Archive for the ‘filmmaker tips’ Category
Are you looking for ways to save money on festival submissions fees? With fees starting at $20 and ranging as high as $100 per submission, those fees can add up quickly. One popular way of reducing these costs is to ask festivals directly for fee waivers.
I’m starting my second season working with filmmakers at the Atlanta Film Festival and I’m re-learning a lot of forgotten lessons about the do’s and don’ts of festival submissions. Here are a few insights for requesting fee waivers and increasing your chances of actually getting to “yes.”
Don’t plead poverty.
While your instinct might be to explain that you’re a poor student or that you maxed out your credit cards making your film, a lack of money will not score you sympathy points from festival programmers. Many film festivals are struggling non-profits with expenses of their own – the implication that you need the money more than the festival does could be construed as an insult.
What do you have to offer the festival?
Some things are more important to a programmer than your submission fee – a movie that fits into a particular niche, for example, or a film that has a proven track record. Festivals are always on the hunt for good content, so if you can tempt them with the promise of a film that serves an important audience segment or has already been accepted by other festivals, lead with that. A programmer desperate to fill out a sci-fi shorts block may be primed for your robot comedy, or simply curious about the fact that four other festivals deemed your film worthy of inclusion.
Say it with pictures.
An arresting still image that gets a reaction is like catnip to someone who works in film. If your film has one of those amazing images that pulls people in, use it. Try to embed it in the body of the email, though – you can’t trust that your reader will be bothered to download and view an attachment.
Don’t swamp the reader with too much information…
So many of the waiver requests I see are hundreds of words long (cast lists, overly lengthy synopses, director’s statements) with several files attached. Guess what? Festival programmers file them in the TLDR folder.
…but make sure relevant info is available.
At the other end of the spectrum are those filmmakers who want to submit “a film” without providing any information at all. When I go looking for information on the web about the film, there’s no web site, no Facebook page, nothing. If you’re not prepared to build an audience for your film, why should the festival be interested enough to waive the fee?
Why are you asking ME?
When I bring up the subject of fee waivers with other festival staffers, one of the most common answers I get is that fee waiver emails are just generic requests shotgunned to dozens of festivals. If you have a reason for submitting to a particular festival (and you should), try to include that reason with your waiver request and do your best to build a rapport with the reader.
Include a private online screener link and password in the email with your request.
If a programmer is really curious about your film and excited that it might be a film she could program, nothing is more frustrating than having to wait to see it. Seeing the first few minutes of the film may be all that’s needed to deem your film worthy of the fee waiver.
Got some favorite techniques of your own for asking for fee waivers? Send them my way and I’ll consider them for inclusion in a follow-up article.
Jon Gann, writing for Script Magazine:
Film festivals are a business to showcase outstanding films to established audiences, attract new audiences, and provide a solid platform for filmmakers to meet and connect with these audiences and one another. That’s a lot of planets to align, and sometimes the math just may not work in your favor. It really is that simple.
Jon has written a really excellent book of interviews with festival programmers – this article is just a taste of the wisdom that lies therein.
For the last few months I’ve been managing submissions (and a host of other things) at the Atlanta Film Festival. The experience has been a re-education in the seemingly simple things that have the power to puzzle the uninitiated, and it puts me back where I was when I first started taking the notes that became Film Festival Secrets.
One particularly surprising point of confusion is the concept of a film’s category. When submitting your film to a festival, it’s important to tick the right box so your film will be routed to the correct programming department. Otherwise you run the risk of delaying your film’s evaluation or even its disqualification from consideration. Here’s a quick guide to the different categories you’ll encounter as your submit your film.
Feature vs short
Traditionally, anything over 60 minutes is considered a feature film, and anything under is a short. Different festivals draw the line in different places, however, so pay attention to each festival’s definition. If you have a film that falls into that weird gray area between 30 and 60 minutes, be aware that your film faces greater challenges in being programmed than more traditional shorts (under 20 minutes) and features (over 70).
Narrative = fiction. In general, if there’s an element of fiction to your work, it belongs in this category. Don’t get cute by submitting your documentary-style fiction film in the doc category.
Documentary films, while inherently biased through editing, purport to represent their subjects in a factual way. There can be a lot of blurring of this line, but if you have a doc on your hands you tend to know it.
Animated features and shorts get lumped into the animated category regardless of content.
Experimental is kind of a catch-all category for films that push the envelope of filmmaking: the weird, the off-kilter, the not-quite-narrative. Many festivals include a category for experimental shorts where they showcase films at the cinematic frontier.
If it’s about 3 minutes long and it’s set to a song, it’s a music video.
These are generally narrative shorts, sequestered in their own category to allow for the “emerging” nature of the filmmakers. Each festival has its own definition of “student film” – some insist on films from students at film schools, others simply accept films made by students of all kinds. Consult the festival’s policy.
You should now be able to place your film in the correct category when you submit. Good luck.
Scott Macaulay, writing for Filmmaker Magazine:
“The secret magic of film festivals is that they offer audiences direct communication with the artist,” says Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming Trevor Groth. “You can definitely elevate the impact of your screening by the way you introduce the film and handle the Q&A.” Explains True/False Co-Director and Co-Founder David Wilson, “A great Q&A can really guide your audience, making them feel better about your film and have a clearer understanding of your intentions in making it. And a bad one can hurt that initial buzz that all films depend on at festivals.” “Having access to you, the director, is what makes festivals special for audiences,” agrees SXSW Film Festival Producer Janet Pierson. “And the Q&A will affect how audiences interact with your work and how they’ll talk about it later.”
I agree with some of these points and disagree with others, but overall it’s a pretty good tip sheet for handling a festival Q&A.
For my take on the topic, see How to Nail Your Post-Screening Q&A.
Jason Guerrasio, writing for Indiewire:
Since 2008, a string of film/screenwriting competition events, or events that call themselves film festivals but do not screen films to the public, have popped up on Withoutabox that are misleading filmmakers into thinking that they are submitting to regional festivals set in beautiful locales when in fact they are sending their work to mere online competitions that may or may not have an event to celebrate the award winners.
What is impressive about this article is not so much the number of scam festivals outed here, but the fact that it still just scratches the surface of the questionable events that take money from credulous filmmakers. Scam fests are a relative rarity in terms of their percentage of the festival populace, but many filmmakers adopt a shotgun submission strategy. The result is many a wasted submission fee – sometimes on scams, sometimes on festivals that just aren’t appropriate for your film.
Tom Roston, writing for the New York Times:
Career highlights may await filmmakers whose movies have been accepted at the Sundance Film Festival, which begins Thursday in Park City, Utah. But more common is the hurt, frustration and fallback strategizing that occupies the thousands of directors whose dreams have been dashed. Of more than 12,000 films submitted to this year’s Sundance, only 193 landed slots.
This is further compounded by the perception that there are only a handful of festivals that “matter” – as if anything but the most stellar of festival runs invalidates one’s existence as a filmmaker.
No question, it’s great to play Sundance. Or Tribeca. Or South by Southwest. But plenty of filmmakers have has fulfilling festival runs playing smaller festivals like Sidewalk and Newport Beach and IFF Boston. Some made incredible careers for themselves without playing a single festival. It’s a big world of moving pictures out there, and festivals represent one corner of it.
This afternoon at 3pm Pacific time, Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper will take questions from the general public in Reddit’s “AMA” (“Ask Me Anything”) format. AMA is an interesting way to hold a mass Q&A with the general public, and if you’ve ever had questions about the inner workings of Sundance, this is a rare opportunity to get some answers. Sundance has held public Q&As before (like a live video chat back in 2010), but the AMA format is well-suited to the task of getting the most sought-after answers to an audience. (Reddit members can “up-vote” questions from other members to indicate common curiosity.)
From Cooper’s announcement on the Sundance site:
On Wednesday, Nov. 28 at 3:00 p.m. PT, on the heels of our announcement of the first 60 or so films selected for the 2013 Festival, I’ll be taking questions about just about anything — why we’re excited for this Festival, how we watch more than 10,000 films each year and narrow it down to 200, what it’s like to work for a festival that has launched the careers of many great artists, and why we love Park City, Utah!
The AMA section of Reddit is here – if you don’t have a Reddit account already, go ahead and register for one ahead of time. Get familiar with how reading, posting, and up-voting works so you’ll be ready to participate when the AMA begins. To see the AMA format in action, check out this AMA with animator Don Hertzfeldt, or this one with documentarian Eugene Jarecki.
Here’s a link to the AMA with John Cooper, or you can read the full AMA announcement on the Sundance web site.
Chris sits down with Charles Judson, head programmer for the Atlanta Film Festival. Topics discussed: women in filmmaking, the finer points of festival programming, and “disease docs.”
Additional show notes to come.
Download the MP3 now or subscribe in iTunes.
Photo credit: flattop341