I haven’t had a holiday in two years, so the winter months closing in helped me make my mind up that now is the time. My preference would be lying on a beach somewhere sunny, but a short film I had a role in last year is being screened at an upcoming international festival, so I booked a trip there instead.
The host city does have a beach, but as the airfares and hotel rates are at festival-season prices, I can only afford a three-night stay and I want to make the most of my outlay.
I have business cards already printed up with my casting profile and contact details, and have made a list of all the big-name attendees I would love to meet if I get the chance. It’s exciting that our own short is part of the programme, but I’m not fooling myself that it is any more than one small screening out of hundreds.
What’s your advice to help me make the most of my festival trip for the rest of the time I am there?
My first piece of advice, whether a festival is overseas or just down the road, is to explore the events and shows on offer and ask yourself whether you would enjoy attending them for their own sakes, regardless of any connections you make. The time and expense involved in ‘getting yourself out there’ has far more chance of being justified if you enjoy the journey and the experience as a whole, rather than judging it solely on whether or not you achieve specific goals.
Being too calculated about networking can also lead to accidentally projecting a sense of “I am desperate to connect with you because of what you can do for me”, which is guaranteed to push potential collaborators in the opposite direction. Most importantly, if you are too focused on searching for people you have set your heart on meeting, you might miss even more useful connections that happen by accident.
Whoever you do connect with, remember to ask about their work at least twice as often as you tell them about yours. This will not only increase the chances of people warming to you, but will also ensure that any projects they are working on or know about that you might contribute to don’t remain hidden to you because you used whatever time you had together banging on about your own showreel.
Another festival secret is to be as nice to the people working at the event, even if just as volunteers or in other mundane roles, as you would be to the VIPs. There’s a lot of thankless, tedious and often unacknowledged activity that needs to be put in behind the scenes to make a major festival appear to the outside world that everything is running like clockwork.
In an environment where many of the attendees will be completely absorbed with promoting themselves or schmoozing with the big boys, it is surprising how often a kind word to the people who will be checking you into events, serving you coffee or showing you to your seat can have unexpected benefits. Besides starting friendships that can continue beyond the event, you may also tap yourself into the kind of insider knowledge about what’s hot and which events you should be spending your time at that can often be hidden from outsiders.
Many up-and-coming theatre and film-makers who are passionate about their work, but don’t yet have the finances to invest in festival tickets, get through the doors by donating volunteer hours. That person handing over your goody bag this time round might be somebody you will be hoping will invite you for a coveted audition in a few years’ time.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at email@example.com or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne