Attending Film Festivals As A Distributor
During this series of articles, Attending Film Festivals, I’m going to be talking about my festival experiences from all the various angles, because I am one of the few, and dear I say lucky ones, that have attended festivals in almost every facet; as a reviewer, filmmaker, distributor, and of course a fan.
In today’s article, we’ll be dealing with what attending film festivals as a distributor is like, and the lessons learnt here can also be passed over to filmmakers who are looking to approach distributors at festivals, but I’ll go into more depth with regards to that in a later article. So sit back, enjoy, and hopefully learn a thing or two.
Location, Location, Location, Said The Real Estate Agent
Like when buying a home, picking the location for your accommodation during the film festival or market is important for so many reasons, most of which you might think are easily defined. Though having gone through the experience myself, there are many other reasons why putting a decent amount of thought into this is important, and some of them aren’t so evidently clear.
Think about your budget, as staying literally at the event accommodation, or near by, will most likely cost a lot of money. Make sure you check out any hotel deals the festival might already have in place for people attending, as these can often bring in discounts ranging from 10-50% off the normal price, which can come in very handy, if you can get in early enough to take advantage of them that is.
Staying as close to the event as you can afford really is key, even if that means you have shared accommodation with another company, or companies, that are attending the event. Sometimes you can pick up great accommodation close to the event, and at a great price, because you’re able to squeeze in 6-8 people, and all splitting the bill. So keep an eye, and ear out, for anyone else attending that could help share some of those costs.
Now, why is it so important to be as close to the event as you can get, other than the simple fact that you’re close? Well, here’s a quick run down of the various reasons why it’s so important.
Weather, Hallowed Be Thy Name
The film festival or market you’re attending could be any various climate, from the sun soaked shores of Cannes in the summer, to the snow covered streets of Sundance during winter, and even then the weather could vary from day to day. So not only should you be prepared for all types of weather with the clothes you bring, being close by means it’s an easy trip back to your accommodation if you need to pick up an umbrella, drop off a jacket, or even change out of wet clothes.
Also seeing as you’ll often be on the go from early morning to late night, being able to head back and change into nightwear from daywear is very important. And for the love of god, dress for comfort, and with layers, as you’ll be on your feet most of the time, and if the weather decides to be extremely hot, extremely cold, or randomly changing between to the two, you’ll be glad for the practical clothing choices, and the fact you only stay down the road, increases your clothing options if needed to be changed.
Lose Yourself In The Sweet Embrace Of Sleep
The next reason why staying close by is good, is that sleep is a precious commodity during these events, and getting as much as you can will help you survive till the end. Being able to sneak back into your hotel in the early hours after a brief walk, or sleep in an extra hour, as you don’t have far to go in the morning, really is a luxury.
If you have to add an extra 30 minutes of travel every day and each way, quickly adds up to a lot of lost sleep, either side of the day. Not to mention the extra costs involved in having to rent a car, grab a taxi, or use whatever local transport is available. Often times that extra cost is better spent on being closer to the venues.
There will be lots of late night functions to attend, dinner meetings, and other such things, and getting home around midnight each night is just something you have to accept. Not to mention the breakfast meetings that might be arranged, that you’ll most likely need to be well rested for. So once again, staying close will be of such huge benefit when it comes to your physical and mental well being during your 16-18 hour days on the ground.
Have A Break, Have A Kit-Kat
Food, drink, and taking breaks, is a trio of vital factors during your film festival and market experience, and once again living close by can help here. Be it heading home to eat a healthy meal you’ve prepared earlier in your rooms kitchen, grabbing a refreshing drink in the hotel lobby while you use the free Wi-Fi, or maybe even sneaking in a little mid day 30 minute nap to both help recover form the overly late night previous, or recharging your energy reserves for the coming late one.
In general though, even if you aren’t near by the event, food, drink, and breaks, are important, and need to have time allocated for them. Meetings can easily be arranged during breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so you can kill two birds with one nourishing stone, but the breaks on the other had need to be just that. Because they are called breaks for various reasons, one, it’s a time to ‘break’ away from what you’re doing, and two, if you don’t do them you may just break yourself.
Staying near by also means you’ll become accustomed to your hotel, or surrounding areas, restaurants, bars, and rest areas. This can all help with arranging meetings, that people can easily find, or helping you make quick decisions when it comes to food, drink, and breaks, as you know what is on offer around the place.
Keep Your Eyes Open, And Your Wallet Closed
Now that you’ve sussed the practical elements, it’s now time to look at ways to handle being on the floor, where you’ll possibly have hundreds, if not thousands, of films to look at, and almost as many people to talk to about said films. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by it all, and hopefully you’ve done your homework before going and you know exactly what type of product you are looking to acquire for your distribution company. If not, I pity the fool!
Posters are key for filmmakers looking to promote their product, as often it’s one of the first things people see when exposed to your film. So as a distributor, it’s also one of the main things you notice as you walk the floors of any film market, or browse past the walls filled with posters advertising the films screening at the festival. If the poster grabs your attention, than most likely that’s your first port of call for whom you want to talk to.
Like any good consumer knows in this capitalist world, you never want to buy the first thing you see, as there is a whole world of other options out there. The same goes for the distribution game. It’s very easy to get caught up in the cool poster, and fancy sales pitch from the agent or filmmaker, and before you know it, you’re doing deals for a good product, that you’ll instantly regret during your very next meeting when you see something even better.
Do the rounds, talk to as many people as possible, and maybe do some pencil booked deals if needed, but try to get an overall view of what is on offer before opening up that wallet and passing over your distribution companies hard earned cash. There is always exceptions to the rule though, and if something glorious is put in front of you, and your instincts cry out that you’ve found a winner, grab it.
Look At That Subtle Off-White Colouring
With the hundreds of people you’re going to meet, from the dozens of arranged meetings, to the impromptu ones during late night functions, and even the ones in the line to buy a sandwich, means business cards are hugely important. I’m not just talking about their visual look either, as often just having enough of them, and on your person at all times, is the key.
When you finally head home, and you splay out the hundreds of cards you were given, with hopefully a few little notes in the margins to jog your memory, will end up becoming your lifeline for all the films you saw and deals that were discussed. Often, you might only finalise a few deals during the event, and the rest of it will be done after the fact, when the dust has settled.
On the business card front, socialising is a big part of the game, and works well for various reasons. One, you can do great deals during these networking events, or when socialising at bars and restaurants, but secondly, this is how you build long-term business relationships, especially in the distribution game. If you do a deal with a sales agent this year, most likely you’ll do similar deals every year with the same person. So hold onto these business cards, and keep up that socializing when you work the floor.
So there you go, a quick guide to attending film festivals as a distributor, and I hope I’ve imparted some knowledge and tips that you’ll find handy the next time you’re attending. Good luck, happy watching, happy talking, happy wheeling and dealing, and never forget, watching a lot of films and having endless meetings is as much a physical challenge as it is a mental one, so prepare for it.