From targeting the best festival for a premiere to connecting with rising talents, Wendy Mitchell asks the experts how new producers can make the most of festivals
Film festivals can be a new producer’s most important launch pad. But the many thousands of festivals around the world can also be a minefield of missed opportunities.
Producers have to remember that after the meticulous work in making their film, the planning is not over once the picture is locked. Then it is time to figure out a festival strategy that will include targeting a festival for a world premiere, deciding on follow-up festivals, and having a different plan of approach for each event that selects the film.
“Do your research about which festivals make the most sense for your film. There’s no sense submitting to all festivals but rather to targeted ones,” says Sundance director of programming Trevor Groth, speaking on behalf of the Sundance programming team.
Roger Garcia, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, says: “If festivals are a primary objective, then even in pre-production, sketch out a timetable of target festivals and see what fits with the delivery date of your film.”
For some examples, a genre film might better tap into audiences at a fantastic festival; a first-time director could benefit from a festival that has competitions for newcomers; the prestige of one of the world’s best film festivals might appeal, or getting more attention at a smaller event might make more sense. Garcia adds: “There is always the risk that your film will be lost in the avalanche so, based on the size of the festival and its position in the international pecking order, calculate whether it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond, or a small fish in a shark-infested ocean.”
Karel Och, artistic director of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, agrees that size does matter. “Any festival that’s not Cannes, Berlin or Venice appreciates when a producer is able to figure out the potential of the film and decides to be more visible in a medium-sized event than to be a little lost among tens of world premieres in a sidebar programme of the big festival.”
Once you are in, Wayne Borg of Abu Dhabi Film Festival says that pre-festival preparation needs to be strategic.
“If your film is selected for competition, work with the PR person with experience of the relevant festival and knowledge of your film. Plan a strategy for the event around your screenings and be clear what outcome you are looking for.”
Mickael Marin, head of Annecy’s MIFA market, agrees that strategic planning is the key to festival success: “The universal rule is to define properly one’s aims and to establish a list of professionals to meet.”
It seems obvious, but also remember your friends who got you there in the first place. Clare Stewart, director of the BFI London Film Festival, says: “Make contact with the programmer who is responsible for the selection of your film. Since they have already championed it, you can expect them to continue to do so and they will have a good working knowledge of what different buyers are looking for, or which media reps are likely to be receptive to your film and can steer you accordingly.”
Given the scale of the top festivals, a for-hire publicist can work the film so it is not lost in the shuffle. Remember the festival’s in-house press office can also be an asset.
Groth notes: “Utilise your film office and press office co-ordinators; their job is to help, and they have loads of valuable information.”
Frédéric Boyer, who programmes both the Tribeca and Les Arcs festivals, notes that a film’s festival requirements will change as the title continues its journey. “If a film is world premiering, the producer will probably look for sales and distribution. Their film will get their first press reviews and contact with an international audience. Producers should stay close to the film-makers, claiming their involvement in the creative process.” But if a film is playing, say, its 14th festival, producers can concentrate on “the different responses from different audiences”.
Julie Bergeron, manager of industry programmes at Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film, adds that something like its Producers Network puts the emphasis on networking during its famed breakfast meetings. “It is a great platform to meet fellow producers from all over the world and to connect with key industry professionals. To fully benefit from it, I would say the producers need to be open and not focused only on their projects.”
When it comes to a festival like Berlin or Cannes or many others that combine festivals and markets, remember both halves of the equation.
Marin says: “The strength of Annecy is having a festival and market with professionals during the same week, so it’s an extraordinary opportunity for producers to meet new talents and know about their projects. I see, too often, producers forgetting about the festival dimension or not knowing how to meet talents.”
Another consideration at international festivals is not to cling to the same people you see every week. Nadia Destri, industry head at Locarno, says: “Often producers only stick with people of their own country, because they feel more comfortable. This way they lose an important chance to network.”
Those informal networks can form bonds that last for decades beyond a single film. Cameron Bailey, artistic director of Toronto International Film Festival, says: “One of the best things you can do at a film festival is build your community. Find like-minded people, win their trust and learn from them. Undoubtedly, you’ll need them later on.”
Sundance’s Groth urges producers to remember the golden rule: “Be kind to everyone. Festivals are a great resource to build a network of collaborators and supporters… but only if you are nice.”
FESTIVAL TIPS FOR NEW PRODUCERS
“Choose three to five people you want to meet — not necessarily famous people but fellow travellers, future collaborators. Invite those people to low-stakes meetings. Give as much as you ask.”
Cameron Bailey Toronto International Film Festival
“Make contacts with other film-makers and producers, and watch other movies. Listen as much as you talk. Don’t complain if you’re not flying business class.”
Frédéric Boyer Tribeca Film Festival and Les Arcs European Film Festival
“The first challenge for a producer, although it sounds obvious, is to understand what kind of film he has in his hands. Is it a festival film at all? What kind of festival film is it? From there, he can plan the best strategy with the help of his sales agent, or if not, plan to attract one.”
Julie Bergeron Cannes Producers Network
“It is good to be prepared with publicity materials and screeners to pass on to other festival programmers or potential buyers.”
Roger Garcia Hong Kong International Film Festival Society
“If your film is one of the great unsold, rock up with a good understanding of which buyers are in attendance and ensure you use every opportunity — but not to the point of stalking! — to meet them; whether that be in a formal or networking environment.”
Clare Stewart BFI London Film Festival
“The producers should definitely be interested, together with film-makers, in the quality of the screening, meaning they should request a few minutes test screening and sound check.”
Karel Och Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
“Go to all your screenings intros and Q&As — tap into the audiences. Capture these on video for potential promotional material.”
Trevor Groth Sundance