As September approached and the San Sebastian International Film Festival was rapidly coming into view, a whirlwind of activity commenced for us.
People in the film industry were excited for us and everyone was giving us tips on how to best “play” the festival. Being the innocent greenhorns we were, we listened gratefully and tried to implement as many suggestions as we could.
One of the interesting episodes we encountered in these final weeks before the festival was a meeting we had with one of the top movie PR firms in Los Angeles. Having heard of our selection at San Sebastian, the head of the firm invited us to his offices when we were in LA finishing up getting the film print ready for the festival. He wanted to discuss with us how we should handle the whole San Sebastian experience from a public relations/press standpoint. Even after telling him we were a small indie company with little or no money left in our bank account, he still wanted to meet.
When Aaron and I arrived at the company’s offices, we were ushered into this big boardroom and the head of the firm joined us there and the three of us had a long friendly discussion of what we were getting into. The most interesting thing that came out of it, however, was the first question he asked us. After a few niceties in the way of introductions, he looked us in the eye and asked point blank: ”Who got you into San Sebastian?” Aaron and I looked at each other and shrugged, saying the film got us in. We told him that we simply submitted the movie ourselves through the normal submission channels and then quickly heard that we were selected. The PR man looked at us a bit dumbfounded and somewhat amazed, saying that pulling something like that off was extremely rare, almost unheard of. I must admit that at that moment, even we were impressed.
On reflecting back on our journey with The Sensation of Sight and what we’ve learned launching it into the world, however, I must say that his initial question was one of those telling moments for us. It instantly confirmed what we had heard and had long suspected about the big festivals–that they were for the most part a closed shop and open only to those filmmakers who had on their team those with an inside track to the programmers. Sneaking into a major festival through the open submission door was a fluke of the first order. Needless to say, we are thinking long and hard about that as we move into our next film, Someplace Like America, and how to approach the festivals.
Anyway, this same PR guy suggested that we hire a European PR firm to handle San Sebastian and gave us several suggestions. We ended up with a firm from London that sent two of their people to the festival to work it for us and guide us through the entire process. It was an extremely expensive item, but also fairly critical as we didn’t know the ropes and needed to be coached through the various press components in order to take optimal advantage of our film’s world premiere at a prestigious fest.
And then there were the passport updates, booking the flights, coordinating who on our team was coming over for the fest, renting cars, negotiating hotel rooms with the festival staff, and on and on. It was a busy month prior to our departure. But somehow all the arrangements were made and suddenly one day all of us were boarding planes from various places and heading for Spain.
(Next: Arriving for our world premiere…)