How To Sundance: Your Guide To Film Festival Networking

Welcome to Utah, weary traveler. Your festival adventure is about to begin. That is, once you get out of Salt Lake City – the driest city on the planet. Good luck trying to get a drink there. Park City is 45 minutes away. During the festival the town is overrun by industry, transforming it to what I like to call: Dime A Dozen-Ville.

You may notice a distinct lack of pollution in the air. Do not panic. This is normal. You may relax and breath fully, using that extra area of lung that only Mormons know about.

Now the first thing you will need is a laminate. No, not lament, as in, “I lament my film didn’t get in the festival.” A lamanent is a plastic ID hung around the neck with a lanyard. Essentially, it’s proof of your existence during the festival. Without one you might as well stay home.

Just like a name tag at a corporate retreat, laminates display everyone’s name. A seasoned festival goer won’t look you in the eye when you first meet. They’ll look at the name on your laminate, determine if you’re a “somebody”, and then decide if you’re worth talking to. They’re not being rude, it’s all part of the dance.

Sundance gives laminates to their accredited filmmakers. They also sell them to film industry professionals, such as sales agents, for lots of money. They color code them for convenience. One color for filmmakers, another for more important people, like studio film buyers. So now you don’t even have to read the person’s name. It’s perfectly acceptable to completely ignore the person in front of you simply because of the color of their badge.

So if you don’t have a laminate, make one. Go to Staples and get some laminating sheets. Use Photoshop, magic marker, whatever you got to MacGyver that shit. Then use a pair of shoe laces for the lanyard.

badgeThe next thing you’ll need is a smart phone with the IMDB app. If you’re a filmmaker who doesn’t know what IMDB is, stop reading this and take up painting. Internet Movie Database is Hollywood’s bible of who’s who in film and TV. Only accredited films, ones with real distribution or a festival appearance, and the people who worked on them make the database. You’re nobody if you’re not somebody on IMDB. A top notch festival networker can read the name off your laminate, look you up on IMDB, & determine the value of your accumulated credits, all before they’re done shaking your hand. So get some credits on IMDB or consider assuming the identity of someone with lots of credits. Just pray that person isn’t in Park City. At this point I’m obligated, by court order, to once again apologize to Mr. Edward Burns. Is it my fault drunk people mistake me for him?

What else? Oh, yes. Apparently you can ski in Park City. This will be my fourth trip to Sundance & I have yet to try so much as the bunny hill.

Time to rest up at La Quinta for my assault on Park City. Stay tuned.

Matthew Ehlers is a New York City filmmaker and wise ass. He has been accepted to Sundance three times & truly loves the festival. He hopes no one from The Sundance Institute reads this. But if they do, Matt hopes they enjoy satire.