GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY: READER Q&A – FILM FESTIVALS!

Hi filmmakers! I hope each and every one of you had a great week. Mine was filled with rain in usually sunny Los Angeles, meetings, conference calls, sporting events, and spending invaluable time with my now, 17-month old twin daughters.

Since the 2013 film festival season is officially started, with Sundance announcing their picks, today I’m going to answer a handful of film festival related questions. While these answers are merely my opinion, they are comprised from my 15+ years of serving as a judge, panelist, and advisory board member at numerous film festivals nationally and internationally. So, here are answers to five of your questions:

I applied early to a few major festivals and got rejected from both. I’d always heard that submitting early was better. Did I do something wrong?
No, you didn’t do anything wrong. However, I’ve found over the years, that it really doesn’t matter if you apply early or late to a film festival – especially major festivals.  All that matters is that you turn in the best film that you are able to make, because if the festival programmers believe your film truly deserves to be there, it will be. Aside from the political bullshit that occurs at every festival, cream usually always rises, and (most) of the films that deserve a screening slot will get one. Of course, there are always exceptions, and “film festival political bullshit” is usually responsible for at least a few film submission casualties per festival.

Consider this: If you apply early, you’re giving hundreds to thousands of indie films the opportunity to compare themselves to your film. However, if you apply last minute, your film has to be better than all of submissions that were screened before you. Either way, your film has to blow the programmers away to get slotted.

What is your take on producer’s reps? Should I hire one?
If you were asking me this question in 1996, I’d say, “Yes, hire a producer’s rep. They are so very much worth the money!” However, 2013 is upon us, and things have changed drastically of the last 17 years. These days I say, “Save your money.”

Back in ’96, indie films were selling for millions of dollars, with a few of them reaching the $10 million dollar plateau. Thus, it’d be no problem to give away 7.5%-15% of the sale, plus executive producer credit to your producer’s rep for closing a multi-million dollar deal for your film. However, these days, independent films are selling for a lot less – and I mean a lot less – so most producer’s reps are asking for $5,000-$15,000 upfront, plus a back-end payment. This is because they know that many indie films aren’t getting any distribution at all these days, so the producer’s reps need to make sure they get paid for their time upfront.

If you’re tight on cash, what’s smarter? Spending on PR or a viral campaign?
Well, that depends of your film’s situation. If your film were already accepted to a top tier film festival, then I’d spend your money on an aggressive, well-connected public relations company. However, if you’re struggling to get noticed on the festival circuit, a viral campaign may be a smarter move. When strategized correctly, viral campaigns can capture the attention of the masses. However, that attention usually lasts for a very short period of time, so you’ve got to know how to best utilize that attention while you have it.

Conversely, while PR companies know key people at the monstrous entities that you’re dying to get attention from, they can usually only work their magic if you give them something to work with; i.e. a successful viral campaign for a really good film, great critical buzz or acceptance to a world-class film festival. Thus, while you would be best served finding a way to have both, a PR company and a viral campaign supporting your cinematic gem, choosing one over the other depends on where your film is, or isn’t, on the film festival circuit.

Next month I’m going to Sundance for the first time. I can only be there for a handful of days, so when is the best time to go?
Without question, hands-down, if you can only experience Sundance for a few days, then the best time to go is the opening weekend. Most of the power brokers and film buyers are gone by Monday or Tuesday after the opening weekend, unless they are flying in to buy a specific film that screens later in the week. Additionally, most of the big parties are done by Tuesday after opening weekend. Of course, if you’re going to Park City to watch some great indie films, and you’re not worried about progressing your career or nurturing the fate of your film, then you can fly in anytime. But, if meeting that producer, or agent, or studio exec, or financier that is destined to change your life in a positive manner is on your agenda, then the first weekend is when you should plan to be there.

I’m planning on making a short that I’ll send to film festivals, and then use the publicity to get investors to fund my feature version. Good idea? Bad idea?
Your plan is probably not great. Instead of spending 18-24 months to make a short, and then follow it around the country to film festivals, only to use it to convince investors to fund your feature version, you should dump the short all together and focus on the feature. While I love short films, adding two years to the process if you don’t have to, is a waste of time. Remember, 99.99999999% of investors won’t cut a check for your feature based on a short film – regardless of how good the short is, or how many awards it’s won. Thus, the decision on whether someone invests in your film is going to be based on your film’s package, as well as who you are and if the investor trusts you with his or her money; not how much they liked your short film.

Okay, that’s what I have for you today. I thank you once again for lending me your eyes, and I look forward to borrowing them again next Tuesday. I can be followed on Twitter @Lonelyseal.




Posted on December 4, 2012 in Features, Going Bionic by
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