Today is the first day of the annual ten-day film industry gathering in Berlin which is half film festival (the “Berlinale”) and half trade show (the “European Film Market” or EFM). In a previous article, I looked at the films ‘In Competition’ over the past six decades of the Berlin Film Festival so today I thought I would focus on the experience of actually attending the festival and market.
I interviewed 237 film industry professionals who will be attending the EFM this year and asked for their advice for first-timers to the Berlinale and EFM. Below you will find a collection of tips and recommendations from EFM veterans, grouped into ten sub-categories.
Tip 1: Be organised
A major comment from the respondents was to plan your trip well in advance. This means knowing who you’re going to meet, what you want to see and how you’ll achieve your business goals.
- Get there a day or two before the market and find your way to the key points ahead. Take advantage of the first visit “trainings” by the market. Ask people you meet.
- To be well organized. It is a big event with many options and one should be well organized long time ahead.
- Book tables for lunch, or it can be difficult to get space.
- Keep your meetings short, and try to get a good feel of where your contacts are so you don’t waste time on transport.
- Know your goals before attending should it be pitching, selling, buying. Research the people you are meeting and know what they are looking for so you won’t be wasting your and their time and book your meetings before arriving in Berlin because you probably won’t get many meetings when you are there if not pre-booked.
- Do your research and come prepared – it’s stressful and hectic enough as it is.
- Get a badge, you can’t do the EFM properly from outside in the cold (literally)
- Plan your schedule in advance, people at the European Film Market are having meeting from the morning until the evening and mostly all of it is pre-booked. Also plan the films you want to go see.
- Plan your meetings with big companies in time – they don’t have free time spots left. Especially distributors.
Tip 2: Go for the first weekend
As with Cannes, it seems like the opening weekend is far busier than the second weekend. I asked my respondents when they would be attending and 83.9% will be there on Sunday 14th February (day four of the ten-day event). Only 10.2% will be in attendance a week later, on the final day of the festival. On average, most people were planning on attending for just under six days.
Tip 3: Wrap up warm
Warm clothing was a frequently-mentioned tip, as was comfortable shoes. The events are more spread out than at some other festivals, so you may be in for a lot of walking. Often in the rain and more often than not in the cold!
- Dress warmly, get up early (especially if you fancy queueing for free film tickets)
- Pack warm clothes, wear comfy shoes, there is a lot of walking ahead of you!
- Get warm clothes. The freezing wind during Berlinale is a bi…ch.
- Wear great solid warm hiking type shoes…with a good pair of socks….Style is less important than warmth and dryness…in Berlin
- Be prepared for ugly weather and quick weather changes from cold to sunny from rain to snow…
- Wrap up warm, wear comfortable shoes and make sure to leave time for some currywurst.
- Grow a beard, if you can. If you can’t…. bring a hat. Berlin is COLD at this time of year.
- Bring waterproof shoes.
- Don’t hug and kiss too much, many people have a flu.
Tip 4: Where to go
- If you are a film maker: Go to the Coffee bar area in the Martin Gropius house, and to the lobby in the Hyatt and set up your meetings there
- Acquaint yourself with the MGB, the Hyatt, The Ritz Carlton and The Marriott as these are the principal meeting points for industry professionals.
- Use shuttle, runs really well. You can make it here and there – Marriot, Cinemax and MGB.
- Go to the Media/Creative Europe or Berlinale Talents Stand to orient yourself with the building and stands around. There is more to do than just wander around lost, also the locations are spaced apart and the festival is really, really big.
Tip 5: What events to catch
I asked the respondents which events were the highlight of the festival. The single most frequent recommendation was for the events run by Scandinavian organisations (I’ve found this to be true at Cannes, too). Other common recommendations were events run by Wild Bunch, MK2 and the Irish Film Board.
- The Scandinavian events are always high in demand.
- The Studios Fox and Studiocanal Also Kulinarische Berlinale is very good
- The various countries (UK Film, Canada, Baltic, etc) tend to run the most comprehensive and interesting events.
- Lass Bros, Sehr gute Filme, Revolver, Sehsüchte, Medienboard
- Visit Films, UK Film Centre, EIFF, Scandinavian Locations, Wild Bunch, Trust Nordisk
- The official EFM debates series are good, in Gropius Mirror restaurant, that’s probably the best panel discussions.
- Berlinale Talents has great speakers, although not all events are open to other festival attendees.
- The TrustNordisk party is the best social event, although be prepared to stay up late.
- It’s very worthwhile to visit all the receptions and party organized by the film funding organisations -especially the german funds – if you are interested in the German Market. It’s good to get connected. But you will need invitations.
- Gemeinschaft has an amazing jazz brunch and the networking and atmosphere there is just great.
- The Germans have had plenty of time to plan their events and they are the home team….they are typically the best in Berlin.
- DokuFest Kosovo has a great party
- Canadian Talent Party at the Embassy, Brazil night and Brazil stand cocktail, Film Boutique’s parties.
- The Scandinavian funds, MK2, The Wild Bunch… And of course the Greeks. If there is a Greek party happening, don’t miss it!
- Usually Match Factory throws nice parties, I will as well attend the Croatian, Kosovo, Polish and Serbian Parties. There is always a good party mood.
- The Irish! The IFB party is always worth attending – and there’s a lovely free bar at the beginning of the evening!
- Danish Film Institute / Meet the danes Trust / Nordisk
Tip 6: Network, network, network
Both the festival and the film market are a great place to expand your network and meet new people.
- Don’t forget business cards.
- Check the Berlin app for films and go to as many parties as possible!
- Just hanging around the Martin Gropius Bau is a great way to bump into people.
- Schedule a couple of films/events/talks to attend each day, but leave time for meeting new people and get to know fellow filmmakers. Many filmmakers meet their future co-workers, financiers, etc at festivals.
- Mix film screenings, industry talks and mingles into a nice cocktail as too much of only one ingredient will wear your senses down! Do not hesitate to present yourself to festival programmers and financiers you meet and find out what they think of things (films screened, seminar topics, etc) rather than pitch your own project first thing.
- Don’t hassle sales agents – they are there to sell. When they are selling your film in the future you will not want them being hassled by new producers. Say hello by all means but ask if you can meet them in London (if they are London-based), or towards the end of the market when they are less busy. And research who they are – take an interest in what they are selling and have sold.
- For Industry meetings go to the Martin Gropius Bau – it is the best place for networking.
- Walk around the MGB and the Marriott. You will be able to see all the sales agents and see what they are offering. In Berlin, everyone is approachable.
- Don’t stay too long at parties and keep it slow on the alcohol: you want to be ready and fit for the next day and nobody wants to having to avoid the drunkard.
- Follow up after the Berlinale!
Tip 7: Buddy up
Many people mentioned the power of finding someone who has been before and asking them for help, certainly in the first few days. Otherwise, by the time you start to get the hang of it everyone will already be on their way home.
- To check somebody who was there before how the system works
- Find someone to show you around where to find a) the companies b) good food
- Talk to people who have been regular visitors – at least for the last three years
- Just hanging out with people who’ve done it all before is probably the best bet.
Tip 8: Learn how to get tickets to screenings
- The amount of movies screened is overwhelming. Learn what you are really interested in and make sure to get up early to get the tickets you want.
- Once the programme is out you don’t have a lot of time to work out your screening schedule, and as screenings sell out quickly, make sure you have other options for the given time slot. You will not get a ticket if screenings overlap, so you can’t leave one screening early in order to make the next.
- If you have a ticket you’re not going to use, return it. All tickets are issued to your unique ID, so you will not get another ticket for the same film.
- Unless you have a EFM Market Badge (which gives you the benefit of picking up tickets at EFM/Martin Groupius Bau) you should get to the ticket centre in good time before they open – the waiting line will be long, so get there at least one hour before they open. At least. Bring coffee and fill out your ticket request form while you’re in line.
- With a market badge you get access to market screenings, which means working out your schedule can be a nightmare. You can get into a screening without a market badge, but you will need an invitation from the distributor/sales agent.
- Admittance to the screenings are strict, so you won’t get in unless you have both ticket and badge. Tickets are colour coded to match your accreditation level.
- The EFM is extremely valuable, efficient, comprehensive. Attend as many screenings as possible there and avoid waiting on line to get tickets to “regular” shows.
- If you’re from a festival or cinema and have a shitty accreditation (which you will have by default), don’t miss your chance to go to the European Film Market (your normal festival badge will get you access, don’t worry!) and find out about market screenings of the films you need to see. then go to the sales companies of those films and ask for invitations to market screenings. If you get one, you can actually attend a market screening which will be much more convenient than standing in line at the ticket counter each morning and being frustrated that all tickets to the films you wanted to see are already gone.
- If you want to pick up tickets for the next day, get to the ticket dispensing areas early (8-9am). Also, try to stay around Postdammerplatz for most of your screenings (CinemaxX and CineStar) so that you’re not wasting a lot of your time on travel to remote destinations/theaters.
Tip 9: See the city
- Take a map of Berlin
- Use booking.com for your hotel, much cheaper than the hotels EFM suggests.
- Stay not to far from Potsdamer Platz
- Try to also escape from Potsdamer Platz even though most important festival places are in this area. It is not a place that represents Berlin because it is a rather soulless square. Try to get to other city districts like Kreuzberg, Mitte, Schöneberg and Charlottenburg. Try to organize your meetings in those districts, they are all close by.
- Try to have a proper lunch and save money on dinner.
- Keep away from expensive and crowded cafes. Enjoy the small cafes in the premises which are not targeted by the mass.
Tip 10: Have fun!
The consensus seems to be that the Berlin festival and EFM are both very well run. The only complaint I heard frequently was about the weather, which may be the one thing out of the control of the organisers!
- Be happy and leave your worries back home
- Stay hydrated and don’t get hit by a taxi when staring at Berlin Wall stone markings.
- Have a hot chocolate in the Hyatt (memorable experience)
Thank you to all of the people who took the time to share their wisdom, and to David for helping me reach interviewees.