Attending film festivals can be an awesome experience–seeing great new films on the big screen, walking the red carpet, and feeling the energy in the air can be inspirational to new and experienced filmmakers alike. But festivals serve another very important function for anyone in the industry–the networking opportunities at film festivals can make or break a career. In the fast-paced world of Hollywood, you never know who can help your career in the future. That fresh, new director you met at a small festival–she could turn out to be the next Scorsese, or the guy you were shooting the breeze with in the lobby could be the buyer for an international distributor or the casting director for one of the major studios. Film festivals may be the one opportunity you have to connect with the person that will give you your big break in the film industry.
So why don’t we hear more success stories about people getting their big break after meeting a big Hollywood player at a festival? Simple–most people come across as bumbling idiots! The vast majority of filmmakers and actors never take the time to prepare what they’ll say or how they’ll act when they do meet someone. They make such a bad impression (or no impression at all) that the people they meet have already decided within seconds that they’ll never work with them.
95% of people attending these festivals have lost the game before they even started playing because they never took the time to research and prepare–who will be there? Who do I want to try to meet? What will I say? How will I follow up?
It’s important to not only have great networking skills in order to make those connections, but to also have the ability to present yourself in the most professional way possible, without coming across as pushy or needy.
We surveyed some filmmakers and actors that have been successful in getting some good connections through film festivals. Here are some of their tips to help you in your own networking.
1. Don’t be timid
You won’t meet very many people by being a wallflower. Stephen Tako has been the host of the Los Angeles Movie Awards, NYLA International Film Festival, Los Angeles Cinema Festival of Hollywood, and LA Reel Film Festival. “The biggest mistake I’ve seen as a host is when a film is represented by only one person who is too timid to walk up to other film makers to network.” If you’re naturally a shy person, bring one of your more outgoing friends along with you to help encourage you to break the ice.
2. Have business cards
This sounds obvious, but many filmmakers miss out on opportunities by not having these on hand. Even something with your basic contact information and your occupation in the industry is better than having nothing. Chicago cinematographer Ryan Atkins recommends limiting yourself to no more than three positions that you are skilled at or passionate for listed on a business card. “I see a lot of ‘Writer/Director/Producer/Cinematographer/Editor/Actor’ positions. Seriously? Most people will question your ability to be awesome at each one, AND you only have so much time to explain what you do.”
3. Craft your elevator pitch
Be prepared to introduce yourself to anyone at any time. Remember that people are looking to network, so they will want to know your connection to the festival and the overall industry. If you can’t give a ten second pitch about your film or your skills, it’s not likely people will remember you afterwords, let alone be confident enough to hire you for a future filmmaking gig.
4. Talk about someone else’s film
Stroking someone’s ego is always a good way to break the ice. Stephen Tako thinks that the best way to network is to approach another filmmaker and talk to them about their film. “It’s been documented that people love the sound of their own name, so it makes sense that if you want someone’s attention, stroke their ego. Talk about their film to get them interested in you.” Just remember that nobody wants their time monopolized, so it’s best to make a good impression and then follow up with them after the festival has ended.
5. Have some good stories (but keep them professional)
“Be prepared to share stories from projects you’ve done,” says Ryan Atkins. “Those asking may just be curious or they’re deciding if they want to work with you and/or offer you a paying gig at some point.”
The caveat to this is that the stories should be as professional as possible. “Everyone has stories of films they’ve made in their backyard, garage, or whatever. These are fine, but it’s not professional. Everyone loves a good laugh, but keep your shared experiences as professional as possible. If you have no professional experience, share any stories you have, but sift through all the ways those experiences can be used in a professional setting.”
6. Have multiple ways to show your film
Remember, having connections and being personable is always recommended, but the most important selling point will be getting your work in front of the right people. These days, it is commonplace to consume media in a variety of ways, so you should be prepared to showcase your work accordingly.
Filmmaker magazine Editor-in-Chief Scott Macaulay wrote a great article about networking at Cannes Film Festival. In it, he recommends having business cards with a password protected link to your film on Vimeo or Youtube, along with DVD and Blu-Ray screeners with you. It’s nearly impossible to see every film at most festivals, so don’t assume that people will flock to your screening.
His other recommendation? Carry an iPad. Macaulay met a filmmaker that was very successful showing his film on the spot via an iPad and a pair of over-ear headphones. This strategy may work better for shorter films, but even having your film trailer readily available on an iPad could generate enough interest that someone may want to see more of your work.
7. Participate in the Q&A’s
Many film festivals give you a chance to attend film panels and Q&A sessions with directors, producers, and executives you may not get to speak with otherwise. Use this as a chance to ask intelligent questions. Remember, people will want to connect with others that show a real interest in their work. Observing panels and asking questions not only shows that you are interested in someone’s work, but it also gives you an opportunity to follow up with them in the future to continue the discussion.
Have some festival networking tips of your own? Let us know in the comments what has worked in the past for you.
A version of this article first appeared on The 48 Hour Film Project