Monday, May 05, 2008

Dos and Don'ts for Film Festival Virgins

posted under , , , by Bloody Bonnie |
I'm a film festival virgin. Well, I was a virgin until Hot Docs 2008 popped that cherry. I graduated from college last spring and had never attended a film festival, let alone gone to a festival with a film that had my name in the credits (I'm the associate producer on BLAST!). This past week at Hot Docs has been a frenzy of activity, packed full with parties, talks with directors, and even a few movies. I learned a lot this week, and I'd like to share some of my newfound knowledge with my fellow fledgling festival goers.

Buy all your movie tickets on the first day.

It may be tempting to go ahead and buy all your tickets at once, especially if the films you want to see are selling out fast, but don't. Hold on to a few of your tickets for later in the week. Depending on what the festival buzz is, you may find that you want to go see a movie you weren't initially interested in. Talk to people and ask them what movies they enjoyed, you may find a gem. Also, you never know who you may meet. It's good to have some extra tickets in case you meet a director or a producer who invites you to see their film. You can make some great friends and contacts by just showing up to their screening.

Have a glass of wine at parties...or two or three.

Unless you're a natural extrovert, mingling at the industry parties can be a bit intimidating. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and you may find yourself being the awkward wallflower virgin that you are. The truth is, it's not as bad as it seems. Those people who look like they're life long friends actually just met five minutes ago. Most people at these parties don't really know the person they're talking to. So just relax. Have a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and strike up a conversation with that person who isn't talking to anyone else either. Some good ice breakers are: “Do you have a film here?” “Are you a filmmaker?” and the classic “See any good movies lately?”

Leave before the Q&A

I know you're in a rush and really need to get to the next screening before it sells out, but give yourself an extra 15 minutes to stick around for the Q&A after the films. A lot of times directors bring characters from the film with them to the Q&A, and it can be a real treat to actually meet the person you just spent 2 hours watching. If you're an aspiring filmmaker, Q&A sessions can be a great place to learn more about what it takes to make a film, so use them – don't be afraid to ask that burning question. Also, you'll have a better chance of meeting the director after the crowd thins out.

Get business cards made.

Even if you're not working in the film industry or you're just an unpaid intern, make some business cards and hand them out to people you meet. Part of a film festival is shameless self-promotion. Everyone does it, and you'll be at a disadvantage if you don't. If you're unsure what to put on your business card, just call yourself freelance, or better yet just write 'filmmaker.' In his intro to Rebel Without a Crew, Robert Rodriguez says that you can't be a filmmaker until you start calling yourself one. So get a business card and start handing it out.

Judge a book by it's cover.

Filmmakers are an interesting and diverse lot. There's really no way to tell who someone is or what they do just by looking at them. Just because that guy is in a nice suit doesn't mean he's a producer. And just because that woman looks like a crazy cat lady doesn't mean she's not an award winning filmmaker. So put aside your preconceptions and just go talk to people. You never know who you may meet.

Arrive at screenings at least 15 minutes early.

Even if you've already got your tickets, try to get to the screenings early. The lines will fill up very fast, and the theater even faster. Trust me, you don't want to end up sitting in the front row craning your neck for three screenings in a row. If you haven't gotten your tickets yet and need to get them at the door, give yourself even more time. Depending on how popular the movie is, some lines can be as long as two blocks!

Forget your student ID (or your AARP card)

If you're still a student, or if you like me and you're lucky enough that your ID doesn't have an expiration date, be sure to bring your ID along. At Hot Docs, all daytime screenings are free to students and seniors (most other festivals have a similar policy). Take advantage of this as much as possible – it's a great way to keep your costs down.

Wear comfortable shoes.

This one is pretty much self-explanatory. You will be doing a lot of walking to and from theaters, parties, and running errands. You'll go broke if you try to take a cab everywhere. If you desperately need to wear those 3 inch pumps to the party tonight, bring them in a bag and wear some flats to get to where you're going.

Expect a vacation.

Sure you may be a new city, staying in a hotel, and going to bars – but a vacation this is not. Don't expect to get to see much of the city outside the area of the festival. You will be constantly busy, running back and forth between screenings and working, and you're lucky if you get a chance to float around in that nice big pool the hotel has. Don't get me wrong, you'll a lot of fun, but by the time you get home you'll be ready for a vacation.

Go see some movies.

If you're at the festival as part of the industry, your schedule is going to be very full. You'll have errands to run and work to do before your own screening, talks, meetings and panels to attend, and schmoozing to do at parties. It can get a bit overwhelming, and in the midst of this whirl wind it may be hard to find time to go to screenings. If at all possible, try to give yourself at least one day where all you do is go see movies. Or give yourself at least one mandatory screening a day. It may be a pain to get to, but once you're there you'll enjoy the chance to sit back, relax, and watch some great films.

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