Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Cover a Film Festival

I've been lucky enough to cover a few film festivals (Sundance, SXSW, and Cinequest) over the past couple years. Some of you have asked how I got hooked up with the gig so I've written up some steps for those interested in becoming a film festival critic.

1. Know the Right People -- This is probably the most important step. I got my MA in Cinema Studies in San Francisco. One of my classmates was the editor of Film Threat. We became friends and when he read my blog, he hooked me up. Connections are important but what's even more important is not to be a weasel. People know when they're being used and they don't like it.

2. Pay Your Own Way -- Most likely, you won't be paid for your critic work. In most cases, you'll have to help pay for your travel accommodations, food, lodging, etc. I finished writing my thesis in Utah which put me in a great position to attend Sundance. I took as much time off from work as I could afford, packed brown bag lunches, and drove into Park City around 8:00AM and drove back home around 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. Sundance ended up costing quite a bit for Whitney and I but it was completely worth it.

3. Attend Smaller Festivals -- Everyone wants to cover Sundance, which is why it's so difficult to get a spot. But these days, almost every big city has some sort of film festival. These festivals often have some great movies in their lineups and can be pretty accommodating for independent critics. In fact, Cinequest hooked us up with lodging and some food. They treated us like royalty, haha. Check out the websites for any festivals near your town and contact their press coordinators about acquiring press credentials.

4. Hone Your Skills -- This one sounds corny but when you're forced to squeeze reviews out between screenings or late at night when you'd rather be sleeping, being able to rely on your ability to concisely review the five movies you just watched back to back to back to back to back is necessary.

5. Be Known -- This is definitely one step I'm still working on. Theoretically, enough hard work will lead to exposure which will help you plead your case with press coordinators. Write lots of reviews, try to get on Rotten Tomatoes, and build your brand. Participate in blogging community activities (see: The LAMB), comment on everyone else's sites, and do everything you can (without being annoying) to expand the world's knowledge of your site.

Have you ever covered a film festival? What advice do you have for potential press members?
Have you always wanted to cover a film festival? Is this advice helpful?
Let me know.


xTJMac510x said...

Thanks man. I've wanted to know how you've done it in the past and I think these tips will really help. I'm actually doing one of your steps and attending the Seattle Film Festival up here as well as the Palm Spring Film Festival later this year (or next year not sure). My cousin is an entertainment writer and she offered to go with me since she went last year.

I will take all these into consideration and thanks for the tips

Univarn said...

One of these days I'll get something called $$$ (a job) and cover a film festival. I'll be sure to take your advice into account! Though I'll have to work on the whole being known and having connections part. Probably when/if I do it'll be very small time.

Alas, great writeup!

simoncolumb said...

I have never 'covered' a Film festival but, living in London, they are on all the time and I really should get involved more. Then again, I covered a few obscure movies and the big hit of last year, A Prophet, at The London Film Festival... but thats not good enough. I should cover more of the smaller film festivals.


Ryan McNeil said...

My ongoing coverage of Hot Docs is something a little different for me - to wit, I'm accredited. The festival folk are actually letting me see the movies for free and getting me in touch with directors for actual interviews.

How did I get such nobility? Weird story - I applied.

Most of the smaller fests (read: not Sundance, TIFF, or SXSW) are looking for the exposure, and when they open up the window to media applications, they can be rather accomodating.

What I've noticed though, is that they don't want you wasting their time. If they hook you up they want as much coverage as you can humanly muster, so during those ten days you should be as prolific as humanly possible.

As far as not being accredited, you're dead on in saying that there's a lot to be gained by going on your own and covering it gratis. It can lead to exposure (especially if you're seeing movies early in their run), and likewise can lead to meeting a lot of great people.

For the bigger fests: use your vacation time, see/write as much as you can, and don't be afraid to make new friends. I've covered three Toronto international Film festivals, and last year I only saw one movie!

For the smaller fests, apply for accreditation and be prepared to be the best version of your bloggin' self.

(Whew! Sorry for the long comment)

Anonymous said...



JLG said...

Hey man,
I'm headed to the University of Illinois this weekend for Roger Ebert's Overlooked film festival. I've attended a few times, but never as a blogger/reviewer. Any advice on how to write a multiple movie review/festival review? And how do I go about getting it read, by more than just my blog followers? I'd love to see my reviews on other sites, or maybe one day in a newspaper.