From his book RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press).
In industry terms, film festivals are usually used as launch pads for films. Attended by acquisition executives and talent scouts, festivals are full of new product and fresh talent. Acquisition executives rely on the choices made by festival programmers to filter through the vast array of material in circulation. Individual festivals have built reputations based on their programming. In Europe, Rotterdam, Berlin, Raindance and Cannes all make unique programming choices that distinguish each festival from the other.
A film festival's role is to provide an audience of receptive and appreciative filmgoers to view your work. Distributors can also use the festival to build publicity for their film before its commercial release. A festival is also a place where acquisition executives can discover new talent as they have a platform to screen their first shorts and features.
So why should you be there too?
Four Reasons to Attend Film Festivals
1 Do a deal
The primary reason for submitting your film to a film festival is to have it screened in front of acquisition executives who will ‘discover’ your film and make you an offer on the spot. If you are attending one of the smaller festivals, it is unlikely that this will happen. Film buyers travel through the major and mini-major festivals and would only consider a side trip to your screening at a smaller festival if you carefully planned the publicity surrounding your screening. They might reasonably ask why you had not been accepted into a larger, more convenient festival.
2 Win awards
If you read bios of filmmakers, you will often see the phrase ‘an award-winning filmmaker’, but the names of the awards are never mentioned. That is because there are only three awards worth naming on a CV.
The most prestigious award is the Oscar™. Even a nomination is mentioned on a filmmaker’s CV. The Academy has carefully presented itself to the industry as a credible event, although in recent years it has become known as a marketing contest with the cleverest and most expensive marketing campaigns winning the awards.
Following that, the Palme d’Or at Cannes is highly esteemed. Its cachet has become established because it is judged by very high profile industry jurors at the most important film festival of the year. The third most sought-after award is the Golden Bear presented at the Berlin Film Festival.
Many festivals offer awards to any filmmaker attending their festival as a means of attracting entries. A friend of mine, Dov Simens, had a 20-minute live action short starring William Forsythe. He submitted to the Montreal Film Festival knowing that they had a 35mm live action science fiction short film category and gave out gold, silver and bronze medals. There was one other entrant - Dov won the bronze. A few weeks later he did the same thing at the Cincinnati Film Festival and now calls himself a multiple award-winning filmmaker.
3 Sit on a panel / do Q&As
If award winning is not your thing, then get yourself invited to sit on a panel. Not only will it help you hone your public speaking skills, but you can then claim that you were directly involved with the festival. Alternatively, agree to a post-screening Q&A. Audiences are always keen to 'meet' the filmmakers and a personal appearance will help sell tickets.
4 Getting reviewed
Film journalists really do not enjoy film festivals. Suppose your first film festival is a small regional film festival, a mom and pop film festival. The local weekly newspaper will have a film journalist who creates the weekly centre spread on movies from the press kits supplied by the major distributors. But with the film festival approaching, s/he will have to watch all the films entered into the festival and write reviews. As a producer, you want a good review, and hope and pray that the pictures you sent to the festival with your press kit are attractive enough to get printed in the newspaper.
The film journalist for this small weekly newspaper also has career aspirations. S/he would like to work on one of the daily papers, or get a job reviewing films on a radio or television station. Because the newspaper is so small they also have to cover the horse racing, but a festival really gives them some hope of a ticket out of Smallsville. Journalists have learned that they should always print a superlative in their review, even if they hate it, because they know you will quote their review out of context. For example: ‘Elliot’s first film is a fine example of how not to make a movie’ becomes ‘Elliot’s first film is a fine example’.
When you quote the journalist out of context they then can include your quote in their portfolio. If their quote makes it onto your poster, be certain you include their name and publication and send them a copy!