In the previous section of this article (rescued from an earlier draft of Film Festival Secrets the book) we covered what a typical festival year looks like. Now we'll delve into ten benefits of playing the film festival circuit.
1. Distribution. The possibility of finding a distributor by participating in the festival process is real. Festivals are one of the main sources that distributors tap when looking for films to acquire. However, even for filmmakers whose films are outstanding enough to play in the top-tier festivals, finding a distributor -- especially a distributor whose vision for the picture matches yours -- can be a struggle. The good news is that the festival circuit's usefulness in finding distribution isn't limited to the big festivals like Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes. A successful tour of well-established, respected festivals will build critical buzz for your film through audience word of mouth and reviews in the press.
2. Networking. This goes hand in hand with distribution. Though you may not find distribution for your movie as a direct result of playing at a particular event, festivals provide an unparalleled opportunity to make those critical connections that may eventually sell your film. This is also a chance to meet your contemporaries -- some of who may be able to help you in the future. Sometimes even festival staff members will take a shine to particular film and do their best to push it in the right direction. People who work at festivals are often the most well-connected people in the film industry. Why wouldn't you want to know as many of them as possible?
3. Exhibition. You didn't make your film to hide it in a closet -- you wanted it to be seen! Festival audiences contain the most appreciative and knowledgeable viewers out there. Not only do they love independent film enough to show up to the screening of an unknown filmmaker, but some of them will fall in love with your movie and ask you endless questions about it afterwards. It's your big chance to bask in the appreciation for all your hard work.
4. Cash prizes. A lot of festivals offer cash prizes for the best work of the season. Use those well-earned festival checks to make some token payments to your credit cards.
5. Other awards. Even if there's no cash involved, festival awards are a nice way to draw attention to your film. More media coverage is given to award winners and you can draw future festival audiences to your film with some laurel wreaths on your poster. Some awards are better than others, true, but even an award from the Podunk International Film Festival is better than none. And hey, that festival trophy can warm the bench for your future Oscar.
6. Learn something at panels and seminars. Lots of festivals are adding panels to increase the appeal of their events. Sitting in on panels is a great way to add to your filmmaking knowledge, and later on at the party you'll be able to identify the visiting industry reps by sight. Some festivals have full-blown conferences in addition to film screenings; make sure your filmmaker badge gets you into the conference as well.
7. Reviews. Festivals are covered by local and industry press alike -- the amount of coverage is naturally proportional to the size and prestige of the festival, but with the right strategy and persistence you can build a nice portfolio of press clippings. Reviews can make or break a film, but as a filmmaker you definitely want as many reviews as you can get.
8. Parties. It's the nature of the beast. In terms of networking, parties are where the action is at any film festival. Maybe it's the free booze, maybe it's the well-dressed people who never go to screenings but magically materialize at the parties, or maybe it's just the fact that everyone seems more confident when they're shouting to be heard over the music. Whatever it is, the parties are the place to hook up, career-wise and... otherwise. Try not to stay out too late.
9. Cool movies. You're a filmmaker -- you love movies! Film festivals are the place to see the new, the independent, the weird, and those guilty pleasures known as the pre-release studio pictures. As a participating filmmaker, you should be able to see as many as you want for free.
10. Free travel. Not every festival can afford to fly in their participating filmmakers, but you should make sure you apply to a few that do. You've always wanted to see Kentucky, right? Just don't trash the hotel room -- you want to be invited back.
11. Swag. Some festivals put together nice little goody bags (contents usually provided by sponsors) for their VIPs. Yes, participating filmmaker -- you're a VIP now. Feels nice, doesn't it? Maybe you don't even drink tequila but it's nice to get a bag of free stuff anyway.
Later this week I will post part three of this article, which will present the answers to some common filmmaker questions about festivals.