The Film Business

Network Like A Pro at Film Festivals By Making a Splash

networking in the film industry

Photo by Rob Nunn

I always crash after the Tribeca Film Festival ends, both emotionally and physically. After two weeks of non-stop festival work and fun, all I really want to do is eat macaroni & cheese and catch up on my favorite reality shows. As the saying goes, “no rest for the weary.” Only a few weeks later I was headed for the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto, then onto the Palm Springs Shortfest.

During these three nearly back-to-back festivals not only did I see great short films, but also met many filmmakers. What I noticed is that filmmakers are often awkward and uncomfortable with face-to-face conversation, perhaps due to Facebook and texting, neither of which requires actually speaking in full sentences. Good networking is a skill, so here are some tips to network like a pro.

Don’t be shy about introducing yourself. Programmers and buyers WANT to meet you. Remember the key word is “conversation.” That means both parties get to talk, so when someone asks you “What’s your film about?” don’t go into a lengthy frame-by-frame replay. One sentence or two is great. Then pause. This is the point where the other person says something like, “When is your screening?’ or “Is it a student film?” If you keep droning on and notice their eyes glazing over like Krispy Kreme donuts, you’ve lost them.

When you attend a panel discussion and want to meet the panelists, approach them at the conclusion. We WANT to chat with you. Ask for our business card, but if there’s a group of people clustered around, don’t “hog” the panelist. When you get a business card, write on the back the date/place where you met them, and if you need to follow-up on anything (send them a screener, email, etc.). You’ll never remember two weeks later, and will have a pile of business cards with no clue what to do with them.

Every buyer/programmer has their own way of handling screeners. Some carry home truckloads while others prefer that the film be submitted according to their protocol and won’t accept them. Don’t be offended if you offer a screener and it is declined. Give them a postcard instead that has your contact information on it. Postcards are one of the best marketing tools you have. Create one that shows off your film visually and contains your contact information.

During the fest you will encounter people you have already met. Don’t be “that guy” – the stalker guy. That’s the person who beelines to you at every cocktail party and social event with really nothing more to say then “did you see my film yet?” We’ll be forthcoming if we’ve seen your film and want to talk to you about it. Tell us what you’ve seen, or done, at the festival that you enjoyed.

Festivals are a great part of the filmmaking experience. You’ll be presented with many opportunities to meet industry professionals. This is neither speed-dating nor a job interview. Be friendly and be able to talk about your film and what you’re working on next, and don’t forget to have fun!

Excerpted from Swimming Upstream by Sharon Badal ©2008, Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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