You're Doing Film Festivals Wrong

I Hate Marketing is a new weekly Stareable Film School column, where we'll talk about how to make marketing easier, even for those of us who hate it.

"The most important thing to remember is that festivals are catalysts, not answers," says Jonathan Robbins, Festival Coordinator for HollyWeb (now accepting submissions!). "It is up to you to capitalize on your project's status and/or success at a festival, they won't do it for you."

I've talked about the importance of film festivals in two previous posts (here and here), but today we're going to talk about them specifically in terms of using them to your marketing advantage. Even if your show or project isn't part of the festival, attending local events are incredibly useful for spreading the word and learning from your community in real life.

For the purposes of this article, though, let's assume that you were just accepted into a film festival. Congratulations! But what comes next?

Ask for laurels and proof

This first section is going to sound jaded, but if you're looking to leverage a festival acceptance and/or win to gain credibility for your project, try not to jump the gun on shouting your success from the rooftops. Crazy as it sounds, sometimes you'll get an acceptance email letting you know you're nominated for an award at a festival without any accompanying media, specifically without laurels to display or a page on their website or social media to prove you've been accepted. There are totally legitimate reasons for this- if the festival is using FilmFreeway to manage submissions, sometimes the auto email to announce your selection just isn't detailed enough, and they'll send a follow-up later on.

Sometimes, though, especially if you submitted for a really small or really cheap festival, they might be totally scamming you. The scam can come in two flavors: either they accept everyone who submitted and then tell you they'll screen whichever projects pay to fly to and attend their festival, or they accept people arbitrarily and then never follow up, which is basically just the low-fat version of the first flavor.

It is because of the possibility of a scam that you should always research festivals beforehand and, if something still stinks, make sure you have a link to send friends, family, and fans to in order to prove that your project is, in fact, in consideration for an award. The next few sections of this article are going to outline how to promote your festival inclusion, and promoting a fraudulent fest will be embarrassing, so be careful.

In terms of laurels, if they aren't included in the first email, reply with a thank you for being included and ask if they have laurels for your category or nomination that you can display. The faster you can get those laurels, the more opportunities you have to celebrate and use this honor to your advantage.

Put laurels on everything

Everyone knows laurels look legit. "Put them on your website, poster, intro, trailer, social media, everywhere!" Meredith Burkholder, Founder of Webfest Berlin, emphasizes. "The laurels signal to prospective buyers and viewers that this is a series to watch."

"Bonus points if you include the URL of the project on the image," adds Jason Robbins.

Basically, what you're doing is sharing the same images and posters people have already seen, but the addition of a laurel makes it seem new and fresh and exciting, essentially DOUBLING your opportunities to post largely recycled content.

Whenever you post a celebratory laurel promo, make sure to tag the festival. "Festivals will do their best to get publicity for you and your show," Burkholder explains, "so USE that help. Retweet, repost, share, etc. to increase your reach and show your followers that you're not the only one who thinks your project is great."

Mini press releases

We've talked about press releases before (and last week we talked about using them in a press kit), but I'm not talking about a full page that you're sending directly to news organizations. If you did that for every festival, they'd get annoyed. However, you can circumvent this by posting 1-2 paragraph mini releases directly to your show's website or Facebook page.

"I've seen selections at HollyWeb (the digital content festival for which I am Festival Coordinator) post a mini-press release on their blog or official website," Robbins explains, "and tag the festival and related keywords, because anyone searching for info on the festival will find them, and subsequently discover your project. As those projects do so for multiple festivals, so do their pages move up in the search results. If you're lucky, and/or you exploit press connections you have, you may also get a write-up on the project in online or traditional press, especially if you're reporting an award."

Update your IMDb page

If you haven't made an IMDb page yet, click here to learn how. You might not know this, but there are a ton of web fests eligible for displaying on your show's page (and, as the case may be, cast and crew's pages). Check this link for which fests have this option, then add your show! It'll display underneath your show's poster and image that you've been nominated for (or have won) awards, which lends even MORE credibility to you!

Example of how nominations and awards are displayed on IMDb- right at the top of the page

GO! And not just for yourself

Seriously. If you can, go to film festivals that you're accepted to. "Ideally, you'll have some of your team with you, as that will help you make a splash and be the visible presence among many other projects," Robbins explains. "don't just attend for your own screening there is nothing more irritating than a large group who slip out of a screening block after their entry has shown, or disappear from the festival after their screening... you'll find as much benefit from supporting other projects as from doing so with your own. In turn, those projects will excitedly share your project's info as you become the most famous faces at the festival by being the first to champion everyone else's work. So while generous and outward, it is ultimately self-beneficial to be a supporter."

Burkholder agrees, saying "know when your series is screening and direct people to it. People are much more likely to make a point to see your screening if they've met you and you've already piqued their interest."

And before you attend, "it'salways a good idea to reach out to the festival directors and let them know you'll be coming," Robbins suggests. "You may simply get a 'we're so glad' response, but you might also be asked to participate in a panel, or invited to a special event, simply because you are the one who reached out. Make your experience and your availability known, and things can happen."

Hone your pitch and your goals

"Have your elevator pitch down pat and speak to EVERYONE as if they're a buyer," Burkholder encourages, "Also, have fun, participate and join the community. Going to a festival and sitting in the corner waiting for someone to come offer you a deal is a bit like uploading your series on YouTube and crossing your fingers that it'sgoing to go viral. Talk to as many people as you can, including your fellow filmmakers... You never know which connection will lead to the next big step in your career... Also, this may seem obvious, but bring your business cards and flyers (ideally a business card with series URL)."

Robbins expands on this idea, saying "if [your] project is a calling card for something larger, be ready to pitch as you may meet key players at the festival, such as a rep from HBO who is there scouting content. If it isn't, but you have other projects in development, be ready to pitch those. I have seen people get meetings based on short conversations at festivals, so you don't want to find yourself caught off guard if the opportunity arises.

"I've also seen people blow it by saying unintentionally dismissive answers like 'we're just putting it out there and seeing what happens' when asked what is next for the project by a talent scout."

No matter what... participate

"I think overall, the message, surprisingly enough, is PARTICIPATE," Burkholder says. "As festivals, we work our butts off creating as many opportunities as possible. But that does not mean that you pay a submission fee and success falls into your lap."

What has been your best experience at or with a festival? Let us know in the comments!

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