Monday, February 23, 2015

While Waiting for the Godot Festival

I was away from the shorts screenings this week, so I'll have some catching up to do. I did see good feature submissions, so thanks to those filmmakers for that. I know other screeners will appreciate them as well. We all want your movies to be great!

We had a production meeting this past week, and got to the topic of distributors coming to the festival. This turned into a discussion of what filmmakers can do while waiting to hear from, not only Dances With Films, but any film festival. It all boiled down to filmmakers knowing their movie.

What does that mean?

In order to know your film, you have to know where it fits in an industry that is in constant flux. As artists, we all hate to think that our work is like anyone else's, but distributors hate to have a project that has no comps. As much as it pains you, you have to have a list of movies that are similar to yours – preferably ones that made money.

A good comp is a movie in the same style as yours with a similar level cast. You need at least 3 comps – a large, medium and small. That is to say, a big hit (with an unknown cast), an average hit with a similar cast, and a movie that just broke even.

Your short list of comps is for conversation and pitching purposes. For your research, you're going to want a long list of movies that are in your same genre with a similar level cast. You then need to do some digging to find out who distributed them and how. By how, I mean did they get an actual theatrical release, just a four wall rental to score reviews to lure in VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Hulu, etc.

These are the distributors you want to target. You could spend as much time tracking down an e-mail address and insider info on a Fox Searchlight executive as you will finding 10 e-mails for smaller companies, but Fox is probably not going to come to your screening. Chances are, 9 out of 10 of the others aren't either – but they will take screeners, they will watch them, and there is a good chance they'll make you an offer. Fox Searchlight probably won't. It's not that they are bad people or don't know what they are doing. They just play in a different league.

Once you get into a festival, you have another level of homework to do. Find out what movies in past years have gotten distribution and from which distributor. Last year, I one company took three DWF films. That's huge. If you get into this year's festival, your invitation to them should begin with, "Last year your took three movies from Dances With Films, this year I hope you'll consider mine," or some such reminder.

Go onto a festival's Facebook page and see who has posted about getting distribution. If they don't say who picked them up, IMDB will. In this information age, there is no excuse for not doing your homework.

One last note on all of this.

There are filmmakers who think they know what the next big hit is going to be, and try to make that movie. There are distributors who would buy that movie. I'd like to report that it never works, but sadly, some people make a pretty good living that way.

But they rarely have a break out blockbuster and they are never called great.

If you're a screenwriter facing the blank page, then you have to put souls into each and every one of your characters. You can't borrow someone else's. You have to put your passion for the story on the page, then on the screen. If you do that, you'll find an audience – but you'll have to do the rest of this hoop-jumping to find a distributor.

Thanks for reading.

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