Staff writers with regular gigs at print publications and online journals, or established freelancers with publishing ties have the best chance of scoring a press pass at regional or local film festivals. The following suggestions represent basic steps in getting credentialed at festivals and similar events (such as fan conventions with mini film festivals) where entertainment journalists often get sneak peeks at movies before their general releases.
Choosing the Right Film Festival
Selecting an appropriate festival to attend depends on the timing, location, and genre that best meet the needs of the writer and the publication. Magazines focusing on specific genres will be interested only in festivals (or fan conventions and related events) catering to movies within or related to that genre.
Major magazines may feature only the largest, most prestigious festivals, including Cannes, Sundance, and Toronto, or restrict festival coverage to certain geographic areas or seasons of the year. It’s very difficult to get passes to the major festivals without a well-known and widely circulated magazine attached to the writing assignment. General interest publications and newspapers usually are open to a variety of film genres and publish festival coverage throughout the year, and are the best places to start for new and mid-level writers.
Visit official film festival websites online to find the right event to attend. Fan conventions also can be found online using search engines and keywords relating to the genre. After identifying one or more events that sound interesting enough (and convenient enough) to cover, it’s time to move on to step two.
Best advice for newer writers: Start off small. Cover local and regional film festivals for local and regional publications.
Getting the Assignment From a Publisher
It’s best to get a firm assignment first before approaching the marketing/publicity staff at a film festival. Wannabe writers who try to get credentialed without an assignment usually will not be taken seriously.
Festivals may require a letter of assignment from an editor. Sometimes merely filling out an application (usually found online at the festival’s official website) will be sufficient. Writers may have to submit both the letter and application, along with a business card and/or specific coverage plans. Be prepared for any of these scenarios.
Also be prepared to pay for transportation and hotel rooms, which may or may not be taken care of by the festival or the publication. Occasionally, festivals will offer free hotel rooms for press (with prestigious publications) and the assigning editor may pay for transportation or provide a per diem. Who pays for what often is decided by the size of the festival and the circulation of the publication. Typically, the bigger the festival and the publication, the better the entertainment journalist’s chances for getting perks.
Attending the Film Festival as an Entertainment Journalist
If you are approved and do receive a press pass and publicity materials (such as a badge, tickets, and press book), entertainment journalists should map out a plan. The writer’s interests and specialties, in addition to the publication’s requirements, will dictate which events and screenings to attend. The credentials may allow admittance to all events (including parties, preview screenings, regular screenings, and special events) or be limited to specific festival programming.
Depending upon festival guidelines and publication affiliation, writers may receive VIP seating or be admitted last after all ticket holders have filled the theater auditorium. The rules for obtaining/using press passes vary from festival to festival and can even change year to year at the same festival.
Out of respect for the marketing staff who provided the credentials, sample copies of the published article or links to the online URLs should be sent immediately after the festival ends. Many marketing directors forward this information on to the filmmakers, and keep copies for their own files in order to secure grants, advertising, special guests, and filmmakers for future festivals. A thank you note is always appropriate, especially if the writer hopes to return again next year.