Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

How to set up a film festival

Myself and my buddy set up a film festival, this is how we did it.

Fri, Sep 13, 2013, 18:43


OneTwoOneTwo is a music documentary film festival myself and my mate Cillian set up last year. This year, it’s happening again (loads of details here), so I thought I’d share some information of how to set up a film festival if there was anyone out there wondering how the heck you go about these things.

Don’t wait around for someone to fill a gap that you think you’d like to fill. There’s nothing stopping you from doing things yourself, especially if you’re willing to complain about what’s out there.

Have a good idea.
We decided upon a music documentary film festival because that’s what we love. It was an accident really. We were emailing docs over and back to each other because we’re just fans of docs really, and then one of us just said ‘let’s do a music documentary film festival’. I don’t know why someone hasn’t thought of doing this properly before, and we knew there was an audience for it. Apart from it taking a fair bit of our time, it was a no brainer. We’re not interested in making loads of money from something, we just want to do something that’s fun and that people will have a good experience at. Because we both have that philosophy, our working relationship was always going to be a good one.

Approach a cinema or space that thinks like you.
Myself and Cillian went to the Light House because they’re a free-thinking, smart bunch of people who are open to ideas. You don’t get anywhere without collaboration, and the most important thing to remember when you’re starting anything is that there are people out there who know more about you, so learn from them.

Don’t start anything you really don’t know anything about.
Cillian is an encyclopedia when it comes to documentaries – music ones or otherwise. I know my stuff pretty well, but he knows everything. The Light House guys are experts at what they do. All of us put together have put on loads of events. You’ll learn loads of stuff on the job, but you need to know what’s going on in competing areas and on a practical level yourself to do the gig well.

Think wisely about sponsorship.
Once you’ve got an audience, sponsors will get on board. That can be useful because it might offer an opportunity to shoulder some of the costs so you won’t be freaking out about losing money. But remember, sponsorship is always going to be a compromise. Do you want to have a brand to have title sponsorship (that means their name will be in the name of your festival)? Do you want them to be a lead sponsor (that means their name will feature heavily in your communications)? Do you want it to be a partner sponsor (that means if it’s an alcohol company, for example, they mightn’t necessarily throw cash at you but could supply you with loads of free stock)? Does your sponsor fit with your audience? Do you feel uneasy about their brand matched with yours? Do you fear you’ll end up relying on their cash and if they decide not to do it your festival will become less sustainable? Think about all these things. Myself and Cillian have been approached by various people looking to come on board, but so far they haven’t really fit, so we’ve turned down offers. That doesn’t mean that we’re totally ruling out sponsorship, but you have to value what you’ve created.

Programme well.
The thing people who are really into something can often forget about is the audience. The audience comes first, second, third and last. They’re the people you want to entertain, they’re the people you’re serving, they’re the people buying your tickets. If I wanted to do a film festival for myself, a programme might look a bit difference, but step outside of your own interests and think about the audience, while still being proud of what you’re programming. Seek advice. Straw poll your buddies. Ask the cinema dudes what sells well. Get perspective. Seek out a diverse programme that serves as many people as possible without being totally vanilla. Loads of people will be like ‘why don’t you put on this? I wish you were showing that,’ but the reality is there are loads of issues with exclusivity, premieres, film rights, screening fees and formats that will put the kybosh on stuff you want to do. That’s why you should have a long list at the start. A REALLY long list. If you’re lucky 25% of what was on your dream list will come to pass, but if you’ve loads of films you want to screen, you won’t end up putting stuff on you’re not that enthusiastic about.

Get decent artwork.
M&E did our initial logo and Niall McCormack did our current one. Go for cool stuff, there are plenty of awesome Irish designers out there. Go for something that will look good across all formats – posters, online, in newspaper ads and so on.

Get coverage.
Myself and Cillian are lucky in that (a) we’re working with a cinema that has a really good marketing team and a fantastic name in the media, and (b) we have loads of media contacts ourselves. Offer outlets really good stuff; good interviews, screeners, all that stuff, not just ‘please write about our festival so we can sell tickets’. You want to build excitement and allow the subjects and makers of films to explain their work properly. Respect them. Also make sure the people involved in the movies are prepared to promote it with you too and do some press.

Pick a good date.
Look at the calendar, don’t clash with anything that’s going to take all of your audience away, like Electric Picnic or something like that. But let’s face it, there’s always something on. We’re clashing a bit with our friends at HWCH, but you should go to both festivals! The start of the month is also better than later in the month, because people who have jobs tend to have just got paid then.

Learn about print transport.
That’s basically getting the format the films are on. It’s cheaper these days because most (new) stuff is screening from digital formats, so you won’t necessarily have to pay to ship rolls of 35mm from overseas. I’ve learned a bit about this from being on the board of GAZE, but the Light House know everything about this and they’ve been a huge help.

Work out how everyone is going to get paid.
Talk about splits, costs, profit shares, ticket percentages and all that stuff beforehand, obviously.

Pay attention to screening fees.
Some films are cheap to screen (you have to pay either the filmmaker or distributor, mainly), some are more expensive, but there’s always room to bargain. Don’t show someone’s film at a festival without paying them their dues. It’s their work.

Offer value for money.
Don’t fleece people. We’ve got special offers, and we feel our ticket prices are really fair.

Plug it!
Don’t pester people, but make sure as many people as possible know the festival is on. Tell your friends, ask them to tell people, talk about it on social media, post trailers, share information, explain to people how and where they can buy tickets. Get your Facebook page, Twitter account and blog in order and use that as a reference tool for your audience.

OneTwoOneTwo runs Oct 3rd – 6th. You can buy tickets to OneTwoOneTwo here. 

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