The Festivals Thing
If you’re familiar with the business end of festivals, don’t worry, I’ll keep my explanations brief.
On my current project I’ve been lucky enough to receive quite a bit of traction – the laurels in the slider are all for Barry’s Bespoke Bakery (as of February 2013). It’ll be nine strong by the end of this month, and getting so involved with the work whilst feeling on top of it, I found myself examining my relationship with festivals over the years and thought I’d share a little.
When I was making my first film I had no idea what I was doing, and was so focused on getting the thing done and trying to figure all of that out, that I didn’t really think about what came next. When the day did come and I’d finished it, I realised that I hadn’t looked at film festivals and didn’t really know what sales and distribution were. That stuff had seemed so far away at the start I had forgotten all about them.
That changed when I began working at a production company in 2007 and submission to and attendance at film festivals became part of my duties, which is how I started to learn about their value. Up until that time the only film festival I’d been to was the JDIFF, a fine festival and a lot of fun, but it’s aimed primarily at an audience, rather than filmmakers.
I still remember my first submission. It was right against the deadline for a major Irish festival. I gave myself about an hour to get it done and ended up panicking, typing up a few things and printing out a form with a DVD, throwing it in the post. I never heard anything back, unsurprisingly. It wasn’t until I attended my first festival only a few months later that I realised that I’d never really been to the kind of festival that I, an aspiring filmmaker, could enter. It suddenly seemed so silly that I’d blindly stabbed at trying to gain entry to a world I had no experience of.
It helps to think of it as less like a festival, and more like a conference.
What needs to be done, when, and why. The business end of planning for film festivals as a filmmaker
- Booking a great stills photographer. Good images will matter.
- Making a list of all the stuff you need to send to festivals so they can evaluate and screen your film, those NTSC DVD transfers and DCPs don’t make or pay for themselves.
- Researching any niches your film may qualify for.
- Making a list of festivals with submission dates you should be aiming for.
If you aren’t under any other restrictions, festivals can act as a useful deadline. Sometimes you need to push back post-production because you’re sticking to your guns creatively, and that’s ok, but I like to make an informed decision and know what festival opportunities it will cost me. If you take the time in pre-production to work out which viable festivals will be closing their submissions around the time of delivery (completion), you won’t have to add to the stress of triage that usually goes with a last-minute schedule change.
- PAL DVD
- NTSC DVD
- 1080p or 720p h.264 QT
Those are what you will need to submit to a festival, but what’s the point in submitting if you won’t be able to screen if selected? To screen, you’ll need some or all of the following:
- 35mm Print
- 1080p ProRes QT
- 1080p h.264 QT
- Beta SP
Then there’s the paperwork. This is not to be underestimated or ignored. You will have to do this at some point if you’re serious about putting your film out there and it’s better to get it out of the way at the start. It’s the whole “doing your homework on the Friday” business all over again. It sucks.
- Timecoded dialogue list
- Official synopsis
- Official logline
- Full credits
- Director’s Bio
- Producer’s Bio
- Writer’s Bio
- Biographies for the cast
- Images from production
- A poster
- An EPK
- Tech Specs
- Director’s Statement
- Billing Block Credits
That first working trip I took to a festival was to the Galway Film Fleadh in 2007, and I learned an awful lot about why so many filmmakers attend. It helps to think of it as less like a festival, and more like a conference, like an insurance brokers’ conference, or a medical professionals’ conference. They’re far more similar than they may sound.
I could write a lot about attending festivals, but it’s an area I don’t consider myself an expert in, for all of my hours logged. Instead, I’d like to talk a little about what it’s like getting your film in.
The practical reason for pushing so hard is that most festivals have a twelve-month window for selecting films in competition, meaning that if your film screened more than twelve months before their festival is going to start, you’re probably not going to qualify for selection at all. This gives you a finite amount of time to make an impression. You will still see films doing the rounds after that window has passed; there are flexible festivals, and a lot of fests will have an “Out-Of-Competition” programme for films which they like, but because of their internal rules, cannot consider for a jury or audience prize.
Which will add a certain something to your posters, artwork, website etc. In a competitive business about relationships, improving your first impression is a valuable endeavour. You also become an “award-winning filmmaker”. Looks good on any CV.
A possible press embargo
We were embargoed for the BFI London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival for a few weeks, though it’s not terribly common.
The deadline for your images and copy
They’ll be going to press with their programme a month or so before the festival so they can have a proper launch with a band and bubbly and all the rest, and your images and copy are going to have to be in it! That’s usually the first thing a festival will start shouting for once you’ve been accepted, and it’s a serious pain in the ass for them if you’re late with it.
When they want the print
There’ll be someone on the staff called the Print Traffic Co-Ordinator, or sometimes just the Print Co-Ordinator. Their job is to ship in all of the screening copies and ship them all back, or on to other festivals. As you can imagine, it’s a very stressful job that only really suits very meticulous people. They can be understandably inflexible, but in my experience can also be great allies if treated with the proper respect.
When the screening is
The festival will publicise the event and a couple of headline events, but they probably won’t publicise your film past putting it in the catalogue, so having the date as far in advance as possible is a great help as it allows you to start advertising your screening everywhere you possibly can.
When they can give your print back
If you’re on a roll, you’ll want them to send that print on to another festival, if not, you’ll just want them to send it home, but it’s important not to lose sight of this date. It very rarely happens, but sometimes the print manager isn’t as meticulous as you’d expect, and the print just…hangs around at the festival until someone remembers and gets it shipped back.