The Magic Call: Pointers for Participating in the Sundance Film Festival

Imagine you are an aspiring artist and top-level executives and stars of your industry gather for a few days to survey you and peers.  It would be equally exciting and nerve-wracking.  Yet, it’s commonly the bittersweet journey of filmmakers showcased at one of the world’s most popular film festivals.

What does it take to ‘get in,’ and what awaits those who do swimmingly well as well as those who ‘tank’?

Golden Ticket

One small-film artist, Diane Bell, thought she had gotten the golden ticket to the chocolate factory upon hearing news about her film, Obselidia, awarded the honor to feature in 2010’s Sundance Film Festival.

After the initial euphoria of the news subsided, she realized she did not have a plan or sentiment of what to do next regarding positive acceptance and added rave about her film.  The editors had chosen her film due to their expertise and willingness to try new authors; yet, Diane knew subsequent success was contingent on marketing and PR.

Image by qbac07 via Flickr

Big Bucks and Small Film

Diane Bell’s first sweep at finding a PR person and sales squad to build buzz before, during, and after the fest was shocking.  Did these people know how much it cost to make a small film?  Now, PR and marketing reps were asking a bundle to promote the minor film.

Diane did not have a lot of money to invest in the marketing, so she chose a smaller firm to supplement her high hopes and small preparation.

Image by Lenny Mesina via Flickr

No Second Lighting

As she puts it, “lightning did not strike twice” for Diane Bell.  Her film received lukewarm reception at the Sundance Film fest, featured in subsequent festivals, yet she never received a sizable or rational offer.  In retrospect, Diane believes a few things, done differently, would have garnered a better outcome.

Image by Red Touch Media via Flickr

She urges those with films in 2015’s fest to:

  • Be Aware – Make the programmers, and those responsible for promoting the festival, aware of one’s plans to self promote, asking for advice and listening to those with experience in working with small and first-time filmmakers.
  • PR with a Purpose – Next, she suggests hiring an experienced PR firm that can clearly outline a rational plan for promotion and subsequent success of reception.  For example, if selling tickets online for the film is the object, have a clear-cut formula to promote a landing page, website, and checkout process in order to sell all available seats. Find deals on lodging while attending the fest via, but don’t cut corners when it comes to film promotion.
  • Plan a Small Release – After Sundance, collaborate with a small theater to plan a second release.  In the digital age, news moves in real time and real fast; if there’s any sort of buzz generated by Sundance, a plan to build subsequent momentum must already be in place.

Image by qbac07 via Flickr

Consider a Money Stream

Speaking of the digital age, with its streaming and multi-device preferences, filmmakers stream content straight from their own websites, maintaining 90% of the money, a great idea in comparison to what Diane did after her Sundance feature.  She saw pennies each time someone watched her film via Amazon, yet, with alternative, self-propelled services, the filmmaker sets the price and keeps most of the profits.

Image by danbruell via Flickr

Robert Vaughn has been to the Sundance Film Festival on more than one occasion. An avid traveler and writer, he hopes to encourage others to get out there and see the world. You can find his helpful articles on many of today’s websites and blogs.

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