10 Tips for Increasing Your Chances of Getting Attention and Awards At Film Festivals

Awards at a Film Festival

Once you’ve gotten into a film festival and know the date of your screening, how do you make the most of your film festival showing — from getting attention to winning awards?

Following are 10 tips for doing that.

1) If you can attend, great! If so, plan to arrive two or three days before the event and stay one or two more days afterwards, so you can build an audience and increase your chances for press coverage. Ideally come with others from the cast and crew, and with an assistant or PR person to help.

Even if you can’t attend, you can still do some things from afar to increase attendance and press interest. Plus you can add the festival acceptance and any awards to your media portfolio.

2) Whether you attend or not, send out one or preferably two or three press releases about your participation in your metro area and in the area where your film will be playing. In these releases, highlight what makes your film showing a more newsworthy or human interest story. If you can tie the subject of your film to events in the news, that’s ideal. Another hook might be that your film has been selected as part of a series of films on current social concerns. Another approach to the media might be highlighting some stories of how the film came to be or how you overcame adversity to achieve success — an approach that might be of special appeal in your hometown area.

3) You can still build audience interest in the area where your film is screening, even if you don’t attend. The advantage of building advance audience interest is you get an increased number of people to attend. Then, you can use that attendance as a barometer of popular interest, which you can include in your press materials. The greater attendance will also help you get distributors or assist any distributor already onboard in promoting your film. Moreover, any press coverage you get can help to persuade the judges to vote for your film in giving awards. If there is an audience award, the increased numbers you bring to the film can help you get more votes.

Ideally, start seeking to build an audience two to three weeks before your screening date. This way, people have a chance to make plans and talk about the festival, but it not too soon so that they won’t be ready to think about their plans for that date. If you don’t have time to do all of these things yourself, find an assistant — possibly a student intern who will assist you for no charge to learn, or possibly a virtual assistant who can work from anywhere for about $10–25 an hour.

4) One way to build audience interest in advance is through groups you belong to which have members in the area where your film is screening. Or find and join social media groups in the area — or join online groups with local member. Let people know about the upcoming showing, and if you can, start an ongoing discussion about it, such as by highlighting themes in your film that dovetail with events in the news. Ask people to spread the word to their followers in-person and online. You might also invite interested people in the area to help with your local PR efforts, such as by contacting local groups and press people on your behalf or handing out flyers before the screening. If you can, offer a small fee to compensate people for doing this.

Another approach to audience building is to contact groups in the area that might be a target audience to get them to share the word about your film with their members. If possible, arrange a special discount for those you invite with the festival staff or director. If you can set up such a discount, tell people to mention your name to get it or a free entry for themselves, and possibly one or two guests, depending on the arrangements you make.

If it’s a general interest film, the local groups to contact might include church groups, social organizations, and Meetup groups featuring happenings or films in the area. If the film might appeal to special audiences, such as a film about motorcycle racing, contact the groups and retail stores that cater to this audience, such as biker clubs and specialty stores.

You can find these local and special interest groups by checking online for the area. Just search for the type of group and location (i.e.: social clubs Philadelphia). If you find a phone number or email, call to talk to the head of the group or send an email. If you get a receptionist when you call, leave a brief message about why you are calling, and if you don’t get a call back, try again, though don’t leave a message if you still can’t get through, so you don’t come across as a pest. In the case of Meetup, you can search for groups within 10 or 25 miles of the location of your film showing, and when you find groups with members in your target audience, email the group organizer. Sometimes if you join the group, you can post a comment about the upcoming festival. Once you reach a group leader, invite them to see your film and tell other group members about it or even make this a group event.

5) You can do even more to build an audience and get more attention and awards, if you are at the festival — or you have surrogates to attend on your behalf. This will open up opportunities for personal meetings with the media and others in the community, including local leaders, who can talk up your film and help with setting up future screenings.

Gaining this increased awareness can then lead to a larger audience at your film showing, leading to audience awards and judges being positively influenced to vote for your film. And you can use any press coverage due to your presence to get more press in the future. It’s like you are setting in motion a spiral of success, whereby increased awareness increases your opportunities to build an audience, win awards, get press coverage, get distribution or better distribution deals, get even more media interest, and get people talking even more.

6) You can build awareness by networking and connecting with people in the area and at the festival in various ways. You might go to festival parties, talk to people, pass out flyers, put up posters, place announcements about the showing on display tables, and otherwise get people, including members of the local press, eager to attend your film and share their enthusiasm with others.

To get the ball rolling, you or your surrogates should show up two or three days before your film’s screening at the festival to get people aware of your film and talking about it with others. Ideally, come with a few cast and crew members, and even a PR person. If you are there, along with any cast and crew members, you will typically be invited to participate after the screening in a short Q&A with audience members. Often members of the press who have seen your film will want to talk with you and other cast and crew members, which can turn into a print story or media clip you can use for future PR. Or if you can’t attend yourself, get someone from the film or in the area to come as your surrogate, and/or find a team of local assistants to help with making personal connections and media outreach. You may be able to find volunteers in the area or budget about $8–10 an hour to pay them.

7) Another way to build awareness s at the festival itself, since the people there are already interested in going to the festival’s films. By building this awareness, you help attendees choose to see your film.

One technique for promotion at the festival is placing an easel with a full-sized 27”x41” film poster in the lobby, passageway to the films, or other prominent location where festival attendees can easily see it. Any kind of easel will work, though a fold-up easel is easy to travel with. Ideally, mount the poster on foam board, although you can use a laminated roll-up poster you carry with you in a tube. In this case, paste 8 ½” and 11”cardboards along the back and tape the poster to the stand with package or duct tape to keep it up. You might attach colorful papers, such as bright yellow or pink, to the top of the poster, with an announcement of the screening time or times. Preferably, announce the first screening; and after that you can change the paper to indicate any additional screenings. Additionally, tape the poster to the back of the easel to discourage someone who thinks you have a cool poster from taking it for a poster collection.

However, you can’t just suddenly appear with your easel and poster. You need the theater manager’s permission to put this up. Ideally, make arrangements early and in person with the manager, so you are the first filmmaker to request putting up your poster, which means you will be more likely to not only get permission but get a better location. Choose the lobby, if possible. If you can’t display your poster there, check out alternative locations you can request, such as the passageways leading to the main theaters. You want to be out of the flow of traffic, but in the sight of vision, so people will see the poster as they go through.

The advantage of having the poster at the festival is that you can appeal to people who have attended earlier showings and haven’t yet gotten tickets to other showings. In addition, some people go to film showings and don’t decide what to see until they get there. The poster can also be a good reminder for the press covering the festival to pay attention to your film.

8) You can create smaller posters for store windows, such as an 18”x 24” poster. This is a good size because it is small enough to not obscure a view of the store or merchandise in the window, but is large enough to be seen by people passing by or going into the store. You have to ask the store manager for permission, and commonly they will say “yes,” because outside of L.A., people are impressed upon meeting a film producer or director. They consider you special, so they want to help. In putting up these posters, it’s best to use removable poster tape or squares in each corner, so they can easily come off when it’s time to remove the poster. You might additionally consider doing neighborhood posting, where you put up one or two rows of posters on a fence or wall to make an eye-catching display.

Another recommendation is to use the larger 5 ½ x 8 ½ postcards to hand out or put on tables for displays. This size is better than the standard 3”x5” postcard, because these larger postcards stand out more but aren’t too large so there isn’t enough room to put them out, because it’s uncool to cover up or squash together other flyers on the table. If you use postcards of whatever size, include information on the back that briefly describes the film in a short, captivating way, indicates the day and time of the screening, and describes how to get tickets, such as at the box office or at a table at the festival. If you have won awards, add a gold or silver sticker with the notice: “Winner and Name of the Award” followed by the festival where you won it.

You might also attach a small item to the back of the cards as a fun give-away that encourages people to talk about your film. The giveaway should relatively flat so it is easy to attach to the back of your card, and it should be relevant to your film. Think of what items might be appropriate for your movie. For example, if you have a fun, family movie with young kids, you might give away colorful balloons with the title of your film printed on them. If it’s a film about fishing, you might attach a hook in a protective envelope.

Another way to use these cards is when you are networking at festival events, such as at the opening party. You should work the room at these networking events. Don’t just walk around handing out postcards quickly with a few brief words, such as “Here’s a great film to see at the festival.” Rather, start a conversation with some small talk and an opener such as “Hi. I’m __________,” or “It’s a great festival. What have you seen that you really liked?” Then, after about 30–45 seconds of patter, you can tell them about a film you think they will really like and hand them a card. Once they are warmed up in this way, they are likely to be receptive and even more impressed, when you say you are a film producer or director.

9) A festival can also make a good selling environment, if you can set up a table to show merchandise related to your film or if the film festival has a table for merchandise sales. So consider related merchandise you can sell. For instance, you might offer embroidered caps with the film name, which are like walking billboards for the film, as well as making money. Another possibility which we used for our first film Suicide Party # Save Dave, is a line of funny T-shirts, which one of the lead characters wears in the film.

11) Bring 6–10 copies of your press kit with you, in case you meet someone from the press at the festival. Or if the press person prefers to see your press materials online, give them a business card which includes the link to the electronic press kit or write it down for them. Additionally, ask the press person to give you a business card or to write down an email and phone number on one of your cards, so you can follow-up later with further information, offer to set up an interview you for a story, or send another press kit or online link. It is also helpful to bring DVD or, flash drives reels featuring a trailer and one to two minute scenes from your film, since if you can get a TV or online interview, the host might run a short piece from your trailer or film.

Also, make some calls to the press before you get to the city where your film will be showing to give them a heads up that you will be there. When you call, in about 30 seconds tell them about your movie, any press you have gotten, and any name actors in the film. If you spark enough interest, you might get a feature article or spot on a radio or TV show, or at least be included in a piece a reporter is doing on the festival.

In sum, the more you can do to increase the audience and press coverage for your film, the more you can build on this attention to get awards from judges, distributor interest, sales, and even more press coverage. After all, the excitement you generate for your film can help influence the judges, if they haven’t already determined the awards before the festival, since this excitement and high audience attendance helps show your film is a winner, and awarding such a film helps bring more interest in the festival. The larger audience and excitement can help you win an audience jury award, too. Then, the awards give you more credibility and contribute to your media portfolio to help you get even more media. Additionally, if you would rather find a distributor than continue to do your own distribution, this combination of a larger audience, press coverage, and awards helps distributors feel they will be distributing a winner which will make money for them. Then, they will want to represent you and work even harder to sell your film. So everyone wins.

It isn’t cheap to do this promotion at a festival. So budget for this onsite publicity push. If the festival is in your area, figure on $500–1000; if it’s in a distant city, plan on $2000–5000 per city, including travel and hotels. But it’s worth doing this on-site promotion in the long run. And if you don’t have the money, maybe you can raise it from friends, family, business associates, or a crowd funding campaign. A book that can help you do this is Finding Funds for Your Film or TV Project, which I wrote and is published by Hal Leonard.

GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., J.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, specializing in business and work relationships, professional and personal development, social trends, and popular culture. She has published 50 books with major publishers. She has worked with dozens of clients on memoirs, self-help, popular business books, and film scripts. Writing samples are at www.changemakerspublishingandwriting.com.

She is the founder of Changemakers Publishing, featuring books on work, business, psychology, social trends, and self-help. The company has published over 150 print, e-books, and audiobooks. She has licensed several dozen books for foreign sales, including the UK, Russia, Korea, Spain, and Japan.

She has received national media exposure for her books, including appearances on Good Morning America, Oprah, and CNN. She has been the producer and host of a talk show series, Changemakers, featuring interviews on social trends.

Scott is active in a number of community and business groups, including the Lafayette, Pleasant Hill, and Walnut Creek Chambers of Commerce. She is a graduate of the prestigious Leadership Contra Costa program. She does workshops and seminars on the topics of her books.

She is also the writer and executive producer of 10 films in distribution, release, or production. Her most recent films that have been released include Driver, The New Age of Aging, and Infidelity.




GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., J.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, who has published over 200 books.

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Gini Graham Scott

Gini Graham Scott

GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., J.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar leader, who has published over 200 books.

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