festivalTo be honest, I cringe inside whenever one of my students runs up to me beaming a Cheshire cat smile and asks permission to skip the last week of classes in order to fly to Cannes or some such resort village in order to attend one of the many world-famous film festivals. It may be a lot of fun, but is it really productive?

Sure, you get to watch a ton of movies before they eventually arrive at the local movie theatres. That is pretty useful if you make a living as a film blogger.

And, maybe, you get to shake hands with a famous celebrity.They might even smile back at you, give you a word or two of encouragement, and stuff your business card into a pocket bulging with the hundreds of other business cards collected since breakfast.

Am I just being cyncial? Skeptical? Or a realist?

You will have a good time. You will have stories to tell your friends when you get back home. It will be a great vacation!

But are you likely to find a foothold into Hollywood? (Most likely not. Unless yours is one of the films being screened!)

Industry Trade Shows, on the other hand, do not get much airtime on Entertainment Tonight or Access. They are mostly full of boring (to consumer audiences) high tech stuff. Famous actors are far and few (except for keynote speakers); the convention centers are filled elbow to elbow with mundane (to TV audiences) filmmakers and technicians. Working stiffs, who do not live in Malibu mansions nor have their pictures on the covers of People.

Except for us, who cares if they do have their pictures on the cover of American Cinematographer, Mix, HD Video, and similar trade magazines?

You will not get a lot of cool autographs at NAB! What you will get is much more valuable. An opportunity to learn the technology of our craft. And, the best vehicle for meeting potential employers and networking contacts.

People who attend trade shows represent upper management of studios and production companies from all over the country, if not the world (in the case of NAB). These representatives are on paid leave, with all travel expenses covered, to uncover what is new in the industry; and possibly even to negotiate purchases. They are major players.

True, regional trade shows will also be attended by locals:  individual freelancers, craftsmen, and smaller production companies.

Now think about all of this for a minute. Realistically, who is more likely to want to hire you in the near future. A famous actor, an executive from an international cinema distributor, a critic or blogger.... or someone who runs a company that makes film & videos for a living? Who is most likely to allow a newbie to apprentice under them? A working cameraman, editor, sound mixer.... or a rich tourist holding a bag of (gourmet) popcorn.

When you attend a trade show, it is important to focus not only on the technical content of each exhibit or presentation, but also to pay attention to the people sitting or standing next to you watching that same presentation. Because they are your connection to the industry! Always take the time to introduce yourself to fellow attendees. Ask them, in turn, about who they are. Excahnge business cards! The folks crowded around you at an exhibit booth, or even sharing a table in the concession eatery, may be potential employers! Or, they may be good local contacts for when you need to shoot on location in their backyards.

In any case, they will certainly be far more useful to the advancement of your career than a bunch of jet-setting movie watchers.