Advice from the Field: Festival Formula on the MNFF

Katie McCullough and MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven lead a discussion entitled "Crowdfunding and other new ways to finance your films" at the MCMC at the 2015 Festival.
Katie McCullough and MNFF Artistic Director Jay Craven lead a discussion entitled “Crowdfunding and other new ways to finance your films” at the MCMC at the 2015 Festival.

Here at the MNFF we were fortunate enough to welcome Festival Formula to our Inaugural Festival last year, with founder Katie McCullough speaking on a panel about crowd-funding and festival strategy to a packed MCMC (for non-Middlebury residents, that’s the Middlebury Community Music Center, a gorgeous old home in the center of town). Festival Formula is a great resource for filmmakers about to hit the festival circuit, as they work with clients to create personal festival strategies and facilitate every stage of the circuit experience from budgeting submission fees to managing the submission process itself. Some of their notable clients include the Blain Brother’s “Nina Forever,” which won at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival and was nominated for Best Newcomer for National Film Awards, and “Sexlife,” which was a 2015 Tribeca Official Selection.

Festival Formula’s founder Katie McCullough has graciously shared a few tips for filmmakers planning to attend the 2016 Festival. From places to eat, things to do, and ways to prepare, read on to learn more about how you can make the most of the 2016 Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival.

(As well as Katie’s tips, be sure to check out Travel Like A Local VT, a fantastic blog dedicated to the best that Vermont has to offer, Experience Middlebury, and Yelp VT.  We can’t wait to welcome you to our beautiful town in just one month!)


Middlebury's bustling Main Street. PC: Oliver Parini
Middlebury’s bustling Main Street. PC: Oliver Parini

The very nature of a film festival whether it be a major player or a smaller gathering is that it keeps the very tradition and the essence of the cinematic experience alive; a collective audience experiencing film together. So my main piece of advice about attending film festivals you’ve hopefully already undertaken, which is to attend and support film festivals.

In my job I deal with and attend a lot of festivals, more than the average filmmaker. What I most admire about Middlebury New Filmmaker’s Festival is that its approach to programming bridges the gap where most film festivals overlook – the ethos of programming an entire festival geared towards first and second films is a niche to behold. It is extremely welcoming to find such support for those at the beginning of their career.

The second piece of advice I will offer you is to prepare yourself for the task at hand, and stock up on energy. Festivals can sometimes leave you lethargic because you’re cramming so many films in and those dark rooms can lead to heavy eyelids regardless of if the film is amazing. So I thought I’d spill some of my recommendations from my time at the festival last year so you can make the most of your festival.

When I was at the festival last year I spent every morning at Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe where I have never seen such a selection of coffees you can have. Friendly folks behind the counter and no doubt you’ll bump into other filmmakers and festival people too. Taking time to take stock and prepare for the day ahead is always key – check some emails, catch up on real life, sip some caffeine; the rest of your day you’re pretty much off the grid.

A Panel at Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe at the 2015 Festival. PC: Oliver Parini

Somewhere serene to peruse the programme…

As someone who attends a lot of festivals worldwide, I find it’s a nice way to get to know the place you’re in by having a general walk around. It also helps you figure out the different venues and the distance between them all. When I discovered the River Front park it was a slice of heaven to sit out in the sun and gaze at the tumbling water for a while. It’s also the best place to sit and look at the programme to plan your viewings ahead of time.

The beauty of festival programming is that you have a wide selection. My advice would be to see something that interests you and that you’d pick if it were in your local cinema, but also pick something that you have no idea about. A synopsis or title can grab your attention so let your eyes wander and see what you land on. Some of the best things you can see at a festival will be surprises.

When you gotta eat, you gotta eat…

I cannot talk about Middlebury without mentioning Noonie’s Deli. Mammoth sandwiches to satisfy your every sandwich need. The last time I was there they had a sandwich named after Tyrion Lannister which was filled with everything delightful ingredient they could cram in. You’re going to need sustenance to survive film festivals, so don’t forget to eat! I also definitely (and hungrily) recommend the the Storm Cafe and Otter Creek Bakery. And for those extra long days when you need the bigger fuel, The Diner is a must to get that hearty (or healthy) meal to full your tank up.


The locals will make you feel at home…

One of the best feelings about Middlebury is the idea that all are welcome and are greeted with open arms. Filmmakers from Australia, Poland and other regions of the US attended last year and each one was treated with great warmth and appreciation. You very much become part of the community when you walk down their highstreet and it’s not too uncommon to recognise the regulars and get to know them by name, many I’ve kept in contact since. Chatting to the locals also throws up new suggestions of places to check out and it’s also good to have someone to discuss the film you’ve just seen with.

2015 Filmmakers enjoy the Filmmakers Gathering at the Storm Cafe. PC: Oliver Parini
2015 Filmmakers enjoy the Filmmakers Gathering at the Storm Cafe. PC: Oliver Parini

The screenings themselves…

The other speciality festivals can deliver, that’s more of a bonus outside of your usual trip to the cinema, is the filmmaker being present. Some of the screenings will have Q&As which is always a treat because you can tell a filmmaker you enjoyed their film, but also so the filmmaker can experience an audience’s reaction first hand. So I definitely suggest sticking around and asking some of those burning questions and meeting the filmmakers – they’ll appreciate it!

Q&A Moderator Kate Hearst speaks with the filmmakers behind "Approaching the Elephant" after its screening on Opening Night at the 2015 Festival. PC: Oliver Parini
Q&A Moderator Kate Hearst speaks with the filmmakers behind “Approaching the Elephant” after its screening on Opening Night at the 2015 Festival. PC: Oliver Parini

And from the filmmaker’s perspective they should embrace that feeling and take a stroll to the industry talks that the festival sets up – you’re always welcome and they’re full to the brim with advice and knowledge. Being a part of the filmmaker community can sometimes be an isolating and daunting lifestyle, but with festivals like Middlebury New Filmmakers highlighting the need for discussion and debate you can never feel like you’re alone.

We wish the festival all the best for their second triumphant year and all of the Festival Formula team wish they could attend. Next year you’ll see us no doubt with a Noonie’s sandwich in one hand and a pencil circling the programme in the other.


Thanks for your tips, Katie, we’ll miss you this year!

— The MNFF Team



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