You Made a Film—Now What? – Part 2 – Preparing for a Festival

Developmentally Edited by Alexandra Hidalgo
Copy Edited and Posted by Megan Elias

This is part of a two-part series by Patricia Pawlak.  Check out Part 1 for more filmmaking advice.

In Part 1, we broke down how essential it is to have a plan when picking which film festivals to apply to, consideration being given to costs of attending, locations, and your goals.

Let’s go over some points from Part 1. When Picking Film Festivals, you want to:

  1. Ask yourself why you are entering each film festival. Is it to promote your film? To get a job? To promote yourself? To see the world?
  2. Do you have a budget for PR and travel? 
  3. Have you prepared a strategy if your film is accepted?

Now, since you have been officially accepted, you will have to start creating a plan, building a strategy, organizing your team (Just like in preproduction for your film).

The grand entrance at Cannes Film Festival


First, once you have been formally accepted, ask the film festival when you can make your announcement (make friends with these people.) Most festivals will want you to wait to make any announcement until they officially make theirs. Festivals now, in order to satisfy the jaws of social media, gradually roll out announcements. This time frame will give you the opportunity to formulate your game plan when attending the festival. Take advantage of it. Start preparing your announcement for emails and for social media when you are given the green light. Carefully plan your attack with your team on social media.

When you do receive confirmation of acceptance, write a list of questions to ask the festivals.

  1. Do they provide any travel assistance, benefits such as hotel accommodations and airfare, will they pick you up at the airport if you fly in? (larger festivals do). Let them know you are eager to attend and to fill up those seats at your screenings, which means more money for them.
  2. Is there a Press Office?
  3. What are the exact dates, times, and venues for your screening?
  4. Will you have a Q&A?
  5. Can you hang posters?
  6. Can you host a cocktail party or event (if your budget allows it)?

Once you have answers to these questions you can gather your team and prepare your plan. Try to bring anyone you can to help you promote your film.

You should formulate a plan with a “To Do” list with the following time frame:

  1. Two Months
  2. One Month
  3. Two weeks
  4. Leaving
  5. Arriving 
  6. While there.

Cannes looks even more stunning after the sun sets

One/Two Months Before Leaving

Prepare PR materials. Here are some examples of materials you can develop:

Posters. Hang them wherever you can

Flyers. Flyers are a valuable press tool. Make sure your design reflects your film and has a synopsis of it in a clear and inviting way. Most importantly, make sure you have all your contact information on all your press materials. I have received flyers under my doors at festivals with no names or contacts anywhere to help me find the filmmakers. Be available, put your cell number down, even your hotel down. Do not put down your manager without giving them your direct contact numbers. You are not a rock star yet.

Postcards. Postcards are essential tools. They are small enough to fit in a pocket, they can be mailed and I still believe that mailing a visual on your film is essential to stand out. Why? If you are looking for distribution, mail a postcard with the times and dates of your film to all acquisition people. If you go to the Independent FIlm and Television Alliance website and look under Membership, you will find a directory of all IFTA members (formerly AFMA). No matter where that postcard lands, it is a visual reminder of your film. You can save some money by ordering a large amount to be printed. Then you can order an individual stamp for the back of the postcard with the screening times for each festival that you attend. Mail them and also hand them to everyone, perhaps with a little gift like a pen.

Giveaways. Everyone at all festivals seems to love giveaways. If you can, budget for several kinds of gifts that brand your film. Have different gifts for the festival coordinators (I have found that a box of See’s Candies or a tee-shirt will make any programmer happy), ones that will entice people to come to your screening, and ones for people who attend.

Behind the camera at the red carpet


Make sure your branded giveaways for your film are Local Environmental. What is that? Ideally, you want a gift that festival goers can use and wear and be seen, like a tee-shirt, a hat, a pen. You wouldn’t hand out ear muffs in Cannes but maybe at Berlin.

What would you give away in Palm Springs? Well, are you going to the Palm Spring Festival in January or the Short Film Festival in summer when it is 110+ degrees? In summer, maybe chocolates would not be such a good idea but a sun visor would.

Party/Cocktail. If you have a budget, it’s a great idea to have a party, cocktail or event so you can invite the people you want to meet. Make sure if you do have a party, the time is not conflicting with a big party, say by HBO. You would do this by contacting the Festival’s PR team.

Next, consider a budget for your party or event and who you would want to invite, e.g., distributors and producers. One thing is for certain, a smaller budget does not hamper your ability to throw a fabulous event, as sometimes a big budget inhibits creativity. I have been to large parties in Cannes with $500,000 budgets where they were empty with just a few chips at tables…and to parties where the budget was $2,000 and really enjoyable.

You first need to do some research on available spaces. With the internet, that is not so difficult now. Call up people that have been to that festival and get some opinions on their favorite events. If the festival is in your area, you might be aware of some places. Find a unique space to surprise your guests so they are curious and want to attend. Make sure it is easy to get to and not out of the way. Some ideas, is there a pizza place that closes early that you can rent for the evening? Tell the owners that you can promote their pizza place and you’ll likely get a reduced rate and a spot to promote your film. What about a frozen yogurt or ice cream parlor? A foreign country might have even more possibilities. I once went to a favorite restaurant in Cannes called Tropical Jungle and rented it for the evening. It was actually a Mongolian Barbeque that had huge barrels of sangría on the walls where you could help yourself. There is no driving really in Cannes, so people walk and tend to drink. I actually hired a karaoke DJ in France for that party. No one was singing so I looked at his book. Dah! He only had French songs! I had an international client base there, most of whom did not speak French. But I did find one English song from Rocky Horror Picture Show, so I got my French assistant and her friends to stand on the tables and we belted out “Let’s Do The Time Warp,”  which broke the ice and got everyone to try the French songs.

The Cannes skyline. A perfect backdrop for a film party


Think of three places you’d like to have an event or party. Is there someone or a company who can sponsor a party or event for you? You also need to consider your invite list knowing there are always crashers and some that you might want to crash. Emailing invitations creates havoc, as anyone could print them. You could instead start emailing to let people know invitations are coming to create a buzz. Then invitations could be sent in hard form or you could mail some sort of giveaway as the invitation like a pen, baseball cap or something in association with your party from a golf ball to a crown. You can find anything on the internet to brand your film and anything can be made. There used to be these wonderful salesmen that would come around before a film market with books of ideas for gifts. I did have a golf movie once and was throwing a party with a small budget for gifts. I picked out these towel clips for golf bags and had the name of the film and the time of the party printed on them. The party was a huge success and for years people thanked me for the potato chip holders. Evidently no one knew what they were but they kept them. So, maybe think about an invitation that a person can keep. Gift bags are tricky. You need the gifts, the bags, you need to assemble them, ship them. I don’t think people appreciate all the work that goes into them, so one good gift might be just as good.

So for your film party, you need to think about:

  1. Budget
  2. Location
  3. Who to invite and why (don’t forget journalists)
  4. Invitations
  5. Beverages and food
  6. Entertainment
  7. Celebrities
  8. Promotion
  9. And always carry cash for tips and emergencies

Food. Keep it simple and fun and accessible unless you have an extravagant budget. No one wants to wait in line for a drink so have drinks available. Beer, wine, and simple but tasty food. I once went to a great party in Cannes at midnight that just had barrels of cold Coronas, bottled water, and freezers full of Haagen Dasz bars. I bet that was all free from the vendors. Use your powers as a producer to get sponsors for your party. Think out of the box.

No shoes allowed!

Entertainment. DJ, Live Music, maybe your trailers projected on the walls. Is there a celebrity, even a local one that you can invite and have a red carpet? I would have someone working the door to clear the invites and make sure no obnoxious drunk people get in that you don’t want there. Again, even if you hire the best PR team, you need to be on your toes. Keep in mind that party in London, where no one was sent an invitation.

In Cannes, there are a lot of parties on yachts but 99% of the yachts stay docked.

Crazy story. I am known for throwing parties so I actually got a call once from another company. They had a film in Venice with a huge star and rented a yacht for the party. However, in Venice, the yachts are out in the water and when guests arrived, they found out that it would take $150 to get them to the yacht by the local vaporettos. I was asked what to do and I said, they had to book a vaporetto for the night and get someone to go out there and give them cash. Always have cash.

Note to you: On yachts: no shoes

Tickets at festivals seem to go on the black market. I’d never sell a ticket but it happens. If you do want to go to party, put out the word. There is a wonderful camaraderie at good festivals, where people like to help people get into screenings and tickets. Okay, this dates me but I so wanted one year to see Sex, Lies and Videotape in Cannes and couldn’t find a ticket. I was on my way to dinner and a friend ran up to me and said, “I got you one” and handed me a ticket. I didn’t go to dinner and, yes, it won that year. It won almost everything and it was a glorious night for all film lovers. Conversely, I have gone out of my way to help a colleague get tickets for a party they wanted to attend.

Screenings/Invitations. Once you have the dates for your screening, you need to ask yourself who you want to invite. Are you looking for your next job, a distributor for your film? First focus on the people that you want to attend and formalize how to invite them. A larger film festival should have a list of attendees that you can focus on, but how do you spread the word? By now, you may have a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram page announcing your screening dates which is, of course, the way to go. I would still send postcards and emails with a formal invitation to any producer, distribution executive that you want to meet and follow up with a friendly reminder. Best thing is if you get an executive’s assistant, ask them also and ask them to leave a message. Remember, postcards are visual and they will end up on someone’s desk in an office and usually the executive will throw that postcard in their pocket or purse as a reminder.

Press Kit. If you don’t have a press kit, make one up in a handout form and, if you want, digitally. Many press offices will ask for a few copies. If the festival has a Press Office, journalists will visit that office and look through the press kits. It’s also a handy reference to see who is in the film. Sometimes, a journalist will visit a press office and recognize a photo of an actor which will compel them to see the film.

Press Release. Now is the time to write a press release for the local papers where you live, your college papers and the papers where the film festival is. Find the local reporters, send it out and if you can, follow up with a call, and even send a gift to the reporter asking if they’d see your film.

Make sure you have a meeting with whoever will be helping you. It is your job to create an interest in your film, fill those seats, and see if you can win some awards that will catapult your film. Remember, there are certain film festivals where winning will qualify you to enter for an Oscar nomination.


Be Prepared!

Lina Wertmuller looking iconic as ever

I have met some pretty fantastic filmmakers on a plane on my way to a film festival that I remained friends with for years. Upon arriving, many festivals will have a van or car to pick up filmmakers at the airport so be prepared with your materials on you, and maybe even a trailer on your iPad. You have no idea who may be sitting next to you.

Practice a little pitch as to when your movie screens so if you meet someone, it will flow off your tongue. That person next to you might be the next production head of Netflix.

I wouldn’t give out copies of my film because then the person whom you are speaking to would have no reason then to go see it when it screens. From the minute you leave your door, you’re working in a joyous way to promote your film and yourself, as should be any actor or crew person that attends with you. Be confident, happy, and unpretentious, and by all means brand yourself. Think of subtle or unsubtle ways you can brand yourself and your team. Remember Lina Wertmuller and those white specs.

Next, of course, check into your hotel but have postcards, a few gifts in hand, and introduce yourself to the staff. They can make your life easier and may just give you heads up of a party. Bring lots of tip money and have it on you.

It is very difficult to get to bed early in Cannes when some screenings start an midnight. One night I was determined to get to bed by 2:00 am when I saw my client sitting at the Carlton Terrace having a cocktail. He invited me to join him, and of course I couldn’t say no, so I finally made it to bed at 4:30 that morning.

On another night in Cannes, I was exhausted from the late nights and went to bed “early” at 1:00 am. At 2:30 am, I got a call from a stranger that a friend of a friend knew that I had tickets to a major party that I had not used that was still going on. He wanted to know if he could stop by my hotel room to get them. I said of course and two minutes later, I stuck the tickets out the door and the filmmaker was in tears as he was so happy. Why not spread the joy.

There’s something exciting at every hour of the day or night


Next, if there is a place to pick up your badges, go and hand out those screening invites. More importantly, it’s time to stop at the Press Office. Bring gifts. They may busy and may not have time but leave the gifts with your contacts, letting them know you are available for any opportunities for press and parties.

A note about publicity agents. Publicity agents are great only if they do not have too many clients at the film festival. You do not want to get lost in the shuffle, so if you have the funds to hire a PR firm, you must sit with them and get a very clear sense of what they can provide for you and who will be attending with you. You don’t want to arrive in Cannes and have your high-profile PR Company appoint an intern to you that has never been to Cannes and doesn’t speak the language and who does not know how things work. I know a friend who had a film at the London Film Festival and hired a big PR firm to run a huge party that she was throwing for her film. I ran to the party in great anticipation and when I arrived, no one was there but my friend and the investors! Turned out that the big PR firm never sent out invitations. Make sure if you hire a PR firm, that you are on top of things with them.

Party List at Press Office. See if there is a party list and attend ones so you can meet other filmmakers, producers, and distribution executives, and have your postcards or flyers with you. Don’t get drunk and do things that you may not remember the next day.

Attend Other Screenings. I was at a film festival with the star of the film, who was very well known in his country. In fact, he had won the country’s equivalent of the Oscar for Best Actor. We decided to go to a screening of a Pedro Almodóvar film. Almodóvar was there, chatting to a small audience. He kept chatting and finally admitted there was a delay with the print. He finally asked if anyone had anything to say in the audience, so I introduced the actor in my film, saying he had just won Best Actor in his country. Almodóvar was very warm and gracious. Note that a great director was there at his screening, taking care of business, hosting his screenings and a cocktail party. He won the Oscar that year. Because I had the opportunity to introduce my actor, we were flooded after the film with guests asking to host a cocktail in our honor at the festival. The next day, our screening in a huge room was packed. Make the most of all screenings and parties and opportunities at a festival.


The registration tent at Cannes

Your Screening Q&A Secret

You have asked if there is a Q&A but how do you prepare for that? Little secret, make sure you plant someone to ask a question pertaining to your goals at your Q&A like, “What is your next film? Are you making this into a feature?” This is especially important if you are doing a Q&A where there are several shorts with several directors or you will blink and your opportunity will be gone. If you are going alone, make a friend, and give then a T Shirt, buy them a drink…and they will be pleased to help you by asking a question.

Nothing is drearier then a missed opportunity at a Q&A.

Attending a festival is like running for class president. It takes work and dedication but the payoff could be that you win an award that gives you the opportunity to be in the running for an Oscar. Each festival is a stepping stone in your career, so you must make the most of the opportunity.

Learn more about Patricia by visiting her profile.