A Film Festival Survival Guide for Introverts

Film festivals are fun and exciting, full of energy and community. They’re a great way to see independent films and make connections which can lead to great relationships and maybe even future roles in amazing films. You could be hanging out with the next Wes Anderson or Jason Reitman. Yeah, yeah, we get it. Film festivals are awesome. That said, when you are relatively introverted, hate the awkwardness of not knowing anyone at the party, or are simply over it, here are some suggestions on how to make festivals both productive and tolerable so you can meet more filmmakers and build your indie film résumé.

First, go to festivals even when you don’t have a film there. Make a list of the places where you know people (perhaps some couches you can crash on) and would like to hang out for a few days. Next, do a Google search of film festivals in those locations.

A bit on location: I have realized over the years that I fare much better at the smaller festivals. I feel overwhelmed and exhausted at Sundance and Tribeca, for instance. It’s just too much filmmaker hipster intensity for me. However, I feel happy and creative when I am at the Woodstock Film Festival. Here’s a tip: I will spend entire days at the more remote venues. For example, the main theater on Tinker St. in Woodstock is always jam-packed. I will spend a day at the venues in Rhinebeck and Rosendale. I love those two towns. The filmmakers still come out for Q&As, I avoid crowds, and I generally get time with the filmmakers because the venue that’s not in the center of town usually isn’t a zoo. Most festivals have some sort of shuttle situation for more remote venues. Look into that before you go. I would also advise going to a film festival in the first several days. That is usually when filmmakers and the film’s stars will be in attendance.

OK. So you have selected some choice locales and came up with a list of festivals that are in the vicinity. I would next recommend putting the dates in your calendar and cross checking those dates with friends and relatives that could possibly host you. You may also want to book travel/lodging in advance, as it will be less expensive. (This will also hold you to actually going.)

How will you want to attend the festival? Here’s my profile: I am generally a single ticket buyer. I avoid panels and discussions. I clearly like remote venues. I don’t do parties well. I need a few hours of down time to reenergize. This also helps me avoid the gloomy feelings I’ll get when the days are spectacular and I’m stuck inside a dark theater. Chances are you won’t love everything you see, so you’ll appreciate an afternoon outside. I had a film at the Nantucket Film Festival a while back and I spent an afternoon on the beach, one of the highlights of my festival experience. Keep in mind that downtime also leads to connections. People schmooze on the slopes at Sundance. I happened to spend the day at the beach with a friend of my sister and her friends, the editor of Nantucket Magazine, who knows a lot of great people. He also looks like Thor. Not too shabby. And I got a great tan.

You may be a pass holder who wants more access to screenings and events, as well as the “café” or tent where industry hangs out. You may want to volunteer. Volunteering is great, especially if you suck at cold introductions. I once recommended to an actor that he volunteer to manage a venue at a film festival. He was the main point person for the filmmakers and talent and got to spend time with them before every screening. As a result, he formed some great relationships and got to hang out after hours with some filmmakers.

If you want to volunteer, I’d recommend calling as far as six to eight months in advance. The worst thing they can tell you is to check back in later. I’d track back from the festival date and put a reminder in your calendar to call the festival office/film commission.

Set a check-in date in your calendar four weeks before the festival opens. By this time, hopefully, the festival program has been posted to the website and you can buy passes and tickets. Knowing that I can’t see everything, here’s how I choose what I want to see. I look for directors who are NYC-based who have a comedy in the festival. This really narrows it down, because there are generally more independent dramas made. I tend to avoid the films that will most likely end up at the AMC. I don’t want to deal with the crowds clamoring to see stars up close. I also pick a shorts program or two that look interesting. Most of the shorts directors are, by the time their film is in the festival circuit, onto their feature. The Q&A feels like a smorgasbord. I can pick who I’d like to talk to and I can see several films in the time it would take me to see one feature.

For the introverts out there, it’s OK to hang back and refuse to schmooze if the spirit doesn’t move you. Thanks to IMDbPro, social media, and email, you can most often find an up-and-coming filmmaker and connect with them. When I saw “Putzel” at Woodstock several years ago, I loved the film. I was briefly introduced to Jason Chaet, the awesome filmmaker, but his team was schlepping him around and I didn’t want to compete for his time as he had several photo ops and interviews immediately following the screening. I’m bad at small talk anyway. Instead, I followed the film on Twitter, blogged on my website, kvelling about the film, and posted that to the film’s Facebook page. Jason was happy and accepted my friend request on Facebook. I share and like his postings about the film and remain a devoted fan. So, you can be relatively anti-social and still forge long-lasting relationships at film festivals. Thank you, Internet.

Keep in mind that I had nothing to do with “Putzel.” I know a producer, but I’ve known and loved her for years and she wouldn’t have cared if I went to that screening or not. Go to see films you have nothing to do with. The audience is mainly composed of friends and family, industry, locals, and people in the real world who make a vacation out of a film festival. There is a small minority of unaffiliated actors who are simply interested in seeing that film. Be in that minority.

Want to kick it up a notch? Once you’ve looked at the program and selected the films you want to see, pick your top three or four and watch whatever the filmmaker has made previously. How cool would it be if you were an up-and-coming filmmaker and a random, beautiful actor came to your screening and loved your film and geeked out on you a little by referencing your past work? It so rarely happens. I’m shocked at how rarely it happens in my callbacks! Do your homework—it shows how focused you are, as opposed to an actor just wanting to work. Also, people love working with those that really get them.

Another piece of advice someone had given me about film festivals. You’ll meet a lot of people. Get business cards and then write on the card where and when you met them, what they were wearing and what you talked about when you met them. Do this always, but especially after drinking and especially after drinking in high altitudes.

Speaking of, a word on parties: You don’t have to go. It’s fine. I’m OK, you’re OK. On the rare occasion that I do attend to parties, I tend to look for the most miserable person in the room and walk over to them and say, “I hate this.” They then usually tell me secrets and we become friends and send each other gifts and I end up casting their next film. Sometimes misery loves company.

After you’ve chosen cities, set dates, selected your films, and attended the festivals, don’t forget to mark a date in your calendar for about a week after the festival to follow up with contacts. Begin corresponding with them before they forget, but after they’ve slept off the partying. Then stay in touch.

Oh yeah, and have fun. We’re making movies, not saving lives. And remember, you can simply watch some films and leave. No pressure. Heck, it’s a tax deduction.

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Brette Goldstein
Brette Goldstein has cast over 40 independent films, 100 commercials, 100 plays, several television shows and new media projects, and was the resident casting director at Washington, D.C.’s Folger Elizabethan Theatre for 10 seasons. She also teaches audition technique at various NYC studios and several universities and has done some serious damage at the craft services table in brief stints as an on-set coach.