“I’m Jennica, a filmmaker in Los Angeles. My husband and I are coming to your town with my film- which is showing at your film festival! I’m honored to come and am open to any suggestions of some great places to eat or must-see places to visit. I’ll be there opening night in the “Gordon Family Tree” shirt with red hair and a HUGE pregnant belly. Don’t be a stranger, I’d love to meet you in person. Hopefully you can make it to my screening Saturday at 2:30PM in the main theater. It’s right after the Distribution panel. I hope you can add it to your schedule, I’ll be there with some cast & crew for a big Qn&A. What other films are you adding to your list?”
It is your responsibility to fill your screening. It is not the film festival’s job. It is not the programmer’s job to give you a fabulous spot. It is not your cast’s job to even show up. It is your job to fill your screening, get people interested, and make it an event people don’t want to miss.
You may disagree, but I take a hands-on approach to my career seriously. The only reason some folks go to film fests is the possibility of an award. I go for much more than that- but let’s say that is the point. I don’t know the Jury and their tastes personally, but I DO know the audience will enjoy my film. Why? Because I have pride in my work and a full house makes for a great way to see a film on a big screen. The one award I can have any control over is the AUDIENCE CHOICE award. This award is made up of an algorithm that takes into account how much your audience likes your film based on a vote/rating system on paper at the end of your film taking into account the size of the audience and type of film. So, packing the house, giving them a good time, and making sure they know to vote is in your very best interest.
Advertise your screening. Why do you have a Facebook page, twitter account, Instagram hashtag, and blog? So you can share your life with folks. Make sure they know you need their help. Make an easy to share (square or postcard) graphic advertisement that concisely shares your film’s screening with info on how others can be there too. Don’t be shy, but be smart. Share this close to the screening, but with enough time for folks to make arrangements to come- just like any other type of party.
Does this film fest have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, …? Share this ad with them, they want to advertise for you too. Does this fest use film festival genius or some type of signature app? Sign up, use it, and share it with other filmmakers.
Ask your cast & crew to attend. Ask them to invite friends and family if it’s close enough to be reasonable. Do you have any friends or family in the area? This is important. You want your biggest fans in the audience if possible. You want their vote. You do. Put aside your pride and just ask for it. That way they know there is something at stake- they need to be there.
Has this film fest released its program? Google, Facebook, and Twitter each and every single one of these filmmakers and films. CONGRATULATE them first and then ask if they are attending the fest. Introduce yourself and personally invite them to your fest. Make sure to give yourself a physical description so you are noticeable across the room. A lot of folks attend a fest solo and need to see a familiar face otherwise they will park themselves on their phone in a comfy chair until the next film starts. If you are wearing your “Lost on Purpose” film shirt with your brother (shout out Nelms Bros) every day of the fest (especially the screening day) then it’ll be super easy for ANYONE to come up to you and start a conversation or ask you about your film. People WANT to meet people, that’s why they are there. Make it easier on everyone and let them come to you! I cannot express how important this is and how incredibly successful we have found this to be over the years. Make a T-Shirt and wear an undershirt to rotate out everyday.
If you’ve ever done a successful fundraising campaign, you know that it’s important to personally contact every single person. Facebook announcements and form emails literally mean nothing to most people. You must actually individually contact people in order for them to feel invited, welcome, and responsible for an answer and saying no is hard to do. People will make excuses but folks who are actually coming to festivals are already there and are literally just prioritizing their film schedule the first day- if you’ve missed them before day 1, they may not be available anymore.
It seems like a lot of work, but I have personally done this so I can guarantee that you can do it. Go to the film fest website & find a list of their sponsors. Go to Facebook and type in “Northwoods resort Big Bear Lake” and write them a message. Explain who you are, thank them for being a sponsor, and actually invite the person in charge to your screening. Ya know what feels good? Feeling important. You know who will come to your screening? People who want to have a good time, feel important to you, and know how to support you. Continue down the line of sponsors (even call and ask for the person who is in charge of the sponsorship/marketing department) and tell each of them you’ll have a photographer there for the ‘event.’ Yes, it’s an event. Even if it’s your 8th festival, treat everyone like they are a part of your world premiere. Yes, bring your step and repeat, your pop-up banner, & your one sheet/easel to every festival. Hand out candy canes before your Christmas movie or give out DVDs of your last 2 films to the first 10 people to arrive or give out free candy all day before your screening to everyone you see at the fest. Ask your friend that does photography to take photos before and after the screening and during the Q&A so you have something to post online later and send to the film fest to further your relationship with them over time.
After Sponsors & other Filmmakers, focus on community members like the Mayor, a local drama teacher, theater director, art gallery owner, bar owners, coffee shop owners, college clubs, church groups, rotary club, parks & rec office, women’s groups, –anyone who may hang up an advertisement for your film, arrange a group to come to the film together, or places community oriented people or retired folks hang out. These are people who respond to messages and go out and support groups. Does the local theater have a sponsor list on their page? Does it have a list of names and organizations that support the arts? Does the film fest have a list of last year’s winners or photos from last year with people tagged in the photos? Does your film have a niche? If it’s about an animal shelter, I bet there are a dozen local organizations and businesses that may want to come out and support the film. Does your film have a police officer character? I bet the local force would want to know about it and may be interested. Be smart. Think about who ‘could’ come and find a way to personally message them and invite them to your film. You’d be surprised how well it works.
This is especially important if you cannot personally attend the fest and pack the house. A dear friend of mine, the Festival Director of a small destination town, privately shared with me that, “From a programming standpoint, anytime I saw on social media that filmmakers tour with their work it was always enticing to me. We obviously want filmmakers present at our festival, so when we saw that there’s a probability that they would attend and bring people with them, it would always separate them from contenders that might not physically join.” This is one of the tipping points that can separate you from the rest. Being there and filling seats may be the thing that breaks a tie between you and another film. This may the thing that gets you invited back year after year even if they don’t have room in their program for your film ‘at first.’ This may be the thing that gets you talked about between festivals- ya ever wonder where big fests get their spotlight films? Other festivals.
Dan Robinson, Festival Director of Fayetteville Film Festival in Arkansas, shared that going the extra mile translates to a better film festival for everyone, “We notice a huge difference between filmmakers who promote their screenings and those who “just show up”. When filmmakers have engaged the community it brings a real energy and connection to the screening and to the festival. Sending advance promo materials and contact info allows us to create buzz within the community and get the filmmakers in contact with local press. When we see filmmakers taking the opportunity to really connect with an audience it not only impacts our perception of the filmmaker, but also creates an intimate and unique vibe to the whole festival.”
Still need to be convinced why you should do all of this? Because you love the film you made. You want a good reputation. You want photos of a packed house. You want to make a splash in the community for proof that you are a fiscally safe bet to invite to the fest in the future. You want to grow a fan base on a grassroots level that will translate to a HUGE fan base over years and years of dedicated outreach. Because it only takes a few hours for a few days to do it all and it sets you apart from the rest. Because you have a film that needs to be seen and this is how it happens. Because you want another 50 people to tell when the film is released that may buy the film or tell a friend. Because you are a filmmaker that can only control so much in your career and THIS you can do. Because Audience Choice is never left to chance. Because going home with an award feels so, so good. Because the applause sounds so much better in a packed house. Because you’re worth it.