Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What to do while "everyone else" is at Sundance

Photo by Chris Runoff

Feeling left behind because you're not going to Park City this week? Here are a few ideas on how to keep yourself occupied -- either by distracting yourself with other business or by taking part vicariously. In no particular order:

• Hold some test screenings for your own film. Chances are you haven't held nearly enough test screenings to really know how an audience will react to your film, so why not have a little festival magic of your own? Get a bunch of strangers together, show them your movie, and gather some opinions. It feels good and it's good for you.

• Plan your festival strategy for the rest of the year. January is just the first month of the year, and there are plenty of important and prestigious festivals going on in the other eleven months. (OK, maybe not so many in December, but still.) Hit the web sites and really dig deep into each festival's personality. Figure out what their previous lineups really looked like, and whether they are a festival of discovery or if they're just regurgitating the Sundance lineup each year. Submit accordingly.

• Fill in the gaps on your marketing material. Maybe your press kit isn't as strong as it could be, or your postcard needs an overhaul. Go back over all of your marketing material and figure out what you're missing. Chapter 3 of Film Festival Secrets (the book) covers this in depth.

• Stay tuned to the indie film news. Old stand-bys Variety and indieWIRE are good places to start, but you can find a wealth of coverage by meandering over to Google Blogsearch and typing in "Sundance" or "Slamdance." One of my favorites is the local Salt Lake Tribune, which has some really in-depth coverage and a sense humor. Also a great read: the back entries at Drea Clark's Slamdance blog, which has been a source of much entertainment and straight talk for months now -- hopefully she'll have time to keep blogging during and after the festival itself.

• Watch some Slamdance films online. Like Fantastic Fest in October, Slamdance is screening some of its films online as well as in Park City for the duration of the festival only. It's impossible to say how well it will work since right now all you can see is a preview video, but with any luck you'll be able to have your own little mini-Slamdance in the comfort of your own laptop. Pass the popcorn!

Slamdance 2009 Jury announced

The full slate of jurors for Slamdance has been announced; you can read it on the Salt Lake Tribune's Sundance blog. there are some really great people on the list, including David Redmon, Ashley Sabin, Kent Osborne, and Adam Roffman. If you're lucky enough to be a filmmaker at Slamdance this year, take some time to hang out with the jurors and hear about their own experiences in the indie film trenches.

Don't forget to check out the Slamdance schedule -- I'll be speaking on the DIY Marketing and Distribution panel.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Last minute filmmaker prep tips for Park City

Photo by JJeffreys

Here comes Sundance! And Slamdance! And Tromadance! And the Park City Film Music Festival! And ... well, you get the idea. If you're one of the lucky few whose films will actually play at the big show in Park City or in one of the satellite events, here's a quick set of tips that will serve you well while you're there.

1. Stay warm. I know, "duh," right? But it can't be overemphasized: it's freaking cold in Park City in January, and you're going to be outside -- probably more than you'd like. You've probably already got a coat, hat, and gloves, but it's time to consider some boots with serious traction (you'll be climbing icy sidewalks uphill much of the time), thermal underwear, and wool socks. Your ability to schmooze will be greatly impaired if your teeth are chattering, so don't let it come to that.

2. Don't assume that your cell phone will work. The Park City cell phone network (built for a town of 7000 people) absolutely dies when over 30,000 people show up and all start checking their mail at once. You may occasionally get a call through but for the most part text messaging will be the only reliable form of communication.

3. Take plenty of business cards and screener copies of your film. This may be your only chance to get face-to-face contact with the film industry's heaviest hitters, so make sure you have something they can take away from your meeting. Whether you've prearranged a sit-down or bump into someone in a hallway, be prepared and carry these basic tools of the trade with you always.

4. Arrive at parties promptly. Official parties fill up instantly and even the unofficial condo parties can be overrun. Invitations to such unofficial parties are usually pretty easy to come by if you're the type who can talk to strangers -- which brings us to our next tip:

5. Get over your shyness. Whether you have a film in the festival or not, the entire point of being in Park City is to meet people you don't already know. Filmmakers are on the hunt for someone to distribute their films, sure, but industry types are looking for the next hot talent just as anxiously. Everyone has an agenda, and sometimes the only way to advance that agenda is to start talking to the people around you. During a festival and especially during Sundance, the usual rules of personal interaction are modified somewhat (if not actually rescinded) -- it is entirely expected that total strangers will strike up conversations while waiting in line, shuffling into theater seats, or just loitering on Main Street. You've probably spent a ton of money to get to and stay in Park City; don't squander that investment by letting people and opportunities pass you by.

6. Have fun. Don't be so stressed out by the environment and your own internal pressure to get things done that you forget to enjoy one of the greatest spectacles in indie film today. There are movies to be seen, celebrities to swoon about, and (for those of us who live in the warmer climes) cold temps and snowflakes to enjoy. I'll be Twittering and blogging about my time in Park City -- drop me a line, I'd love to read about yours.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Headed to Sundance? Check out the revised series of last minute prep tips.

About a year ago, I wrote a series of articles for filmmakers bound for South by Southwest -- I thought it was time to revisit the last-minute preparation tips and to make them a little more universally applicable to film festivals as a whole. So out go the references to favorite taco joints and in comes some updated info on how to manage your time and promote your film at a film festival -- whichever one you happen to be visiting.

Part one covers some general festival travel and basic marketing ground.

Part two encourages you to cover the basics online.

Part three makes sure you take care of a few things before you leave home.

Part four highlights the things you should be sure to do once you get to the festival.

For dessert, here's an article on the 6 essential things to do after attending a film festival.

Last minute film festival prep tips part 4 - when you get there

In part one we covered some travel and film promotion basics.

Part two highlighted the importance of a web site for your film.

Part three discussed some general organizational and travel tips that will make your trip easier so you can think about promoting yourself and your movie.

In part three I mentioned that filmmakers who want to work in the industry for a living should think of a film festival as a career fair, and it is: your peers and potential employers are there, looking to connect with one another. The difference is that it all takes place in a much less organized environment, where screenings and parties and general chaos provide a reason for gathering but occasionally get in the way of conducting business. The challenge lies in connecting to the right people and having the right conversations in the midst of all this, and if you don't prepare then you're relying almost entirely on chance to make this happen. Not that great conversations don't happen by chance, but you don't want that to be your entire plan.

So while you're on the ground at the film festival, do the following:

» Set discrete, measurable, attainable goals. Of course you should think about what your overall goals are for your film and your career, but for the purposes of any one event you need to write down the bite-sized goals that you can accomplish while you're there. "Find a distributor" is not a bite-sized goal. "Talk to ten distributors and establish contact with an acquisition rep at each" is more reasonable.

Put these goals in the front of your notebook (you did buy a notebook, right?) and refer back to them each day so you can stay focused. Check each one off as you finish it for that warm, fuzzy feeling of accomplishment.

» Do groundwork before you arrive so you don't waste time just getting up to speed. That means reaching out to the press and setting up interviews beforehand as discussed in part 3. If there is an attached exhibition floor, check out the trade show floor map and write down a list of the companies with whom you want to talk. You don't have to have every minute of every day mapped out, but you don't want to spend time at the festival making phone calls or writing emails when you could be enjoying the festival or talking to journalists and other filmmakers.

pic» Take advantage of panels and screenings. Keep a detailed calendar so you always have options if you're not actively promoting your film. At a large festival, the first half of the event is usually the busiest, so you should stick close to the center of the action to squeeze in as many interviews and marketing activities as possible. When you're not doing those things, check out the screenings and panels (if any). Even the occasional clunker of a panel will have some interesting people at the front of the room, so stick around afterwards and introduce yourself. With journalists and industry types alike, the phrase "I have a film in the festival this year" is the perfect icebreaker: it identifies you as someone with talent and of potential interest. Use it to your advantage.

The same goes for screenings; after the Q&A, approach the filmmakers and introduce yourself. Be sure to say something nice about the film and ask about their experiences at the festival so far. Chances are good that other filmmakers have met journalists who haven't found you yet, or have learned lessons about the festival experience that could benefit you. You want that knowledge. Be polite about this, and always present it as an exchange of information rather than an information dump. When you find someone who seems particularly well-informed, offer to buy the next round. The collected wisdom of the other filmmakers at a festival is well worth the price of a few drinks.

» Talk to the press. When Kissing on the Mouth played SxSW in 2005, Joe Swanberg wrote a travelogue with a nice set of tips for filmmakers about the festival. You should read it in its entirety, but I like this passage:
It's not a bad idea to spend a few afternoons hanging around the Filmmaker Lounge, which is conveniently located very near the Press Lounge. Stay visible, and spend some time walking between the two places, seeing who you can bump into. Sometimes press will be conducting interviews with other filmmakers in the Press Lounge, and you can piggyback and do an interview after they are finished. We got some good coverage just from being in the right place at the right time, but the right place was almost always somewhere near the Press Lounge.

picThe press have a job to do: present the most interesting news to their audience before their competitors do. In order to make sure you get good coverage, you need to make their job as easy as possible. That's where your web site comes in, and, if you're particularly prepared, an electronic press kit (EPK). An EPK is just a CD-ROM with the basic facts about your film (press releases, cast lists, one-sheet, etc) and some supporting media -- high-resolution stills, trailers in Quicktime format, etc. A good EPK should let a journalist get a good sense of your film in a few minutes just by popping it into her laptop. EPKs have an advantage over web sites in that they work when the laptop isn't connected to the internet, so if you still have time consider putting one together and burning a dozen or so copies to carry with you. (Put them in paper sleeves to save on weight and bulk.)

One last word on the press: do not be intimidated. They are there to cover the festival, and you're part of the festival. So if you present yourself politely and provide compelling reasons that your film should be part of their festival coverage, the average member of the press will give you serious consideration. That's not to say that the media doesn't house its share of schmucks, or that anyone owes you coverage, but you have a right to conduct business the same as anyone else. Have your screeners and your flyers ready, and go get 'em.

» Stay tuned to the festival news. Subscribe to the newsletters, check out the official festival blog, and read some of the third-party coverage of the festival as a whole. You want to get a sense of where the action is and what events are likely to draw crowds. Most especially you want to be aware of last-minute schedule changes and additions -- things can change in the middle of a festival and you can't make intelligent choices about how to spend your time if you aren't in the know.

» Go to the parties. There are some of you out there who need to be told to do this. When it comes to film festivals, parties are where a lot of business relationships begin. You don't need to stay to the bitter end of every party, nor do you need to go everywhere you're invited, but get out and engage in the art of the schmooze. If your schmoozing skills are rusty, ask for advice from the schmooziest person you know. Be sure to pass out those flyers when the opportunity presents itself. Don't forget to ask for business cards from the interesting people you meet, and try to take it easy on the open bar.

pic» Take good notes. I mentioned this in passing back in part 3, but it bears repeating here. You don't need to scribble out every word you hear verbatim, but you should get in the habit of jotting down a note or two after each conversation you have. Make sure you take note of the person's name (even if you got their business card) and what the main points of the conversation were. Don't rely on your memory; it will fail you when you most need it. This is particularly important when it comes to encounters with the press -- a few weeks after the festival you'll want to go back over the contacts you made and see which of them actually wrote something about you. Someone who particularly enjoyed your film may be a good contact for other festivals or later works.

Notes are also important for remembering promises you made. If you owe someone a screener or a callback, you don't want to forget. Make a special symbol in your notes for to-do items -- a check box, an asterisk, whatever works for you -- so you'll recognize uncompleted tasks when scanning over your back notes.

» Keep in mind the overall goal of building your career and reputation, not just selling the film at hand. Too many filmmakers blunder onto the festival circuit with unrealistic hopes of a big paycheck and a distribution deal waiting for them right after their premieres. (I call it Weinstein Syndrome.) Watch the Q&As at the screenings you go to and you're bound to see it -- the cast and crew in attendance with eyes just a little too wide and smiles just a little too big. A serious examination of the state of independent film distribution today reveals that very few films get sold at film festivals, and independent pictures in general have a hard road ahead of them when seeking an audience. The good news is that film festivals are the front lines of indie film, and careers really do get built between panels and parties. Opportunity is there, but you have to know where to look and grab it when it shows its face.

» Have fun! I'm sure this all sounds like the least fun you could possibly have at a film festival, but try to balance your business activities with some play. There's no reason you can't do both at the same time. You just need to retain some awareness of you're doing and saying and what it might do for your future as a filmmaker.

This is part four of a revised series of articles originally written for South by Southwest 2008. The revisions add new and updated information and make the series more applicable to other festivals.

Next: 6 essential things to do after a film festival.

Last minute film festival prep tips part 3 - before you leave

In part one we covered some travel and film promotion basics.

Part two highlighted the importance of a web site for your film.

If you've waited until the last minute to get serious about your festival experience, it's time to get moving on those last-minute steps you can take while you're still at home: making sure your trip goes as smoothly as possible and laying the groundwork for meetings and interviews before you set foot in your festival's town.

» Get organized about your travel and your appointments. Resources abound for putting your life on the road in order. Take advantage of them. The less you have to think about your itinerary and its details, the more brain space you'll have for promoting yourself and your film.

Some of my favorite travel & organizational tools:

Top Ten Austin » If you don't know your destination very well, get a good city guide with a map of downtown and study it beforehand. I like the smaller guides that fit in a back pocket, but go with what appeals to you. Just make sure you carry it with you. WikiTravel has entries for nearly every metropolis and small town you're likely to visit in your festival wanderings. Many festival web sites include recommendations for eating, shopping, and nightlife, but if not then Google is certainly your friend.

» Get a good pocket notebook and a couple of pens, and carry them with you. If you're a filmmaker and you want to make movies for a living, it's time to start thinking of film festivals as career fairs. Since a cornerstone of any good business is impeccable record-keeping, you should always have the means to take notes. I like the Moleskine Reporter, but a 99-cent memo pad will contain writing just as effectively. Your notebook should be the record of the people you met (you're going to lose one or two business cards along the way), the things you learned, and the promises you made. It sounds corny but I promise you'll get more out of any film festival if you write a few things down.

» If you have a pocket camera, bring it along. This is probably the wrong time to be lugging your DSLR and its thousand-dollar lens, but there are lots of amazing things to see at most film festivals. You're bound to want to take one or two pictures along the way (like the crowd at your screening?), and if you rely on your camera phone you'll be sorry. When you get home, make sure to upload those pix to your web site.

» Go mobile when at all possible. Make sure you're taking advantage of all of the features of your cell phone. Lugging a laptop around gets old in a hurry, so why do it when you could just as easily check mail from your phone? Make sure you do have a way to check your email regularly, though -- a lack of attention to your mail is a great way to miss out on press coverage and other opportunities. If you've shelled out the money for an iPhone or Blackberry, now is the time to milk the usefulness out of it. Don't buy a new phone just before you leave, though -- when in unfamiliar surroundings, you want a familiar device.

Similarly, every web service out there seems to have a mobile component, so learn how to configure and use them before you leave. If you try and figure these things out after you get to your desitination, you'll probably waste time and just end up frustrated.

If you've never used text messaging before, now might be the time to learn how. Voice and data networks can groan under the weight of the traffic generated by the thousands of attendees at a big festival. Your best bet for communication may well be squirting single, lightweight lines of text up to the cell towers.

And one more mobile tip: bring a lightweight charger that you can carry with you during the day. Take advantage of random electrical outlets when sitting in panels or waiting in line. You probably won't get back to your hotel room until the wee hours of the morning, and by that time your mobile phone battery may be as worn out as you are. You don't want to contend with a dead cell phone when you're half-drunk in a strange city at 3am. Trust me.

» Make as many media contacts as you can to line up those interviews prior to your arrival in the festival city. At large festivals there are scores of media outlets covering the event, from humble bloggers like yours truly to national film publications like Variety. Some Googling ought to reveal who these people are and nearly every byline these days is accompanied by an email address. Write up a quick cover letter with a description of your film and mention your availability for interviews. Don't be discouraged by a lack of immediate results; everyone is ridiculously busy during a film festival. The keys are to cast a wide net and to be persistent.

» If the festival provides one, use the registrant directory to identify good contacts at the conference. Some directories are even online and searchable by job title, etc. This is a great way to find contacts. Use it.

This is part two of a revised series of articles originally written for South by Southwest 2008. The revisions add new and updated information and make the series more applicable to other festivals.

Read part 4: when you get there.

Last minute film festival prep tips part 2 - warm up your web site

A nicely designed site for Blood Car As a filmmaker, your web site is one of the best marketing tools you have. Long before the lights go down at your first screening, your web site is where people will learn about you and your film. Months (years!) after the festival ends, your movie's site will be the touchstone for those curious about your work. Dollar for dollar, there is nothing else you can buy that will work for your movie as tirelessly and as effectively as the electronic sentinel that is a web site.

So make it good.

One of the best collections of advice for filmmakers I've encountered about their web sites comes from my friend Jette Kernion in her Open Letter to Indy/Low-Budget Filmmakers. Go ahead, click on over and read it. I'll wait.

Back again? Good. I hope Jette's words are sinking in and that you're ready to build a web site that isn't just attractive but useful as well. Let's review her advice with a few extra pointers.

» Include lots of text about the film, including the names of the cast and crew, so that the site shows up in Google searches. The fancy name for this is "search engine optimization," but the plain truth is that search engines grab onto text best. If you're rendering that text as graphics or you've embedded it into a Flash presentation, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. Keep it simple and leave the flaming logos to the site for the next Tomb Raider film.

» Post a number of striking photos at different resolutions, and make them easily available for download. The less you make a journalist (whether an editor from Variety or a local blogger) work, the more likely you are to get good coverage. Cropping screen captures is work. Resizing photos is work. I think you can figure out the rest. Again, don't hide them inside a PDF, a fancy Flash slideshow, or assume that a trailer is a sufficient substitute for still photos. If you want the word to spread, you have to make the spreading easy.

» Publish your contact info, including e-mail, telephone, and snail mail. Your web site is your business card to the world. If the world can't get in touch with you, it can't write nice stories about you. Or ask you about a new job on a film crew. Or buy your movie. So get your contact info out there, and get a good spam filter. (I recommend using gmail.)

» Post a trailer. Or five. Any halfway entertaining footage (bloopers, deleted scenes, etc) that didn't actually make it into the film should be present somewhere on the site. Include links to your previous work, especially short films that can be digested quickly and easily online. Make sure your trailer is on YouTube or a similar video site so that visitors can post it on their own web sites and blogs. (Get familiar with the mantra "Embed and Spread." It works.) Give away as much free entertainment as you can, because it's the way you win fans who will later pay to see your work.

pic » Start a blog. Yeah, you read that right. A blog. Most filmmakers like the idea of starting a blog but don't have a clue what to put in it. I'll cover that more in a later post, but for now start posting stories about the making of the film. Profile your cast and crew. Mention your other projects. Announce your upcoming screenings. Post recaps of your question-and-answer sessions. If your film is a documentary, post news about your doc's subject. (You can even get Yahoo News to email you the latest stories on your subject of choice.) It's a big world out there, and there's lots to talk about. A blog provides your fans with a reason to come back, so even if you just post once a week, post.

» Ask visitors to sign up for email updates. Both Yahoo Groups and Google Groups offer easy-to-run mailing lists where your visitors can subscribe to the latest news about your film. If you want more control over your e-mail newsletter, use a service like MailChimp for a more professional touch. Updates should be more selective than, say, your blog, but once or twice a month is fine if you have something to say. Be sure to announce upcoming screenings in your e-mails, and mention the existence of your blog. Every e-mail you send to the list should have a link to your web site.

» Take advantage of existing social networks. People spend hours each day on services like MySpace and Facebook; insert yourself there and take advantage of the tools they provide. A MySpace page isn't a substitute for a real web site, but you'd be foolish not to have a presence there at all. Ditto for Facebook. Sign up for a number of social networking sites -- as many as you can reasonably manage -- and duplicate your content across the services. Check out the sidebar on the web site for Four Eyed Monsters -- they have pages and profiles everywhere. Just make sure your profiles all link back to the mothership: your main web site.

» When you start receiving reviews, post complimentary quotes from those reviews on your site and link back to them. E-mail the author of the review mentioning your link and ask for a link back. You should be doing periodic Google searches for your film's title to find the latest mentions of your movie. Anywhere you find your film referenced, e-mail to make sure that an accompanying link is included.

» Your web site address or "URL" should end in .com. It should also be as simple and easy to remember as possible. In these days when every conceivable web address seems taken that can be a challenge, but do your best. Then spread the URL everywhere. It should be on all of your printed material and most especially in the signature of every email you send. Think about all the emails you send out in a day -- sometimes even your friends and family need to be reminded of your film's existence.

» Start a links section and link to your favorite films on the festival circuit. Link to your friends' films and projects, and ask them to link back. Yeah, a link exchange is pretty 1997, but you know what? It still works.

» Don't just set it and forget it -- a web site needs tending. Think of it as your end of an ongoing conversation with your audience. If you don't hold up your end of the conversation, the audience will get bored and move on.

» You don't have to do it all yourself. This all probably sounds like a lot of work, and you're not wrong. But you don't have to learn HTML or CSS or programming, and you don't have to write every word of content on the site. Recruit from within your crew or elsewhere in your personal network. Chances are your girlfriend's brother is just the nerd you need to get your film's web site up and running. You just have to ask.

This is part two of a revised series of articles originally written for South by Southwest 2008. The revisions add new and updated information and make the series more applicable to other festivals.

Read part three - before you leave home.

Missed part one of the filmmakers last-minute tips? It's right here.

(Disclosure - both Four Eyed Monsters and Blood Car, referenced in the screen captures above, are represented in some fashion by my employer, B-Side Entertainment.)

Last minute film festival prep tips part 1 - a few basics


I originally wrote this piece to help filmmakers prepare for South By Southwest last year. I've referred to it so often that I figured a quick overhaul of the series was worthwhile, both to update the information and to make it more applicable to all (or at least most) film festivals rather than just SXSW.

If you're a filmmaker looking to build a career in the industry, a large film festival is the closest thing to heaven you can find: a target-rich environment designed specifically for the development of new connections and the communal pleasure of watching great (and sometimes, admittedly, not-so-great) cinema. Even a small or medium-sized festival can be a great stepping stone in your career, provided you're prepared to make the most of it. Over the last couple of years of attending film festivals, I've had the good fortune to meet a lot of filmmakers. I've also been surprised at how few of them seem to arrive at the festival prepared to promote themselves and their films to the fullest extent. Even if you don't have a film in the festival itself, you owe it to yourself to be ready to make the most of any festival you attend.

Let's get started with a few basics:

• If you're without lodging this late in the game you're not completely screwed, but you're either going to have to pay out the nose for something last minute or throw yourself on the mercy of the locals. The ever-trusty Craigslist may be helpful here, but you're more likely to find a couch to crash on with a friend of a friend. Reach out to your friends and acquaintances -- chances are there's someone who knows somebody who used to date someone who lives in your destination town. If you're comfortable with the idea of crashing on a total stranger's couch, try Couchsurfing.com. If your film is in the festival, use that as a bargaining chip. People love to feel connected to the festival community, even if they're only "doing their part" in a tangential way.

» If you're a filmmaker in the festival, you should be all set in terms of admission. Check with the festival to see what your filmmaker status entitles you to; usually it's admission to all of the films, parties, and panels (if any), though it's not true for all of them. If you're a filmmaker attending the festival but without a film in the program, buy the highest level badge you can afford. Going on the cheap in this department will literally leave you out in the cold while the good stuff goes on inside. And unless you're really good and talking your way past the bouncers, the right badge will make your entire experience better.

» If you haven't printed any promotional materials yet, you have a choice -- pay a lot of money for full-color materials printed in a hurry, or go lo-fi. Personally I think filmmakers waste a lot of money printing up posters and such that don't do them a lot of good in the end. There are only two essential pieces of printed material you should have, and you should carry them with you always. Always.

#1 - business cards, and lots of 'em. About 500 to really do it right -- few things suck quite as much as the statement "I'd love to give you my card, but I ran out." Because of their simplicity and size, business cards are still the primary method of information exchange during film festivals and conventions. The object of any professional gathering is to establish new relationships, and in the (often alcohol-soaked) haze of a film festival the business card is your ticket to remembering and being remembered.

You can get these printed at Vistaprint for not a lot of money or you can print some yourself on a laser printer with those perforated sheets. Go for the VistaPrint route if you have time; it's less trouble and they'll look much better than the homebrew kind. Don't worry too much about what they look like, though -- just make sure they have your name, the name of your film, and your e-mail address. If you're the outgoing type, include the number of the cell phone you're using while at the fest. If that sketches you out too much you can hand-write your number for those people you feel you can trust.

Goliath Flyer at Sundance#2 - Screening flyers. When you introduce yourself as a filmmaker with a film in the festival, the very next question is usually "what's it about?" and hopefully followed by "when's it playing?" Your screening flyers should contain that information, though you should take the opportunity to answer the questions personally. Follow up the conversation by handing over a flyer with a smile and a question of your own: "Will you come see my film?" Personal commitments like these may be your best chance of filling your screening, so you should always ask. If they say yes, say "I'm looking forward to seeing you there!" If they say no or are non-commital, point to the flyer and ask them to hang onto it just in case they find their prior engagement has fallen through.

At the very least, your flyer should have your film's title, synopsis, and screening times and places, along with the URL for your web site. (More about your web site in the next post.) Include a strong still from the film, one that conveys a lot of emotion and that will reproduce well on a xerox machine. Keep it simple and to the point, and then have a bunch made at your local copy shop. Spring for some bright colored paper -- yellow, green, whatever works best for your film. If you're driving into town it's probably best to print 1000 or so and store them in your car rather than waste time making copies while you're in town. If you're flying, consider whether the time saved is worth the extra bulk and trouble of lugging flyers on the plane.

Since this is a last-minute prep guide I'll assume that it's too late to print four-color postcards or posters, but the same general principles apply. Posters can be attention-grabbing, but my feeling is that flyers and postcards posted or distributed at random on walls or in stacks rarely convince anyone to go to one movie over another. Rather the repeated reinforcement of the fact that the film exists is the goal, so that when a potential viewer encounters more concrete information about the film, they have some vague idea of a connection to something they saw earlier. That "oh yeah, I remember hearing about that" moment is an important psychological weapon -- people like to be in the know or at least have some familiarity with something (a film, a book, a musician) before they commit to the experience. The more you can prime that pump of the mind, the more people you'll see at your screenings.

There are usually plenty of opportunities for posting flyers around the festival venue and surrounding areas, but you should always do so with permission and without posting over others' flyers or posters. The tables and kiosks for flyers are obvious in most venues, but businesses in the surrounding area should be approached politely. Check in with the festival staff to find out whether it's even worth your time to post flyers around town, or if there aren't better places (the local college campus? other movie theaters around town?) to do so.

» Last but not least, have plenty of screeners on hand. Now is not the time to be over-protective of your intellectual property -- the way to get noticed is for as many people as possible to see your movie. That's not to say you should be giving out discs indiscriminately, but anyone in a reasonable position to give your film more exposure should be seriously considered to receive a screener if they ask.

Some larger festivals are crawling with scouts from other film festivals; since part of your business strategy should be to play as many festivals as possible, be ready to accommodate. Ditto for potential distributors and most especially the media. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of a person who asks for a screener, play dumb and tell them you just gave out the last screener you were carrying with you. Ask for their card and offer to send them a screener after the fest. If they turn out to be a shmoe looking for free movies, you can conveniently forget to do so, but be sure to check them out online in case that person is actually an important connection.

Read part 2: getting your web site up to snuff.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cinekink gears up for sixth annual kinky film festival, seeks tribute nominations

I've blogged about Cinekink before, but I so love the festival's name that I think I'll plug it one more time. A new press release came out yesterday promoting the upcoming festival at the end of February. Also included is a call for nominations for this year's Cinekink Tribute award, which recognizes the "extraordinary depiction of kink and sex-positivity in mainstream film and television" each year. Sound like a person or film you know? Get thee to Cinekink.com.

NEW YORK, NY; January 8, 2009 - Scheduled for February 24-March 1, 2009, the sixth annual CineKink NYC will feature a specially-curated program of films and videos that celebrate and explore a wide diversity of sexuality. In addition to screenings, plans for the festival also include a short film competition, audience choice awards, presentations, parties and a gala kick-off fundraiser, all to be followed by a national showcase tour.

Billing itself as "the really alternative film festival," the event is presented by CineKink, an organization dedicated to the recognition and encouragement of sex-positive and kink-friendly depictions in film and television. With offerings drawn from both Hollywood and beyond, works presented at CineKink NYC will range from documentary to drama, camp comedy to hot porn, slightly spicy to quite explicit--and everything in between. Directors featured since CineKink's inception have included both filmmaking up-and-comers and such notorious veterans as Annie Sprinkle, Radley Metzger and John Cameron Mitchell.

"It's been exciting to see sex-positive filmmaking really come into its own during the time we've been running the festival," said Lisa Vandever, Co-Founder and Director of CineKink. "When we first started, we definitely had to beat the bushes to find suitable works. Now we have the privilege of selecting from a slew of offerings to put together the best possible kinky showcase."

Read the full press release now.

Film Independent and Netflix Launch Indie Film Competition

Via SpoutBlog:

The Netflix FIND Your Voice Film Competition is meant to foster new indie filmmakers, and it’s not open to anyone who has created and publicly screened a film more than 70 minutes long. The prize package, worth $350,000 consists of a $150,000 cash grant from Netflix, a camera package donated by Panavision, 25,000 feet of Kodak Color Negative Film or 10,000 feet of Kodak Color Intermediate Film, along with prints, dailies, and a digitial intermediate package from Deluxe, and EFILM.

Read Film Independent and Netflix Launch Indie Film Competition on SpoutBlog.