A Racket of Festivals – the system to game

Fresh out of college I sent my film off to a bunch of festivals.

Did not win. Did not get in.  Did not get notified that I didn’t get in.

This was in the days of film prints, which cost a hundred bucks a pop  for a ten minute film (the answer print cost me $600.)

You sent a print, and then it was returned – your entry fee included postage back to you. Want to enter three festivals, but only have two prints – back to the lab and a little bit of wait and say goodbye to your cash, or pick and choose which festival gets your love.

Sadly, not all of my expensive and limited in supply prints came back.

About two years ago a festival contacted me, they found my print, and were sending it back. A mere 15 years late. They had no information about how I did in the festival. Pretty much submitting to festivals was a very discouraging and extremely expensive proposition, so much more so then than now.

Several many years ago, I worked with experimental filmmaker Gary Goldberg. It was a pretty amazing experience. Shooting with an Arri M on the beach, shoot forward, rewind in camera, shoot again, then shoot backwards. Ten minute takes on the beach, mostly of Gary completing one action over the course of 10 minutes. It was really quite something, and the images, sometimes the multiple exposures yielded some amazing images. Unfortunately Gary died before he was able to really finish his last film.

Well, after the days shooting, we’d go back to his place, and talk about film while I cleaned out the camera – sand gets in just everywhere, a beach is one of the worst environments for equipment with the sand and salt spray. Gary and I would talk, mostly I’d ask him questions, he was both a font of knowledge, and so very passionate about his work. One time I asked Gary how it was that he won so many festivals with his films. His response was that you really had to research the festivals, and send your film to the right festival. Festivals have a certain “bent”, in what they are looking for, that isn’t quite what he said, but you get the picture – hah hah, get the picture.

These days, it is a different world, you submit screeners – which you burn at home on DVD. Send as many as you want out to festivals. Overwhelm the festivals, Everyone is a filmmaker now. Of course there is also Withoutabox. It makes it so much easier to submit. Withoutabox can even host my material – film or screenplay, and then I just pay the fees, and wha bam, I’m there. There is a small fee for using the “Online Screener” but that’s less than the price of  postage of a DVD. What a deal. Certainly Withoutabox has helped me to submit to more festivals – heck one of my films “Hellion” even has it’s own IMDB page – http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1899203/ – all because I submitted to a festival through Withoutabox

Let’s pause for a moment and consider all of this.

I’ve been a pre-screener for a festival or two. IT IS A HUGE COMMITMENT. (The word HUGE would be bigger but there is a limit to the font size,) You have to watch the film, and critique it, spend time, lots of time. Pre-screeners really aren’t paid, and they have to winnow down hundreds, if not thousands of films that are submitted. Nowadays with the ease of access to equipment and lack of cost involved to createa film, everyone is submitting films. Even films that aren’t even films – I had to spend two hours watching some “documentary” which was nothing more than some guy video taping the escalation of an argument he had with his neighbor about the neighbor playing music too loudly. A diary film of the guy screaming off camera at his neighbor while calling the cops.

Who was it who said, “I think everyone should make a film, I just don’t think everyone has to watch it”  ?   I think it was someone with the Sundance Film Festival. It was bad enough for festivals before all this democratizing, now festivals are way beyond swamped.

A filmmaker I’ve worked with (who wishes to remain anonymous) has gone so far to say that Withoutabox has really made it bad for filmmakers. There is a point there. It is now really easy to submit to a festival. Time was that you used to have to work at submitting. Contacting the festival, getting forms, getting the time frames, etc.- heck A.I.V.F. (rest in peace along with F.V.A – and if you don’t know what these initials stand for then leave a comment – I’ll explain.) Heck A.I.V.F. had a big book which you could buy – very expensive –  or if a member go read,  which listed all the festivals and their contact info and what they were looking for.

There was a “discouragement factor”, where not only did you have to make a film, but you really really had to work at getting into the festival circuit. However now, with Withoutabox – and also the whole internet info superhighway giving you too much information with no more effort than surfing for PORN – submitting to festivals has been “revolutionized” just as it was with “Creating content.” It is so easy, that festivals are just buried under the submissions. It makes it harder for filmmakers to get their work screened, because of the sheer volume of entries, and who has enough time to sort through all this. Yes, sure Cream will rise to the crop, but not if the poor guy carrying the cream is crushed under the weight of all the crap they’ve got to wade through.

There is a saving grace – perhaps or not – Film Festivals are just popping up all over the place. Brooklyn has at least four (granted Brooklyn is G-d’s country and deserves the best of everything but still) The Williamsburg International Film Festival, The Coney Island Film Festival, BAM Kids film Festival, and the Brooklyn Film Festival – This does not count all the small rooftop, and bar screenings that exist everywhere. Festivals can be big business – Filmmakers pay the entry fee – which seems to start at $30, and goes up the closer you get to the festival. For screenplays it can start at $50 and if you want to read “Coverage” – the readers telling you why your screenplay sucks/needs improvement – tack on another $50 at least. So besides the entry fee from the filmmakers, the festival is also selling tickets. It’s a trade off – for the filmmaker – yeah your film is getting seen by lots of people, and maybe someone will go – “Wow I must buy that and release it”, and you get to network with other filmmakers (if you go to the event), but the festival is making money off your film both ways.Communities and businesses can prosper too, it’s the next growth market.

I want to be fair, because I think that there is a tremendous amount of work and effort, and costs that go into producing a legitimate festival. Note, not all festivals are legitimate – the easiest way to tell is that with a legitimate festival the closer you get to the festival date, the more expensive it gets to enter, with perhaps not so legitimate festivals the closer you get to the festival the less expensive it gets. As to what the difference is between the two kinds, well that is a matter of personal choice – Heck if your film screens, and lots of people who haven’t worked on it or aren’t friends and family  get to see it – do you care?

I know some people care – one fellow had a discussion started on Linked In  – which I participated in – (http://www.linkedin.com/groupItem?view=&gid=103359&type=member&item=51283093&qid=6dab1f96-624a-47b1-a03a-7b3a363ecd78&goback=.gna_103359.gmp_103359) – a Code of Conduct for Festivals. Nice idea, but in many ways some of the things were unworkable; while others seemed so obvious that I wonder why a festival wouldn’t  naturally follow them (ahem $$$$$$ – because some festivals see this as an opportunity for money and not for celebrating “film”, creativity, nurturing talent, expanding opportunities.) On a practical level I don’t think a code of conduct will work, although it is a good idea. In the end, even with the explosion in festivals, giving seemingly every style, type, genre of film and filmmaker a venue or two or three, there is still just so much material, that it is impossible to give each and every submission a complete watch through. I’m telling you, it’s brutal to watch films as a screener. You have so many things affecting you, not the least is the sheer number of films to watch in addition to your life, and paying the bills,  in the end you make a human judgement.

How many rackets in a Festival? You research the festival; don’t send a horror film to a festival for romance. Hope you make a splash, and get out there with all your promotional materials and look at any event for what it is, a way to meet people who can make a difference with your NEXT film. Heck I’ve even applied to the New Orleans Horror Show (in it’s first year) for such a very valid reason as, I haven’t been to New Orleans in a long time, and it would be nice to go again. I just need to land a few more paying gigs, and then I can afford to enter ALL the festivals I want to. It’s more expensive to participate in the “Festival Circuit” than it is to make the film in the first place. At least for now, that is until I start getting selected to play at the festivals I’ve entered, I’m not worried about having enough prints to go around.

Thanks for reading.

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4 Responses to A Racket of Festivals – the system to game

  1. Emma June 19, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    Howdy blogger, thank you for providing this article.. I found it first-class.


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