Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why You Should Volunteer at a Film Festival (Like, The Valley Film Festival)

Most Angelenos in the entertainment industry divide their time between making art and making connections with other industry professionals, with the hopes to make even more art. Even the most talented tend to get stuck without a solid network of "contacts," aka friends who support their art and will recommend them to others and of course, vice versa. 

But how do you create this network? With all the people, neighborhoods, bars, and events all over the city every night, how are you supposed to turn a short yet meaningful conversation with a director at one party into a true invitation to send him your script or your headshot? How can you stand out from everyone else?

You can't. At least that's been my experience in 8 years of networking in LA's film scene. At an event, you can have great conversations that can lead to the beginnings of great friendships. These can, in turn,  years later usually, lead to a wider net of contacts. But until someone knows they can trust you, sees your work ethic, and watches the energy and intelligence you bring to the table, they aren't going to bring you onto a film regardless of how or charming you are at a party after a few drinks. And you won't know if you want to work with them either. This is why the word networking carries such a stigma of phoniness. Meeting someone for the first time with an agenda just doesn't make you feel trustworthy, and networking without an agenda can feel like a waste of time, gas, and money. And most of the chatter about work is, frankly, irrelevant because people aren't looking to hire people they just met. They want to work with people they know.
I've always looked at volunteering as a different but extremely productive approach to networking.

And if you're hoping to make contacts with filmmakers, there's no better place than a film festival, where you'll be interacting with everyone, with plenty of chances to be remembered. With over 100 film festivals in LA ranging from the large and in charge (AFI, LA Film Festival, Hollywood Film Festival) to the boutique and unique (THE VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL, Silver Docs, The Downtown Independent) you're never hurting for opportunities.

The beauty of volunteering for a film festival is that you are networking with everyone else involved, but you aren't. Rather than two dueling agendas, you'll share a mutual agenda, to make the festival go. You're all on the same team.  Whether you are talking to vendors about sponsorships, selling tickets, screening films, coordinating filmmakers, or stuffing gift bags, you have days, weeks, even months of time to get to know not just who your peers are, but how they work, and show them your best as well.

As the festival starts, you'll be one of the few people who feels right at home. Everyone will feel relaxed chatting with you, after all, you're with the festival. You'll have no trouble meeting new people. And of course, because you have free passes to see all the films, you have something to talk about all night. 
Even when not at the film festival itself, just being affiliated will change the way you meet other filmmakers.  At other events, you now have something genuine to say to a filmmaker, like "Oh you just finished a feature? You should submit to The Valley Film Festival." immediately offering up something could help them and yourself at the same time.
Having volunteered for many other festivals before falling in love with The Valley Film Festival, I've found that most people volunteering are also in the industry. You'd be surprised at how many of the volunteers folding programs next to you are also directors and artists with projects that may suit your talents. Between the set up, launch, and break down you'll get close quickly, and suddenly cast a new net of true contacts.

Even the most glamorous film festivals are understaffed. Volunteering, if you're looking to rise and shine, can quickly put you in line to man some of the most creative and executive positions. So if you're looking for real experience in entertainment marketing, hosting, blogging, designing, set carpentry to add to your resume and skill set, here's another great way to make yourself more marketable and qualify you bigger film jobs.

Going to a film festivals opened my eyes to how many quality films are out there, even one with bigger names, that may never get distribution, or at least not in the United States. Underneath the first layer of over exposed studio movies and TV shows, an entire world of less accessible but equally dynamic films are made, screened, and loved by people all around the world. Some of my favorite films that have shaped my views came from screenings at SXSW, Boston International, and other festivals, films that most people never had the chance to see. As a volunteer for The Valley Film Festival, my eyes are even wider, as the next layer of films peels open, the great ones that just won't fit in our programming schedule (we are usually choosing about 6 features from hundreds) but still moved me. The art is inspirational, as is the reminder that around us, artists are hustling, making their dreams into reality and it keeps me on the ball.

Are you interested in volunteering for the Valley Film Festival? We have year round meetings and are always hoping to expand. If so, please email Hillary, our Volunteer Coordinator, at Hillary@valleyfilmfest.com, or feel free to reach out to me: georgia@valleyfilmfest.com.

Perhaps another festival is more your style, either way my advice is go for it. Make the call and ask if the festival is looking for volunteers. Let them know your strengths. Feel free to switch around till you find the right fit, search for ways to leave a footprint on the organization, and watch the opportunities unfold before you.

Contributed by Georgia Menides

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