What advice can you give filmmakers who are looking to get their films out there on the festival circuit?
I could write a book (and hey, I just might…). Just a few thoughts:
1. If you have a feature film, work out your strategy before submitting your film to anyone. First, strategize carefully regarding your premieres. Most of the big industry festivals require or strongly prefer premiere status. Don’t blow your premiere on a small festival which will have no industry presence unless you’ve been rejected by or don’t think you have any real shot at the various industry festivals. Also, plan your premieres in individual cities carefully — figure out where you want to play and submit to those festivals first. You always have a shot at playing smaller festivals the following year. Finally, be certain to find out about specialized festivals for which your film may be eligible. These are great places to get exposure, build audience, and get word of mouth moving. And often times a specialized festival will give a small film much better placement than a larger non-specialized festival might. Robot Stories, for example, has been opening or closing most of the Asian American festivals we’ve been to, which is an incredible experience to have as a filmmaker.
2. Submit as early as you can. Festivals often program their prime slots, competition films, and panels long before their final deadlines — getting in there early will maximize your opportunities.
3. Write personalized letters to the programming committees to accompany your submission, particularly if you’ve had films screen at the festival before or if you have a local connection. Many of the festivals which played my short films in previous years ended up programming Robot Stories — often, they seemed particularly happy to be able to advertise that this was a feature made by an alumnus. You can also use the letter to spin your film a certain way. In my cover letters, I note the film’s latest press quotes or prizes and include a brief synopsis. With Robot Stories, I try to include the phrase “science fiction from the heart” in all of these letters because I want folks to know it’s a different kind of science fiction film, which may be important to emphasize for festivals which don’t normally consider genre stuff very seriously.
4. This shouldn’t matter, but it does: Make a nice video box. Use Photoshop to design an insert which you can slide into the full window video or DVD box. Use some of that space to list any awards or honors or strong press quotes you’ve received. Some festival screening committees won’t ever see that box. But others will. And if you make a good impression with the box, you may win a bit more regard and attention.
5. Don’t submit your film until it’s really done. On occasion, I’ve gotten into festivals after submitting fine cuts without the final sound design or color correction. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to submit unfinished work, particularly for feature films. No one but you can really see your completed film in your rough cut. And programmers often talk with each other and with distributors. Don’t give programmers a chance to reject and then badmouth your film on the basis of a rough cut.
6. Submit on DVD if you can. I’ve done almost all of my submissions on VHS, but I’ve finally gotten DVD Studio Pro and learned how to burn DVDs — and the picture quality is so hugely better I never want to send out another VHS tape. It’s another edge, and every edge counts.
7. If you have big news (i.e., you win an award), consider sending emails or follow up letters to the festivals which are still considering your film. Smaller festivals in particular very much like to know about the honors your film has received — it gives them more ammunition to use to promote your film and thus more confidence in programming it.
8. Be nice to everyone you deal with — programmers, projectionists, travel coordinators, volunteers, press people, audience members, everyone. Because when you actually get into a festival, if people like you and like your film, they’ll recommend your film to other festivals. Robot Stories has been invited to seven or eight festivals by virtue of recommendations from folks who saw it at earlier festivals — twice because projectionists recommended the film. Bring your breath mints, always say please and thank you, and don’t forget to smile!

Is there a home video release set for “Robot Stories”?
No date has been set, but by hook or by crook, we will get the film into theaters and onto DVD. The DVD is going to be kickass, by the way. We’ll include alternate endings to two of the stories and deleted scenes from all four. And we’ll have great commentary tracks. I run the website, which provides articles and advice about low-budget filmmaking. I’m thinking of the Robot Stories DVD as kind of an extension of the site, with the film as reference material. We’ll give up all our indie filmmaking secrets. Also, I’ll probably include one or two of my short films — maybe Asian Pride Porn or “Mouse.” You want to buy it already, dontcha?

What keeps you busy other than filmmaking?
I’m finally getting some work as a screenwriter, which is great. And I run the websites, with advice for low budget filmmakers, and, providing the latest scoop about Asian American films and filmmaking. And every once in a while I do some karaoke.

What are your future projects? I know you have some.
For ten years, I’ve been working on a screenplay called “Rio Chino,” an American Western with a Chinese gunslinger and a Mexican heroine. The script won the Pipedream Screenwriting Award at the IFP Market last year and a Rockefeller Media Arts Fellowship this year. We’re now trying to raise the money to make the movie — Karin Chien is producing (she co-produced Robot Stories). Cross your fingers for us!

And I’m finishing up a couple of supershort 16mm films. Just trying to keep making movies, no matter how big or small, so I can keep learning and getting better, however I can.

Posted on February 14, 2004 in Interviews by


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