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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).


Atlanta Film Festival said...

Filmmakers would also be wise to read the submission paperwork they fill out for different festivals. Many, like us, include a "Right to Screen" clause. Essentially, by submitting, you're giving the festival the right to screen your film, even if you change your mind.

Some also have a "Right to Premiere" clause. Some have both a Right to Premiere and a Right to Screen.

The screening clause is mostly there to protect festivals who lose a lot of time and often money rearranging schedules and filling slots when a filmmaker suddenly yanks a film from under them.

As most festivals now use Withoutabox, I'm assuming that even more filmmakers are missing that AND not understanding that online, or not, they're still filling out a legal document/contract.

I'd also advise filmmakers to be very honest about any distribution talks they're having.

We've also run into filmmakers who have been in discussions with distributors for months. Then, just as we're about to go to press for our program guide, tell us the deal finally closed and they have to pull their film.

Charles Judson

allen mez said...

Nice tip to use "As of this writing..." I've been conflicted on this topic. Thanks Chris.

Michael Langan said...

Ditto-- great tip. Though I haven't run into too any issues with premiere status yet.

Would love to hear some thoughts on how a short film is perceived by festivals if it's already on the Internet, too. I'd heard this was a no-no (and I like to keep mine exclusively on the circuit for a year or so before releasing online), but more and more, I see films succeed at festivals despite being on the net, as well. I'm guessing that this means times are changing quickly, and we're losing that stigma.

Atlanta Film Festival said...

I'll weigh in from a festival's perspective on shorts. Exclusivity for shorts isn't much of a concern for us here at ATLFF.

Three reasons:

1) Few shorts get more than a few thousand views at best (most barely get more than 300 to 500 total views), so there's rarely any concern about audience saturation.

2) Most shorts are part of a program, so having one widely seen short among 6 or 7 doesn't limit the entire program as a draw.

3) If a film is 5 minutes or under, that's usually short enough that an audience won't mind sitting through that film multiple times. So even if a film has been seen over and over again, that doesn't mean an audience will be turned off by seeing it again.

Now, if you're aiming to qualify for an Oscar, being on the net will knock you out of the running. One reason filmmakers submit to us and about two dozen other festivals is because we're Academy qualifying fests for shorts (narrative and animated).

Beyond Oscars, I'd research any awards (film festivals and otherwise) and grants your film may be eligible for and factor that into your decision. From social justice to comedy, there are competitions that your film might be able to enter and win and being online could jeopardize that.

I won't speak for most festivals, however, in general, if your short is great and they like it, fests will rather play it, posted on the net or not.

A good example is SPIN, which you could see online back in 2006, yet played many, many festivals. It has over 2 million views now, but, I think when it played our festival, it was already up to a few hundred thousand views.

That being said, we still weigh the benefits of programming a film that anyone can find online against not programming it. It's not the only element we weigh, but, it's not ignored either.

Charles Judson

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