And thanks for reading! This past weekend there were two film festivals going on in my local area, AND a film I acted in was screened in one of them, so I thought it might be fun to write about film festivals this week!
Look, ma – no warning paragraph (again)!
I know, last week I said I’d put it back this week for those of you who actually look forward to it. Apparently, I lied. Since I am talking about film festivals this week, and that focuses mostly on screen acting (although there is a fair amount of VO work done for films as well) I’m going to leave it out again this week. Hey, it’s my blog I can do with it what I want!
Everyone has heard of them…
There is likely not a person on the planet who hasn’t heard of a film festival. Cannes, Berlin, Sundance…we’ve heard of them, and probably recognize they are important, but there are also probably some things you DIDN’T know about them as well.
Why are they important?
Most importantly festivals give film makers, and actors, an opportunity to be seen by professionals within the industry. For independent film makers this becomes a networking event where you have a chance to meet some people that might be able to help move your career forward. If nothing else, it is a good way to meet people within that festival’s local area. As I’ve said many times, this industry has a foundation of relationships, and being screened at and attending a film festival is a great way to build relationships.
There are a LOT of them…
I’ve read there are over 5000 film festivals in the United States alone and 3-4 times that many across the globe. Obviously, you likely have never heard of most of them, and since there are so many it’s likely there is at LEAST on in your local area.
How does a film festival work?
Generally, a festival will be screening films in multiple “theaters”. I use quotes around the word theater because some films are screened in a non-traditional theater. For example, some of the films are screened in an auditorium or makeshift theater such as a classroom with one of those pull-down screens. Basically, it is screened in the same way a professor might project his PowerPoint lesson. If you’re lucky, your film will be screened in one of the main theaters.
Generally, films can win awards for things like best picture, best actor, best…whatever category the festival decides. Not all festivals present awards, but most do. If you’ve ever heard the term “Award winning actor” or “Award winning film”, these awards were likely given at a film festival. There are festivals that just provide a place for film makers to screen their films without competition, but they are rare compared to those that provide award categories.
I’m sure you can imagine that since there are so MANY festivals that not all of them carry the same weight. It’s true there are several “tiers” of festivals. What people consider the “Top 5” festivals are: Venice, Cannes, Berlin, Toronto and Sundance. If a film is screened at one of these five festival’s it is a big deal! These festivals are where the top names in the film industry go to find new talent and films to invest in.
These top tier, or A list festivals, are tough to get into
Submissions for these top tier festivals number in the 10’s of thousands. They are very competitive and in the end they only screen 30-40 films. And they have some of the highest entry fees of any festival…and still attract a LOT of entries. If you have a good film, it could be worth it though!
Some festivals cater to a specific niche or genre of film. If you can define a niche, there is likely a festival dedicated to it. Horror films seem to be a popular niche, as well as documentary films.
So how do you get INTO a festival?
Getting into a festival is simple, but not easy. First thing you need is a film (of course) that you own the rights to. The next BIG step is to research what festivals there are, in your niche if you are aiming for that, and what their submission requirements are. Since films are pre-screened to decide whether or not to include them in the festival there are hard and fast deadlines to submission. Then, you follow the submission instruction to send your film to the festival organizers, pay the submission fee and…wait. And wait. And wait.
Mostly, they’ll let you know.
Almost all festivals will tell you one way or the other whether or not your film has been selected for inclusion in their festival and whether or not it is eligible for an award. Of course, like everything else, festivals are run by people and some people are not awesome at following up. Generally, you’ll hear back, but if the notification deadline has passed and you haven’t heard anything, you can either assume you are not included, or (preferably) reach out to festival organizers to ask.
And then what?
Well, if you are not included in a festival then all you can do is say “Bummer” and move on. If you are though then the work begins. What you probably don’t know, and the festivals won’t tell you, is that it is then YOUR responsibility to market your film at the festival. In order for the festival to be most beneficial you will need people in the theater when your film is screened…and that means trying to get people to buy tickets and attend at your theater during the time your film will be screened.
If you’d like to watch the trailer for our film, you can do that here. The film I was in, “Regaining Innocence” was screened this weekend at the Maryland International Film Festival (MIFF). Also exciting, we we are an official selection at the Florence International Film Festival! While the film is an “Official Selection” there is no guarantee it will be screened, but if it is I’m buying a plane ticket!
It was fun to be a part of the festival!
I definitely drove up to Hagerstown for the MIFF. It was my first time being an actor in a film accepted at a festival, so I had no idea what to expect. I definitely learned a lot about festivals in a very short time! We managed to get VIP passes and had the chance to view a number of films, including one feature length film…and ours of course.
I wish I had known more about the need to promote the film ahead of the festival. Our screening was in a classroom of the University of Maryland Hagerstown campus and there were…NINE people in the theater when it screened. Six of them were our party so for all those people who have difficulty with maths, that means three people in the audience. It did get some very favorable comments from the 3 audience members and the person running the screening in that room after it screened, but it would have been nice to have more people in the room. I’m not sure what other festivals we are submitted for, other than Florence, but will definitely promote any others better. Lesson learned.
If you support the arts…
If you are a supporter of the arts, I encourage you to find out if there are any film festivals in your area and if there are…attend them. They are fun, and it gives you an opportunity to see some great films from up-and-coming film makers. Also a chance to meet some of them and start building relationships. As an actor or VO artist, those connections could help propel your career forward!