Film Festivals: A Guide to Success for Actors, Directors and Writers

Film Festivals. Their mere mention excites some filmmakers and terrifies others. Why? Because it’s all about networking and let’s face it, in that field some people are superstars. The rest , well they sit in a corner and watch less qualified individuals get their jobs because they didn’t have the balls to stand up and walk across the room. If you fall into this second group the festival circuit can be a real hell. So how can you not only survive the chaos but actually enjoy it?

Follow this foul proof guide and the next time someone says “film festival,” you might just smile. Just remember this, it’s all about the tagline. Dependent upon your occupation or focus, film festivals and your approach to “working them” are somewhat different.

Actors usually have the least amount of trouble networking. It’s usually fairly easy to hand someone a photo business card and say “I’m an actor.” In fact, you probably wouldn’t even have to say a word. The photo with the union affiliations and agent or manager’s number basically gives that little secret away. But if that is all you do will they remember you? The answer is no. Actors are a dime a dozen. Everyone wants to act. Because of this networking is harder than it should be. But don’t despair, you just have to know the tricks.

Slogans and taglines are a part of our everyday lives. They are all around us; on billboards, in radio jingles and especially embedded in television commercials. As an actor you should love commercials for two reasons: number one, they pay well, number two, they should be your inspiration for self-promotion. Like it or not, you as an actor are a product. You must sell yourself to others. The most effective advertising is television commercials and the best of those have catchy slogans and taglines. So doesn’t it make sense that you should have one too? Now I’m not saying you have to go around serenading people in song and dance to be known. That’s not it at all. The tagline will be your calling card, the thing that will make people remember you.

Your slogan or tagline is about one sentence (two max.) that describes you in regards to your physical appearance, character attributes and general personality. It can also include a special skill you have that you are either remarkable at or that is quite unusual. Now saying you’re “5’10”, 230 pounds, funny but also a good bad guy” isn’t only boring, it’s insulting. Anyone you’re talking to in person can see how tall you are and how much you weigh. Something like “John Smith, a cross between a juggling John Candy and a blond Al Pacino” is much more memorable. Not only have you stated your name but revealed a special talent, juggling, and a range of characters that you often (or hope to be) called in for. Now that you have your secret weapon the rest is easy.

Everywhere you go during the festival; at theaters, parties, panel discussions and so forth, introduce yourself with your tagline. It’s a great conversation starter and those you’re talking to will not only take you more seriously because of it, they will remember you.

Checklist of marketing items to hand out at the festival:

Photo Business Cards with name, union affiliation, contact number and website (if you have one), and tagline (if under 20 words)

Photo Postcards – for after you meet someone at the festival and get their information – when you get back to the hotel or when you get home send them one of these with a short message on the back along the lines of “It was a pleasure meeting you. Hope to speak with you again soon.”

Headshots and Resumes – you never know when you might need them

Demo DVDs

Directors, you’re either promoting a film you directed or looking for a new project to direct. If you goal is the former you’re really acting as a salesman during your trip. Hopefully your film already has a killer logline. If it doesn’t, read the writer’s section about loglines. Either way, the logline is your glorious “golden ticket.” Everyone you meet will be forced to hear your “elevator pitch” or at least you make them. And how do you do that, you ask? Make them interested instantly. Instead of the typical handshake and my name isâÂ?¦ mumbo jumbo you greet every person that will look you in the eyes with your personal directing tagline. If you haven’t read the actor’s section do so now so you know what I’m talking about.

Once you’ve got their attention based upon your tagline you can give them your elevator pitch and they’ll listen. The director’s tagline should be about your personal style. What separates you from the other thousands of people hoping to hit it big? Are you a former art director? Production designer? Do you have a particular talent for working with children? An affinity for dialogue heavy work? These specifics belong in your tagline. For example: Robert Brown, a French New Wave director with a talent for dissecting hard hitting dramas and perfecting actors’ dialects. From this we know Robert’s style, that he is good at deep character-oriented dramas and has dialect training so he could potentially double as a dialect coach or work on foreign productions.

Remember, you use this on everyone you meet. After you write your tagline test it on a few people. Ask them what they found most interesting and what got their attention. Use this information to determine what does and doesn’t work, then rewrite until it’s perfect. You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Be prepared.

Checklist of marketing items to hand out at the festival:

Business cards with tagline on them
Demo DVDs

Writers are most often the sad people in the corner jealous of the actors in the middle of the room boasting their confidence simply because it’s their job. Writers, although technically “above-the-line talent,” are treated like second class citizens. They are hidden in some small empty room housed at the bottom of the food chain. And that’s fine, if you’re Charlie Kaufman. But I’m guessing you’re not there yet. So, you have to get out of the corner and make your presence known. A lot easier said than done, right? How do you approach a stranger and just start pitching? You’d feel like a complete idiot, huh? Well if you did that to me I’d look at you like you had just escaped from a mental institution and you what? I’d have every right to. How dare you just walk up to me and begin blabbing about your “next big hit”. What do I care? That’s exactly how most industry people will think. They don’t have time to listen to everyone’s “amazing idea,” so they just get to a point of not caring.

So the question then is really, how do you get them to care? Make them like you. That doesn’t mean go out and buy a dozen roses and a bottle of Bacardi to kiss ass. Instead, make them ask you questions like what are you working on? You do this with the first handshake. Introduce yourself with your personal writing tagline. If you haven’t read the previous sections do so now to catch up with what I’m talking about. Your tagline should reflect what you like to write, are good at and anything special you can bring to the table that distinguishes you from other writers. For example: Penelope Smith, a nearly autistic comedic writer with the quirkiness of the Coen Brothers and spunk of “Will and Grace.”

Checklist of marketing items to hand out at the festival:

Business cards with tagline on them
Writing Samples – in case someone asks
Killer Loglines

Navigating your way through the chaos that film festivals inherently are doesn’t have to be a headache, it can be a wonderful experience. You just have to know how to get people to listen and more importantly, how to get them to remember you. Good luck with all of your ventures.

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