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How To Festival: Advice from Production Designers fresh off the Film Festival Circuit

We asked colleagues who recently participated in our festival events to share some of their experiences and advice on festival-going practices.


1. Be Realistic.

Dafni Kalogianni is a Greek production designer for feature films and commercials, local and international. She was recently at Berlinale for the international premiere of her film "Digger".

When it comes to film festivals it is essential that you think ahead of time how you want to spend your days once you are there. If you are attending the whole festival you are going to have enough time to do a little bit of everything, but if you go only for a few days you better think ahead. Are you going to spend your time equally between the films’ viewings and socializing with your colleagues? Most likely you are also going to be tempted for a small exploring walk to discover the city in case this is the first time you are visiting.

Be realistic: check well how much time is needed to get to the viewing cinemas and don't plan to see more than 3 films in one day. If you have a participating film in the festival most likely you are going to hang out with your fellow crew members before and after the film’s premiere, so don’t plan to do other much on this day. Lastly but also of great importance - after film parties tend to last until the first morning hours, so don't make big plans for the morning after. Drink lots of water!


2. Less expectations will lead to a better festival.

Valeria de Felice was at the Sundance Film Festival this year with a few projects: she was the production designer of "The 40-Year-Old Version" and the art director of "The Evening Hour".

Festivals are a great way to reunite with our film families, meet new people and watch great films, but it can be daunting. There are always a lot of expectations and we imagine 48h-long days to watch films, go to meetings, and parties.

This year was my third time at the Sundance Film Festival, and each year it evolves and changes. On my first year I was incredibly excited, bought lots of tickets in advance and RSVPed to tons of parties. I did not manage to go see as many films as planned because during the first weekend the lovely Park City traffic can become like Manhattan on a Friday and a bunch of theaters and venues are not walking distance from Main Street. I strongly suggest to waitlist on the day - through the Sundance App - or buy the ticket from their website 12 hours before the screening. You will have a better understanding of your daily schedule by then and you’ll be able to plan accordingly - start heading to theater at least 1 hour in advance!

Besides the amazing feeling of seeing your film screening, the great parties and the Mountain views, my favorite Sundance activity is going to panels at the Filmmakers Lodge. It’s a small venue, interviews with filmmakers are informal and in front of a very small audience. It’s intimate and quiet, that’s exactly what I need after spending some time in the crowded Main Street. The Filmmakers Lodge can only be accessed with a credential, make sure your producers give you one! I love going to panels because it also takes off some of that networking pressure, lets you taste another side of the vibrant festival community and it will enrich your upcoming conversations.

Get a house as close to Main Street as possible, research who of your film family will be at the festival and if there is any filmmaker you’d like to meet, get familiar with the geography of the town, go with some people you like and let your days flow. Less expectations will lead to a better festival and nice surprises.


3. Don't put too much pressure on yourself.

James Price is a production designer and art director based in London. His film "The Nest" premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

I recently returned from Sundance where my first feature as a PD premiered. The whole experience was very much like being at a family wedding. Meeting and being paired up with long lost family members. Myself and the DOP shared a condo with the film's US casting director & her assistant, who had worked with the director since his film school days. We had never met before, but the hospitality and kindness given to us by our American cousins was humbling. Within the art departments I’ve worked in over the years we have always tried to create a safe, friendly family environment, so everyone is free to do their best work. When that transmits across the whole filmmaking process it’s quite beautiful, and I feel very fortunate to work alongside a filmmaker who encourages that approach.

With this experience in mind, my one piece of festival advice would be not to put too much pressure on yourself to meet and network. Leave all that to the directors, producers, cast and agents. Treat it as a holiday, hang out, go with the flow and you’ll have lots of fun, who knows where it’ll take you and who you might meet with the pressure off. Oh and don’t forget to watch a film or two.


4. Break the Shyness

Taísa Malouf is a production designer and art director dividing her time between NYC and Brazil. She designed the Nigerian film "Eyimofe", which premiered at the Berlinale this year.

This was my first time at Berlinale, and I found the side events of the festival way more interesting than watching films, because it was almost impossible to find available tickets for screenings. What I took the most advantage of was going to the Berlinale Talents Events - they hosted several talks dedicated to every category on making films and had one focused only in production design, which doesn’t happens very often. The talk moderated by the PDC was for sure the best part of it because it was fantastic to exchange experiences with designers from all around and realize that we all share the same issues.

One piece of advice that I can give, that it is something I always make an afford to do it myself as well, is to break the shyness and chat with as most people as you can. Everybody there is willing to talk about their work and it is always a great exchange and network connection.


5. Just hang out.

Trinka Lat is a Berlin-based production designer and set decorator for film and television. She is an alum of the Production Design Studio at the Berlinale Talents program.

I love film festivals. It’s quite marvelous to be able to indulge in the things you love and be surrounded by people with the same enthusiasm and passion. One always manages to strike up a conversation with any most random person and discuss anything from the most banal – like the weather, the food, a good bar and films you’d recommend watching – or end up having the most fascinating exchange over film metaphors, philosophies and inspiring life-changing decisions.

Festivals have a good way of taking you out of your comfort zone and leaving you open to new experiences. That being said, to get the most out of any film festival -- aside from remembering to get enough sleep, keep hydrated, make eye-contact and smile at people -- make it your imperative to just hang out. Hang out after your film pitch, or after film meetings, screenings, meet-ups or even parties. There were countless times I was happy to have stayed for that “second” beer just because I made new friends, got to explore new corners of a city or simply enjoyed people-watching.


6. You are in the right place wherever you're at.

Lili Lea Abraham, originally from Hungary, is a production designer and assistant art director based in London. This year she took part in the Production Design Studio at the Berlinale Talents program.

Berlinale... a beautiful madness. I attended this year as part of Berlinale Talents 2020. We spent 7 full days networking, attending talks and watching films with 250 filmmakers from 87 different countries, and with people from Berlinale mainly during parties, at night.

Attending film festivals now seems a truly essential part of my life as a production designer and filmmaker. They are incredible opportunities to exchange thoughts and meet other people who we would rarely come across while working and get inspired.

My advice: Do not try to make it everywhere. You will miss out on things, you will hear about 'amazing parties' the day after, you will not watch 'the film' everybody talks about. Don't worry! You are in the right place wherever you're at. (Even if you are having an afternoon nap because you are knackered). Just be present, wherever you are and get the most out of it.

Easy with the schedule, go with the flow. It was useful for me to have a framework for each day so then I could break it and do something different with people who I met. Sitting in a communal area drinking coffee is one of the best chances to network. You meet people, you have great chats about work - then you run out of words...realizing you will spend few days together at the festival ..then an awkward silence follows and then you find yourself talking about life, inspiration, dreams, family etc. And that is great!

Stock up on Vitamin C, Magnesium and Calcium. Take them every day. And stop stressing about not getting enough sleep, you will not get enough sleep. Take your vitamins, drink water and eat whenever you get a chance.

If you are shy at parties, start by going and talking to one person per event. It will get easier eventually. If you are really keen to get into a party where you were not invited, walk through the kitchen, very confidently.


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