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How To Host Your Own Indie Film Festival

If you've spent some serious blood, sweat and tears making an independent film, you know how it feels after. When you have the finished product. Your baby, all grown up and ready to be watched. One way to get it seen? Host your own film festival!

It may sound daunting, but it's an incredibly rewarding experience. There's no better way to celebrate the hard work of everyone involved - and thank your supporters too. Whether they are financial backers or the shoulders you cried on! Here's a rundown of how we organised Chalkfest - our short film festival for first-time filmmakers.

Step 1: Do Your Research

If you have never been to a film festival before: go. Not even for research, just because they are amazing. There's nothing like sitting and watching new and exciting stories on screen in a great venue. The air is alive with energy and it's really bloody inspiring.

I would highly recommend the British Independent Film Festival, London Short Film Festival and Underwire Film Festival. But there's plenty more!

Visit as many festivals as you can — it’s even better if you can go with your own film screening. So if you are an actor whose been in something, don't turn down the directors invite. It's a great way to learn what works and what doesn't. What are the highlights and what could be skipped?

For example with Chalkfest - I knew I wanted time for people to socialise before and after the films. I also knew I wanted to keep the screenings short and sweet...no one wants to be sitting in the dark for 5 hours...

Step 2: Find A Venue

London is full of incredible places to screen. they are hiding everywhere. I've been to screenings in swanky hotels and out the back of pubs. So ask around. If you love a certain venue, it's always worth asking if they would allow a screening too - you can always hire a projector!

You can find a great list of cinemas for hire here.

Think about what you need from the venue. Do you need a cinema to really appreciate the films, or would it be more interesting to have an immersive, site-specific element?

For us, we wanted a space that blended the formal and informal. A place where there were no airs and graces. Where we could have some drinks on hand to celebrate and everyone could mingle easily. It was a celebration after all.

Budget wise - you can go anywhere. If you have it, you could spend thousands on a swanky top of the range private cinema. Or - if you are savvy, you can get a great space for not a lot of money. Again, it's worth approaching unconventional spaces too. Our good pal Jake (of Brench Productions) set up Brenchfest in an event space in Manchester. He got a great deal by simply asking them if they were open to him setting up a projector against the back wall!

We used Whirled Cinema - an amazing space just a stone's throw from Brixton. It was flawless and we would highly recommend them. If you are flexible with dates too - you can usually get a good deal. If you avoid the weekend rush and do a Thursday evening - you can still draw in the crowds and keep down costs.

Teaming up is a great idea too - we split the cost between us and the directors of the films. We paid the largest share but their contributions made it possible to secure a Thursday evening at peak time. (So thanks guys!)

One last thing - It's always a good idea to do a reccy before the screening. Bring a copy of your film. Check what format they need to films in. See how it looks and sounds. Come up with a smooth running order and make sure the staff are fully aware of the set up.

Step 3: Add Value

It's a great idea to add some value to your event. If it's over multiple days set up a coffee morning with the creatives involved. If you can, have a Q&A with the cast. Anything to create a wider experience than simply watching the films themsleves. We chose to have a directors Q&A after the films, discussing the trials of making your first film. How obstacles arose and were overcome. The audience enjoyed picking the directors brains too!

Get Creative! Maybe even invite a band. Make it fun. Make it a show. This is a great way to turn and event into an experience. If you are using it as a way to thank your supporters, or if you offered it as a perk, it means they will be more likely to support you again in the future!

If you are ticketing your event to make money, then this will no doubt help your punters feel they get their money's worth. But bear in mind, if you sell tickets to your film screening the money has to go somewhere. You need to either accept that as a self-employed freelancer or as a company (if you have one). This means keeping a record of expenses is a great idea.

Also, be aware - that selling tickets means it's a "premier" if your film hasn't been seen before this. This means you are then discounted from entering some film festivals. Which is why we decided not to sell tickets for Chalkfest, as all the directors wanted to keep the premiere rights to their film.

Step 4: Market That Sh*t

Get your program up as early as possible — at least 30-60 days before. The longer it’s up, the more sales you likely will do and the better attended the event or events will be. Get the word out, get the directors, crew and cast to share the event too. Eventbrite is a good hosting platform if you want to create a guest list, or sell tickets. But they do take a small cut of ticket sales, so bear this in mind.

It's great to use posters, trailers and social media to get the word out. Emphasise the selling points. For example with Chalkfest we emphasised the key selling points:

  • Free (always a good seller...)

  • Celebration of emerging talent

  • Q &A with indie filmmakers

  • A bar in the venue and on to a pub afterwards!

For our VIP supporters (those who paid for the highest perks) we also decided to go the extra mile and have a bottle of bubbly ready for them on arrival. These little touches can really make your supporters feel special.

Step 6: Network

Another way to get the buzz going about your film is to invite press. Do some research on mid-level film critics. Be realistic about the kind of person will come. And remember flattery always wins. Supportive journalists can help get the word out about the festival and a film. Offer them a comp you can afford it and show them a good time!

Or even find people you'd love to work with in the future. Sometimes them seeing your work can lead to a future connection.

Step 7: Document Everything!

Don’t forget to take pictures and video. You can use the documentation to help promote your films and the event. Who knows maybe you'll do it all again next year! And get some sponsors? Either way, you'll have something great to look back on afterwards, like ours!

We hope this helps you with your own independent film festival planning. We look forward to our invites! Who knows, maybe we will see you at Chalkfest 2.0 in the future too...

By: Olivia Foan