Saturday, March 31, 2007

Nothing like a deadline... scare the living daylights out of you. Recently, Andrew, Monica and I sat down with one of our intrepid interns, Mars (his real name is Scott Marsden Hanna, but everyone calls him Mars), who had put together some extensive research into film festivals.

For those of you who don't know, most of the films you see in the theatres are made by the major film studios or their so-called "indie" subsidiaries. Since it's a very high-dollar affair to get a film made and put into theatres, only companies with large pocketbooks can afford to do this (the same way it was until just a few years ago in the music business. A band had to be "signed" to a major label to get the expensive recording, manufacturing, distribution, advertising, etc done for them. The internet and the affordability of good recording equipment and software is changing this. The film world is a few years behind this).

But there are thousands of filmmakers making movies outside the studio system. Strike that; tens of thousands. What options do they have?

They depend on film festivals. You've heard of the big ones, like Cannes and Sundance. But there are more. Many, many more. Once an independent filmmaker has finished his or her film, s/he starts the at times grueling, at times disheartening, always expensive, but occasionally thrilling and fruitful film festival run. The idea is simple: you apply to many film festivals (the accepted "norm" for the average film is about 50) and hope to get accepted into several. If possible, you attend those festivals to which your film has been accepted, talking up your film, passing out promotional materials, angling for attention. If you're very very lucky, your film will generate a "buzz" and, hope against hope, win an award of some kind. If you're lucky enough to win an award at a major festival, you're on your way, and a lot depends on your preparedness and your ability to parlay this into catapulting yourself a several steps up the ladder from where you were before the festival. If you win an award at a smaller festival, though, this can still be a great opportunity: you might have better luck at getting accepted into a bigger festival, and chances are they'll pay more attention to your film when you get there. It also can put you in touch with producers, promoters, and the all important distributor, the one who might actually get you some kind of deal to get your movie distributed to theatres or to dvd, or to television or cable.

The tricky thing is timing. Where feature-length films are concerned (usually considered longer than 75 minutes or so, the category we fall into), film festivals are very competitive with each other. Exclusive, even. They won't consider your film if it has played somewhere else. Everyone wants a premiere. So you do what our intern, Mars, did: you do some research and find out the submission dates of all the major festivals (typically called A-list festivals): Sundance, Toronto, Cannes, AFI, Tribeca, Berlin, L.A., Seattle, SXSW, and put them on a calendar. You figure out a way to apply to the biggies first (usually in the order I have listed here) so that if Sundance doesn't accept you, you're free to accept Toronto. If they don't go for it, you can agree to Cannes, then AFI, etc. down the list. If you just start applying to festivals willy-nilly and take the first one you get (say the Great Plains Film Festival at the University of Nebraska), if suddenly Sundance writes you back and says "congratulations! You've been accepted to our festival!" You'll end up kicking yourself all over the room, because as soon as they find out about Nebraska (and they will) they'll rescind that invitation faster than you can say "But, Mr. Redford..."

So, back to where I started: nothing like a deadline. Our first festival application deadline is (gulp) June 10, for the Toronto Film Festival, generally considered to be #2 on the A-list behind Sundance. Luckily for us, they will accept an 80% completed cut, which means we don't have to have it completely perfect (there could be some rough sound bits, and some un-corrected color, possibly some stand in animations if ours aren't finished yet, and possibly temp music if our composer hasn't written the score yet), but it would behoove us to be as close to perfect as possible.

Which means, I need to stop typing this entry and get back to editing. (crack) that sound? The whip...

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