I wrote a 1200+ word article for indieWIRE last month, Doc Filmmakers Guide to the IFP Market, geared toward filmmakers who are taking a project to this year’s incarnation. Naturally, I got more responses from generous past participants than I had room to include so I generalized and used pertinent quotes, etc., but one message came in that I think needs to be shared in whole. It came from Tracy Heather Strain who has been to the Market with her work 7 times, last year with her Lorraine Hansberry project! I asked Tracy if I could share her advice in its entirety here because it is so practical and helpful for filmmakers, particularly those going for the first time. And I think her cost and time saving tips can be adapted for festivals and other sales gatherings that occur so frequently in film. Muchas gracias Tracy!

1. When I lived in NY, I worked for the distributor Cinecom and knew first-hand that distribution companies looked for projects all year long, but when we came down from Boston for the Market in 1995 with a project that part of my brain turned off. We put too much pressure on ourselves to have something major happen Market week. After spending the time and money, I guess we wanted a tangible payoff like getting picked up, and when that didn’t happen we were deflated for awhile. I wished someone had told me every day leading up to the Market and twice a day at the Market not to put this kind of pressure on myself or our team, particularly since our project was not that far along.

2. I wish someone had told me in 1995 not to spend so much money on marketing materials. That first year, we over-spent on print materials. plus we ended up throwing a lot of paper away. Here’s what we do now for our print materials to economize, maintain professional standards, and prevent waste.

IMAGE/ART. We really think about what image and typography will be the most effective for our project, and we focus on simplicity. This was reinforced at an industry meeting in 1999. The industry rep said that the artwork that we’d selected that year successfully conveyed the subject and tone of our project, and made her feel comfortable that we really understood our project and its audience.

POST CARDS. We order these online from one of the big postcard houses. We print our image/art on one side and only our project name and home contract info on the back in a small font so that we can use the leftover postcards during and after the Market for other purposes. We print labels with our screening info and cell numbers in advance, and each morning affix a bunch to the postcards for our team to pass out that day. After our screening, we adhere a different label on the back that reminds folks to check out the film in the video library. We also purchase some envelopes so that we can use our blank postcards to send private messages at the Market, including thank you notes to folks who attended our screenings, which we do as soon as possible.

POSTERS. We use a larger version of same image and fonts on our poster. There are places online that will print one poster, and they are much cheaper than Fedex/Kinko’s. There’s really no need to print lots of posters for the Market. You can also save money by making a poster using your postcards. Just line them up so that they are the same size as a standard one- or two-sheet, and glue to posterboard. The repetition of the imagery can be striking. Last year we invested in an inexpensive artwork/poster carrier so that we’d be less likely to lose it on the subway like we did one year. We now use the carrier all the time traveling to fundraising events.

PRESS KITS. At a pre-Market panel one year Dempsey Rice shared that she used half-sized folders for her press kit (8-3/4″x5-3/4″). We have been doing the same every year since. We have to order them online. Like she did, we adhere our postcard on the front. The 8-1/2″x11″ sheets have to be folded and slip into the pocket sideways. Various people have said that this size is easier to carry around than the standard 9″x12″ folders. We don’t bring that many press kits.

3. As a Market filmmaker I try not to compare when other projects and filmmakers receive more favorable time slots, bigger screening audiences, longer meeting industry lists, and number of personal messages I received compared to other projects. Sometimes this is very difficult to do, but there are often reasons for this. So I ask myself things like: “Did I present my project in the most compelling way on print and in my pitches?” “Was my application sample strong?” “How much time did I spend inviting people to my screening before I left home as well as at the Market?” and “Are my marketing materials effective” The first time I attended the Market as an Industry Rep, I was stunned to realize how many companies have their representatives up in the Video Library all day screening projects. So don’t let a less than packed screening get you down. Ever project is different. Remember, the real key is making the best film possible with a compelling story. In the end, that’s what counts.

4. Be prepared to learn. The IFP Market and Conference is a great place to learn what projects succeed in the marketplace and why. On your own you can informally track and analyze work-in-progress projects after the Market over time through the various industry print and online publications. Not only is this instructive but it reminds me that it takes time to make a good long-form documentary. At the Conference really listen and try to understand what the various industry folks are trying to communicate to you.

5. Random thoughts. As soon as you register, go sit in a quiet coffee shop somewhere with all the materials and write down a schedule of things you need to do, including meeting times, and things you’d like to do. There are invitations in the bag, don’t throw them away. During the week, if you’re in a conversation with someone, don’t scan the room as if you’re looking for someone “more important” to chat with. If you are genuinely looking for someone, tell the person you’re with, maybe they already know that individual. Asking questions at the Conference just to be seen is lame. If you have a problem, don’t fly off the handle, everyone working on behalf of the Market wants you to have a positive experience and will work to rectify the situation if possible. Arrive at your screening early to review specs like aspect ratio and volume. Treat the volunteers kindly. Remember the Market and Conference is full of folks who at some point in their careers may be in a position to help you. How do you want them to remember you?

6. The best advice I received and I like to pass on is to meet lots of filmmakers and go to see their films at the Market when possible. Have fun. I have maintained several of the relationships I’ve made through the Market. Plus, it is a great place to hang out with filmmakers I know from home, but we never get a chance to get together there. We help promote each other’s projects.

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Tags: advice, Creative Process, Education, events, ifp-market, NYC