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Premiere status etiquette

Terry Borton, Magic Lantern ShowmanThe subject of your film's world premiere can be a tricky one, particularly if it's a feature. Don't be too coy about your plans with the festivals to which you submit, however – the festival directors have a better grasp on premiere politics than you do. They also know all too well their own festival's relative prestige status when it comes to the decisions filmmakers make. But how should you properly use your film's premiere status as an incentive for festivals to program it? As one filmmaker recently asked me:

I don't want to be disingenuous in my application by promising the world premiere to everyone, but not having had it yet, see it as a sweetener for the cover letter. Should I hustle it until I have it?

You definitely want to use your premiere status to your own advantage, but be honest about it and clearly communicate all changes to that status. You might be tempted to refrain from notifying the other festivals, but that will only create an awkwardness if and when that other festival calls to notify you of your acceptance.

The following sentences added to your submission's cover letter will cover most situations:

As of this writing, the world premiere of "Example Movie" is still available. We have submissions out to several festivals and will keep you apprised of any premiere status changes.

When you decide to have your world premiere at a particular festival, simply send an email to the other festivals still considering you with the subject line "premiere status update for EXAMPLE MOVIE" and let them know about your film's upcoming screening(s).

Stop waiting on Sundance

DVD Submission

There are plenty of filmmakers who rush to finish their film for Sundance, fill out the paperwork, send off the DVD, and then... stop. There's nothing wrong with waiting anxiously to hear from what is arguably the world's most famous film festival, but if you're not submitting to other festivals while you wait you could miss out on the entire Spring season. Break out your list of target festivals (see chapter one of Film Festival Secrets for more on this) and get cracking. Here's a handy (but by no means complete) list of festivals with upcoming deadlines. Check each festival's web site for their late deadlines, submission rules, etc.

Edit: I should point out that I picked these festivals for their relative prominence and for the fact that their deadlines come before the Sundance notification date (around Thanksgiving). If you're a festival director and would like to post your own upcoming deadline in the comments, please feel free.

  • Slamdance - October 30
  • Dallas International - October 30
  • Phoenix - October 30
  • Cleveland - November 30
  • Gen Art - October 31
  • South By Southwest - November 5
  • Florida Film Festival - November 20

Upcoming appearances at Austin Film Festival

picThe Austin Film Festival begins this Thursday, and as it is the festival where I got my start "on the inside" of fests, it holds a special place in my heart. I'll be checking out the films, schmoozing at the parties, and of course rattling on about festivals, marketing, and film distribution at a few panels during the accompanying Screenwriters' (and filmmakers!) Conference. Here's where you can find me, and when: 

Thursday, October 22nd at 2:45 p.m. - It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Saturday, October 24th at 3:45 p.m. - Independent Productions: Marketing & PR 

Sunday, October 25th at 2:30 p.m. - Independent Productions: Marketing & PR (moderating)

Check out the Austin Film Festival schedule for full info on the films and panels to see. You can also pick up a print copy of Film Festival Secrets at the merch table near registration.

The CineVegas "hiatus" and what it means

cinevegasA couple of weeks ago, while we here in Austin were enjoying the film frenzy that is Fantastic Fest, the word came over the intertubes that CineVegas, Las Vegas' well-respected and much-gabbed-about summer film festival, will put its annual event on hold for 2010.

“Given the current economic climate and the pressures it has created, we made the difficult decision to put CineVegas on hiatus for the coming year. CineVegas has become such a well respected film festival, and rather than allow the economy to affect its level of quality we have opted to put the event on hold,” said Robin Greenspun, Festival President.

While none of the CineVegas reps in attendance at Fantastic Fest seemed particularly eager to go on the record about the festival's woes, there was plenty of tongue-clucking, head-shaking, and speculation to go around. CV is a top-notch event with a great venue (a cineplex inside the Palms Casino), a sexy hometown, some of the best staff in the business, and a celebrity backer (Dennis Hopper). The festival's contraction to five days in 2009 (down from ten days in previous years) even seemed like an improvement and a smart move in a down economy. How could this vibrant and apparently healthy festival hit the skids so quickly?

While much of the conjecture revolved around the lavish parties and apparent "industry vacation" aspects of the fest, the stated and simplest reason for the hiatus is probably the truth: in a troubled economy, corporate sponsorship dollars dry up fast. It doesn't take a financial wizard to look at the festival's four largest sponsors (the Palms,, The District at Green Valley Ranch, and Greenspun Media Group) and notice that they're all in industries (tourism, retail shopping, and print media) that have been hit hard by the financial downturn. There are very few festivals that can run on ticket sales alone, and none of them are of CineVegas' size and stature. Greenspun and the festival's Artistic Director Trevor Groth (also head programmer at Sundance) made the difficult decision to try to weather the storm and hopefully come back with a bang rather than risk sinking the CineVegas ship entirely. It's a disappointing move (especially for those staffers who were laid off) but ultimately a smart one. Trying to put on the same level of show without the same level of backing would spell disaster.

Will CineVegas be back? I sure hope so. In the meantime, the writing is on the Palms Casino wall for every festival that relies primarily on corporate sponsorships to operate each year: it's time to implement (or further develop) your membership and individual giving programs. Diversifying your "portfolio" in this way not only provides a bit of a cushion in the lean times, but it also strengthens your ties to the community and can lead to more corporate sponsorships when times are good. There are a number of good resources out there about fundraising during a recession, but it boils down to tapping into your fan base and offering them something they can't get elsewhere: recognition, exposure to unusual movies and experiences, the satisfaction of making a difference to the independent film scene.

This isn't a cure-all; even the greatest individual giving program won't replace corporate sponsorships, but it's a heck of a hedge against those famine years. The Seattle International Film Festival has one of the most comprehensive and successful film fest membership programs I've ever seen – if you want an education on how to do a membership program right, invest the $55 in a basic membership and watch them go to work.

Be sure to tell me all about your successful new membership program at CineVegas 2011.

Getting an Education about Film Festivals

IDA's roundup of a pair of panels from FIND's Filmmaker Forum:

All agreed that the film festivals are going through a tough time right now. "Film festivals are losing money and they are closing," lamented Jones. "CineVegas is closing for a year. Jackson Hole [not the Wildlife Film Festival] has closed completely. Sponsors are pulling out, so festivals are dealing with budget cuts in other ways, such as taking fewer films. When the festival outlets dry up, we lose a critical distribution mechanism. I consider film festivals like art galleries--they are the only place where you can see particular films onscreen." 

Read FIND's Filmmaker Forum 2009: Getting an Education about Film Festivals.

Indie Memphis - come hear me gab on a coupla panels

I'm currently in Memphis, Tennessee for the Indie Memphis film festival. The festival staffers have kindly invited me to speak on two of their "Café Conversation" panels. Both talks take place outside the Malco Studio theater at the Festival Café tent. The events are free to the public so even if you weren't planning to attend the festival itself (and you should), you can stop by and soak up a little knowledge without spending a dime.

  • The Film Festival Circuit, Saturday October 10 at noon with Heidi van Lier

  • Distribute Me: A Conversation On Getting Your Film Out To The World, Sunday October 11 at noon with Steven Beckman.

  • OpenIndie Hopes to Bring Theaters within Filmmakers' Reach

    Eric Kohn's article in indieWIRE explores a new startup concept from Arin Crumley and Kieran Masterton. will allow filmmakers to input their e-mail lists and discover locations with high audience demand. The grassroots strategy allows movies to reach their intended audiences with a community-based approach. Because the site is open-sourced, anyone can enter a location into the site and figure out the level of interest for specific movies.

    Read DIY With a Little Help: OpenIndie Hopes to Bring Theaters within Filmmakers' Reach.

    The Kickstarter page for OpenIndie has an explanatory video and a donation button.