Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You. Yeah, you. You're breaking Matt Dentler's heart.

The SxSW programmer blogs on his experience wading through screeners as the festival draws near.

I always say, and it's true, the films that pain me the most are not the really bad ones but the ones that were so close to being good and missed the mark.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Toronto IFF announces "Canada's Top Ten"

One of the ways that TIFF seeks to distinguish itself from other major North American festivals is by dedicating a portion of its festival to focus on Canadian film. Of course there are now dozens of festivals in Canada that purport to do the same thing, but as a top tier fest Toronto naturally commands attention that the others do not. This week TIFF announced its top ten list of Canadian films made this year.

A quick scan through the titles reveals new work from Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy) in The Tracey Fragments and what sounds like some amazing short work in Terminus and Farmer's Requiem. Of course some attention will be paid to David Cronenberg's new thriller Eastern Promises with Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts.

Canada's Top Ten will exhibit in Toronto for a series of nights beginning January 25th.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sundance releases its feature slate

Over at Indiewire you can get a taste of Sundance's roster of feature films for the 2008 event in January. There really isn't enough there to get a real feel for each film, but hopefully some trailers and whatnot will surface soon on the actual Sundance site. I'm not gung-ho enough to try and hunt down the trailers and individual film web sites myself (especially since many of the filmmakers don't seem to have built sites for their films!) but there are a few docs and narrative features that have piqued my interest. I can do without the Roman Polanski documentary and the film about Palestinian rappers (it seems like everywhere you turn someone's making a documentary about hip hop), but Trouble the Water and Secrecy both look fascinating.

Of course there's still the shorts left to hear about, and of course Slamdance will announce before too long.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Doug Block's Ten Rules of Personal Documentary Filmmaking

Who doesn't love a good list of rules for success? Doug Block, the director of one of the most fascinating personal documentaries I've seen in years, 51 Birch Street, provides his personal Ten Rules of Personal Documentary Filmmaking as a series of entries on his blog. Doug knows of whence he speaks; 51 Birch Street is both compelling and (at times) uncomfortably personal. You could do a lot worse than to take his rules to heart.



Wednesday, October 3, 2007

KC Jubilee offers $5000 cash prize for short film winner

That's a pretty decent cash stake for a short film. Visit www.kcjubilee.org for full details on entering. Early deadline is November 15.

Monday, October 1, 2007

2007 Insomnia Film Festival

This year Apple is again running a film festival for high school and college filmmakers -- the idea is to make a film basically from scratch in 24 hours.

Thinking of participating? Check out John August's top ten tips for making a short film in a limited amount of time. My favorite: "Protein, not carbs. Because you’ll likely be working all night, sugar will send you into a crash."

Of course, the most practical is to "Go funny." This applies to documentaries as well as narrative films; if you can display a sense of humor towards your subject -- however dire -- your film is much more likely to be remembered and rewarded.

Best of luck to the participants.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Passion for Film Spurs New Festivals, but Grueling Work Keeps Them Going

New York Times article highlights the upcoming ACE Film Festival and the highly competitive NYC festival market.

Fledgling festivals must lure filmgoers with the prospect of important premieres and director appearances while promising filmmakers a sophisticated New York audience. The balance became too much for Josh Koury, who this year dissolved his own five-year old Brooklyn Underground Film Festival to concentrate on documentary making and programming at the Hamptons Film Festival.

“If I knew then what I know now, maybe I would have done things differently of course,” Mr. Koury said, noting the competitive conflict in mid-spring with the larger Brooklyn International Film Festival. “But I think that’s the beauty of film festivals like that. Real, underground, experimental cinema is an idea of do-it-yourself culture and having enough energy and gumption to just jump into something.”


Read the NY Times article about ACE Fest now.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Starting a blog

A blog is a great way to promote your film, both before and after it's made. During production you can keep a diary of each day's work on the film. Afterwards you can use it to promote special events in the life of the film -- the festival submission process, upcoming screenings, other work by the cast and crew, and (for documentaries) updates on the film's subjects. People always want to know "what next?" and "what happened to so-and-so?" Let your blog be the delivery mechanism.



There are lots of ways to get started on a blog and I have lots of opinions on the subject (naturally), but for now I'm going to refer you to the Caffeinated Librarian, who has put together a good set of resources for first-time bloggers.



If you've been blogging to promote your film, feel free to let me know by e-mail (chris at stomptokyo dot com) or in the comments. In a future post I'll link to some of the best film blogs I encounter.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reasons not to use MySpace as your film's web site

MySpaceA few months ago while wandering the internet in search of indie-film related advice (let's call it pre-pre-research for FFS), I came across a blog entry that suggested filmmakers eschew building their own web sites and use MySpace as their primary internet presence. (Many apologies to the author of the piece, whose blog escapes me at the moment -- I'll be sure to link if I stumble upon it again.) I can't help but respectfully disagree. A well-built web site is one of the most powerful marketing tools an indie filmmaker can possess. A mere MySpace page is no substitute. Here's why:



- MySpace wasn't designed for the promotion of movies. The original purpose of MySpace was to provide online connections for real-life social networks. Along the way it has mutated a bit as professionals and organizations (most notably musicians and entertainment companies) have been drawn to the massive viewership and multimedia hosting capabilities. MySpace has capitalized on these unintended uses by introducing new sections of the site (including a special account type for filmmakers), but at the end of the day the site works best for those who use it for its intended purpose. For example: when you register your film as a "user," what age do you give for the film? Is your film single, or married with kids? Little inconsistencies like this make promoting a film slightly awkward on MySpace.



- MySpace is ugly, and those plug-in MySpace templates just make it uglier. The MySpace interface is a usability nightmare and the layout is either too simplistic or difficult to customize. There's a lot of effort required to make it look good. Not that it can't be done, but if you have that kind of HTML skill, why not make a web site that looks exactly the way you want?



- MySpace is inflexible in the kinds of things you can put on your page. This goes back to the first point: MySpace was designed for something other that promoting films, so a filmmaker ends up either crowding everything onto the first page, using fields for purposes other than which they were intended, and cramming third-party widgets onto the page to make up for MySpace's shortcomings. Then you just have to pray that MySpace doesn't intentionally break that widget's functionality. A web site is almost infinitely flexible in layout, and you can reproduce most (if not all) of MySpace's functionality with other free online tools.



- MySpace is a spam magnet. Take a look at the comments on any independent film's MySpace page. Odds are you'll find a smattering of compliments from people who have already seen the film and an overwhelming number of messages that say "Thanks for the add," followed by a garish banner advertising someone else's film, band, web site, or toothpaste. That doesn't even count the menagerie of ads that MySpace itself imposes upon your page. If someone plastered stickers all over your movie's poster at a film festival you'd be irritated to say the least -- why would you tolerate it online?



- Is your potential audience really on MySpace? It seems to me there are two kinds of people on the service: those who keep up with their real-life friends there, and those who have something to promote. So your message is going out to people who already have something better to do on MySpace, and people who have their own ulterior motives for visiting your page. I'm not saying you can't find new viewership on MySpace, but you can probably find more viewers with less work in other departments.



- It's amateurish. When a MySpace page is the only online presence a film has, it looks like the filmmaker didn't care enough -- or wasn't smart enough -- to support his film with a real web site. Web sites aren't exactly expensive to build, and you almost certainly know someone who can help you design and maintain a professional-looking site. When a Hollywood studio makes MySpace the online home for their film, it looks like they're reaching out to the youth audience or jumping on a bandwagon. When an indie filmmaker does it, it just looks sloppy.



This is not to say that a MySpace page for your film can't be a valuable adjunct to your film's official web site. For the sake of fairness here are a few points in favor of keeping a MySpace profile for your film and keeping it current.



- People do actually use the service -- in massive numbers. Even if you're only marketing to other MySpace users who have films of their own to promote, having a MySpace presence can at least expose you to other people who are hip deep in independent film. I suspect that those people are a significant fraction of the market for indie films. Even if they don't buy your movie, they might be good contacts for future projects.



- It can provide a touchpoint for who your actual fans are. There's something about MySpace that encourages people to "friend" one another (when did "friend" become a verb?) and leave a comment where they wouldn't ordinarily send e-mail. Maybe it's the added layer of anonymity? Whatever the reason, someone who becomes your MySpace friend and doesn't use your comments box to promote their own work is probably an actual fan of your film. Cultivate these fans as potential evangelists for your movie.



- People seem to be impressed with profiles that have high numbers of friends. If you can rack up the friends then it might be a good way to sell your film to a distributor and/or prove your worth as a marketer. There are some semi-automated ways to do this; seek them out and then feel free to trumpet your success at grassroots Internet marketing to those who are easily dazzled by such things. Just don't fool yourself that your 500 new friends signify anything other than that you've become adept at acquiring new MySpace friends.



Convinced? In a future post we'll go over the whys and hows of creating a "real" web site for your movie, even if you don't know the first thing about it.



Disagree? Let me know in the comments.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Michael Moore Announces Traverse City Film Fest Lineup - Cinematical

Cinematical's Jette Kernion notes the announcement of this year's lineup at the Traverse City Film Fest Lineup. This is definitely one of those festivals that benefits greatly from the celebrity association, however polarizing he may be.


As Jette writes:



I admit I was one of the people who thought that this Michigan film fest might be a way for Moore to promote propaganda-like documentaries. But to be honest, the programming doesn't support that. One category of films at Traverse City is called "Dangerous Docs," and although it does include issue-driven films, it also includes selections like The King of Kong, probably the least political movie I've seen this year. If the festival is promoting anything, it is indie filmmaking -- my guess is that films like Waitress and Paprika don't usually get much theatrical time in that part of Michigan.



See the Traverse City Film Festival lineup for yourself.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Try to show some graciousness

It's a tough biz, this indepdendent filmmaking. The film festival circuit may not be the hardest part, but it has its peaks and valleys just like anything else. You slave over a film, massage it to the best piece of work you can manage, and then send it off with a check to a film festival. And another. And another. And another. The thanks you get is usually along the lines of "thanks for submitting, but there were too many other films we liked better." For every festival that accepts your film there are a dozen who turn it down.



In the face of such rejection, it's natural to feel a little whiny. We can all be really good at complaining when we feel unappreciated, and misery loves company. Over coffee, at a party, or (most especially) on an internet message board in the company of comrades, the urge to grumble takes control and the snarky comments fly.



However: as legitimately indignant (and amusing) as the Bitter Man might be, here's why you might want to restrain yourself.



1. You don't know the whole story. Yes, the Bumbledyfloop Film Festival rejected your mind-blowing documentary short about that Olympic pole vaulter. And while it may be the very best doc short ever about pole vaulting, you submitted it the year after Bumbledyfloop did their big "Olympic Heroes" program. Their local audience has seen all the Olympic docs they can handle for a while, so Bumbledyfloop decided to pass. This is kind of a silly example, but the reasons for turning a film down are as countless as the stars -- and they don't always have something to do with the quality of your film.



I've heard filmmakers grouse about this, too: that festivals dare ever take anything into consideration but the quality of the films they program. My answer: welcome to the real world, kid. It ain't fair, but sometimes that unfairness works in your direction, so be grateful when it happens. Personally, I like seeing festivals that program imperfect films because they took a shine to them, or because they fit a theme. Oftentimes that's where the really interesting stuff happens in cinema.



2. You never know who's listening. People will form opinions of you based on what you say, whether you intended it to be for their ears or not. So whether you're at a festival party trashing that pretentious piece of junk you just saw or relating the story of a particularly disastrous screening experience you had at the Southwest Poughkeepsietown Cinema Celebration on a message board, consider how your words will sound to someone who doesn't know you. It's a small world; festival directors talk to one another, and they troll the same web sites you do. Your reputation will precede you, so don't hurt your film's chances by being known as a "difficult" filmmaker.



3. Nothing grows on scorched earth. Here's one I've seen a few times: a filmmaker receives a personal invitation to submit new work to a festival that has previously passed his movies over. Suspicious that the festival just wants his submission fee, the filmmaker refuses to submit -- or worse, actually voices his suspicions and/or hurt feelings. In the vast majority of cases, festival programmers are far too busy to solicit submissions from individual filmmakers unless they genuinely have an interest in that filmmaker's work. An invitation to submit is not a guaranteed acceptance, but it's a far better shot than not being invited. (I'm not counting the mass invitation e-mails that go out to previous submitters.) You've done something to merit the programmer's attention; don't squander it by holding a grudge.



(As a side note, while submission fees are a significant source of revenue for many film festivals, let me reassure you that the film festival that exists merely to collect such fees is an exceedingly rare animal, if it exists at all. Festivals cost far more to run than submission fees alone could ever support.)



4. You're better than that. Seriously. Unless you really are a creep (in which case I can't help you), you probably don't want to be perceived as one. This is particularly true when your career is on the line. Personality is a large part of the hiring process in any industry. If you want to build a career in filmmaking, you have to sell yourself along with your work. It's a lot easier to do that if you're known as the easygoing sort with a kind word for everyone. So the next time you're tempted to blow off some steam or give an incompetent festival worker a well-deserved thrashing in the filmmakers' forums, think hard about whether that's really the way you want to be remembered.



Do all the whining you want in the comments. I won't hold it against you. Promise.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Producer's Reps - A Warning

Director Mike Dorsey (Dearly Departed, Vol 1) posted this message to the WAB message boards and I just had to reprint it here (with permission). It's an amazing peek into the other side of the world of (some) producer's reps.



I worked for a Producer's Rep as a sales director for about 8 or 9 months a while back. It was an eye-opening experience and I have decided to write about it here so that any of you considering signing with a producer's rep will know of the potential pitfalls.



1. The producer's rep that I worked for was a lawyer, as many producer's reps are. The upside: it gives them the power to handle all negotiations and contracts. The downside: they're greedy lawyers who will utilize every loophole in the book, and take advantage of the "legally ignorant" artists they represent, at every opportunity.



2. The producer's rep that I worked for usually tried to get a "retainer fee" out of clients up front before he would sign them. As a lawyer, this is perfectly normal. As a rep, it was usually robbery. From the rep's point of view, he's covering his *** because the odds of getting a distribution deal for an indy film are slim, and therefore the odds of him seeing a profit down the line are also slim. He doesn't want to work for nothing, so he needs to at least get some money up front to make it worth his while.



I saw many filmmakers get taken advantage of with this "retainer fee." We would screen a film, say to ourselves "no way this gets sold" and he'd tell us to try to get a retainer fee out of them anyway, knowing full well he'd never be able to sell the film, short of a miracle. It's just a way for him to grab an extra three or four grand that month. Half the time the overexcited producers with stars in their eyes would fork over the cash, thrilled that anyone was even paying attention to them. The answer to this is that if he REALLY wants your film and REALLY thinks it will sell, you will be able to either negotiate this fee down or even bypass it altogether. If he won't budge, pass.



3. Once we had a film: This rep had about 40 films on his shelves at any given time. That is an INSANE amount of films to be juggling for an office with only TWO salesmen. Basically, only 5-10 films were really getting actively promoted while the others sat on the shelves until their producers called up and demanded a progress report. When that happened, we'd get on the phone with all of the distribution companies, who had probably been sent the film 6 months ago and completely forgotten about it. If a film hasn't sold within the first year, it's pretty much shoved to the back burner until the contract expires. For this reason I don't recommend signing any contract that goes beyond 18 months. If they haven't sold it by then, it isn't happening and it's time for you to try something else.



In addition, the massive amount of films meant we weren't very selective, which means we had a pretty terrible reputation with most of the bigger distributors because we were always sending them total crap. Some distributors wouldn't even look at our films anymore. Is that what you want from your rep?



One solution to this issue is to be the squeaky wheel. Be the producer who calls your rep's office twice a week to see how things are going. Your contract with them will probably have a schedule for receiving progress reports listing who they've sent the film to and what the response has been. Make them stick to this schedule.



4. Some distributors are either shady or bottom rung, and the filmmakers usually don't know the difference. These distributors would "buy up" six of our films in one giant group, with no money up front and everything deferred. It was usually a backroom deal where we'd sell them a film they really wanted but they had to "buy" a few others as part of the deal. We would then turn around and try to convince the producers/filmmakers of these other films that it was a good deal and that they should take it. Of course, most of those films would never see daylight, but it got them off of our backs.



5. Upfront money: You probably already know that a deal that offers nothing up front and everything deferred is almost certainly never going to pay you anything. A "no money upfront" deal should send up the same red flags as a rep demanding a retainer fee. If the distribution company really thinks they can make money off of your film, they'll pay you something upfront.



6. Deferred payment: Why deferred payment deals will rarely pay you any money.-- you know this, but it's because of that great clause that says you get your percentage of profits after the distribution company recoups all marketing and other costs. A lot of distributors will lie through their teeth about their costs to keep from paying you. If the film makes $100,000, they'll tell you they spent $100,001 on the packaging and marketing. Then you have to audit them and it's a mess. Do you think your lawyer is going to help? Well, you're fighting to get a few dollars out of your distributor, and your rep only gets 10-15% of that. Worth his time? Probably not.



7. Your producer's rep is not always on your side. Consider that he's known you for a few weeks, and you're a one-shot deal. He's known the distribution companies for YEARS, and has sold to them before and will continue selling to them. Whose relationship do you think he values most? He will sell you out to maintain his relationships with them EVERY TIME.



RECOMMENDATIONS:



I don't like to point out problems without offering solutions, so here's my advice:



1. Not all producer's reps are evil, and even the evil ones will do something good occasionally. If they were nothing but scam artists they wouldn't be in business because distribution companies would never accept their submissions.



2. If a producer's rep calls you up and asks for a screener, it means one of his assistants probably found your name on a list of films accepted to festivals and is simply feeling things out. Before you send them anything, ask them how many films they represent. If it's more than 20, or if they won't give you an answer, they probably aren't going to give your film much attention. They just want your money.



3. If they ask for a retainer, tell them you're already fielding calls from other reps, you have a buddy who's got an "in" at a mid-level distributor, and you'll have to get back to them. Let a week pass and then call them up saying you can't justify paying a fee right now, and see if they counter. They know you're a poor indy filmmaker with no money, so if all else fails and you can't negotiate their fee down, play the "I have no money card" and tell them how much you can pay if you scrape together some favors. Odds are they'll go for it. If they don't budge, you'd be wasting your money anyway because they obviously don't think the film is worth their risk. If they won't risk anything, why should you?



4. Do your homework. Find out which distributors are good and which ones are crap, so that when you're rep comes to you with a deal at one of the crap ones, you can tell him you want to wait for something better (he can't force you to sign a deal). If you sign with a crap company, you're basically putting your film on ice for at least 3 years. If you think selling it now is hard, just wait until it's 3 years out of date.



5. Finally, it's possible that your film just isn't marketable. It was a lot of fun to make, you learned a lot, and most of the time that's all it is. If you're relying on a producer's rep you've never heard of to sell your film, chances are distribution was more of an afterthought for you anyway. Take the money you would have wasted on hiring a rep and put it into the budget on your NEXT movie.



Sorry if some of this is common knowledge -- just wanted to cover all of the bases. Best of luck to you guys. As a filmmaker myself, I couldn't stomach working at that place and got out of there as soon as another opportunity came around.



Mike Dorsey directed Dearly Departed, Vol. 1 and operates Movie Threadz - clever shirts and gifts for movie fans, filmmakers, writers and actors.

If you have a positive producer's rep experience to share, I'm looking for you. E-mail me at chris@stomptokyo.com.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bitter Man: The Rejection E-Mail

You spend your fifty bucks, wait for what feels like forever, and what do you get?



Hear it straight from the Bitter Man himself.





Can't wait to hear him act out the complaints of other filmmakers.

KC Jubilee call for entries - fee just $15

KC Jubilee just put out their call for entries for 2008.

Go to our website - www.kcjubilee.org - for complete details, entry form, and pay fee online.

Check out our special CinemaJAZZ division if you have made a work (short or feature) inspired by JAZZ.


It's rare that you see an entry fee under $20 these days, even for shorts. All the more reason to apply early.

Friday, July 13, 2007

15 Must-Have Freeware Programs for Filmmakers

I have resisted writing too much about filmmaking here, mostly because I'm not a filmmaker (or at least, not much of one). But when something like this comes along it just makes sense to share. FreeGeekery (a youngish blog, six months of age) posted an article today that lists out 15 Must-Have Freeware Programs for Filmmakers with a mini-review of each. There are some great finds listed here and they're even arranged by stage of production -- from screenwriting through storyboarding and budgeting, all the way through editing and post-production. A great resource for cash-strapped filmmakers.



(Thanks to Lynn of The Lady from Sockholm for the tip.)


Thursday, July 12, 2007

What to put on your festival screener DVD case

First impressions are important. When it comes to first impressions, the case your festival submission DVD comes in may be the best shot you have at starting off on the right foot with the person who sees your movie first. The person who watches your movie may not be the person who takes it out of the envelope, and film festivals often separate the press kits and other material that come with a submission from the DVD or tape when they put it in the pile of films to be watched. That leaves the case itself to communicate something about your movie to a prospective viewer before they pop it into the player.



I've seen submissions come in all kinds of packaging: simple paper sleeves, CD jewel cases, regular black DVD cases, colored plastic "seashell" cases, and even elaborate metal boxes. For my money, the best of all of these are the "Thin-Pak" cases. They hold the DVD in place, give a nice roomy surface area for cover design without taking up a lot of room on a shelf (skinnier spine), and rarely break in transit. (There are few worse feelings in everyday life than pulling one of the standard black DVD cases out of an envelope and feeling the DVD bouncing around inside because the little spindle broke.) You can buy Thin-Pak cases for about 35 cents each in bulk from internet retailers like Tape and Media.



The next step is to design a cover that will attract a screener's attention. There are lots of different kinds of people who screen for film festivals, but you want the kind who cares enough about independent film to go pawing through stacks of DVDs, looking for "the good stuff." Those are the people who will give your film a fair shake and an honest appraisal. If you can make your film stand out from the other discs in the stacks with a good cover, it might mean the difference between rejection and acceptance. I should note that not every film festival gives its screeners the opportunity to select their own films so this strategy might not work for you. Regardless, you need to make the most of every chance you have to distinguish your film from the rest of the pack.



If you don't have artistic layout skills or software, get some help from someone who does. Failing that, do it yourself and keep the design as uncomplicated as possible. Even with basic page layout tools a novice can create a simple layout that is informative and professional-looking without being cheesy. Just don't try to over-reach your abilities with fancy fonts or Photoshop effects. Pick one or two basic fonts (something other than Helvetica and Times, please) and stick with them. Use stills from your movie but resist the urge to use those fun artistic filters.



I've seen a lot of submissions come in with the film's poster as the DVD cover. Sometimes this is a good idea, sometimes not -- usually the text is way too small to read on the DVD-sized presentation and it doesn't always represent the film best to a festival screener. Make a judgment call on this one but don't do it automatically just because you paid someone to design a poster.



Here's the information you should include on your DVD case:



  • The title. This should be the largest text on the case.


  • Principal cast and crew listing, especially if you have a recognizable name actor in your film.


  • Identify the film by category as a doc, narrative, short, feature -- whatever categories it falls into.


  • Include pictures from the film: not too many -- definitely opt for bigger, more intriguing photos over a series of stills you can't really make out. This can be especially bad if you print your covers out on an inkjet printer.


  • A logline (25 - 50 words tops) on the front, if you have a really good one. Lame loglines should be simply omitted.


  • A short synopsis (100-300 words) on the back. For Pete's sake, don't give too much away. If you have a short with a humorous setup and/or payoff, it's better to be teasing and mysterious on the cover than to give too much away. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to keep the viewer from anticipating the gag. On the other hand, if you have a documentary feature that starts slow and builds to an impressive climax, you might want to make it clear that the film's conclusion is worth sitting through the first twenty minutes of exposition. Again, it's all about capturing the screener's attention before they put the disc in the player.


  • Total running time. Festival screeners are busy people. If I only have a little while before my next appointment or whatever, I'll scan through the stack of discs I have to watch. If I find one short enough, I'll watch it and be grateful that the filmmaker was thoughtful enough to include the running time on the disc. It also helps me budget my time to know that the four short films and a feature I have left to watch add up to almost three hours of total viewing. Clearly marked running times are helpful for the final stages of festival programming, too -- the programming director won't have to look your film up in his database to know that your short is the perfect length to round out the comedy shorts program to a full two hours.


  • Your contact info: web site, e-mail address, and phone number. If the viewers want to know more about your film or want to get in touch with you, don't make them search anywhere else for that information! Include your mailing address if you have room.


  • Leave yourself some room to hand-write in additional information requested by the festival. Don't make it too obvious, but strategically placed blank spots are perfect for information like the Withoutabox submission number, which will be unique for each festival.



    Below is an excellent example of a DVD cover for a film festival submission. It's for a documentary called The Pool by Sam Griffin (read more about Sam's film at thepooldocumentary.com). Notice how Sam and her designer Sol Armada used photos and the color scheme from the swimming pool (greys and blues) to give the reader an immediate impression of the film's tone, and also to play on the reader's own memories of swimming pools in the summer. Read the synopsis to see a great example of setting expectations -- if you've read the cover, you're probably curious to see what a pool looks like with 3000 people in it. Click the image below to see a version large enough to read.



    The Pool



    (Thanks to Sam Griffin for allowing me to use her as an example. I've blurred out her e-mail and phone number on the cover here but I'm sure you could probably find her if you looked hard enough.)



Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Slamdance Programming Coordinator positions available

SlamdancePosted at Mandy.com:


The Slamdance Film Festival Programming department seeks two persons to fill position of Film Festival Coordinators. This is an unpaid part time position (18 hours per week) that spans from early August to December. Persons will work closely with the Slamdance Programming Director, and will be involved with the administrative side of the programming of one of America’s top independent film festivals.


If you're an aspiring filmmaker living in L.A. with the time to commit to an internship like this, it's a fantastic way to get to know what film festivals want -- from the inside. I talked to Sarah Diamond (the Programming Coordinator mentioned in the description above) and she indicated that they're looking for people who will commit seriously and can support themselves financially while working such a position.



The position ends in December but I suspect you'd have the opportunity to attend Slamdance in Park City in January. I also suspect that you'd end up working the festival more than enjoying it, but I could be wrong about that. Regardless, the internship is a great opportunity for anyone in independent film -- a few months of serious volunteerism could set you up with contacts that would last the rest of your career.



Apply here.


Friday, July 6, 2007

Toronto 2007 Festival Site online

Second only to Sundance in prestige among North American film festivals, the Toronto International Film Festival commands the attention of the independent film world in September. This week they put their new site online, though it doesn't have any of their program information just yet. Check it out.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Vancouver IFF announces $25,000 environmental award

Vancouver, BC (June 27, 2007) - The Vancouver International Film Festival today announced that it is launching an annual environmental film series and a $25,000 juried environmental award, one of the largest cash prizes at any film festival in North America. The new series, called Climate for Change, is sponsored by new festival partner Kyoto Planet. The series will include both dramatic features and documentaries and emphasize fresh information, vision and cinematic artistry. The jury will award the prize to the director of the film that best meets these criteria. The 26th annual VIFF takes place September 27 to October 12.



(Via Mad About Movies.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Long shorts at a disadvantage

Adam T writes on the WAB message boards:



Hello, I have recently completed a documentary short entitled "La QuinceaƱera" which has a run time of 42 minutes. This felt like the best length for the film but I wanted to get some opinions from festival Programers on how they view a film of this length? It seems to be on the long end for a short and yet short for feature length. Grateful for Any feedback.



Louis P responded:



The unfortunate reality is forty two minute shorts are going to be very difficult for many fests to program. This WILL be taken into consideration when they are making selections. Where do you put a short of that length? It can't stand alone. It can't open for most features. And in a short block it will seem like an eternity next to a group of punchy five minute comedies. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this has been written about extensively on these boards. I don't think you should make changes if you are indeed at the correct length for your film. I'm just preparing you for a slew of rejections that you will no doubt receive, regardless of quality.




I'm going to have to agree with Louis on this one. As a screener for a festival I can definitely say that anything over 20 minutes is regarded with some skepticism. Not because there aren't subjects that don't fit into that running time, but because the overwhelming majority of "short films" that run that long simply could have been edited down to something leaner while delivering the same value.



Another thing you should consider: there's a 90-minute drama of roughly the same name ("Quinceanara") that came out last year. You're bound to come up against some confusion there. That might be to your advantage since anything that catches the attention of a programmer is a good thing ("didn't we play that already? Oh, it's a doc short... interesting."), but it might work against you in the long run. If you weren't aware of this before, consider the implications carefully.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

For indie filmmakers, the trick is finding an audience

An article in the Christian Science Monitor from back in May about a situation that is all too familiar to independent filmmakers.

In these digital days, it seems anyone can direct. But with hundreds of microbudgeted movies made each year, demand for venues and audiences is way up. Many films don't reach the festival circuit, let alone get a theatrical release or rack space at Blockbuster. Some go straight to DVD. Some find a specialized audience on the Internet. Some go nowhere.


Read the full article in the CSM now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

George Clooney to turn more festivals into fundraisers

From the Starpulse blog:



George Clooney is so impressed with the amount of cash his Not On Our Watch fundraisers have raised in Cannes, France and Las Vegas, he's planning to turn every film festival into a charity drive for Darfur aid groups. The actor and his Ocean's Thirteen co-stars staged dinners and galas at the Cannes Film Festival in May and recently at the film's Las Vegas premiere,raising almost $10 million in the process.



Now Clooney, who has become a leading celebrity advocate for action against the genocide in the Sudan after filming a documentary about the crisis last year, wants to turn every starry film event into a fundraiser.



He says, "I have every intention of doing this in other places. Film festivals sound like good spots."



This is without question a good thing in the larger picture, but I wonder how this will go over with the film festivals? Some of them have their own pet causes. Others have to work hard enough to raise funds to keep themselves going without the added competition. Not that the struggling festivals would attract Clooney in the first place, but it will be interesting to see the actual lineup of festivals he ends up visiting for this purpose.


10 or Less Film Festival extends deadline

I'll just let them say it in their words:



In the spirit of procrastination, the 10 or Less Film Festival has extended its regular deadline to July 15th and it's late deadline (late fees apply) to July 31st! So get off the couch, quit compulsively searching YouTube for episodes of Yacht Rock, and get that submission in the mail...before it's too late!



The 10 Or Less FF screens films of 10 minutes or, um ... fewer. The festival is held in Portland, Oregon, in October.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Music clearances - links

A couple of quick links with interesting info regarding clearing music rights.



  • Royalty Free Music - sells albums of "free" music.



  • All Clear? - a music clearance primer. A reprinted article originally from International Documentary magazine.



  • Festival rejection blues

    From the WAB message boards, Craig S. writes:



    I finished the film. Submitted to Sundance, Santa Barbara, and so on. So far have not be accepted to one festival out of 15 submitions. The agent just told me he can't find any interest, and wished me good luck on licensing. The people that are in the film are not even interested in seeing it. Woops! Yet, when I watch it, it is a good film. It has a good story, great characters, and some snappy dialogue. All the things I thought a good film is made of. Oh well, better luck next time...



    Craig,



    I can see why you're frustrated. And why not? At a guesstimated average of $30 per film festival, you've likely spent $450 or more on festival submissions up to this point with exactly bupkis to show for it. As that "better luck next time" phrase at the end of your post reveals, you're about ready to call it a day and get started on the next film.



    Here's my advice: don't give up. At least not yet.



    First let's look at a few good things about your situation.



    #1 - If you haven't been accepted to any film festivals yet, then you haven't given up your world premiere either. Your film is still essentially starting with a blank slate. It could be worse -- like if your film had already had its premiere at the NoPlace Film Festival and you couldn't even offer a more prestigious festival your world premiere.



    #2 - You can still go back and fix some of the things that might be wrong with your film. Maybe the sound is bad, or it needs a re-edit to excise ten or twenty minutes of footage that stop the story dead in its tracks. Maybe all your film needs is a bit of extra investment (time, money, talent) to make it acceptable to a wide range of festivals.



    #3 - $450 is still less than it would have cost you to hold a four-wall screening, and you wouldn't even have the benefit of experience to let you know that your film was less perfect than you thought. By now your movie been seen by at least two dozen people who watch hundreds of indie films every year; the rejection letters are their way of telling you that your film might need some work.



    What to do from here?



    A - Call every festival you submitted to and ask to talk to a programmer. Do this in the off season, preferably a month or so after each festival ends so that the new crop of films hasn't erased the previous set from the programmer's mind. That programmer may or may not have seen your film, but they can put you in touch with someone who has if you ask nicely enough. That person may be kind enough to give you some constructive criticism. With 15 festival rejections under your belt there must be someone willing to share an opinion with you about your movie. Ask specifically for constructive criticism and be respectful of the programmer's time. Expect some festivals to give you the runaround and call back if you don't get a return call within a week. Gentle persistence is the name of the game here, but in my humble opinion you've earned the right to be told why your film isn't getting any traction on the festival circuit. Per #2 above, it may be time to make some changes.



    B - Resubmit to the festivals that rejected you (and/or apply to a new set of festivals of equal or greater prestige than those to which you applied). After a re-edit (and sometimes even without a re-edit!) your film may still be eligible for submission in the next festival year. Yes, this means delaying your festival dreams for a while, but if you think your film has a shot at the top-tier festivals after your changes then you should start the cycle again from the beginning. (This also gives you some time to save up some extra change from your day job for submission fees.) Shoot for the moon and then adjust your sights downward.



    Even if you don't change your movie, consider resubmitting to the festivals for which you are still eligible. Sometimes a film rests on the edge of acceptibility, or simply faces a year of extremely stiff competition. Don't forget that your film is judged not only on its standalone merit, but also against all the other entries in the festival. Plus, the judges are human beings slogging through hours of mostly mediocre movies. A submission in the following year may be greeted with friendlier eyes.



    C - At some point you may come to the conclusion that a top-tier festival is simply out of reach of the grasp of this particular film. In the brutal light of the typical acceptance rates of those festivals, it's more than likely the truth. It's time to look at smaller festivals where at least your film can be played in front of an audience of independent film fans. Do some obsessively thorough research about the kinds of festivals to which you should be submitting. For every festival submission you send out, visit the web site of 25 festivals and get to know their characters. Look at their past lineups to get a sense of the kinds of films they want. You're searching for a philosophy and a programming style that matches your filmmaking personality.


    Once you find a handful of festivals that meet your criteria, arrange them in order of desirability and submit to them in as sensible a manner as you can given their arrangement on the calendar. If you must submit to festivals simultaneously (and it's difficult to avoid this), try to submit in waves to festivals of similar size and desirability. You want to avoid the sticky situation of accepting a slot at a less desirable festival, only to have to pull out when a more desirable festival accepts you at a later date.


    D - If you've done all of the above and you're still coming up empty but you still crave that festival experience, you can always try the shotgun approach. Pick as many small festivals as you can with low entry fees that you can cram into your already depleted budget and submit en masse. Someone somewhere has to accept you, right?


    I don't actually recommend this method -- it's just throwing good money after bad. If you've reached this point even after trying the strategies above, chances are your film is fundamentally flawed. Get as much feedback as you can from festival staff and fellow filmmakers, learn from your mistakes, and start funneling those submission fees into the budget for your next film.

    Indie films crave great reviews

    Check out this piece in Variety, based on a couple of panels at the Seattle Film Festival -- discussions of the future of indie distribution and whether film critics matter in the age of blogs and such. One camp argues that independent films have a bright future online, promoted and distributed digitally without the need for "real world" intervention. The other camp argues that with the proliferation of independent films made each year, the really good movies need the push of an established and well-read film critic even more than ever.



    The jobs for "established, well-read" film critics are vanishing fast, at least at print publications. Nearly every newspaper in the U.S. is owned by one of two networks who use a handful of critics in all of their papers across the country. The days of the local paper film critic are coming to a close. Of course, the demographics of those people who actually still read the newspaper are presumably getting older and older as the younger folk eschew newspapers for online media.



    On the web you can find all manner of amateur and semi-professional writers opining about movies, but few of them have a large enough audience to drive huge numbers of people towards any particular picture. As it becomes easier and easier to make movies, it is also becoming harder and harder to garner meaningful attention for your film. Grassroots outreach is easier than ever through e-mail campaigns, podcasting, and web sites, but there are always competitors for those eyeballs too. Other indie filmmakers are out there hawking their wares, YouTube gives surfers a sea of mediocre (yet strangely compelling) content for free, and of course there's always the distraction of Hollywood -- and that's just the film-related competition you face.



    What does all this mean? It means you need two things: a goal and a plan. What's your ultimate goal for your film? To be picked up for distribution? (What kind of distribution?) Maybe your film is better positioned as a calling card for a paying job in the film industry, in which case you might take liberties with your movie that you'd never risk with a film intended for traditional distribution.



    Your plan will of course depend largely on your goal, but it mostly boils down to identifying those people who can most help you achieve that goal and then getting your film in front of them. If you've made a very good/great film, word of mouth will take you a long way. The rest is all about smart marketing and persistence.


    Sunday, June 24, 2007

    Brief impressions of filmmaking books

    I went over to my local big box bookstore today to scope out filmmaking books. It occurred to me that apart from the books that actually cover film festivals as their main topics (most of which I already own or have coming to me from various Amazon resellers), the filmmaking books probably cover film festivals briefly as part of the process. Here are the books I perused and brief thoughts on each.




    Independent Feature Film Production by Gregory Goodell.



    General impressions: This book has many accolades from Amazon reviewers and well-known industry types, but it hasn't been updated since 1998. A lot has changed in filmmaking and in the festival world since then, so I'd recommend finding a more recent book that covers newer filmmaking technology and festival advice. However, enough people seem to still find this tome relevant even today so it's probably worth at least flipping through it as a primer on the "old school" methodology -- and to see if the author's style matches yours.



    Festival advice: Makes some good distinctions between festivals and markets and why you want to do both if possible. Also advises not to send your work to festivals incomplete. Mentions that 80% of all works submitted to Sundance are incomplete -- is this true? Would love to see some confirmation of that.




    The Everything Filmmaking Book by Barb Karg, Rick Sutherland, Jim Van Over.



    General impressions: I'm always vaguely suspicious of books that come out as part of a general "how to" series like this one, or the "Dummies" books. I'm sure that the publishers recruit knowledgeable authors for each individual topic, but when the series includes such wide ranging topics as weddings, college survival, and the Civil War, it puts me in mind of the "jack of all trades" adage. That said, I do like the action-oriented workbook style of this title, with checklists and such. Not nearly as comprehensive as the other titles here, but thorough in its way and undaunting.



    Festival advice: A pretty brief overview of festivals and how they work. If this were the only filmmaking book I owned I'm pretty sure I'd go running for another reference when it came to festivals.




    The Guerilla Film Maker's Handbook by Chris Jones and Genevieve Jolliffe .



    General impressions: This was the book I liked best -- tons of in-depth interviews with many well-known names in the indie film industry. Reading the book through can be a bit disorienting as the chapters are, in some cases, merely sets of interviews strung together with how-to lists. This weakness is also the book's greatest strength: the GFM Handbook is a massive tome that weighs about five pounds and covers just about everything with fascinating viewpoints from filmmakers, industry execs, festival staff -- everyone you can think of.



    Festival advice: The festival section is about as light as the festival sections in these other publications, though the authors do go a bit further than their colleagues by including interviews from filmmakers and Sundance director Geoffrey Gilmore. They also include a list of practical tips for attending festivals, not something I saw much of in the other books. Of all of the books I pawed through this afternoon, this is the only one I'm considering going back and buying -- if only because copies of it are going for $60+ on Amazon -- the list price is $30!



    Note for doc filmmakers: the authors have also written The Documentary Film Maker's Handbook -- probably worth a look and actually available at a discount from Amazon.




    From Reel to Deal: Everything You Need to Create a Successful Independent Film by Dov S-S Simens.



    General impressions: This book was the only other title that I had strong feelings about -- mostly negative. Full disclaimer: I only read the section on festivals, but the tone was so abrasive and dogmatic that it didn't inspire me to skim the other chapters as I did with the other books. The reviews of Reel to Deal on Amazon are universally positive, so I guess people like to be told what to do every step of the way, as if filmmaking were little more than a paint-by-numbers project. If that's what you want, Simens is more than willing to give you your marching orders and I don't doubt that much of the information is helpful to the clueless. This may be the indie filmmaker's bible for all I know, but if one listens to this apostle, the god of indie filmmaking is not a loving god. (Actually, that's probably pretty close to the truth.) I'll give this to Simens -- people seem to love his advice. He's got a whole industry of "2-Day Film School" products and a roster of famous people extolling his virtues, from Quentin Tarantino to Michael Jackson. Hey, if you pony up the $400 and enroll in his course you'll even get a film school diploma.



    Festival advice: the advice on submitting to festivals given by the author assumes that your film is the next Little Miss Sunshine. And if that's the case, the advice he gives isn't bad. Submit to the top festivals (Simens says the submission fees "won't be much, maybe $50") and eschew the rest, because acquisition execs won't be at the other festivals. Again, if your film is a surefire hit just waiting to be snapped up by the Weinsteins that's fine advice. If your picture is of even a slightly lesser caliber, however, it might be nice to know that there's a circuit of festivals out there where your movie might be appreciated -- and where you might find an audience for lower-profile distribution.




    The Complete Guide to Making a Movie by Lorene Wales.



    General impression: Oddly, the cover says "The Complete Guide to Making Movies," but it's listed in Amazon as just "Making a Movie." Either way, it's easy to find. Just a short blurb about this one as it had practically nothing to say about festivals, so I didn't read much of the rest. It does, however, have a CD-ROM included with a ton of forms for production and legal purposes -- some real nuts and bolts stuff that could be super-useful to a neophyte looking for concrete examples on how films get made. (Edit: Looks like there might have been a title change between editions.)

    Friday, June 22, 2007

    Big Bang FF announces partnership with IFTrailers.com

    Indie Film TrailersThe formation of the new Indie Film Trailers site has been highlighted by an announcement of a partnership with the new Big Bang Film Festival, which holds its inaugural event this October in Philadelphia.


    IFTrailers positions itself as a YouTube for indie filmmakers looking to host their trailers somewhere with a specific bent towards independent film. I'm still not sure whether I think this will work or not -- there's a lot of noise to get lost within on YouTube, but IFtrailers.com is so tiny (there are only 40 trailers on the site at present) that there's not much to bring users back on a regular basis. The key here will be growth -- and lots of it -- coupled with good communication to remind users that the site exists and has new trailers coming in every day.


    Beyond that, the site needs to find a little more focus around what a user does once they've seen the video. Yes, you can view the trailer, but then what? There's no link to the film's web site, or a store to buy it, or a list of the festivals where you might see it. Unlike YouTube, where the videos are usually little stories unto themselves, trailers are an invitation to move on to a larger/longer experience -- and there's no way to do that from IFTrailers.

    I'm looking forward to seeing what the site does in the future. Below I've included a sample of a trailer as embedded in a blog post.


    Thursday, June 21, 2007

    Music clearances for film festivals

    A recent question from the Filmmaker magazine message boards:


    I want to know what the realistic pros and cons are of just screening the film at festivals without the rights. Will the festival refuse to screen it? Will we be disqualified from any prizes or competitions? What exactly is the danger?


    This is the Sundance answer to that question, and I suspect most film festivals would tell you much the same thing: you need clearances, but the festival can't take the time to investigate that you've done the legal and proper thing.

    From a legal standpoint, you must clear all copyrighted material included in your
    film before you can publicly screen it. However, Sundance does not check to
    make sure that you have cleared these materials at any point during the process,
    nor will we be held responsible for any legal issues that might arise from the
    inclusion of uncleared materials in your film. It is the sole responsibility of the
    entity submitting the film to secure permission from the copyright holder of the
    material in question, whether it is music, stock footage, or any other elements
    that could violate someone else's copyright. Quite often, rights-holders offer
    reduced rates for festival films, so you should contact them directly to avoid any
    possible rights infringements.


    (Taken from the Sundance submission FAQ at c4e.sundance.org.)


    Slamdance has a similar disclaimer:

    Technically speaking, all we're interested in is if you TELL us you have all the rights to show the film.


    The festival directors/programmers I've met would probably never admit publicly that they don't care if you clear the rights or not. (Some would be risking professional relationships or even their jobs to do so.) However, I have learned from observation when screening submissions in their presence that they notice when high-profile music is used. Often they will scan the credits for some indication of clearance in those cases, but it's usually out of curiosity ("How much money did these filmmakers have in their budget?") than out of a sense of duty to make sure that the rights have been cleared.

    On a related note, I will say that the idea of just getting "festival clearance" for music can make getting distribution a lot harder down the road. An interested distributor will take into account whether they have to lay out a lot of cash for music rights -- and you can be sure the price for those rights will go up when a distributor is actually interested in your film. Go ahead and either pay for worldwide rights in perpetuity for all formats while your film is still unknown or opt for another, cheaper piece of music.

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    States of the Art Film Festival

    There's a constant flow of ideas coming from the creators of film festivals these days as they all try to distinguish themselves from the traditional local film fest model -- and from one another. Indianapolisfilm.net profiles the States of the Art Film Festival, which solicits all types of films, but will only select one film from each State. (I guess films from outside the U.S. are just outta luck.)


    It's one of the more interesting spins on the film festival concept I've seen lately but one wonders when the film festival bubble will pop.

    Visit the States of the Art Film Festival web site for more information.

    (Via Indianapolisfilm.net.)