, where he focuses on business, intellectual property, litigation, and entertainment law. He has written and/or produced three narrative features that have been released worldwide (most recently, Crimes of the Past, starring David Rasche, Elizabeth Rohm, and Eric Roberts), and has written, directed, and produced multiple short films. He serves on the board of the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, and is an advisor to distributor IndieFlix and several regional film festivals.
Douglas Horn is a feature film writer-director and a creator of independent series. Douglas and Dan Southworth founded the web media company Popular Uprising. The company’s action/sci-fi series DIVERGENCE will release its first season in 2012. More information at: DouglasHorn.com and WhatIsDivergence.com