Wednesday, April 28, 2010

So You Got In A Film Festival - Now What?

Since Dances With Films is in Los Angeles - where many of the filmmakers reside - and since we often have world premieres, which means first-festival experiences, we've taken to having an orientation meeting with the filmmakers.

Much of this meeting covers marketing. I thought it might be helpful to say here what I often end up saying at the meeting.

Marketing a film in Los Angeles is different than any other place in the world. She is a great city, and I love her dearly, but her level of polite apathy can not be over estimated.

"Hey, my movie just got into a very prestigious festival in Los Angeles," you say to her.

"That's great," she says, "congratulations. Good for you. How much money has it made?"

"Well, none yet, but this is our big premiere. Will you come?"

"No, but good luck with it."

"But, you should come. It's a really good film about the struggles of..." and pretty soon you find you're talking to yourself.

To get Los Angeles off her couch and into the movie theatre - which, lets face it, is like asking you to pay money to go into your day job - requires more energy than you can possibly imagine.

So here are some ideas that have worked:

Start gathering your troupes.

As you'll learn, film festivals are partnerships between the festival and each individual filmmaker. The festival will promote the festival - and that will include pushing whatever story we think we can get press to bite on, which may be a tie-in to specific films - but you've got to promote your screening.

The best way to do this is with your cast, and to some extent, your crew. The cast are the faces that are seen, so they are the most vested in having a large turn out for your film. The more lead time you can give them, the better. You'll also want to provide them with promotion materials (post cards, jpgs for e-mailing, etc.)

Cast will also help with getting professionals to the screening. Make sure they invite agents, managers, casting directors, etc. since those that work in larger houses write up reports on what they saw. They might also be married to or dating someone who knows someone, etc.

Promote individuals within your film to Hollywood. People get tired of hearing "My movie this" and "my movie that," and very few people in the business are able to help get a finished film in front of a paying audience. So rather than blowing your own horn to people who could careless (because, let's face it, unemployment in this industry is 100% all of the time, so we are all by necessity looking out for number one) talk about the individual stand-outs in your movie.

For example: say you've got a great DP, or a leading actor who everyone things is going to break out. Don't just try to sell your whole movie to a distributor - if you're talking to a production company, tell them they might want to come check out the photography, or the cast. That's how buzz gets going. Change the selling points for your film depending on who you're talking to.

Make it fun! Silly little promotions are great. Make sure the screening time, etc. are easily visible. Remember, this is only a life-or-death screening for you. For everyone else, it should be a fun time at the movies.

Last, but not least, make it fun for you, too. You've worked your behind off to get to this one moment. Drink it in. Enjoy the hell out of it. Because as soon as it's done, you've got to start trying to make it happen again.


Carly said...

Great blog! Fantastic ideas - as always. Working on figuring out which publicist to hire now and developing a strategy. I'm actually a bit stressed - there's so much work to do before June!

Anonymous said...

I find this blog to be a bit offensive and a bit unprofessional, being that its author is a member of the screening panel of judges. First, it was stated that specifics about the films being discussed herein wouldn NOT be divulged to the point that the filmmaker would know it was his/her movie that was being talked about. But on numerous occasions, so many specifics were given that only a truly stupid person would not know it was his/her film that was being lambasted or praised, depending on the situation. Also, this blog let the cat out of the bag regarding acceptances already being sent out, which means - you guessed it - almost everyone else, by default, is rejected. But official rejections don't come until mid-May. So yay! We get to be rejected twice! Awesome! Robert, you need to show a little more professionalism in this blog. If you want to berate people's films who paid good money to submit, that is fine. It's a free country ... yada yada yada. But the acceptance and rejection process should be a little more tight-lipped. Again, it's the festival's decision how professional it should be in these matters, but if you want the filmmaking community to respect you, you have to show a little respect for them first.

RSMellette said...

Thank you both for your comments. This is a grand experiment, which doesn't work without feedback.

Anonymous: You're right about one thing. When I have praised a movie, I definitely drop enough hints to let the filmmakers know I'm talking about them. I'm all in favor of encouraging talent.

As for the criticism, with the exception of one film that was so bad I seriously considered sending it to the CIA to use in torturing terrorists, I try not to bring up individual slights, but recurring trends. Trust me, I could list enough details to make you swear I was talking about one movie - maybe even yours - when in fact, I'm talking about five different films, all with the same problems.

In general, the filmmakers submitting to DWF have - or appear to have - aspirations toward careers in the entertainment industry. Some don't, and that's fine -- nothing wrong with doing this as a hobby -- but we certainly treat every submission as if the filmmakers are shooting for professional level. If my little blog puts them off kilter, then trust me, they might want to think about another line of work. My worst notes are high praise out in the real world.

And finally, here's a news flash. We still have two feature spots open, and several shorts left to program -- so don't go jumping to any conclusions. :)

Anonymous said...

I didn't write my comment because I thought I saw bad criticism about my film. But there were a few comments about films that, if they were my film, I would know it, I am positive. But the main gist was the unprofessional way in which it was revealed that most people had already been informed of their acceptance. And I didn't assume anything. I said "almost everyone else" was rejected, not all.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the guy above, but I understand. I think this is a fine blog with a lot of information on plenty of info that we can find searching the Internet all night. Also, you warned us that you were gonna talk about or films in a secret kind of way, which I know works because I don't know what the Hell the other films are about or who made them. The fact is this blog is addictive, especially for filmmakers. But I understand why that guy is pissed, we just want our rejection letters so we can read this blogg without any anxiety. Anyway, I hope you don't stop writing this blog, it is something I've come to do every Friday morning and I like the ritual.

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with making a criticism about a film? That's what film reviewers do everyday. If you intend to have your film watched by anyone other than your adoring mother, plan on getting criticism. What? Just because you paid an entry fee you think you should be immune to criticism? What about the studios who PAY to get their film in theaters - think they should be immune to criticism too? At least he doesn't put the title of the film in his blog. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Yet another person who doesn't read things closely.... Quote #1: "I didn't write my comment because I saw bad criticism about my film." Quote #2: "If you want to berate people's films who paid good money to submit, that is fine. It's a free country ... yada yada yada." Take some English lessons, and then we can have a normal conversation where the other person comprehends what the other said. SHEESH.

Anonymous said...

So what are you complaining about?

Anonymous said...

I rest my case. Quote #3: "But the main gist was the unprofessional way in which it was revealed that most people had already been informed of their acceptance." Have you read any of the posts, or do you just skim over text, eager with anticipation to chime in with your two cents...? It's called reading, people. Letters form words. Words grouped together form sentences. Together with punctuation, meaning is formed. You know ... the stuff you learned when you were about five or six years old. Maybe it's time for a refresher.

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very unprofessional place, considering that they don't tell people if the place has accepted out of state film submissions, plus, do they actually let you know if a film is accepted via email, and/or personal phone call. I mean, come on. Plus, when do they let you know if you made it? Do they post on their website asap, or do they try to keep you in suspense? Higly unprofessional

RSMellette said...

You know, I've never had fun on a project where the first thing the people in charge talk about is fun, and I've never been treated professionally by people who use the word.

We accept film submissions from all over the world. That would include out of state.

We e-mail, we call, we'll send up smoke signals if it's the only way to get in touch with a film that we want in the fest. We bust our asses to find good movies, and don't let them go without a fight.

We accept films first. During this process certain films will not be able to do the festival, so we have to fill their slot with another submission. The process takes weeks. During this time, we move forward with scheduling, promoting, etc. the films that are in. Only after the schedule has been completely filled do we send out pass letters.

Of course, if you prefer, let us know who you are, and we can pass on your film right now.

This process has been going on for 13 years now and the festival is well respected throughout the industry, so our reputation speaks for itself.

But thank you for your input, and I hope you keep reading.

sooz said...

Hi Robert,

I saw the filmmaker orientation photo album on the DWF facebook page and got the impression myself that the selectees had been finalized. I'm glad to know there are still spots left, but would not have guessed this until I went digging through the blog comments to try to find out what the scoop was. I can understand the sensitivity - we're all sort of waiting with bated breath, as the saying goes. Anyway, I think this is a great blog and have been tuning in every week since I discovered it. The criticism is helpful, and I'm still hopeful about my film. Keep up the good work.


RSMellette said...

Thanks for the good words, sooz.

Everyone on the planet seems to be having some growing pains adapting to, not a 24 hour news cycle, but an instantaneous one. Press releases are now done on Twitter, skipping the press entirely and going straight to subscribers. I don't do a lot of Twittering, so I always appreciate when Brian Williams tells me about it - but to subscribers, that's old news.

When Micheal and Leslee started the festival, the internet was new. Most people didn't have e-mail accounts. Now, most people get their e-mail on their phones. This can make timing very difficult.

Sorry if there's been any addition to the stress. Believe me, I've been on your side. Still am with my book.

And for those following the comments on this post, sooz gives a great example of how to make a critical observation. No name calling. No anger. No bitterness. Everyone should learn from that, because it's easy to get bitter in this business - and once that happens, you're done. No one will work with a bitter artist.