June 25, 2018

Fuel, Prepare, Experience: Laura Nordin shares her BANFF World Media Festival survival tips

BANFF Diversity of Voices Initiative fellow and WIFT-T member, Laura Nordin, offers some valuable tips to make the best of your future BANFF World Media Festival experience.

I'm honoured to share my experiences at BANFF World Media Festival. It was quite overwhelming and filled with learning at every turn. I am grateful for the experience and hope to be back next year.

This was my first time at BANFF. I was 1 of 100 content creators accepted into the inaugural Diversity of Voices Initiative. I met some amazingly talented, creative, and collaborative people in the group. I am in awe of everyone's drive and accomplishments.

Here are some things I learned along the way and some tips to make the best of your BANFF experience:

  • Bring snacks. You will need to fuel yourself between meals.
  • Arrive a day early. Go to the grocery store to stock up on fruit and snacks that you can carry with you each day of the festival.
  • Drink lots of water. There are water stations near the main program rooms, but there aren't any near the meeting rooms. Fill your water bottle before you head to a meeting.
  • Program meal breaks into your day. I was thrown off by the time change and forgot to eat. If you know me, I love food and I never forget to eat, but the festival is extremely busy.
  • Go for a short walk outside every day. It's beautiful to see nature this up close and personal. Don't miss it. It grounded me and helped me gain perspective. There is a reason this festival takes place in the mountains of Banff National Park. This majestic setting is Treaty 7 territory; the park is located in the traditional territory of the Kootenay, Stoney, Blood, Peigan, Siksika and Tsuu T’ina First Nations peoples. I gratefully acknowledge the past, present, and future generations who steward this land, as well as honour and celebrate this place.
  • If you can stay an extra day after the festival, do it! Get outside and experience this gorgeous landscape.
  • There is really good and affordable food in Banff about a 20-minute walk from the Banff Springs Hotel. Magpie and Stump has tacos and burritos. 
  • Expect to pay a lot for the convenience of food in the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel's restaurants, lounges, and cafe. The food is delicious at all the food options in the hotel, so if you want to splurge, you won't be disappointed. Go for it! Stock, the cafe at the hotel, has very good food. The breakfast options were really great, just know you will be spending $16-$25. Lunch was also around the same price point and equally delicious.
  • Be specific about what you want out of the festival and from each meeting.
  • Practice your pitch 20 times or more in front of other humans before you get to the festival.
  • Research every speaker and face-to-face meeting opportunity offered.
  • Log into the BANFF Xchange once you are registered and create a full profile of you and your work. Upload links, photos, and videos.
  • Contact delegates ahead of the festival via BANFF Xchange to connect about meeting up during a break for a quick introduction or meeting. Don't be offended if you don't get a reply, some people use Xchange and others don't.
  • Have your cards on you at all times. Make sure one side of your card is a light colour so people can make notes about you. This makes follow-up easier and more personal.
  • Sign up early for the breakfast and lunch meetings. You aren't allowed to pitch at these meetings which frees you up to meet as human beings. When you follow up, you will have a personal connection when you approach the person for a meeting about your pitch.
  • Sign up early for face-to-face meetings. This is pitch time! Be ready, you have 8 minutes to connect with someone who could make your idea a reality. Be specific; know your audience. Make sure whomever you're meeting with is suited to your pitch (genre, format, etc.).
  • These face-to-face meetings and breakfast/lunch meet-up opportunities fill up very, very quickly. You need to be on the ball to get in on them. If you don't get the spot you're hoping for, be sure to line up on the day of—an hour before—the meeting you'd like. If you're within the first 10 people or so it's highly probable you'll get in. It's a great opportunity. Also, you never know who you'll end up standing with in line. This was a highlight for me.
  • If possible, try to get sponsored to attend the festival. Production companies, specific groups, and other organizations have programs to help you attend and some even foot the whole bill, including flights and accommodations. Look into William F. White programs and the BANFF World Media Festival's Diversity of Voices Initiative. Apply early, ask questions, get to know the people running these programs because they want to see you thrive and make the best of the festival. The people who attend this festival really do want to meet the person behind the next great idea, story, script, pitch.
  • Reach out to those you'd like to be mentored by. If you have a great script or pitch and the showrunner or director you admire is part of a panel or taking meetings, reach out to them. Be yourself and connect. The worst thing that can happen is not getting a response.
  • The YWCA Hotel is an amazing deal for accommodation. It is a 12-minute walk to the Banff Springs Hotel and a 5-minute walk into Banff's town centre. Get in touch well in advance and book a private room or share with another delegate to save money. Definitely make a phone call to the YWCA because their website often says that all the private rooms are full even if there are vacancies. You could stay in the dorm at the YWCA. I did it for one night and quickly moved to a private room. It was too hard to get ready in the morning with seven other women vying for the use of one shower. If you can hack it, you'll save a lot of money by staying in the dorm. It wasn't worth the savings for me, I preferred being well-rested and having my own shower.
  • The dress code: it's highly suggested as smart business attire (think blazers). However, there were many people who dressed more casually, and they were taken seriously. They had their own style and did very well with meetings and signing agreements. I suggest that you dress in the way that makes you feel most confident. Be yourself and have a great project to pitch; people are interested in you and your great ideas more than how you dress. As long as you feel confident in it, wear it.
  • Take notes at sessions and share your notes with others who aren't able to be at that particular session because they were at another one. Offer to split up and share notes with people you meet along the way. This was very helpful, and this strategy allowed me to be in two places at once. Thanks to Amanda Lo, Ryan Cooper, Alyssa Biller, and Emilie Moorhouse.
  • Go on the tour of the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel when it's offered by the organizers. The hotel can be a bit of a maze. Once you know how to get around you'll feel more confident and you won't have to apologize for being late because you got lost before an important meeting.
  • Say "hi" and talk to people regardless of whether you deem them as able to advance your career or not. You don't know how a conversation will connect you to someone or something in the future. We all want to work with people we can trust, people with a collaborative spirit, and people we can talk with about our lives and aspirations. Yes, I was there to pitch, however, my best memories are of when I was listening.
  • Go to the social events and the Rockie Awards! It's fun to dress up and celebrate those who not only got their pitch made, but also knocked it out of the park. It's very inspiring to recognize their hard work.
  • Be open to constructive criticism and feedback. I learned so much about pitching, showing up, and preparation. I slammed into my biggest fears and then slammed into them again the next day and the day after. I made many mistakes and I'm better for it. Four days with these wonderful people and the guidance each one of them offered me is very gratifying. There's still so much to learn!
  • Be specific with your follow-up. Tailor your email or phone call to the person based on what you discussed at the festival and what you remember about them.

I hope these tips are helpful. This was a new experience and it'll be better next time. I'm grateful to all the delegates, the sponsors, the creators, and the organizers for welcoming me and sharing with me over the four days of the 2018 BANFF World Media Festival.

Laura Nordin (@LauraNordin) produces, directs, and acts. Currently based in Toronto, she is originally from Vancouver, BC. Laura holds a BFA from UBC and an MFA from the joint program between Harvard’s American Repertory Theatre Institute and the Moscow Art Theatre School.  She co-founded Filmcoop with Emily Andrews as a means to collaborate with and encourage filmmakers to realize their creative vision. In 2016, the Canadian Film Centre approached Laura and Emily to produce the short dramatic film CLEO which went on to premiere at TIFF 2016. Laura is a professor at Ryerson University and is an instructor at Armstrong Acting Studios. IMDB | Website