How to Navigate a Film Festival

Bushwick Film Festival
This guest post was written by Kweighbaye Kotee and edited by Casey Johnson-Aksoy. 

Film festivals can be overwhelming, scary, frustrating, and a major blow to the ego of any filmmaker–times ten if you’re new to the scene, especially if it’s a big one. You show up, no one really knows who you are. The festival planners check you in, get a photo of you with their major sponsors, then you just sort of disappear into the wide vast industry ocean. But on the flip side they can also be rewarding, career changing, relationship building, and just really freaking amazing! It’s all up to you to decide. With a little bit of planning and managed expectations, you can really plant a lot of seeds and watch them grow for weeks or even years. Here is a list of five things you should do (or not do!) to make sure you get the most out of your film festival experience!

1. Have a website for your film. Seriously, it’s very easy, and these days you can have a pretty professional website for free or for a small monthly fee. We all know as indie filmmakers the budget is tight or non-existent. Especially if you’ve just submitted your film to a gazillion film festivals at 25-75 bucks a pop. But you need that website and the Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and while I’m at it, DEFINITELY GET BUSINESS CARDS. Filmmakers need to build an audience and cultivate relationships, and that takes promoting and reminding. No matter how breathtaking your film may be, people get amnesia the second it’s over. They need to be reminded over and over again by receiving your newsletter, interacting with you on Twitter or just simply hanging out on your website. Taking care of the relationship with your audience is the most important thing. Everyone loves to see a star rise every step of the way. So keep their attention.

Bushwick Film Festival
2. This one is three-fold. If your film is not in the festival, buy a package, create a schedule, and attend with someone who has the same goal as you do. Yes, packages can be expensive, but they get you in the rooms with people you need to talk to. On the bright side, there are different levels of pricing, and if you plan ahead I’m sure you can swing the least expensive one. When you get the package and festival program, create a schedule! We all know that a little planning leads to a lot of efficiency. Festivals are fast, so if you’re not careful you’ll end up just wasting a whole lot of time and getting stuck with a thought bubble of burning cash. So dedicate a few evenings to creating a master plan. Turn up the notch and go out and buy a large 30 x 25 Post-it pad and make a day by day schedule, post it to your wall, and take a step back and refine it until the plan is solid. Then put it into your planner or online calendar and stick to it. Remember that you’re there to have character-growing conversations, make connections, build relationships, and talk about your work.

3. Swallow that fear and accept there will be lots of awkward. Every time you feel that little fear gremlin creep up, remind yourself why you are there. This is your opportunity to get your story out, grow as a filmmaker, and expand your circle. There will be lots of awkward moments. Like when you’re trying to talk to someone who’s stuffing their face and looking at all the other people they would rather talk to. If that happens, that’s okay. Politely end the conversation and move on to the next person. Talk to people who are interested in carrying on a conversation with you. Don’t force it. So what if that super famous producer won’t give you the time of day. One day he will. Until then, be happy with who is nice enough to share their time with you. Remember, the most important person is the person in front of you. So engage.

Organizers of the Bushwick Film Festival
4. DON’T GET WASTED. Actually, try not to drink at all. It may seem like a fabulous idea, especially if you saved up for months and got that V.I.P. package that comes with an open bar, but it’s a waste of time. You have to be sharp and ready to deliver that 5-, 10-, or 15-minute pitch you’ve been working on. Ask good questions that lead to better conversations and even a coffee date with an industry professional the next morning. So stay sharp. While everyone else is throwing back whiskey gingers and getting loose on the dance floor, continue working the room, pitching, exchanging business cards, and leaving gracefully.

5. FOLLOW UP. Don’t let those business cards go to waste. If you’re following up via email, be specific. Remind the recipient of who you are, where you met, and maybe mention highlights from your conversation. You can’t expect everyone to remember who you are, especially if they didn’t follow step #4. When ending the email, be clear about what you’re asking for. Would you like to set a coffee date? Follow up with a phone call? Send them a film you’ve been working on? Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. The worse that could happen is the person says thank you, but no thank you. Also, remember silence does not equal no. People tend to be busy, so if they don’t reply the first time, don’t feel bad. You can always send them a second email following the same format as the first. Be patient; good things come to those who wait.

Kweighbaye Kotee is the CEO and Director of Programming for the Bushwick Film Festival. She runs the festival with her amazing partners Casey Johnson-Aksoy (Director of Social Media & Marketing) and Meenakshi Thirkude (Director of New Media) and their all-women staff. The Bushwick Film Festival celebrates the art of filmmaking, provides a platform for artists to showcase their work, and brings diversity to the film industry.

Kweighbaye Kotee
Casey Johnson-Aksoy