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10 Tips on How to Improve the Festival Experience for Filmmakers

10 Tips on How to Improve the Festival Experience for Filmmakers

Wildlike” would not be where it is now without the incredibly supportive 200 and counting
film festivals who accepted our movie. I am so grateful to the thoughtful
programmers and staff for supporting the film throughout its festival run and beyond.

READ MORE: Here Are 10 Things Filmmakers Want Festivals to Do

As “Wildlike” approached its 200th festival as an official selection, several festival directors
asked me for feedback on the process and especially on how they could improve the festival experience for filmmakers.

All the mishaps along the way really made for excitement, opportunities and a hearty laugh the next
day. When one festival’s screening of “Wildlike” was delayed due to technical failure, I
entertained the audience with a talk and Q&A on indie film for 45 minutes. At another
festival, when the festival equipment failed at 7/8th of the way through a screening, I
did a brief Q&A and then collected emails and offered secure private links to allow each
person to finish the film at home.

Here is a quick top ten list of what I think festivals might do to improve the festival experience. You’ll notice many ideas are about
connecting festivals, filmmakers and filmgoers. Fortunately, no one festival failed to do
all of the below but some fiascos reached the point of hilarity. When I asked the opinion
of a fellow filmmaker who has attended countless festivals, she remarked, “I’m just happy
if I get a ride from the airport and my movie goes up on the screen.”

Manage your
expectations and be grateful for all the hard work going in to putting your film in front of an
audience. It’s important to remember that most festivals are what the filmmaker makes of them. That said, here are 10 tips for festivals interested in improving the experience:

1. Before the festival

Festivals should make an effort to connect with each filmmaker before the festival – even an e-mail welcome makes a big impression. I know many filmmakers can
be frustratingly uncommunicative, but festival planners
should at least try to make that personal connection with each filmmaker prior to the
festival. Filmmakers appreciate that effort.

2. A filmmaker liason?

Festivals might consider creating the position of Liaison to Filmmakers  who personally greets each filmmaker when he/she arrives and makes sure they have a schedule, badge and tickets. Filmmakers should have a point person (and phone number!) who can tell them who is introducing their screening, where the good parties are and what other films they might be interested in seeing at the festival.

3. Show some enthusiasm.

Ideally, the festival director and/or senior programmer should make an effort to meet each filmmaker and have at least a 10 minute conversation with them. They should at least pretend they are excited for the filmmaker to be there. Do not have the filmmaker find the festival director on their own and then have the festival director not even know the filmmaker’s name and/or blow them off after one minute of conversation. 

4. Help us find our way.

Festivals might consider sending filmmakers a PDF of key places, contacts and map of festival locations before the festival, even if it’s a link on a web site. Knowing where the festival office is, where they can pick up their badges and tickets and where the screenings are is incredibly helpful. It’s even better if you have a meeting place or office or lounge where filmmakers can go to get coffee, food and questions answered. Make sure it’s staffed by someone knowledgable who can help filmmakers find their way.

READ MORE: Here’s How This First-Time Director Got into Over 100 Film Festivals

5. Get to know each other.

Festivals could arrange a meal or coffee with staff and filmmakers early in the festival, so that they can get to know each other. The rest
of the fest will be a fun community of friends, filmmakers and festival supporters. A daily morning coffee meet ‘n greet at a set time and place every morning with
a festival staffer for filmmakers and guests to answer all ongoing questions and say
hello works well too. Invite filmgoers who will be excited to meet the filmmakers. Whatever you do, do not let a filmmaker drop into the festival, stay for three days and leave without meeting a single festival staffer. 

6. An introduction goes a long way.

Each theater should have a knowledgeable and enthusiastic festival representative
to introduce the film and filmmaker in advance of each screening. If the filmmaker
only comes to the Q&A, then this rep should know the filmmaker is
coming, and should tell the audience that the filmmaker will be doing a Q&A after. The worst is when the filmmaker shows up at the end of the screening and the staff did not tell the audience there would be a Q&A with a filmmaker. When the screening ends, the audience walks out right past the
filmmaker. Trust me: it’s a bummer.

7. In case things don’t go smoothly…

If something goes wrong with a filmmakers screening, Q&A, program listing, hotel, transportation, experience, etc., a festival representative should call the filmmaker and explain and/or apologize. Of course, all is forgiven, but an apology goes a long way to smoothing things over.

8. Group discussions

Rather than panels, panels, panels, festivals should consider holding one (or even a series!) of
small group discussions for the filmmakers and film professionals to discuss various aspects of independent filmmaking. A well-run group discussion in a warm inviting space or home allows real connections, learning and sharing to occur. Do not hold a massive panel where people sit in the audience and listen passively about the same old issues of indie film and make zero connections.

9. Tech checks

Allow time for a tech check, and/or confirm the screening test, and/or explain why a tech
check is not possible. Ideally, you’ll let the filmmaker meet the projectionist in case
the filmmaker might just want to say “hi,” “thanks” or “my movie is really loud in this part” or “I have another DVD in my bag in case you have any tech problems.”) Do not tell the filmmaker that nothing can be communicated to the
projectionist and that all is under control and then play the film incorrectly. 

10. Smaller is generally better.

Consider shrinking or containing the size of your festival in terms of number of
days and numbers of screenings. One of the best festivals I ever attended was in a small arts town, set at one old beautiful theater and your schedule is simple: attend features and shorts each day for four days with a discussion and/or nice dinner
or party each night. Everyone is invited and included in every event. Everyone watches all the movies. If you e-mail me, I’ll tell you which festival it is.

Frank Hall Green is a writer/director and a producer at Catch & Release Films with partner Tom Heller.  His directorial debut feature “Wildlike” continues to be a festival smash hit playing over 175 festivals and reaping over 50 Best Film Awards. “Wildlike” stars Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood, Nolan Funk, Ann Dowd and Brian Geraghty, was released day-and-date by Killer Films and Amplify on September 25th and is now available OnDemand.

READ MORE: 10 Things Every Film Festival Wants Filmmakers to Know

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