What I learned as a press delegate at the London Film Festival
After two blissful weeks of non-stop film viewing and rubbing shoulders with megastars, my first stint as a press delegate at the BFI London Film Festival sadly comes to a close.
While only the super devoted will have taken to overnight stays at Odeon Leicester Square, the festival nevertheless felt like a camp for adults, as throngs of likeminded individuals from all across the globe gathered together in the celebration of feature film.
What first began as an impulsive decision to fill out a press application back in August has truly turned out to be one of the most exciting and rewarding experiences in my journalistic career thus far, affording access to conferences and events I had previously only dreamed of. That being said, one has to keep their wits about them if they’re hoping to get the most out of the festival programme.
Here’s some sage advice, with love from an as-now seasoned festival goer, to those looking to apply for accreditation next year.
1. The delegates’ website is a labyrinth to navigate.
Looking to find out about venues, timings, access, or any other essential info about press events online? Forget about it! Ok, perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but while I consider myself rather computer literate, I was hopelessly confused by the Festival’s delegate website. Rest assured though, as the daily emails from the LFF PR team will tell you everything you need to know. These event notifications may only give you 24 hours’ notice (or less), so make sure you’re keeping yourself in the loop and using an email address that you’ll be checking constantly.
2. The days are long.
Press screenings can start in the 8am regions, and premiere galas push on past 9pm. If you’re going to conferences in between, you may find yourself rushed off your feet a lot during the festival, so… [see points 3 and 6].
3. Choose your events wisely.
The programme is jam packed with gems, so the sad truth is, you won’t be able to do everything you want to. From my experience this year, red carpets can be a gamble, as the stars may be feeling press-shy and choose not to stop for a chat [or, in the odd case, they may even be disrupted by a protest]. Press conferences are a much better bet for getting a quote, as: (a) they’re in a calmer, get-down-to-business kind of environment, (b) they’re earlier in the day, so everyone’s feeling fresh and ready to go, and (c) they’re more exclusive, with a better chance of getting your voice heard and your questions answered. That being said, refer to point 4.
4. Get to press conferences early.
Unless you’re upper-echelon press (national print media etc.), it can be competitive getting into the oversubscribed conferences. However, I was lucky enough to get into all of the conferences I wanted, including star features Suffragette, Trumbo, and Carol. The trick is to get to the venues as early as possible, as entry works on a first come, first served basis. This means you won’t have time for that leisurely coffee or toilet break after a screening, and it’s best to plan your route to the conference room in advance.
5. Wear comfortable shoes.
Specifically, don’t wear open-toe, heeled sandals! As mentioned above, the days are long, meaning the October weather can go from mild to pretty darn cold in the span of twelve hours. There’s also a lot of running around between screening and conference venues, so sneakers are more appropriate attire than your best stilettos.
6. You get out what you put in.
I went to a lot during the festival, yet I still wish I’d gone to more. There’s definitely something to be said for pacing yourself, as you may – like I did – find yourself with only snatches of time to write your reviews or transcribe your interviews. However, the festival has so much to offer that you’d be a fool to waste what the golden ticket of a press badge entitles you to. If you can do so, attend as many screenings (free cinema visits!) as you can, and definitely don’t skip the early morning showings in exchange for a lie-in. These tend to be the films followed by press conferences, and you don’t want to find yourself in front of Meryl Streep having not just seen the movie she’s promoting.
7. Be social.
Readers who have ever met the ‘person behind the piece’ will find this pointer rich, knowing I’m not very good at making friends. Nevertheless, most delegates will be attending the festival alone, and will almost always be up for a chat about the movie you just watched together, or the talk you’re standing in line for. More cynically, you’re going to be bumping into the same faces day after day for two weeks. Save everyone the awkwardness by introducing yourself early, rather than exchanging tentative glances over the next fourteen days.
Are you a member of the press and want to attend next year’s BFI London Film Festival? Of course you do! Look out for delegate applications in August 2016.
Check out Ally’s coverage of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival here.