Film Fest Panels DO’s and DON’TS

by | Apr 9, 2024 | Blog, Film Fest, Filmmaking, Producing

I just came back from screening one of our new shorts in Los Angeles for the Pasadena International Film Festival, (PIFF), ironically not held in Pasadena but in North Hollywood at the NoHo 7 Laemmle Theater. It was a great night but not without its awkward moments, which is normal, (anyone else?) to be expected in my life. (More on that below).

This is my fifth time screening at the PIFF fest. I have a strong affection toward this regional fest as it’s very similar to my own at BraveMaker. I see the hard work put in by the founders and I jump at a chance to see my work on this big screen in L.A. Thanks to Marco and Jessica fest founders and directors.

So with that, as my own fest approaches in July: I have some thoughts that I hope are helpful to filmmakers both seasoned and new for best practices on panels and how to deal with those oh-so weird moments.


1-First off: Research the films (and film fest/programmers) in your block. It’s easy to IMDB your fellow filmmakers and get to know a little bit about them. And find and follow them on Instagram (my preference). Even if you have to do it in the bathroom or while getting popcorn minutes before the screening starts. Do it. In my case, last Friday I was screening with one other short film and a feature film. Many of the cast and crew of those films were accomplished and successful actors and filmmakers in LA in all sorts of great TV. We had a killer short called MIRACLE WOOD by Ash T and Johnny Diaz who’s faces can be seen on lots of TV I love. And icon Ed Begley Jr. in a feature film titled “Don’t Tell Larry” led by an actress Patty Guggenheim who absolutely crushed as the lead. She looked so familiar and wouldn’t you know it, after looking her up, I discovered she had a scene stealing role in Disney+’s She-Hulk as Madisynn. Anyone else love that character? Some of our short film’s (The Bright Side of Being Barren) cast and crew had a great conversation with her and some of her film’s teams. I think it helped to connect knowing some of their accomplishments. And I’m hoping the short film Miracle Wood will screen with us at our fest in July. This is what I love about festivals: the collaboration and relationship building that can happen. Read my blog on why I think ATTENDING FILM FESTS is important. (Even when you don’t get selected).

2-Be grateful for whatever time you get and use it well on the panel. I don’t know about you, but I have to tell myself this is NOT MY MOMENT. It’s not my ONLY moment and it’s not ONLY MY moment (read that again). I’m probably not going to be discovered, the paparazzi are not here (and if they are they are not here for me). Chill. ADJUST YOUR EXPECTATIONS. Some festivals don’t even have a panel discussion after the screening. I won’t name names, but I’ve been to them and it’s not great. That’s one of the best parts in my opinion: meeting the makers, interacting with them and having questions from the audience and responses from the cast and crew. But sometimes you only get a few minutes. Could be five, ten and twenty-ish if you’re lucky. (If you don’t get any time, gather the filmmakers and huddle in the lobby. Been there, done that).

3-USE YOUR TIME courteously. Sometimes you’re on a panel with multiple makers and if you tell a ten minute story as the mic is passed your way, you could be taking time away from other makers to be featured. Be concise, that’s the kind thing to do. If you regularly ramble, prepare in advance. I’ve been to talk back panels after film screenings where one person monopolizes the discussion with no concern to allow others to speak and then the moderator says “that’s all the time we have.” (For the record that did not happen at PIFF. We had a lot of time). Just be mindful and prepared. I’ve been let down a lot on panels thinking I’d get to share my witty humor and that “one story” where we solved a problem on set and saved our movie. If it doesn’t happen, write a blog about it. (Hello, me!). And PASS THE MIC, literally, to your fellow panelists. Look to your left and right. You are most likely sharing the stage with not only your cast and crew, but the filmmakers who shared your block. (This is usually the case in short film screenings). Directors always, please, shout out your cast and crew and bring them with you if you can. I’m always bummed with I see actors sitting in the audience of a film that was just screened. They should be celebrated, too. (I know it can’t always happen because of space, but you can see in this photo above I was standing as there weren’t enough chairs for us to sit in. Everyone wants to sit in those coveted, uncomfortable seats AKA directors’ chairs. But I didn’t care. I was honored to have my production designer, editor and lead actor up there with me. And one of the coolest things I’ve seen is when other filmmakers on the panel give encouragement (or even ask a question) of their fellow panelists. This, in my opinion, is the sign of someone who thinks of others. This is just my opinion. Take it or leave it.

4. Listen to your fellow panelists…and audience members. Commenting and “piggybacking” on others can be great as long as you are positively adding on to the discussion. Stay engaged as it’s really easy to get in your head and rehearse your Oscar speech or what clever thing you want to say to make people laugh or make yourself look good. Listen well.

5-Stay positive. If you share a story or advice that seems counter to what someone else says, just own it as your “opinion or preference.” I always love when people say things like “I could be wrong, but I’ve found that {insert advice here}.” Or, “This is my preference: {insert story here}” Avoid putting down the ideas or practices of others. Obviously be true to you and your experience but we get enough negativity in the world. You made a movie! Celebrate your accomplishment and those who got you there.

6-Extend your gratitude to the audience and festival. Support the festival by shouting them out on your social media. They work hard to pull of all the behind the scenes work and it can be a thankless job. Thank them in person, on the mic and on social media. (And if you loved your fellow filmmakers work, tell them!).

7-Project your voice. Super practical tip here: Be louder than normal, even if you have a mic to ensure you can be heard through the space. It’s most likely you won’t get a sound check.

8-Linger, and make time after the panel (if you can) to meet your fellow makers and audience members. If you have time to hang out, do it. You might meet someone who will become a fan, a collaborator, and/or a friend. I’ve heard many stories from audience members that move me and make my work worthwhile. Most times you have to vacate the theater for the next screening but the venue lobby will always bring some interesting (and yes potentially) awkward interactions. Embrace them. I always find moments that end of making their way into my stories, blogs (hello), and scripts. Priceless.

9. Stay hydrated. We all know alcohol flows freely at fests. Pace yourself. Keep the wild partying and drinking until after you have to be able to speak intelligently about your film. Being coherent on a panel is key and it’s hard to do that when drunk. So drink a lot of water.

10. Have someone takes photos and videos of you on the panel so that you can use them on your social media and for your film’s publicity. Maybe you have a PR team, great, they’ll do their job. But ask your friends and family to cover you. You’ll be happy you did. I’ve had fest experiences where I was so engaged and in the moment but no photos to show for it.


1-Don’t blab on and on and on and on. I already said this above. But, I’m trying to make a point. Don’t monopolize the panel conversation. It’s not a good look. Your film might be incredibly amazing and award winning but if you are hogging the mic and not giving other filmmakers in your block who worked hard to get there from other films AS WELL as your own film to speak, that’s loss, in my opinion and not a good look. But do you, boo (or maybe not do you).

2-Don’t hold the mic far from your face. This is very practical advice, I know but if you want to be heard you need to know this. Figure out what works best. Don’t ask, “Is this thing on?” Just start talking, test it. You’ll figure it out. There might be feedback, but you are a filmmaker. Solve the problem!

3-Don’t sway or move around. Silly but try and keep your feet planted, knees loose if you’re standing. Like being in a wedding, you are under lights, it may be hot, careful not to pass out. It happens. If you are sitting in a chair, check that it is sturdy before you sit. Those things can swallow you whole and collapse in a heartbeat if they are not assembled correctly.

4-Don’t get offended for any reason. If no one asks you, personally, a question. OOF! This has happened to me. This can happen if you are in short block. Sometimes the audience may fixate on one movie and it’s easy to feel left out of the conversation. A good moderator will ensure all filmmakers get a voice (but if you don’t have one, you can share the love with your fellow makers, too). Don’t get offended if someone says something weird, unexpected or downright mean. (Expect it). Breathe, listen, be curious not furious. This is too real for me. And I usually expect it’s going to happen. In fact, this passed Friday, an audience member raised her hand and basically said (I’m paraphrasing) she didn’t like how my film ended. As she was talking I could feel my stomach turn a bit…but I focused on her words and really tried to listen to what what she was saying. She shared deep, transparent feelings and experiences. My film is about infertility (inspired by a friend’s personal journey) and the challenges some couples endure of harmful advice and insensitive commentary on their journey. In our film, it doesn’t end with the couple getting pregnant. We understand this is painful for some. It was painful for this audience member. She wished it had ended differently because after years of suffering and persevering she found herself a pregnant mother. I asked her name. Thanked her by name for sharing. Extended my condolences for her trying journey and shared every film I make is meant to create conversations and although I hope everyone can find a way to connect with my films, I know that’s not always the case and that’s OK.Not everyone’s experience is the same. But the best thing was my production designer, Natalie, also shared her POV as someone who has experienced miscarriages and it was a beautiful moment for me and the audience as they applauded. You never know. Don’t get offended. Our art entertains, educates, comforts, disturbs and more. We can’t control. Let it be.

5-Don’t begrudge a fest publicly (unless they are toxic and destructive and harming/taking advantage of anyone). Many fests are doing their best. We don’t always use our fest time wisely or assign a great moderator to your panel or have the best swag bags. Many fests are struggling financially so your support means the world. Give feedback to a programmer via email or take them aside if something could be better. I would welcome it as fest director myself. But if a film fest SUCKS because they are phoning it in or just for lack of organization or IF THEY MAKE YOU PAY TO SHOW YOUR FILM: run. Definitely tell your fellow filmmaker friends to avoid the cringy ones. Just be careful not to do it in a way that draws negative attention to you or your film.

Hope this helps you. These are just my thoughts. I might be wrong and I’m sure there are more I could add. Have some I should include? Email me: