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Distribution & Consumption in 2009

The face of yesterdayRoger Erik Tinch (art & online director at CineVegas) pens a few thoughts on the future of how we will consume films in the next year and how they'll be delivered to us. Most interesting to me were his thoughts on physical media:

Most recently THE DARK KNIGHT, selling 10 million units, and MAMMA MIA! THE MOVIE, selling 2 million units in it’s first day, have done huge blockbuster sales amidst a grim economic backdrop. The fact that these films exist in HD on iTunes hasn’t slowed down their plastic disc counterparts. Now I’m not saying online distribution won’t succeed, I’m just saying it will succeed, but only in the rental realm. Instead of popping on down to your local Blockbuster you’ll instead power up your Xbox or TiVo and order something while in your pajamas.

While this makes sense from a certain perspective, I have become completely disenchanted with the idea of owning a DVD library. Maybe it's just the fact that this panoply of DVDs overwhelms my smallish living space or that being a new parent has made movie-watching time a rare and precious thing, but I'm looking forward to the day when these shiny plastic discs can be housed completely on a vast (and cheap) hard disk or, better yet, hosted in "the cloud" for quick and easy retrieval on command.

Read Distribution and Consumption in 2009 on the CineVegas Blog.

BTW, that's not Roger in the picture, that's my former college roommate Scott -- but the fact that movies were once stored on laserdiscs bigger than the human head always makes me laugh.

Why didn't I get into Sundance/Slamdance?

HeidiFilmmaker and author Heidi van Lier has a new blog over at Film Independent and her first subject to tackle, naturally, is the immortal question: "Why didn't I get into Sundance/Slamdance?"

There are a lot of hurt feelings out there this week, some people are actually questioning if they should ever even attempt another film, others are pissed and shouting how much they despise the programmers of either festival (I’m included as one of those programmers), and still others are just depressed, feeling defeated, and not sure what to do next.

You should certainly read Heidi's answer (and check out her book), but I have to turn the question around. With thousands of films submitted each year (about 8000 to Sundance alone, according to a recent estimate) and only a few hundred programmed (even if you include Slamdance's 100+ titles), fewer than 1% of the films received by these festivals are programmed. In what other kind of competition do contestants enter knowing that they have less than one chance in a hundred of getting in (based solely on the judgment of other human beings) and then get sore -- in some cases even violently angry -- when they don't win?

This is meant more as a reality check than a lecture, though there are certainly Sundance rejects who could use the lecture. Those, however, are the people who will not pick themselves up and move on to the next thing. Those are the people who won't look at the year's worth of worthy festivals laid out before them and decide that there are exciting and prosperous days ahead. Those are the people who will fail to buckle down, create a festival strategy for themselves, and apply accordingly.

And guess what? Those are the people whose films you won't see at SXSW or IFF Boston or Oxford or Seattle or Austin or Ann Arbor or the multitude of other deserving festivals that kick ass each year. Sure, it would be nice to play Sundance or Slamdance and take part in the madness that is January in Park City. It would also be nice to win the lottery or find yourself at a dinner party seated across from Scarlett Johansson. The difference is that with talent and persistence you can work your way up to Park City. Persistence applied to the other dreams will net you an empty wallet and a restraining order, respectively.

Sorry, Scarlett.

Creating reminders for film festival deadlines (screencast)

Creating Reminders for Film Festival Deadlines from Film Festival Secrets on Vimeo.

The first of a series of video tutorials on useful tools you can use to make your life on the festival circuit easier. With Sundance and Slamdance announcing their slates, a number of filmmakers are looking into their festival options for the rest of the year -- only to find that the deadlines for many Spring festivals have already gone by.

Don't miss any more deadlines! Use these free web tools to send yourself automated reminders when the dates approach.

This video is available to share on Vimeo and YouTube.

Rant on The Death of Indie Film as a Business Model

HD for Indies founder Mike Curtis:

I’m not saying it isn’t possible to make a good, worthy, financially successful independent film.

I’m just saying there’s no proven, valid, viable business model where it makes sense for investors to put money into it.

And in this wretched crashing economy, I think the days of the vanity, ego-driven, support-the-arts investor support of indie films are OVER.

My friend wondered what this would mean for moviemaking in the future - would this kill off future generations of talent?

In a way, I kind of hope so. A lot of movies are being made that, frankly, shouldn’t be. We can count on the talented and committed making the effort to get their stories told. Bravo. But probably 80+% of film school grads are going to be moths to the flame - poof - nobody saw that tiny flash of color, weren’t looking, and it is gone forever.

I'm going to pass this one on without comment, except to say that Mike must have had one helluva bad day.

Read Mike's entire rant.

Tom Hall on The 2008 International Film Festival Summit


I left the IFFS wishing I could stay and do more. I have already made plans to attend in 2009 and would recommend the experience to any film festival worker; It is a terrific opportunity to talk about nuts and bolts away from the pressure of film markets and festival screening schedules.

This is exactly the way I feel about IFFS in general. Though I and many others have thoughts regarding the panels and general format of the annual conference, this year's event proved invaluable as a chance to touch base with old friends, forge new contacts, and put faces to the personalities I only meet by phone or e-mail. I hope everyone else finds it as useful, and that they'll keep coming back even as the conference struggles towards the ultimate goal of making all of its component events relevant to a wildly diverse set of attendees.

For the rest of Tom's thoughts click here. I have more detailed notes (including the notes on my own panel about new media and marketing) that I'll be posting later this week and early next.

Tomorrow is the final postmark deadline for submitting to SXSW

The details are here, but the basic info is that you need to fill out the form online and get your DVD in the mail by tomorrow, December 12 2008.

The Film Panel Notetaker: top panels of 2008

If you're unfamiliar with the Film Panel Notetaker, it's time to fire up the bookmark machine and get yourself a cup of coffee. With coverage of film-related panels from festivals and conferences across the country, this site will keep you reading for a while.

This week Chief Notetaker Brian Geldin reflects on the what happened on the site in 2008 and on his favorite panel discussions. It's well worth clicking over, so long as you're prepared to lose a few hours looking over the notes.

International Film Festival Summit Day 1

If what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, then we're all wasting our time.

If, on the other hand, we all retain memories of these three days, then a lot of good could come out of the Film Festival Summit held in Vegas this week. The Summit, positioned in early December when very few festivals are held and just about anyone in the film fest industry could participate, is a chance for festival staffers and other industry types to get together and talk shop. Though there are occasional grumbles about the location, programming, or expense of attending, no one denies that the chance to be in a room with a 200+ other festival directors -- from the smallest startup to the biggest of the big boys -- is invaluable.

The first day was technically only a half day but when it bleeds into the late night you can definitely say you've put in a full day's work. The keynote speech by Rick Allen of Snagfilms was followed by a panel about the relationship between panels and distribution. These, however, felt secondary to the networking marathon that took place immediately afterwards on the exhibit floor and then migrated to a nearby restaurant.

I'm going to spare you the gory details in favor of getting down to the show in time for the morning panel with programmers Trevor Groth (Sundance, Cinevegas) and Gary Meyer (Telluride) speaking on "The Art and Philosophy of Curating a Film Festival." I'm guessing that those of you reading will care more about that than about "Board Development for Your Festival" or "Creating Value for Festival Sponsors."

Ultimately, however, this is good for filmmakers. Smaller festivals will definitely benefit from learning about the conventions created by their larger counterparts (even if they decide to flaunt those conventions) and the larger fests will be reminded that filmmakers have a world of choices (large and small) outside their own events. More to come.

Live in or near Vegas? Volunteer for the International Film Festival Summit


The International Film Festival Summit (IFFS) is currently seeking volunteers for its upcoming 5th annual edition taking place December 7-9 in Las Vegas. Volunteers at the IFFS will be engaged in a working atmosphere that exudes passion for the promotion and advancement of film and, in particular, film festivals. And, this is an opportunity to work at a one-of-a-kind Summit geared specifically towards film festival professionals – actually it’s the ONLY event of its kind! To learn more please visit their website.

Volunteers will also have some of the same opportunities as the IFFS attendees, which includes being able to sit in on various educational and inspirational keynotes, presentations and panel sessions designed specifically for film festivals. The overall experience will allow participants the chance to meet numerous professionals in the independent film, entertainment and film festival community. Truly a unique opportunity to hear insights on an industry that one might not normally have the privilege of having access to. If interested in being a valuable member of the 2008 IFFS, please contact: Lori Douglass at 702-430-6113 or

I will be in attendance at the Summit this year; this will be my third year returning to the Summit and I can vouch for the fact that it is a one-of-a-kind event.

[via the Cinevegas newsletter]

Frequently asked questions about film fests - Understanding Film Festivals part 3

Parts one and two of Understanding Film Festivals covered the annual festival cycle and the benefits of film festivals -- part three wraps it up with some often-asked questions and a summary of the essays.

What does "festival circuit" mean?

When a filmmaker talks about "doing the festival circuit," it generally means showing your film at a series of film festivals. There's no prescribed order of these festivals except by their arrangement on the calendar; you can submit to whichever festivals you want, whenever you want. Some festivals will refuse to show a film based on the other festivals that film has played. See Film Festival Secrets the book for more discussion on this.

Slamdance by jeffrey95112

What's the difference between a film festival and a film market?

A film festival generally has its origins in the celebration of film as an art form, while a film market is explicitly created as a marketplace for filmmakers to sell their films to distributors. Some festivals have become de facto markets (like Sundance) and others now have markets attached (like Cannes), but in general there's not a lot of buying and selling going on at film festivals.

So why shouldn't I just bypass the festivals and go straight to a film market?

Film markets are less discriminating when it comes to the films they accept, but they charge much bigger fees. The market model is really designed to foster interaction between distribution companies and the production companies or agencies representing groups of films. The market typically rents out booths on a trade show floor, arranges screenings on site, and provides meeting space. The American Film Market (AFM) is probably the most well-known event of its kind in the U.S. Held in October or November each year, AFM has many of the trappings of a film festival (screenings, parties, red-carpet premieres) but has no competitive aspects. Anyone can exhibit -- provided they can pay $7500 or more for the privilege.

As an individual filmmaker, it's unlikely you have the spare cash and experience to take your film to market yourself and sell it successfully. Even if you could, you'd be cheating yourself of all the cool things that festivals have to offer. Beyond the personal rewards that festivals provide, a successful run on the festival circuit with accompanying reviews and awards will make your movie that much more appealing to prospective buyers. In the process you might even find an agency willing to represent your film at market -- saving you the money and trouble of doing it on your own.


How can I learn more about the way a film festival works?

Volunteer. Film festivals always need volunteer help, both during the event and in the months leading up to it. Filmmakers have been volunteering at film festivals for decades in order to learn the festival ropes, make local film connections, and earn free festival badges. Volunteering can give you some highly useful perspective when it comes time to submit your own picture.

So all festivals work like this?

Well, no. Now that there are more than a thousand film festivals in existence (some say as many as 2500 -- it's difficult to say for sure), festivals are trying a lot of new things to distinguish themselves from the rest of the herd. Such efforts include diverging from the model described above in every way imaginable. There are festivals held exclusively online, festivals that accept only films in certain formats, and festivals that cater to every demographic, no matter how small. That means nearly unlimited opportunity for filmmakers, but also exceptions to every rule. For that reason, think of the advice in this book & blog as relevant to the nucleus of independent film festivals but not necessarily applicable to every individual case. Every film festival is different, but they all exist to provide the same basic things: a venue for independent filmmakers to find an audience, and a place for moviegoers to see new and exciting work outside the mainstream.

Professionals waiting by bigarnex


• Film festivals are year-round efforts that often require a full staff of people (often filmmakers themselves) to work for little or no pay. Respecting that fact is one of the single greatest things you can do to advance your film and your career on the festival circuit.

• The festival cycle begins with the call for entries, continues with the screening process, and culminates in final programming and of course the festival exhibition itself.

• Festivals often appear glamorous and crammed with willing moviegoers, but in reality the organizations are often starved for funding and audiences for some screenings can be difficult to find. Don’t be discouraged; take advantage of what the festival has to offer and be sure to seek out the other filmmakers in attendance.

AFI Fest Report from Austin Film Festival programmer Jesse Trussell

Special guest post by film competition programmer Jesse Trussell of the Austin Film Festival.

afi fest
AFI Red Carpet - photo shamelessly ripped from Shaz Bennett's Facebook album.

A pimp is out searching for a kidnapper in a crowded neighborhood. He comes to an intersection, and his Jaguar slams into the car of an agitated young man, covered in blood. Is this the kidnapper, or just another disaffected member of Beijing’s claustrophobic sprawl? We want our hero to find his man, but even if his gets the girl back she will just return to a life of prostitution. What can be called justice here?

All this happens in Hong-jin Na’s The Chaser, an intriguing and often disturbing South Korean take on the thriller genre which screened during the annual AFI Fest that wrapped up after the first week of November. A keen and incisive take on current world cinema is really the hallmark of the annual Los Angeles based festival. The 11 day event, thrown by the American Film Institute, had special sidebars this year on recent films from such far flung places as Argentina and Kazakhstan, as well as a look at the recent production from 6th generation Chinese auteur Jia Ziang Ke’s company XStream. Internationalism is also felt in AFI main competitions, where Uruguian Frederico Veiroj's Acne and the Ugandan shot Kassim the Dream won the jury prizes for narrative and documentary features, respectively.

In addition to the diverse world cinema programming, AFI screened some of the year’s best American independent films. A real highlight was writer/director Mike Gibbiser’s moving Finally, Lillian and Dan. In an American indie scene dominated by the solipsistic bent of mumblecore, Gibbiser’s small tale of love between the two most awkward people in the world aims for a lyricism and feeling far beyond the character dramas that litter the festival world. Shot on gorgeous and grainy 16mm, and understanding brilliantly the use of silence, Finally, Lillian and Dan marks an auspicious debut from a director still in his 20s.

afi fest
Filmmaker Trevor Anderson, Sundance programming coordinator Landon Zakheim, and AFI Fest's Associate Director for Programming Shaz Bennett. Photo shamelessly ripped from Shaz Bennett's Facebook album.

Another facet of AFI Fest greatly beneficial to their filmmakers is the Connect program. Now in its 8th year, AFI sets a one-on-one meetings between its filmmakers and over 100 industry professionals, in addition to a series of more informal cocktail hours and gatherings. This invaluable face time and advice is a fantastic bonus for any filmmaker, especially due to the caliber of industry participants the AFI is able to attract.

Overall, 2008 was an incredibly strong year for AFI Fest. From bold programming to a fun and friendly community, it is one of the real gems in the fall festival calendar.

Cinekink's "Final-Final" deadline approaches

I mentioned Cinekink before but wanted to give them another bump as their no-kidding deadline approaches. If your film has some sexiness to it or a sex-positive message, this could be a great NYC screening for you.

CineKink NYC - "the really alternative film festival" - is seeking films and videos, of any length and genre, that explore and celebrate the wide diversity of sexuality. Dedicated to the recognition and encouragement of sex-positive and kink-friendly depictions in film and television, we're looking to blur some boundaries and will be considering offerings drawn from both Hollywood and beyond, with works ranging from documentary to drama, camp comedy to hot porn, mildly spicy to quite explicit - and everything in between.

The final-final(!) postmarked deadline for entries is November 29th.

For more information and to download an entry form, visit

NewFest artistic director departs, reflects on state of film festivals

Basil Tsiokos in indieWIRE:

Over the past several months, even before news of the financial crisis broke, it's been an open secret that many film festivals around the U.S. have been suffering - while some have managed to secure enough funding to stay in operation, others (like the recently shuttered Jackson Hole Film Festival) haven't been so lucky. While I leave NewFest in the capable hands of my Board of Directors and on good terms, chiefly out of a desire to move on to new challenges elsewhere (yet to be determined), it would be disingenuous to not acknowledge that the difficult realities of non-profit funding had some role in my decision. Running a film festival, in my experience, is hardly a standard full-time job - it's an all-the-time job.

10 Benefits of Playing Film Festivals - Understanding Film Festivals Part 2

In the previous section of this article (rescued from an earlier draft of Film Festival Secrets the book) we covered what a typical festival year looks like. Now we'll delve into ten benefits of playing the film festival circuit.

1. Distribution. The possibility of finding a distributor by participating in the festival process is real. Festivals are one of the main sources that distributors tap when looking for films to acquire. However, even for filmmakers whose films are outstanding enough to play in the top-tier festivals, finding a distributor -- especially a distributor whose vision for the picture matches yours -- can be a struggle. The good news is that the festival circuit's usefulness in finding distribution isn't limited to the big festivals like Sundance, Toronto, and Cannes. A successful tour of well-established, respected festivals will build critical buzz for your film through audience word of mouth and reviews in the press.

2. Networking. This goes hand in hand with distribution. Though you may not find distribution for your movie as a direct result of playing at a particular event, festivals provide an unparalleled opportunity to make those critical connections that may eventually sell your film. This is also a chance to meet your contemporaries -- some of who may be able to help you in the future. Sometimes even festival staff members will take a shine to particular film and do their best to push it in the right direction. People who work at festivals are often the most well-connected people in the film industry. Why wouldn't you want to know as many of them as possible?


3. Exhibition. You didn't make your film to hide it in a closet -- you wanted it to be seen! Festival audiences contain the most appreciative and knowledgeable viewers out there. Not only do they love independent film enough to show up to the screening of an unknown filmmaker, but some of them will fall in love with your movie and ask you endless questions about it afterwards. It's your big chance to bask in the appreciation for all your hard work.

4. Cash prizes. A lot of festivals offer cash prizes for the best work of the season. Use those well-earned festival checks to make some token payments to your credit cards.

5. Other awards. Even if there's no cash involved, festival awards are a nice way to draw attention to your film. More media coverage is given to award winners and you can draw future festival audiences to your film with some laurel wreaths on your poster. Some awards are better than others, true, but even an award from the Podunk International Film Festival is better than none. And hey, that festival trophy can warm the bench for your future Oscar.

6. Learn something at panels and seminars. Lots of festivals are adding panels to increase the appeal of their events. Sitting in on panels is a great way to add to your filmmaking knowledge, and later on at the party you'll be able to identify the visiting industry reps by sight. Some festivals have full-blown conferences in addition to film screenings; make sure your filmmaker badge gets you into the conference as well.


7. Reviews. Festivals are covered by local and industry press alike -- the amount of coverage is naturally proportional to the size and prestige of the festival, but with the right strategy and persistence you can build a nice portfolio of press clippings. Reviews can make or break a film, but as a filmmaker you definitely want as many reviews as you can get.

8. Parties. It's the nature of the beast. In terms of networking, parties are where the action is at any film festival. Maybe it's the free booze, maybe it's the well-dressed people who never go to screenings but magically materialize at the parties, or maybe it's just the fact that everyone seems more confident when they're shouting to be heard over the music. Whatever it is, the parties are the place to hook up, career-wise and... otherwise. Try not to stay out too late.

9. Cool movies. You're a filmmaker -- you love movies! Film festivals are the place to see the new, the independent, the weird, and those guilty pleasures known as the pre-release studio pictures. As a participating filmmaker, you should be able to see as many as you want for free.


10. Free travel. Not every festival can afford to fly in their participating filmmakers, but you should make sure you apply to a few that do. You've always wanted to see Kentucky, right? Just don't trash the hotel room -- you want to be invited back.

11. Swag. Some festivals put together nice little goody bags (contents usually provided by sponsors) for their VIPs. Yes, participating filmmaker -- you're a VIP now. Feels nice, doesn't it? Maybe you don't even drink tequila but it's nice to get a bag of free stuff anyway.

Later this week I will post part three of this article, which will present the answers to some common filmmaker questions about festivals.

Susan Buice's "Smothered"

Nice to see that Susan is making movies again after all of the effort that went into selling and promoting Four-Eyed Monsters.

Understanding Film Festivals - an overview of the festival year

[An incorrect link from a recent e-mail newsletter may have brought you to this article – please use this link to visit the correct article! Thanks.] 

When I started writing Film Festival Secrets, I envisioned it as a much longer tome with a lot of in-depth background about the evolution of festivals, day-to-day life behind the scenes, and many more case studies than are actually in the book as it stands today. When it became apparent that filmmakers didn't need that sort of book half as much as I wanted to write it, I abandoned those plans and created the leaner, more useful manual to the film fest world. I expect that later editions of Film Festival Secrets will include some of those things but for now I want to share some of the "cutting room floor" material with you here on the blog.

This piece was initially written to be an introductory essay or perhaps a section of the first chapter.

State Theater at Night by farlane on Flickr

One of the most useful weapons in an independent filmmaker's arsenal is a general understanding of the way film festivals work. Few things will gain you more favor in the eyes of a festival director than a familiarity with the annual cycle most festivals go through and your attention to detail when it comes to the peculiarities of that festival. The less time you spend asking questions whose answers are readily available on the festival web site and the more you present yourself as an easygoing soul who is happy to make the festival's job as trouble-free as possible, the smoother the entire process will be for all involved. This is not to say that you should surrender all dignity at the festival door, but the books of festival lore are replete with stories of filmmakers who pestered festival staff with inane queries, displayed a sense of entitlement when their film was accepted, and then complained about the experience afterward. Those stories rarely end with the festival programming that filmmaker's next picture. A little knowledge and a bit of graciousness go a long way.

From the perspective of a filmmaker, the festival process begins with the call for entries. In reality there have been months of preparation leading up to the call -- analysis of the previous festival's successes and failures, reworking of the festival procedures and format, the courting of sponsors, and more. The period between the end of one year's festival and the call for entries of the next is also when staff turnover is likeliest. If you're submitting to a festival for the second (or third or fourth) time, be mindful of the fact that the relationships you established with last year's staff may need to be rebuilt with someone new. By the time they put out the call for entries, this year's staff has already put a lot of thought and work into the upcoming event.

Filmmakers responding to the call for entries fill out the festival's submission form, pay a submission fee (at this writing, anywhere from $20 - $50 and sometimes more), and send one or more copies of their film to the festival for consideration. There are often two deadlines: one "early" deadline with a reduced entry fee and one "final" or "late" deadline, after which no more films are accepted for review. (Though there are sometimes exceptions -- see the chapter on submissions for more.)

As the entries come into the festival, they are sorted by category and catalogued for review. The screening process usually begins as soon as the first films start to trickle in and really gets going as the deadlines approach. Depending on the size of the festival staff and the volume of submissions every film may be viewed by either a staff member or a team of screeners (usually volunteers) may be employed. Each film is viewed by one or more of these screeners (the better festivals make sure each film is viewed at least twice) and evaluated by a standard set of criteria. As the festival dates draw near, the programming team sets aside the best-reviewed films for deliberation and after much internal agonizing, lobbying, and the occasional cage match final decisions are made.

Once the festival decides which films to show the programming team notifies each filmmaker of their acceptance or rejection. As with so many other things in life, the happy news for those films accepted is often delivered first and by personal contact; rejections are usually sent en masse and by form letter. After this comes a flurry of communication and negotiations as filmmakers accept their placement at the film festival or, more rarely, withdraw from the festival. (Believe it or not, there are legitimate reasons not to show your film at a festival after you've been accepted. That's covered that in the chapter on submissions.)

Ann Arbor Film Festival

With a program set, the festival staff locks down screening times and puts the finishing touches on the thousands of details that go into a film festival: venues, travel arrangements, the technicalities of projection, print trafficking, party logistics, transportation, the creation of printed and online program guides, volunteers, ticketing, marketing, catering, media relations, and more. Film festivals have branched out from the mere exhibition of movies, offering a bewildering array of parties, panels, speakers, trade shows, seminars, concerts, live animal acts, and other associated events at a multitude of venues. The larger festivals often have a halo of unofficial proceedings during the event, organized by companies and individuals looking to capitalize on the festival's prestige -- and of course the influx of moviegoers and filmmakers.

In the weeks leading up to the festival, the festival staff and filmmakers ramp up their marketing efforts, publishing press releases and sending screeners to local and industry media. Larger festivals often receive preview and on-site coverage from industry publications, but even small festivals will get some coverage from the local press. At this point it's all about selling tickets and putting butts in seats, so the marketing department works overtime to promote the festival program. Savvy filmmakers will start their own marketing campaigns in the festival city, distributing posters and handbills at establishments near the festival venue and seeking coverage from community media to lure film fans to their screenings. This is often the most nerve-wracking time for both filmmakers and festival staff -- making sure everything is going to go off without a hitch (it rarely does) and hollering at the top of their metaphorical and actual lungs to be heard in a world whose collective attention is perpetually fleeting.


Eventually those final days tick down, however, and it's time for the opening night curtain. (Though sadly, few are the festivals fortunate enough to host their opening nights at theaters which employ actual curtains.) Filmmakers fly in with their marketing materials in hand, business cards in their pockets, and stars in their eyes. And why shouldn't they? Years of work led up to this moment, little of it glamorous, and for many of these no-longer-aspiring cast and crew-members, this is the first significant recognition of the merit of their work from someone other than their family and friends.
This is the point at which filmmaker expectations of a film festival meet reality and disappointment is bound to occur. Relatively few films actually play the well-funded festivals that can afford to fly their contestants in and put them up in lavish hotels; even fewer have the cachet to sell out every film they program. The anticipation of a world premiere with a packed house and an smiling acquisition exec in the crowd, checkbook at the ready, collides with the truth: audiences can be maddeningly elusive, acquisition execs even more so, and film festivals are filled with filmmakers just like you -- hungry, talented, and willing to work, but playing in an ever more crowded field.

This is not to say that film festivals aren't worth your time. Quite the opposite! In the case of many independent films, festivals act as a de facto theatrical tour for those films not destined to achieve theatrical distribution. Film festivals are also the front lines of quality control on the massive glut of independent movies made each year. Without the teams of film festival screeners wading through the sub-standard pictures and heralding the gems that appear, distributors and audiences would have an even harder time finding those unknown filmmakers whose work deserves to be seen. Filmmakers benefit from the festival process even more than the audiences. Not only do they get to see the amazing work of their peers, but they also have a place to showcase their own movies, find their audiences, garner publicity, and -- every so often -- get a real lead on some financial remuneration for their work.

On Monday I'll post part two of this essay, which covers more of the benefits of playing film festivals and some frequently-asked filmmaker questions.

That Media Show features "Film Festival Secrets"

That Media Show gave a nice plug to the web site and book on November 10th. That reminds me, I need to do a roundup of all the media mentions of the book so far. Many thanks to the TMS folks who gave me the shout-out, even if I am a little afraid of my own face blown up to that size. I wish I knew where the original of that photo is.

Read That Media Show - Nov 10, 2008 - That Media Show on

Interview with Fred Andrews of Kansas City FilmFest (formerly KC Jubilee)

Unveiled with very little fanfare, the first episode of the Film Festival Secrets podcast. In it I talk with Fred Andrews of the new Kansas City FilmFest, the joint creation of the festivals formerly known as KC FilmFest and KC Filmmakers Jubilee. You can listen to it on the web with this player:

You can subscribe to get future episodes with this URL:

(If you don't know how to subscribe to a podcast in iTunes, you can follow these instructions.) I have submitted it to the iTunes store, hopefully you'll be able to subscribe directly through iTunes soon.

I Heart Global Warming - November 12 10 p.m. e/p on Current

Current is establishing itself as a combination web/TV documentary powerhouse, and films like I Heart Global Warming are cementing that reputation. If you're a doc filmmaker and you haven't considered Current as an outlet for your material, tune in to I Heart Global Warming and see what Current is up to now.

Two new "no-fee" festivals

Reader Isabelle Vossart brings two new fee-free festivals to my attention:
The Blue November Micro Film Festival and the Flyway Film Festival. As with most such "no fee" festivals these look like small start-up fests, but if you're looking to rack up some additional festival screenings on the cheap this could be the way to go.
See the (always growing) list of no-fee festivals here.

On a brief hiatus

I'm still here but on a bit of a break as I move out of my old apartment and into a new place with my family. The book launch at the Austin Film Festival went well and I've been getting lots of good reactions from filmmakers and festival directors, but there's a lot of work to be done getting the word out. Once this move is over (the end of the week) I'll be working to get back on track with new blog entries and a write up of the press mentions the book has received so far.

Until then . . . .

Cinekink wants your sex-positive films.

CinekinkCinekink is precisely the kind of niche festival that can provide your film with much-needed exposure if you're having trouble getting traction on the mainstream festival circuit. (Of course, that's only if your film fits into its particular niche.) While niche festivals like Cinekink often find themselves curating their programs from other festivals, most of them would far prefer to discover new talent and to present content not yet seen elsewhere. If you have a sex-positive film that needs to be seen, submit to Cinekink.

Call for Entries - CineKink NYC/2009

CineKink NYC - "the really alternative film festival" - is seeking films and videos, of any length and genre, that explore and celebrate the wide diversity of sexuality. Dedicated to the recognition and encouragement of sex-positive and kink-friendly depictions in film and television, we're looking to blur some boundaries and will be considering offerings drawn from both Hollywood and beyond, with works ranging from documentary to drama, camp comedy to hot porn, mildly spicy to quite explicit - and everything in between.

Cutting across orientations, topics covered at CineKink have included - but are by no means limited to - BDSM, leather and fetish, swinging, non-monogamy and polyamory, roleplay and gender bending. Or, frankly, given the current moral climate, as long as it involves consenting adults, just about anything celebrating sex as a right of self expression is fair game. (Far be it from us to define "kink" - if you think your work might make sense in this context, please send it along!)

Scheduled for its sixth annual appearance February 24-March 1, 2009, the specially-curated CineKink NYC will also feature a short film competition, audience choice awards, presentations, parties and a gala kick-off, with a national screening tour to follow.

The postmarked deadline for entries is November 15th.

For more information and to download an entry form, visit

Catch me this weekend on two panels at the Austin Film Festival

picAustin's premiere film event of the fall begins tomorrow, and with the Austin Film Festival come throngs of filmmaking and screenwriting talent, both emerging and established. It is a sublime mix of the experienced and the impressionable sharing stories, drinks, and a love of cinema. I got my start "on the inside" at the Austin Film Festival; that means it will always hold a special place in my heart. It also means they'll let me do wacky things like launch a book at their fest and moderate a couple of panels in the process. They are:

DIY Independent Film

Facebook event | AFF page

Write it, Direct it, Produce it. Do it. Independent filmmakers take the reins, executing the creation of a film from the concept to the big screen. If you have a script and need motivation to do it yourself, this session will tell you what it takes.


Cole Selix
Mark Potts
PJ Raval
Spenser Parsons

The Film Festival Circuit

Facebook event | AFF page

Are film festivals the new distribution? How do you navigate this world, anyway? How do you write a festival plan? What is the best way to utilize festivals to get attention for yourself and your film? In this in-depth panel, you will learn from people inside the festival world and successful fest filmmakers about making the relationship mutually beneficial and getting the most out of a festival experience.

James Faust (AFI Dallas)
Kelly Williams (Austin Film Festival)
Michelle Emanuel (Oxford FF)

I'll be giving a few copies of the book away at these panels and just generally enjoying the fest itself. If you're at the Festival this week, do stop by one of these panels and introduce yourself. I'll post some notes from the panels themselves here on the blog next week or possibly the week after that.

Embed "Film Festival Secrets" on your own site!

OK, this is nifty. Not only can you read the entire text of Film Festival Secrets online, but you can share it with your own readers by embedding the book on your own site or blog in this cool little flash reader from Issuu. The book is now available for sale at Createspace and Amazon (two faces of the same entity, but I get a better cut of the proceeds if you direct people to Createspace). On the other hand, you can earn a commission if you direct people to Amazon with your own affiliate code, so do whatever works best for you.

Austin Film Festival preview on Slackerwood podcast #4.

In Slackerwood podcast #4, Jette and yours truly spend a pastoral evening outdoors with Austin Film Festival programming director Kelly Williams, who shares news about some of the must-see events from the upcoming film festival and conference. We also reminisce about Fantastic Fest and talk about some upcoming events, like Home Movie Day. That's Kelly in the photo that accompanies the article below.

Listen to Slackerwood podcast #4 now.

A coffee with ... Kelly Williams of the Austin Film Festival

No Evil
The Austin Film Festival film programming team. From left to right: Jesse Trussell, Kelly Williams, John Merriman.

The Austin American-Statesman sits down with Kelly Williams, the film programming director for the upcoming Austin Film Festival. Apart from just being a nice profile of a friend (I used to work at AFF), the piece reveals the sorts of things programmers look for and the ways festivals might differ from one another.

"It's a long process. Thousands of entries come in, and it takes a good portion of the year to just get it down to a small group. I sort of look at it like a pyramid. You start at the bottom and figure out how to get to the top. Since the festival focuses on screenwriters, the main question we ask is how well is the story told. That's the No. 1 thing. The same goes for documentaries. We look for ones that are very narrative-driven."

Read A coffee with ... Kelly Williams of the Austin Film Festival.

Crawford's premiere: on Hulu

Rather than spend a lot of money on a theatrical release that would almost certainly leave him further in debt, Crawford director David Modigliani and indie distribution company B-Side (my employer) has released the film on Hulu, betting that the exposure of free views on the web (combined with the timing of the upcoming election and the publicity of being the first film ever to debut on Hulu) will drive DVD sales. I'm hoping he's right, because I'll be following a similar model with my book, Film Festival Secrets: you'll be able to download the book as a "try before you buy" PDF version and if you find it useful you can donate directly or purchase the print edition.

More to the point, however, is the fact that Crawford is a very, very good movie. No matter how timely the topic or novel the distribution strategy, a quality film is an inescapable prerequisite to success (unless you're making a movie that involves zombies or vampires, in which a sub-par picture can be part of the fun). Please take some time to watch Crawford on Hulu, and if you like what you see consider buying the DVD for yourself or a friend.

Chris Jones chronicles his short film's road to the Oscars

Chris Jones (author of The Guerilla Film Makers Movie Blueprint, among other things) has done a great job of taking his blog readers along for the ride on his latest film's journey. The movie, a narrative short entitled Gone Fishing, has played a number of festivals and Jones has posted video blog entries for many of them on Vimeo.

Jones' latest set of entries have to do with entering his film for Academy Award nomination consideration -- that's right, once you've qualified to be considered (one such way is to win an award at an Academy-accredited film festival), there's a whole process of campaigning to be included in further rounds of consideration before your film can ultimately be one of the five nominees in its category. Chris lays out the timeline for application here and talks about the voting process here. It's all good stuff for short filmmakers, I definitely advise you to check it out.

Creating video blog entries might feel a bit silly if you're self-conscious about appearing on camera, but if you're not a great writer they can be a simple and fun way to tell your film's story -- and to generate new material for your web site -- without having to turn out reams of text.

Jackson Hole Institute, Film Festival shut down

The Jackson Hole Film Institute closed its doors Tuesday following the nation’s worst single-day points drop of the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Monday.

“Funding dried up pretty quickly because of what’s been going on with the financial markets,” said Todd Rankin, managing director of the Jackson Hole Film Festival, the primary program of the institute. “Even leading up to this summer’s festival, things were tight.”

The film festival had board and staff committed to raising a sizeable percentage of the full festival budget for 2009, estimated at $1.2 million to $1.5 million. To date, sponsors and support were in place for only about $300,000, and with the worsening national financial outlook, board members were not comfortable going forward, Rankin said. Even streamlining the festival to an $800,000 event didn’t seem feasible.

The sad state of the economy seems to be leaking into everything these days, including the film festival circuit. For those filmmakers suspicious of the way festivals seem to be "raking in" the submissions fees, this should be a bit of evidence to the contrary -- for a festival to survive, they need a few more revenue streams.

Read the full story in the Jackson Hole Daily. (Via indieWIRE.)

Why test screenings are important

There are many incompetent people in the world. Dr. David A. Dunning is haunted by the fear that he might be one of them.

Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, worries about this because, according to his research, most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

On the contrary. People who do things badly, Dunning has found in studies conducted with a graduate student, Justin Kruger, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

Many filmmakers who face repeated rejection from film festivals don't understand why it's happening to them. I've seen them blame the festivals, blame the economy, blame the weather -- anything but themselves or the quality of their films. Maybe this is why: they honestly can't see that they need to start over and make a better movie.

Private test screenings with objective feedback are a crucial component in evaluating your film’s quality. Test screenings need to happen when changes can still be made and you need to be open to making those changes. Conduct as many of these screenings as you can reasonably hold, and take steps to ensure that the audience’s input is as objective as possible. Don’t take Mom’s word for it! You need to hear some approval of your film from people who don’t know you. You may discover that your picture needs just a few tweaks or that you’re in for a serious re-edit. Either way give yourself time to accomplish what needs to be done.

There are a number of common filmmaking mistakes that will almost guarantee your rejection from the film festivals to whom you submit. Chief among these: an unremarkable story, hackneyed dialogue, poor sound, a lengthy running time, inappropriate style for the festival, and bad acting. Your test screenings should help you determine if your picture needs adjustment in any of these areas.

Read Incompetent People Really Have No Clue, Studies Find / They're blind to own failings, others' skills.

B-Side presents "Crawford" on Hulu!

Here's a first: an indie film that plays festivals, gets some great buzz, then premieres on Hulu instead of in theaters. That's exactly what's happening with Crawford, one of the hit docs of this past year's South by Southwest film festival, courtesy of distributor B-Side (my employer).

There's a lot of talk about how indie film distribution will work in the future. In my opinion it really boils down to a simple equation: the more people see your movie, the more people will buy it. (Given that the potential of any indie film to saturate the market like a Hollywood film is practically nil, the idea that an indie film can be "overplayed" is laughable.) Congratulations to director David Modigliani for taking some brave first steps in the new world of progressive distribution.

See the indieWIRE blurb on the Crawford acquisition, and check out the trailer below.

Film Festival Secrets: the book is finished.

Film Festival Secrets

Has it been quiet around here lately? That's because one cannot complete a book and blog at the same time. At least I can't.

I've been devoting all of my writing resources to completing Film Festival Secrets: A Handbook for Independent Filmmakers and I'm happy to say that it's finally finished. Since I don't want to spend months or years looking for a publisher I'm putting it out myself through Amazon's Createspace print-on-demand service. A downloadable PDF version will be available for free and the print edition will list at $24.95.

There's still the print proof left to approve but I'm confident that I will be able to make the PDF and print versions available simultaneously on October 16th with a launch at the Austin Film Festival.

So now you know what I've been up to and why it's been so quiet around here. I'll be doing more writing on the blog in coming months with excerpts from the book (annotated and expanded to include things that didn't make the print edition) as well as new material, interviews, etc.

More to come.

Catch me this weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival

I'm serving on the narrative shorts jury this weekend at the Sidewalk Moving Pictures Festival in Birmingham Alabama. You should be able to see me on a panel or two during the festival, in particular the "alternative distribution" panel at 4:00 p.m.

Niche Marketing Tools Panel - Independent Film Week

These are my notes on the Niche Marketing Tools panel, including some of my thoughts before the panel and some of the more interesting concepts that came up during the panel. I've listed them below in no particular order and attributed them to the panelists where I could remember where they came from -- apologies to those whom I misremember.

- To speak generally, niche marketing is about identifying special interests in your film, researching that special interest, and contacting those heavily engaged in that interest to spread the word within the existing community. Tapping into existing communities who can spread word of mouth for you is the goal.

- The basics of marketing a film still apply -- still photos, well-written supporting material, making a good first impression. (Jon Gerrans)

- Jason Cassidy - On marketing "Blindness" -- speaking to the built-in core audience of people who loved the book was hugely important in marketing that film.

- Larry Fessenden - On creating a film web site: Stills, etc are important but it's also important to use the ability to customize to help draw visitors into the story of your film and the story behind the film. A director's statement (while it may seem corny) can very much influence press and audience perception of the film. Web site preferable to facebook or myspace in this way because you can customize a web site in ways that one cannot with facebook.

- Larry Fessenden - On building community -- your community consists not just of your fans but also of other filmmakers, journalists who cover your genre (including bloggers, etc). Recruit them to your cause and be a partner to them as well. Larry has built a network of horror/genre filmmakers who have their own stories that feed into the larger story of this filmmaking community. Like a mini-studio or unofficial releasing "brand."

- Jason Cassidy - On Facebook: New media like facebook can make marketing more efficient but the social tools only work if people are drawn to them. That can actually take a media/advertising spend to gain critical mass and make maintaining Facebook presence worth it.

- Jon Garrans - On Facebook: Facebook is a great place to store data like trailers, etc, which might otherwise cost you money to store and transmit (outgoing bandwidth fees).

- Aaron Hillis - On bandwidth fees - Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) can also help with storage at low cost.

- Aaron Hillis - Facebook & MySpace can be oversaturated, difficult to attract an audience to any one thing -- get more creative, take steps beyond just setting up a social network page.

- Stephen Raphael, on communities - some communities are stronger than others and distributors make decisions based on that. For example Jewish community networks are very strong and can be relied upon to spread word of mouth but also have strong formal networks (community centers, email lists, etc).

- Stephen Raphael, in answer to question about tapping known niches - Don't self-distribute to a niche if you think you might want to beyond self-distribution. If you tap out a potential revenue source then you're reducing the value of your property to a distributor. Doing the research on that niche, however, is a selling point -- the more supporting evidence you have that there are people out there just waiting to buy your film, the stronger selling advantage you have.

Web sites for panelists:

Jason Cassidy, Miramax -

Larry Fessenden, "The Last Winter" -

Jon Gerrans, Strand Releasing -

Aaron Hillis, Benten Films -

Stephen Raphael, Required Viewing - ???

See also Film Tiki's Eyewitness report of the panel.

Independent Film Week


For the next couple of days I'll be hanging out at Independent Film Week in NYC. Everyone still calls it IFP but they rebranded this year and moved to the Fashion Institute of Technology so I guess I'll do them the favor of using the proper name, but if you want to read about it on Twitter you'd better search for IFP.

Saw the talk on festivals yesterday which was pretty basic but it sounds like a lot of people need the basic info; it only reinforced my feelings that Film Festival Secrets (the upcoming book) is a book that needed to be written. Speaking of which, I'm making rapid progress and on track to release the download version by mid-October; the print version should either be available at the same time or shortly thereafter. If you haven't subscribed to the newsletter I suggest you do so, as I'll be releasing a sneak preview to newsletter members only.

I also stuck around for the Kevin Smith talk, which was a variant of the same Q&A Kevin Smith always gives -- there are only so many questions to ask the guy, and he has answers ready for all of 'em. This might be a bad thing but since he's such a born yarn-spinner it's usually entertaining even if you've heard the story before. When asked to compare his experiences between indie and studio filmmaking, he shot back:

I've made one independent film: Clerks. But I'm labeled as an independent filmmaker forever. I saw in indieWIRE the other day that I'm a "veteran independent filmmaker." That made me feel old. But I guess it's like being gay, right? You suck one cock and you're always gay.

Smith also encouraged filmmakers to make Clerks, as it's the only way he knows to break into the industry.

Nobody's made a convenience store movie in 15 years! You could be that guy.

When asked what the reaction might be if Clerks were released today:

"This guy rips off Judd Apatow!" . . . (smiles) You feel me?

I'll be in New York for the next couple of days and moderating the Tuesday afternoon panel on Niche Marketing Tools. Hope to see you there.

Independent Cinema - The Revolution Is Dead, Long Live the Revolution

Manohla Dargis in the New York Times:

INDEPENDENCE in the movies is a cri de coeur and an occasionally profitable branding ploy, but mostly it’s a seductive lie. For much of American movie history it has been shorthand for more aesthetically adventurous films, bolder in form, freer in spirit and at times more overtly political than those churned out by the Hollywood studios. Once we were one nation under the movie screen, indivisible, with liberty and Shirley Temple for all, but independent film gave us new ways of looking, or so the story goes.

Read The Revolution Is Dead, Long Live the Revolution.

(Via DIY Filmmaker Sujewa.)

indieWIRE: Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto

Tens of thousands of people are about to converge upon Canada's largest city for one of the world's largest film events, socializing and networking all over town. indieWIRE surveyed a group of Toronto locals and insiders about their favorites places to eat, drink, shop and chill, including some of our own tips from indieWIRE staffer (and former Torontonian) Peter Knegt.

Possibly the most useful thing indieWIRE has published all year. If you're headed to the Toronto International Film Festival, you must read indieWIRE: TORONTO '08 | Eating, Drinking, and Shopping in Toronto: An indieWIRE Insiders Guide.

Interview: Jason Connell, New York United Film Festival

When asked for his advice for upcoming filmmakers:

I was on a panel at the Maryland Film Festival about a month ago, giving filmmakers advice on getting into festivals. There are so many and the shorts are incredibly long. They have a tendency to be longer than need to be. 16-minute shorts are hard to program, but if it's a great 5-7 minutes, it's easier to program. But it has to be special. Also, have someone else look at your film, since a director is too married to the film and someone else has a different eye and can offer objectivity. Festival competition is tough, so be sure to submit early, too. If you submit late, the lineup for an evening may already be locked up, no matter how great your film is. Our submissions are cheap, too. Those things are key. Oh yeah, make a great film. That's important, too.

Read Interview: Jason Connell, New York United Film Festival - ARTISTdirect News.

Owens moves from Indianapolis to Nashville fest (and why you should care)


The Nashville Film Festival has named Brian Owens as its Artistic Director. Owens joins the Festival as it gears up for its 40th anniversary on April 16-23, 2009. Owens was previously the artistic director of the Indianapolis International Film Festival, which he founded in 2003.

When someone moves from one festival to another (particularly a programmer), it gives the alumni of the former festival an opportunity at the new festival. This is why it's important to include a cover letter with your submission -- if your film played at Indianapolis (and maybe you met Brian while you were there), you could submit that film or your next film to Nashville with a personal letter to Brian. In the letter, mention that your previous pic played Indianapolis. Whether Brian remembers your film or not, it provides a connecting point. Owens might at least look up your previous film and take your current movie somewhat more seriously than he would a random submission. It might seem a slim opportunity, but it's better than starting from scratch.

When good disks go bad

Over the last couple of weeks I've had one of those weird occurrences of synchronicity -- the same question keeps popping up from filmmakers in different places on the web. (In the case of the Withoutabox message boards, it popped up twice in the same place within a few days.) The question concerns the DVDs (or more likely the burned DVD-Rs) that filmmakers send in as their submission screeners, and what happens when the festival can't play it. With varying levels of panic, the question goes something like this:

If you can't play my DVD, is my film disqualified? Will you notify me so I can send you a replacement? I've heard horror stories from other filmmakers about festivals that just throw the disks away and move on.

My first reaction was to downplay this reaction as ridiculous -- of course festivals (at least the vast majority of reputable festivals) don't just throw away bad disks without notifying the submitting filmmaker. A screw-the-filmmaker attitude like that would surely creep into other, more noticeable portions of the business and, filmmakers being a fairly tight bunch, word would get around. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized that it would be a fairly easy rumor to believe. Submitting filmmakers don't get much communication from festivals until they get a yes or a no. Wouldn't it be easy for festival staffers to think of those filmmakers as a faceless mass of entrants -- and who cares if a film or two falls through the cracks?

The reality though, is that festival staffers are often filmmakers or former filmmakers themslves, and they care enough about the process to make the effort -- at least once.

I put the question as phrased above to Andrew Rodgers, Executive Director of the RiverRun International Film Festival:

Wow. Some festivals might do that. We don't. We will always email the filmmaker and suggest that they send in another disk. It will probably just be an email though, we won't spend a lot of time tracking down a filmmaker by phone, particularly if they are outside the U.S.

And to Bekah Macias, Festival Producer of the San Diego Film Festival, who said:

If we come across a DVD that will not play the screener will alert the Programmer immediately. I take it and email the filmmaker right away so they have a chance to send a new one. If I don't hear back from them by the time we begin making selections I throw it out. I usually do not make more than one attempt at contacting them. The closer it gets to the submission deadline the less likely they will waste their time trying to get a replacement.

If you can find a festival director who admits to a radically different policy, I'd like to know about it.

Film festivals with student film awards and categories

A recent email from a filmmaker asked what festivals out there specifically have awards and categories for student filmmakers. Seems there are students out there who are tired of seeing their early efforts compete against shorts with Hollywood stars and major budgets. Who can blame them?

I should caution student filmmakers looking for a break from festivals with student categories that there are film schools who supply their enrollees with high-end equipment and access to "real" actors, so you may find yourself competing with films of a higher production value regardless. But if you think you'll have a better time of it at festivals with student-specific awards and categories, here's a list that I came up with after a quick search on Withoutabox and the web. I didn't include links to the festival web sites, you'll have to do the hard work of Googling them yourself.

  • Action/Cut Short Film Competition
  • Angelus Student Film Festival
  • Ashland Independent FF
  • Austin Film Festival
  • Big Apple FF
  • Blue Plum Animation FF
  • Chicago International FF
  • Columbus Intl Film & Video Fest
  • Dam Short FF
  • Daytona Beach FF
  • deadCENTER FF
  • Delta Moon Student FF
  • Feel Good FF
  • Firstglance FF
  • Florence Intl FF
  • Independents' FF
  • Intl FF Egypt
  • Intl FF South Africa
  • Jackson Hole FF
  • Kansas City FF
  • Mexico FF
  • New Hampshire FF
  • NYC Short FF
  • Nextframe: UFVA's Touring Festival of Intl Student Film
  • Palm Springs Intl Shortfest
  • Red Rock FF of Zion Canyon
  • Redemptive FF
  • Rincon IFF
  • RiverRun International Film Festival
  • Sacramento Film & Music Fest
  • San Fernando Vally IFF
  • San Francisco Frozen Film Fest
  • Santa Cruz FF
  • Seattle Intl FF
  • Skidmore Intl Student FF
  • Student Films Across America (see also Door County Student FF)
  • Swansea Bay FF
  • Take-2 Student IFF
  • End of the Pier IFF
  • European IFF
  • Women's IFF South Florida
  • Zion IFF and Movie Camp
  • Toronto Film Festival
  • Santa Clarita
  • Santa Barbara
  • Paso Robles Digital Film Fest

Update: SxSW has a Texas High School Filmmaker contest. Thanks to Jarod Neece for the update.

(If you're a festival director and you'd like your film included on this list, please email me with a link to your web site so I can confirm that you have a student award or category.)

New festival: Metafest

indieWire News:

Metacafe and Microcinema International, a leading international rights manager, exhibitor and specialty markets distributor of the "moving image arts," are teaming to create and curate MetaFest 2008. MetaFest will be a juried online and offline film festival presenting international creative and contemporary short-form video entertainment. The call for entries begins today, and invites short video, film and digital media submissions of 10 minutes or less that are "narrative, humorous, artistic, dramatic, animated, documentary, mockumentary, music, experimental, alternative or avant-garde in any genre, format or style."

Metafest's call for entries is only open through September 10th, and as with any online festival (this one has online and offline components) I'd be sure to check the terms to make sure you're not giving up any rights with which you'd be sorry to part.

Read indieWIRE's buzz for more.

The Economics of Independent Film and Video Distribution in the Digital Age

picPeter B. Kaufman and Jen Mohan at Intelligent Television put together this report for the Tribeca Institute and there's a lot to be learned, though mostly it's anecdotal evidence of the wildly varying attitudes held by different distributors and other industry types.

Some interesting tidbits:

One distributor told us that in his experience with public media’s P.O.V. and ITVS and cable stations Sundance and IFC there has been “remarkably little connection” between a film’s broadcast premiere and sales in other markets. . . . There may also be an aversion to buying a documentary to see it again—as opposed to a more heart- warming feature film.

I've definitely experienced that last part -- a documentary that was spellbinding, but that I never wanted to see again. There's something to be said for word of mouth in that case, but when making a film like that you have to keep your eye on the fact that your sales market may be outreach and support groups, not individual consumers.

In fact, the nature of film as a communal (and one-time) experience may be one of the great handicaps of the indie film business, since there is no "per-user" model to reinforce compensation as a reflection of actual demand.

“We have some DVDs that have been seen by 10,000 students at a university,” [one] distributor said, and as a consequence there is “great inequity in not having a user-based model” and a close “correlation between price and use.”

Most interesting, however, is the conclusion -- or lack thereof:

The advent of digital technologies and the skyrocketing demand for online video are going to change the nature of independent film and video production, distribution, and funding forever. . . .

That said, the game is still in its early innings yet, and even the most experienced stakeholders are ill-prepared to predict how the future will unfold.

In other words: "No one really knows anything yet."

Read the full report (it's available from Tribca Film Institute as a PDF).

Film festivals with no submissions fees - a list.

The universal bane of indie filmmakers everywhere: the ubiquitous festival entry fee. Every so often I see a plaintive request from a filmmaker for suggestions of festivals to submit to that won't cost them an arm and a leg and I think, "Someone oughtta be keeping a list of those."

It turns out I'm that someone.

Please let me know of additional fests that are missing from this list (a bunch of European ones, I know). I'll be expanding the list over the next few weeks until it's more or less complete.

You can read the list of no-fee film festivals here.

Anatomy of a Festival Badge: Ann Arbor 2008

Part of an ongoing series of articles that examines the particulars of that ubiquitious festival accessory, the all-important badge.

picAs befits a festival that constantly defies expectations but never forgets its small-town roots, the Ann Arbor Film Festival badge is simple and understated but functional.

#1 - Plastic badge keeper, open at the top. Perfect for stashing some extra business cards. The badge itself is about the size of a credit card.

#2 - Badge holder's name and affiliation in nice big type. Perfect for scoping out the name of the person you were introduced to last night after a few beers. Nice use of the clock hand theme to divide the two lines of text.

#3 - Color coding identifies the badge level/type. Staff wore yellow, I think red was for all-access? Paper types were unusual enough to discourage counterfeiting, but Ann Arbor is so intimate a festival that it's difficult to believe that the staff didn't know pretty much all of the badge holders on sight. I'm guessing they've got more important things on their collective mind than the occasional photocopied badge.

#4 - The clock motif (ticking off the years until their 50th anniversary event) was present on the festival's signage, program guides, posters, and of course the badge. It's always nice to see badge design extend to more than just the festival logo plastered on an otherwise generic ID badge. (See the Newport Beach FF badge for another example of good branding.)

The AAFF badge was about what I expected from the organization; not too fancy but stylish, professional, and functional. I'm a fan of big, easy-to-read badges but this modestly sized ID card did the job without getting in the way. I didn't take a picture of the reverse side of the badge so I don't think there was any information there. My only suggestion for improvement is that they might have included venue addresses or other handy information (like the location of the Fleetwood Diner, the only eating establishment open after the bars close) on the back.

On the importance of the festival experience

Blake Etheridge's interview with Tomas Alfredson (director of the upcoming Let The Right One In) includes this interesting tidbit that I think perfectly captures the collective experience of filmmakers on the festival circuit. Making the rounds with your film can have its share of disappointments but it can also be transformative.

Twitch: How important is the film festival circuit and experience for you as a filmmaker and what was your Tribeca experience like?

TOMAS ALFREDSON: It’s of course fantastic to have the opportunity to travel the world with your work. The world of film festivals can really be a gamble - In worst case you arrive after ten hours in different means of conveyance at The No Name International Film Festival to a dead quiet hotel room, sitting on the bed like Bill Murray in ”Lost in Translation.” Nobody tells you anything about what to do or where to go. In the evening you’re invited to a party celebrating the car manufacturer who’s the main sponsor. You and end up in a corner with as greasy bacon snack in one hand and a glass of undrinkable sparkling sweet wine in the other, like a shy idiot from Sweden with a badge on your chest with your name on it. Nobody’s seen your film but say they have heard about it and that they probably will watch it on Sunday. Maybe. The volunteers are running around stressed to the breaking point and the screenings of your film are not punctual, the projection is horrifying and people are going in and out of the theatre and on the Q&A nobody asks any questions except the moderator who pronounces your name incorrectly.

And it can also be fantastic, dynamic, professional, full of interesting meetings and bring you $25,000 dollars and the big prize from the hands of Robert de Niro like I did in Tribeca. That was one of the most memorable moments in my life.

Read the full interview with Alfredson at Twitch.

Cinevegas 2008 Video Wrap-Up

Episode 3 of The Show by B-Side highlights Cinevegas 2008, which took place in June. Most of the footage shot by yours truly, and it was a blast. You can watch it here or go to the YouTube page and watch it in high quality. (You have to click the "high quality" link beneath the video.)

A filmmaker's guide to getting your movie on (the right) screen

A terrific primer for getting started on the festival circuit by Ali Selim, director of Sweet Land.

...the fact is, film festivals are egregiously misunderstood: They are not about films and they're not about your film; they're not about selling or buying movies, and they're not about making stars out of new filmmakers. Film festivals aren't about film at all, really.

Film festivals are about audiences, and they're sustained by the energy that happens when a film connects with viewers and vice versa. The fact is, audiences are interested in product, not process. True, if they love a finished product, then they love to hear, during the post-show Q&A, how the movie came to be. But the moviegoer's relationship to a film is two hours long, plus whatever residual effect may linger in their hearts and minds.

iPhone Web Apps for FIlmmakers

Karina over at Spout pointed me to this great list of web apps for filmmakers with iPhones. (Note that these are web apps, not iPhone apps you download.) Paul Harrill at Self-Reliant Film put it together.

My favorite:

IMDb iPhone Client

Web interface with support for looking up actors, characters and movies. The client also helps you find trailers that are suitable for viewing on the iPhone and view additional information such as: Goofs, Soundtracks, Trivia, Quotes, and Crazy Credits.

Lessons about indie film at a big box store


Let us not waste time bemoaning the current sorry state of indie film distribution; blogs and podcasts galore exist to do that. Instead let's take a look at how the rest of the world perceives independent film, and what lessons might be applied to promoting your really indie film at festivals and elsewhere. (Those people are pretty easy to spot. They're the ones not reading indieWIRE and MovieMaker.) While strolling the aisles at Target, my eye was caught by this display (above) in the DVD section of "IFC Indies."

If I made a practice of buying DVDs at Target I might have seen it before now; apparently it's the result of a three-year deal between IFC and Target that started two years ago. When it began, Target had its own night of programming on IFC called "Cinema Red Mondays," but I couldn't find any mention of that on IFC's current web site. But there it is, large as life: a full display of "indie" films recommended to Target by IFC. Check out the pictures at the bottom of this post (click for larger versions) to see some closer shots of the display and for the visual evidence of my completely nutty claims.

Lesson #1 - To the outside world, "indie" is synonymous with "arty." Independent films star all of the same people in studio films, but these movies feature stories either too complicated or depressing for Hollywood to touch. Target's definition of an independent film in this instance is largely academic -- arty, but not too threatening. Notice that in order to keep the shelves stocked with recognizable stars, the catalog goes back ten years or more (The Red Violin was made in 1998).

There are some films here that could be considered "truly" independent, depending on how much you want to torture the phrase (Hannah Takes the Stairs is a notable exception), but for the most part, this is grim confirmation that the indie titles that make it into big box stars are the yuppie-friendly ones with recognizable faces. (Is this starting to sound like an unclever entry in the Stuff White People Like blog?)

Lesson #2 - Don't just find your niche, dominate it. Lookit that -- an entire shelf of Tyler Perry movies. Granted, Perry's first movie had a budget of $5.5 million, so its status as an "indie" film is once again dependent on your personal definition of the term, but the principle applies: if you can speak to a sizable audience and make them love you that much, the big box stores will come find you.

Lesson #3 - Piggyback on the success of something similar. Notice how each shelf positions the movies on it as ideal for people who loved some other movie? That's what you want to do with yours. Figure out who your piggyback film is and practice the phrase "If you liked X, then you should see my movie." Hackneyed? Obvious? Yes, but also effective. Don't run away from comparing your film to another, similar (and more familiar) film unless your film really suffers by comparison -- in which case you might want to think about making a better film.

Lesson #4 - Documentaries should feature grisly death or rock musicians. Preferably both. Rock stars are the name actors of the documentary film department. (Maybe I should call it the doc film ghetto, since it's relegated to the very bottom shelf.) If you can't find a rock star to make your doc about, then make sure it either confirms the viewers' worst fears about the world or features someone being eaten by a bear. For the love of Pete, make sure it isn't funny -- unless you're Michael Moore, and even then the point is debatable.

Lesson #5 - Until you start making movies with million dollar budgets and Zooey Deschanel, you probably shouldn't roam the DVD aisles at Target. Not that there aren't some wonderful movies represented here, but the thought that the world at large views the state of independent film through this particular lens could really drive you crazy.



48-Hour Film Project: Atlanta 2008 Screenings this coming week

picThis weekend another 48-Hour Film Project kicks off, this time in Atlanta. While the deadline to sign up for the competition has passed, you can see the results of this coming weekend's hard labor during mid-week screenings at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema (the same location where the Atlanta Film Festival is held each year). Screenings begin July 1st at 7 p.m. and resume on the 2nd and 3rd, also at 7 p.m.

The winning team from Atlanta will be invited to attend the Filmapalooza Awards weekend, and will go on to compete in second round competitions. The winning 48 Hour film of 2008 is expected to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

There's no guarantee that all of these films will be good, but if you're looking for the indie-est of the indie films in Atlanta, the 48-Hour Film Project is definitely the place to be this week.

Don't forget to check out the other cities on the 2008 tour -- your chance to shine as a 48-hour filmmaker may be coming soon!

I've long been an advocate of short filmmaking competitions. Even more so than local film festivals, such competitions encourage an interest in filmmaking where traditionally little has existed. 48-Hour is certainly the most prominent example of the form, but newer efforts like Filmmaking Frenzy and Rapid i Movement give hope to the idea that short form filmmaking is the dominion of more than just film school students and web cam dancers.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.