A decade or more ago, Raindance festival programmer, Suzanne Ballantyne wrote a tongue-in-cheek article How To Fake Being An Indie Auteur. She wrote the article based on her personal experience of watching over a thousand features a year. She was trying to use reverse-information to show people how to make a perfect festival film. Unfortunately, too many people took her tips seriously and failed to see the humour in her piece.
I thought I’d throw my tuppence into the ring and try and explain what I think makes the perfect festival film.
1. Make your hero ordinary
At the end of the day, the audience needs to identify with the main character. If the main character is a fictional super-hero it makes it a lot harder for the audience to identify with the protagonist. An ordinary person is much easier for the audience to relate to.
Spend some time learning about deep characterisation and how you can use the types of iconic characters to propel your film onto the top film festival screening list.
2. Take us on a journey
I don’t mean a road trip, but a journey of self-exploration and discovery. I’m not suggesting for a minute that you make a mindfulness movie, or explore some sort of well-being. But if we see your main character challenged, failing and then learning something we are more are likely to get engaged.
Another way to say this would be to take us on a journey of personal growth. A bit like the way the storyteller Kim Hudson presents stories of personal growth.
3. Be extreme in your perfect festival film
It isn’t enough these days to have a cute, darling, sweet film. Your film needs to be extreme: extreme story arc, extreme filmmaking techniques and be extremely entertaining.
4. Find your style
All artists, regardless of the medium have a great style. Picasso and rembrandt are both readily identifiable. in music we have Beethoven and the Beatles. In writing we have Hemingway and Steinbeck. Each of these artists have succeeded and remained with us because they honed and developed a unique personal style. as has Tarantino and the Russo Brothers, to name but two.
If festival programmers see a distinctive style – one that;s bold, fresh and innovative they will think they have discovered the perfect festival film
5. Be impactful
Social issues abound. Choose an issue you think your film can bring awareness too. People who see your film will learn something new and become better for it. and maybe then the world will have a chance to be a better place.
An example of an impactful documentary was Plastic Ocean which played at Raindance in 2016 and sparked the plactic-in-the-ocean controversy we all hear about it now.
Everyone is worried about the future. Will your film,documentary or narrative have the vision we all are searching for? Or not?
6. Get a name cast
Can you get a long-forgotten name to work for you really cheap? And then can you get a casting director to point you to the new soon-to-be-discovered actors? Can you blend these actors together to give some semblance of star power?
Pull this off and you have a better chance of raising a jaded festival programmers eyebrows.
7. Be electrifying
How audacious do you think you can be and still stay on the sane side of ‘the line’? Festivals like to think they have cutting edge material – but not too cutting edge. Remember that festivals hire cinemas and have sponsors! And cinemas and sponsors are not known for being cutting edge!
Raindance itself (shameless plug) is known for taking huge risks with shocking films like A Serbian Movie in 2010 which nearly got us closed down by the police.
8. Clear your music
There is no bigger faux pas than having uncleared music rights. Showing a film with uncleared music could mean the cinema would lose it’s entertainment license and the festival itself subject to a monstrously huge fine.
9. Know your genre
Please never tick the ‘drama’ box when sending your film out to a festival. Make sure your film falls very clearly into one of readily identifiable genres. If you take Suzanne’s advice in her article (above) you will combine two genres together that no one has thought of before.
10. Leave ’em wanting more
It’s the industry maxim. If you can get the audience to ask questions about the film, and about you after your screening – consider it a job well done. You win. The festival wins and the audience wins. And they’ll definitely all come back to you for more, because they know you can make the perfect festival film.