Post Production

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The Editing Page

The Festival Dance



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OK, your film is getting close to being done, your investors are getting antsy and, if you're lucky, distributors are breathing down your neck.   It's time to start sending videocassettes off to film festivals.

But a whole slew of questions crop up.  Which festivals are right for our film?  Will a crappy Avid output be enough for them to recognize how brilliant our film is?  Shouldn't we have more effects/music/time for editing?  And should we show the film to a couple of distributors now, since they seem to be interested?

I'll answer the last question first: "NO!!!"

There are several reasons why showing your film to a distributor before it plays at a festival is a bad idea.  The first is based on a rudimentary understanding of how Hollywood works, and there's one word for it: fear.  If your film is screened for one or two acquisitions executives in a small room somewhere, they are placed in the position of having to report back to their bosses on the film.  And all they can say is what they thought of the film.  If they like it, they might be rash enough to say something along the lines of "I think this film is good and we should buy it."  Once they've said that, any future disasters will land directly on their head.  Opening week was a huge disappointment -- wasn't it Samantha's idea for us to buy this film?   As a result, this is what Samantha is thinking when she watches your film -- "Will this decision cost me my job?"  And never forget rule #1 in Hollywood: it's always safer to say "No."

Conversely, if you put Samantha in the middle of an audience of enthusiastic festival attendees, she is not thinking.  She is looking around her at the reactions of the audience.  Hence, when her boss asks her about the film, her response is "They loved it!"  Translation:  "Whatever happens is not my fault, and I'll get credit for recommending the film."  Samantha has nothing to be afraid of, because she's not making the decision, the audience is.

Reason #2: At the same time Samantha is looking around her at the audience reactions, she is also making a mental note of all her competitors in the audience.  If the screening seems to be going well, she wants to be the first to drag you from the room and start negotiating.  It's a competitive business, and fostering that competition is good for the filmmmaker.

Reason #3: You want a buyers' undivided attention, you don't want their assistant popping her/his head into the room every three minutes and saying "Harvey on two."

Reason #4: No matter how low your production value, your film will always look better screened in a theater with a real sound system, as opposed to on a 2nd generation videotape shown on a TV in a conference room.  And the very fact that your film is screening at a festival says that somebody else saw something about your film that was appealing; it's immediately elevated from something you did to amuse yourself to ART (something you did to amuse others).

As a side-bar to the above, I have spoken recently to several people with horror stories of films that have screened to a number of buyers individually, only to be ignored by the same distributors once it gets in a festival.  Don't underestimate the power of buzz and the reactions of the festival audience; not every film that has been bought at a festival is necessarily good or commercial.

How do you choose the right festivals to submit to?  There's an easy answer: submit to all of them!  If you get in a good one, you can always say no to the others.  Almost all of the festivals have a website these days (see the Film Festival link on our Links page).  Visit the sites and look at the films that have played in prior years.  And most of the festival websites make some sort of a statement about their philosophy or what kind of films they are looking for.

As far as I can tell, everyone is working on an Avid, and everyone is submitting the same crappy outputs on video.  Just be sure that your film is edited as close to the way you ultimately want it to be seen as possible.  Remember how many other films are being submitted to any given festival (for example, Slamdance got more than 1500 submissions this year).  They may say that a rough cut is OK, but for every rough cut there are five films that are finished.  And they're lying if they tell you that it doesn't affect their decision.  If you were screening film #853 out of 1700, would you want to see a rough cut?  As with any other aspect of this business, you usually only get one shot at it, so make it your best.  Once a script is read and covered -- even here at little Cypress -- we are reluctant to read it again; assume the same is true for films submitted to festivals.

The application process is ridiculous; every festival has their own proprietary application form, but they are all essentially the same.  It reminded me of applying to college -- especially the thin envelope (rejection) vs. fat envelope (you're in!) aspect of it.

Our third fat envelope (we turned down the first and second) was from the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival (LAIFF), where Cherry will be premiering on April 18, 1999 (for ticket information, go to our Festival page).  We were extremely lucky to get into a festival with a head programmer as supportive and enthusiastic as Thomas Harris.   Especially since the LAIFF will be our first trip to a film festival ever, and Thomas has been great at talking us through the process (although we're not total rubes -- we've been to LA!).  I'll give a full report on the joys and terrors of the festival when we return.

The last thing to remember about the whole grueling process is that, even if your film is one of the tiny percentage that's actually accepted by a festival, odds are it will never sell.  But, if you've created a film with a spark of wit, originality, or passion, chances are you'll get the opportunity to do it again.  And that's what it's all about.

- Joseph Pierson
 
3/26/99

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