“Keeping up with a blog can be a pain in the a**.” I hear this all the time from my clients who would like me to take over this job for them. I hear ya buddy. I have trouble keeping up with my own when I have an abundance of work to do for other people.  So, this is my attempt to get back to posting even though I am neck deep in promoting the LA Shorts Fest. It is a long post.

If you are a filmmaker taking part in this festival (or any film festival for that matter), you may be wondering what is the point of putting your film in a festival. It is an expense, especially if you are traveling to attend, and it doesn’t seem like you are getting much in return. If you have read my other posts, you will know that this expense should have been part of your marketing budget.

Some time ago, filmmakers used film festivals to build anticipation for a theatrical run or for a DVD release, collecting “Official Selection” accolades and “Winner” awards along the way. Film festivals served to elevate work worthy of special attention and, hopefully, attract sales agents’ and distributors’ interest. Making a sale moved the work from artistic expression into paying commercial dividends.

Today, that rarely happens to a festival film, especially a low budget one with no recognizable talent attached. With the closing of several high profile indie distribution companies and the scarcity of securing a lucrative deal with the remaining ones, film festivals often provide the only theatrical run a film might see. They serve as a platform release mechanism without the filmmaker making the investment of securing a theatrical screen for the minimum amount of time required by the cinema (often $1K-$4K per screening for a minimum one week run!).

The cost and time spent submitting the film, preparing and distributing promotional materials, duplication of prints in the required format and shipping them, travel and expenses add up. But does it equal or exceed the cost of only one screening in a local cineplex? How many people will be viewing your film if you ran it alone in a cinema rather than running it in tandem with similar films in a festival program? Plus you have the marketing might of the festival running print and radio advertising, garnering online and traditional media attention , gathering sponsors etc. to help attract the audiences. Granted, they are not focused only on your film, but you can get proactive and turn some of that spotlight on your project by contacting the media outlets yourself and offering interviews and publicity materials for them to use. That will only cost your time or the time of a consultant handling it for you.

Festivals also serve as a networking event, a chance to meet writers, directors, producers and actors useful for future collaboration and possibly industry executives involved in roundtable discussions or informal chats. Business cards are a must if you want to be taken seriously as a professional. Parties and receptions are not just a time to let loose and have fun. Work the room and meet as many people as you can. You never know who might come in handy in the future for projects.

Utilize the festival’s social media outlets as well as your own. I have been encouraging the filmmakers involved in LA Shorts to do this, but so far only a handful are taking advantage. Maybe it is because marketing is not on the forefront of their mind when it comes to their film. It should be. Actively seek out people in the communities where your film is screening. It will take a bit of online research on Facebook, Twitter etc. to find these people, but reach out to them and let them know about your film and when and where it is screening. Many online search tools are great for finding your target audience in a certain locale.

You must have a trailer or a clip to showcase. It is not a requirement, but a strong suggestion. I don’t care if your film is only two minutes long, have a 10 second clip that you can spread around the internet. If your film is two minutes long, do not load it in its entirety on the internet while you are on the festival circuit. What is the point of screening it in a festival if audiences can see it for free on the internet? Plus, nomination requirements for certain awards (like the Oscars) forbid you to make your entire film viewable on the internet.

While I am doing my best to pass along publicity opportunities to all of the participants, do not count on this happening at other festivals. They just don’t have the resources and energy to do this. Bigger festivals offer a press room journalists covering the event will stop into and pick up media kits prepared by the filmmaker. Don’t go crazy on the expenses of this activity. For the most part, these fancy folders go in the trash. Contacting local journalists and bloggers covering the festival directly will better attract their attention than your creatively designed press kit.

Be sure to include your film’s website address and contact information in all of your promotional materials. This is especially important if you are self distributing or attempting a hybrid distribution approach. Sales from your website are likely your only method of making money from your festival exposure. If the festival will let you sell physical DVD’s on site at your screenings, use the opportunity and bring plenty to sell. Ask the organizers if this is possible though, don’t just assume it. Perhaps you can offer special pricing to festival attendees or reduced pricing codes for buying off of your website.

Since filmmakers do not have a say on when their screenings will occur during the festival, a midday screening on a weekday will need more  of your promotional effort attention than a screening at night, or on opening night. Think of what incentives you can offer to audiences who attend your screenings. When devising your budget from the start, factor in this expense. It will inevitably happen.

If you are asked to participate in Q&A opportunities, panel or roundtable discussions or to introduce a film block, do it. Exposure for yourself as well as your film will help solidify your position in the filmmaking community and sharpen your public speaking skills (always useful for pitches!).

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