You are viewing the old version of the Film Festival Secrets blog. Please visit the new site and sign up for the newsletter with exclusive content.

5 reasons the recession is good for your filmmaking career

Recession ProofingWith each week's report on the world economy looking grimmer than the last, there are a lot of reasons to be depressed. Layoffs are rampant, credit has dried up, and just the simple act of listening to NPR on the way home from work makes me want to hole up in my house with a shotgun, some Pop-Tarts, and my Roku player. For indie filmmakers used to making something out of nothing, however, it's business as usual -- and it may even be a better environment for those who know how to operate on the cheap.

Last week Erin Donovan posted an article listing some reasons that the current "financial collapse" would be good for documentary film; here are some additional ways that the recession could be a good thing for you.

1. In a down economy, barter is easier. This goes for everything from equipment rental to props to editing; when money is tight, service providers are more likely to trade services or alternative forms of payment. Equipment sitting on the shelf doesn't help anyone, so this is the time to go to the local rental house with a discount proposition. Maybe you can offer them prominent credit placement on your popular series of webisodes -- exposure which is more valuable during a recession. Some businesses will help you out in the hopes that when the economy does improve they can convert you into a paying customer.

2. Partnerships are easier to forge. Similar to #1, other filmmakers can be easier to approach when funds dry up and everyone is looking for ways to cut costs. Maybe you own a camera and they've got the lighting setup -- ordinarily you might rent or buy the setup yourself, but a bit of belt-tightening can encourage you to reach out into the local film community to find what you need in trade. You don't have to sing a John Lennon song while you shoot, but a little bit of cooperation between fellow filmmakers is good for the soul. Craigslist is a great resource for finding production buddies.

3. Consumers spend more on smaller pleasures instead of extravagant expenses. Erin's third point ("audiences still pay to see movies") was that people are still going out to the movies, even when they don't spend money on other things. A more encouraging thought is that when people deny themselves the larger pleasures of a fancy dinner out or a vacation trip, they're more likely to indulge in additional small entertainments. They might even take some risks when it comes to their choice of entertainment. A night out to see your indie film at the local art house costs way less than a night at the symphony, and when the blockbusters run out your film will be there to provide something a bit different. Step up your marketing efforts to reach those stay-at-home vacationers who want something interesting to do on a Saturday night.

4. There could be more opportunity to build your portfolio of commercial work. This is not to say that you should actively campaign to take work from other working professionals, but in an environment when everyone is looking to cut costs, local businesses will be more willing to take a chance on a low-budget filmmaker when it comes time to make the latest commercial for late night cable. You can also offer yourself as an unpaid intern to that local professional who now prefers to pay his grips and assistant editors in training instead of cash.

5. Restrictions encourage creativity. Every aspiring filmmaker knows the story of Jaws and the fact that Stephen Spielberg's malfunctioning mechanical sharks forced him to shoot the film in a more suspenseful way. Similarly your empty wallet will force you to focus on finding inventive ways to tell the story you want to tell while working within your means. Even in a booming economy, the filmmaker who can work with a smaller budget is always in demand.

Send your methods for taking advantage of the recession to chris at filmfestivalsecrets dot com.

Photo by JDAC.

Battling Boston Film Fests (the online arm of the Boston Globe) presents us with the tale of two film festivals who just couldn't get along. The festivals in question are the Independent Film Festival Boston (by far the largest and most well-regarded fest in town) and the Boston International Film Festival, which changed the dates of its festival this year now overlaps its more successful cousin by a few days.

The Boston International Film Festival, which used to be held in June, has changed its dates to April, conveniently coinciding with the more popular and slickly produced Independent Film Festival Boston. We're told the switch has caused considerable confusion for filmmakers, some of whom thought they were submitting movies to the Independent Film Fest only to learn later they entered the International Film Fest. Organizers of the Independent Fest told us yesterday they've heard from at least three moviemakers who made such a mistake and are trying to move their film to the Independent Film Fest.

It's difficult to believe that any film festival would intentionally overlap with another indie film event if it weren't trying to capitalize on the larger event's buzz. Media attention and audience attendance is hard enough to come by without going head-to-head with another event with the exact same purpose. Despite BIFF founder Patrick Jerome's protestations that he doesn't want "bad feelings," his organization has stirred them up both with filmmakers and with the staff of the larger event.

Bottom line for filmmakers: pay attention when submitting your film that you know the difference between various regional festivals. Organizations are extremely aware of (and even competitive with) similar events in their area. If you confuse them you run the risk of irritating the one in which you really want to participate.

Read Battling Boston Film Fests on

Photo by Eric Hill.

SXSW bids howdy! to Atlanta film fans

A clever bit of marketing from the Atlanta Film Festival -- interviews with indie film insiders (including yours truly) on the streets of Austin during SXSW, singing the praises of both Atlanta and Atlanta Film Fest. Fest director Gabe Wardell and his peeps shot the video using tiny Flip cameras. Festivals often use video to promote their events through film trailers and the occasional "festival trailer," but creative projects like this one really accentuate the fact that there are other ways to use the medium.

And speaking of video projects, I'm long overdue to plug parts 3 and 4 of Mark Potts' series of ads for the Film Festival Secrets book. I'll embed each of them here soon but if you were too lazy to go look for them yourself I didn't want to deny you the pleasure of watching them any longer. Part 4 is fabulously tasteless.

What's next for the film festival world?

SundanceThe LA Times examines the recent shakeup in staff at several major film festivals and tries to put it all in context.

This recent surge of job switches was not set off by any single fracture within independent film (where a number of top distributors have closed their doors) or inside the festival world (which is suffering its own shakeout, with numerous festivals shutting down). But the moves do underscore how volatile the festival world has suddenly become and how programmers foresee leaner and more focused events in the months ahead.

"There's been more news in the independent film festival world in the last three weeks than I can recall ever happening in my life," says Nancy Schafer, executive director of the increasingly prominent Tribeca Film Festival, whose eighth annual get-together runs in New York from April 22 to May 4.

Says Trevor Groth, a veteran Sundance programmer who also serves as artistic director for the up-and-coming Las Vegas CineVegas Film Festival, marking its 11th edition this summer: "It's indicative of what's happening in the indie world -- there's a lot of change going on."

Read the full article at the LA Times web site.

SXSW announces 2009 awards winners

sxswI don't normally just rehash a press release, but I'm really happy about the fact that 45365 won the doc competition. It was in one of my stacks of screeners this year and while I can't say I championed it to the programmers or anything silly like that, it's really nice to see a film that you believe in early on become the competition winner.

I've been hitting a lot of panels this year (as those who follow me on twitter can attest), so you can expect some updates on those next week.

Feature Jury Awards

Winner – 45365
Director: Bill Ross
An inquiring look at everyday life in Middle America, the film explores the congruities of daily life in an American town Sidney, Ohio.

Honorable Mention – The Way We Get By
Director: Aron Gaudet
On call 24/7 for the past 6 years, a group of senior citizens transform their lives by greeting nearly one million U.S. troops at a tiny airport in Maine.

Winner – Made in China
Director: Judi Krant
Lost in Shanghai, an inventor discovers that it takes more than a bright idea to succeed.

Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble Cast – That Evening Sun
Director: Scott Teems
A ruthless grudge match between two old foes. Lines are drawn, threats are made, and the simmering tension under the Tennessee sun erupts, inevitably, into savagery. Cast: Hal Holbrook, Mia Wasikowska, Ray McKinnon, Walton Goggins, Carrie Preston

Audience Awards

Winner – Motherland
Director: Jennifer Steinman
Six grieving mothers journey to Africa in order to test the theory that “giving is healing.”

Winner – MINE
Director: Geralyn Pezanoski
After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of pets were rescued and adopted by families around the country, leading to many custody battles. Through these stories, the film examines issues of race, class and animal welfare in the U.S.

Winner – That Evening Sun
Director: Scott Teems
A ruthless grudge match between two old foes. Lines are drawn, threats are made, and the simmering tension under the Tennessee sun erupts, inevitably, into savagery.

Shorts Jury Awards

Winner – Thompson
Director: Jason Tippet
Since second grade Matt and Ryan have shared the bond of speech impediments, weapons, and things that go fast. But as their last days of high school speed by, the two friends find that their go-carts, dirt bikes, and RC cars can’t outrun adulthood.

Special Jury Award – Happy 95 Birthday Grandpa
Director: Gary Huggins
A fleeting memory in five minutes.

Winner – Shaman
Director: Luc Perez
Waiting for the bus on a rainy day in Copenhagen, the old shaman Utaaq sees a rare bird from his past. This makes him reminisce his youth, and a beautiful tale about the forces of nature begins.

Special Jury Award – Sweet Dreams
Director: Kirsten Lepore
A Stalwart cupcake escapes from his native land to discover what lies beyond the sugar skyscrapers and candy-condos. His violent shipwreck on a foreign shore forces him to adapt to a new lifestyle.

Winner – Cattle Call
Director: Matthew Rankin & Mike Maryniuk
A high-speed animated documentary about the art of livestock auctioneering.

Special Jury Award – The Idiot Stinks
Director: Helder Sun
Animation, Angst, Media, Martians and Miscommunication.

Winner – Thunderheist, “Jerk It”
Director: That Go-Noel Paul & Stefan Moore

Special Jury Award – Fleet Foxes, “White Winter Hymnal”
Director: Sean Pecknold

Jury Special Mention – New Pornographers, “Myriad Harbor”
Director: Fluorescent Hill

Winner – Performance Evaluation
Director: Breannah Gibson

Special Jury Award – TIE
Fresh Fruit
Director: Edward Kelley & Brenden Cicoria


A Hospital Bathroom
Director: Miguel Johnson

Today's Blog Sponsor: Boston Underground Film Festival

BUFF2009 Festival begins March 19th - passes available now.

BUFF is an annual film festival held in late March.

BUFF is located in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA.

BUFF is a celebration of the bizarre and insane.

BUFF is uncompromising, unflinching film and video.

BUFF is hazardous to your health.

BUFF is also currently promoting events throughout the year.

BUFF is hoping you will come and check them out.

Festival Genius makes SXSW easier

picThings have been a bit quiet around here lately because it's been all hands on deck for the launch of Festival Genius, B-Side's new scheduling tool for film festivals. If you're attending South by Southwest this year I encourage you to give it a whirl. Fest Genius not only helps you figure out what to see, it can automatically find and fix conflicts so you can see the maximum number of films possible in the allotted time.

Once you're done tweaking your schedule to perfection, Festival Genius will even export your event calendar to Outlook, your iPhone, or other calendar program. Or go old school and print it out.

The Festival Genius for SXSW 2009 includes film, music, and interactive events (including panels and parties), so if you're headed to Austin this coming week, please check it out.

Film Festival Secrets Promo #2

Though most of you have likely torn through all four of these, I feel like parcelling them out one at a time here on the blog. Savor them. Promos by Mark Potts of Singletree Productions.

SXSW & IFC release plan: much ado about . . . ?

Alexander the LastThere were a number of interesting announcements at Sundance this year, though few of them had to do with big-ticket film acquisitions. (This comes to the surprise of no one.)

In the continuing deterioration of the traditional system of release windows is this plan (also announced at Sundance) from IFC Films and the South by Southwest Film Festival to hold a simultaneous release of Joe Swanberg's latest film, Alexander the Last, at SXSW 2009 and on IFC's "Festival Direct" video-on-demand (VOD) channel.

Four other SXSW ‘09 titles will also screen on-demand via IFC Festival Direct, concurrent with the upcoming festival. IFC also announced the launch of of a new IFC Festival Direct genre label, branded IFC Midnight and unveiled some twenty titles that have been added to the slate for its on-demand platform.

This prompted some rather pointed questions from Sarasota Film Festival programmer Tom Hall. Hall wonders if audiences will bother attending a festival screening of a film that is available via VOD, especially since VOD is the choice that is both the more economical and more convenient.

Can the festival “event” outweigh the incentive of staying home? That answer is easy when the world comes to a place like SXSW to party and take in the live music along with the interactive and film events. But at a smaller, regional festival like mine, I really don’t know what my audience would do.

It's impossible to dismiss Hall's concerns, though they do come from a certain glass-half-empty perspective on the situation. The thought that moviegoers might stay home to watch a film on demand rather than venture out into the night to share the experience with an audience is certainly within the realm of possibility. Who among us hasn't opted to catch the latest Will Smith flick on DVD, when we could watch it on our own couches with the convenience of the pause button and the absence of an audience that seems determined to talk through important bits of dialogue (or conversely, to shush us with righteous indignation when we wittily point out the film's inconsistencies)?

I prefer to think that such Festival Direct flicks will serve as word-of-mouth ambassadors for themselves and for festival films in general. It is equally within the realm of possibility that some of those people who do see Swanberg's latest opus on demand will enjoy it enough to go see it on the big screen at a festival, or encourage their friends to go. Those who don't follow through on that particular film may be turned on to the idea that festivals are where the interesting films can be seen. As with everything else in indie film, the potential audience for film festivals (as compared to their penetration of the populace in general) is infinite. Anything that can be done to spread the word of their merit -- and their existence -- is probably a good thing.

Read Sundance 09: SXSW & IFC | doc it out.