Working at a film festival is great fun – I should know, I’ve been working with 7 over the past 8 months and it’s been a blast. I have, however, become somewhat of a seasoned professional in the art of preparing for these things. So here’s some nuggets of wisdom to bear in mind before you set-off for your first shift…

Always research the event you’re working…

Most of the time you’ll learn it on the job but it’s good to have a basic understanding of your festival’s ethos and the dates/locations of the screenings. More often than not, festival staff are super busy, so you need to be prepared to be thrown in at the deep end and figure stuff out as you go.

Speak to EVERYONE…

You never know who is mulling around at these events. Directors, producers, writers – if their film is screening it’s likely they’ve been invited so keep your eyes peeled and have a google beforehand. If you recognise them, they’ll be flattered that you took the time to research their film and you might get some useful contacts.

Always wear a long-sleeved t-shirt…

Those festival tshirts can be scratchy, and not only that, you’ll more than likely be stationed near an entrance. Pop a plain long sleeved top on underneath and – hey presto! When that door is constantly opening and closing, you’ll be thankful for the extra layer. Trying to point someone in the direction of their screening whilst your teeth are chattering is less than ideal.

Did somebody say ‘Film Festival’? Here’s some of the many film festivals I was lucky to be a part of in 2017.

Plan ahead…

If you’re travelling a long way, you need to ensure you can still get there/back easily. If you’re late or drop out last minute, even though you’re doing it for free – it doesn’t look great. Festivals really rely on the volunteers, so never underestimate your importance in making the event a success. Sort your transport earlier, book an Airbnb if needed, and if any issues come up, just let your volunteer coordinator know ASAP. Also, try and get more than one t-shirt. Especially if you’re working shifts three days in a row…

Watch as much as you can…

This probably goes without saying. You’ll start seeing the same film names and director names crop up across the various festivals you work at, so it’s good to be able to recommend programmes to people and you’ll learn a lot about what works well with various audiences. There’s also really interesting strands – I remember I watched some of the VR showcase and a couple of films from our Deaf Programme at one festival I worked at – so you’ll discover so much.

Go to the industry events…

These really are the USP of film festivals. They’re super useful, especially for film students and those looking for the next steps into the industry. These events only really happen at festivals and film schools, it’s rare you’ll be able to get access to those sorts of events after the festival is over. Make some notes, learn as much as you can & make a note of their face/name. Likelihood is they’ll be mulling around the bar area or café or something over the course of the festival, so you’ll be able to approach them.

Don’t be afraid to ask for tickets, references, advice etc. …

Remember, you’re giving up your time for them, and after the festival ends there’s always a bit of a lull, so don’t be afraid to get back in touch for references or advice. They are all lovely people, and if you’ve been helpful and a pleasure to work with, they’ll be happy to help you in return. Same if there’s something you really, really want to watch in the programme. Just have a word and see if there’s any comp tickets left – you’ll never know unless you ask.

Be prepared to be very tired…

You’ll want to spend extra time with your new volly friends and grab the free drinks after your shift etc. but try and keep yourself well & energised. There’s nothing worse than being greeted by someone who is visibly hungover or having to work for 4 hours on a desk with someone who is constantly coughing & sneezing. You’ll get run-down, just prepare yourself as best you can so that you can have all the fun without the constant need to nap. TOP TIP: Stock up on Berocca… It works a charm.

Stay in touch…

You’ll probably see the same faces at a few festivals after a while. You’re all like-minded people, so make the connections and keep them up. You never know, you might be able to get into another festival role through the people you met on previous festivals.

Have fun…

Just like any music festival, you’re all there to enjoy the programme and celebrate something you love: film. If you’re upbeat & excited for the festival, the audience will feel that too, and you’ll be remembered by the staff for being a pleasure to work with. Personality goes a long way, so just be yourself, have a great time & make the most of the people you’re around.

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About 

Kathryn is an MA graduate in Film and Television from The University of Bristol. After moving from the depths of the countryside, Kathryn has swapped fields for filmmaking and has recently worked as a Production Assistant for Baby Cow. Kathryn continues to make informative (read: hilarious) videos with fellow Raindancer Dusan, and hopes to pursue a career in the film industry to financially support her cat.

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