It was awards night at my first film festival in Houston, and a man introduced himself. His appearance screamed Hollywood. Trendy suit. Slicked back hair. Unwavering eye contact. This was the type of person film festivals were made for -- not me. He held out his hand and assured me that we had so much in common because we both had made no-budget features and were based in LA. He would most definitely call when we got back home. Of course I never heard from him. Guys like that are like the pickup artists of film festivals. They go around introducing themselves to everyone they meet, pretending as if they're best of friends. I, on the other hand, am an introvert. I just can't do that.
Relax, fellow introverts. You can still benefit from film festivals. Sure, it may be on your own terms, but if you try, you too can walk away from the festival with a valuable experience and a new network of fellow filmmakers. Here are some lessons I've learned from my own festival experience that I hope can help fellow introverts, ambiverts, and maybe even a few extroverts.
1. Take the advice of others, but take it with a grain of salt.
We live in an extroverted world. Particularly if you're a filmmaker. You will read advice that terrifies you. You mean I'm supposed to stand in the street handing out flyers to random people walking by? I have to collect ten business cards from other filmmakers at the meet-and-greet, and they don't even serve alcohol?? No and no. Sure, you can do these things if you want to, but you don't have to. There are other ways to build an audience and network -- ways that may be more suited to your personality and therefore more successful. You can spread the word from the safety of your own home via the internet. You can use your great research skills to learn about the other filmmakers so when you do talk to them, you'll actually have something meaningful to say. An introvert trying to follow an extrovert's advice can feel a bit like a left-handed child trying to scratch out a sentence with his right hand. By all means, seek out all the advice you can find before the festival. Just know that you don't have to actually use all of it.
2. Ask not what your fellow filmmaker can do for you. Ask what you can do for your fellow filmmaker.
Other filmmakers come to the festival to promote their own work. It doesn't matter if you're the most talented person around and your film is a masterpiece of overwhelming brilliance. They are there to further their own careers. So instead of spending all your time running around promoting your film, you should spend a little time focusing on others. Take a genuine interest in their work. Like their film on Facebook. Give them the support you would like others to give to you.
Also, don't be afraid to get creative. You have a unique set of skills and knowledge that might be a huge help to someone else. I'm an amateur photographer, for instance. I try to take photos of other people I meet at a festival, which I can send them afterwards. It takes very little effort on my part, but I just may end up taking the only photo of that person receiving an award with their eyes open. Or maybe you have special knowledge about the latest camera you can share with someone else. People will appreciate your efforts, and you're much better off walking away from the festival with a true filmmaking friend than a long list of contacts you can't quite remember. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Quality over quantity.
Introverts tend to have fewer friends but form deeper bonds with each relationship. Commonsense would tell you that the same would apply to networking. What's the use in picking up those ten business cards if you're only going to use them as a receptacle for chewed gum? If you walk away from the festival with one lasting relationship, you should consider that a success. Acquaintances are nice, but wouldn't you rather meet someone who shares similar taste, someone who will take the time to actually watch your movie, someone who will support your future projects and maybe even collaborate on something? Good working partners are hard to find, as are good friends, and one meaningful relationship can be just as valuable as ten different handshakes.
4. Relax. You don't have to attend every event.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You spent a lot of money to come here, and you even took time off work. You'd be a fool not to milk every little drop you can out of this festival. The thing is introverts use energy differently. They often need time alone to recuperate if they don't want to spend the day feeling absolutely drained. Yes, attend every event you can. You'll likely need to go out of your comfort zone and socialize way more than normal. But don't be afraid to sit some things out. There's no point in attending an event if you're too miserable to pay attention and you're going to duck out the second it's over. You may find yourself better off studying the schedule of events and selecting only the ones that interest you most. Then if you're feeling adventurous, you can always let yourself be talked into attending a last minute screening with a filmmaker you just met. And if you need to politely decline, that's okay too.
5. Have realistic expectations.
This goes for everyone. If you've screened at film festivals before, you likely already know the score. Film festivals can vary greatly. You may find that five lousy people show up at your world premiere. The festival may forget to hit the lights after the end credits roll, leaving you hovering awkwardly in the darkness, anticipating a Q&A that never happens. At another festival, you may have the time of your life. The cast and crew are all in attendance along with a large number of strangers who found out about your film from God-knows-where. They laugh, they cry, and when it's all over, they make you feel like a superstar. But in the end, it doesn't really matter how the screening went. Good or bad, you still get your laurel. You get to attend all the events, and when your fans see the red carpet photos, no one will care if you had three audience members or three-hundred. By all means, do everything you can to promote your film. Just don't panic. It's only one screening. There will hopefully be many more to come.