Monday, March 17, 2008

Six essential things to do after a film festival

Rolodex. Old school.

South by Southwest 2008 is now over. In my mind's eye I can see the last stragglers shuffling their feet at the Austin airport today to board their departing flights and nurse the last vestiges of their carefully cultivated hangovers. As a filmmaker returning home in the afterglow of a festival, you should check the following items off your to-do list before "real" life reclaims your attention.

1. Organize and digitize those business cards. If you were following the series of filmmaker prep tips, you not only printed and gave away your own business cards, but you collected those of the people you met. Dig them out of your bag or wallet or wherever you stashed them and get that data out of the physical realm and into the digital. Whatever you use for storing contact data is fine, just make sure it's accessible and synced up with your email client when you need it. If you have some way of tagging or grouping the contacts by festival, you'll have a ready-to-go contact list that you can ping if you plan to go back next year. Better yet, ask everyone you met to sign up for your film's mailing list.

Once you've got your business cards digitized, save the physical cards in a way that is meaningful to you. I have a Rolodex (pictured above) and I file the cards by company or film name, handwriting notes on the cards if necessary. I just staple the business cards to the rolodex cards and I'm done. Rarely do I gaze into the Rolodex, but it's nice to know that if I ever lose my electronic version, I have the paper cards for a reference.

As an aside, there were a shocking number of people -- mostly filmmakers -- who arrived at SxSW without business cards. When I asked for one, most of them shrugged their shoulders and agreed that printing business cards was something they wished they'd done.

2. Go back over your notes and follow up on to-do items. Hopefully you took good notes and you have a list of tasks to do, whether it's sending screeners to distributors and journalists or simply following up on the previous work of a filmmaker whose feature you enjoyed. Complete these in the first week after you get back so they don't slip through the cracks.

3. Send follow-up and thank-you emails. Dedicate a block of time to just email every single person you met. Whether they're "it was good to meet you" emails, thank-you notes, or follow-ups on specific inquiries, touch base one more time with everyone. In particular you should follow up with journalists; offer to answer any further questions they might have as a polite way of reminding them that you're expecting some coverage.

4. Update your web site. One of the keys to encouraging repeat visits to your web site is to post new content, and a festival trip is a great excuse to update. Post pictures from your screenings and a quick blog entry or two about the festival, the people you met, and the films you saw. Giving good "press" to other films is a good way of encouraging links back. Once the updates are complete, send a message to your mailing list subscribers inviting them to come back and check out the new stuff.

5. Set up Google alerts for press and blog mentions of your film. Both Google and Yahoo offer email alerts that let you know when a phrase or word combination of your choosing appear in the press. I suggest starting with your film's title in quotes. If that results in too many unrelated results, use the director's name to narrow things down a bit. Consider setting up a specific alert with the name of the film festival included to make it easier to break down coverage by festival.

6. Plan for your next festival. If you're fortunate enough to have a dance card with more festivals on it already, review the roster of films and panels for the upcoming festival. If you spot anyone you know from a previous festival, get in touch. At the very least you can set up a time for a drink to compare notes; with some planning you can share resources to cross-promote your films or just get tips on the best ways to promote your own film locally at the upcoming festival. At times other filmmakers will know more about an upcoming festival than you do or even live in that town -- you might even be able to score some free lodging if you play your cards right.

By now it should be apparent that a run on the film festival circuit is not a series of discrete events but an ongoing process. One festival flows into another, building up your media portfolio and buzz (both personal and film-specific) to the point that you sell your film or embark on another project. Not that beginning a new project absolves you of promoting your past projects; your films are your children, and you owe it to them and to yourself to devote time to ensuring long, happy lives for each of them.

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