Industry Connect – Film Fest Strategies
August 21, 2007: Industry Connect – Film Fest Strategies
Sponsored by Warner Independent Pictures
David Nugent, Moderator: Festival Programmer (Gotham Awards, IFP Market)
Kerry Weldon: Filmmaker, Festival Director (NewFest)
Mary Jane Skalski: Filmmaker (Station Agent)
Steven Raphael: Sales Agent (Pan’s Labyrinth, Favela Rising)
This panel was hosted by IFP and held at the SOHO House in the meat packing district of NYC (for those of you who know NYC, indeed, the SOHO house is not located SO of HO at all). The room was small, but the seats ware cushy. I liked the intimate setting, though I wish I had been able to sit with my friends (because that way, I can whisper witty, entertaining comments when really they probably rather just watch the panel so maybe this was a good thing).
David Nugent was a great moderator although the panel itself was only somewhat informative. The best stuff was how the Sales Agent plays into the mix. I KNOW I should get my film into Sundance, thank you—I’ll definitely do my best. But most of all I learned that yes, festival programmers really do seem to watch every film they are sent. And of course NO, you should not pester them about it.
The discussion was kicked off by Steven Raphael explaining his job as a Sales Agent. My introduction to this world of “Sales Agents” was when I had dealt with John Sloss’ Cinetic who has quite an impressive roster of choice films, but it was super awesome to hear from someone who’s just passionate about films and has his own boutique film-marketing company to show for it (who, by the way, also has some incredible titles under his belt). He’s like a marketing consultant. He gets films without distribution out there. He likes to focus on how to market a movie and is even hired by production companies—not just indie filmmakers. It seems to me there’s truly a niche in Sales Agentry that stands outside the very studio system we all love to hate to love.
Steven said that it’s a bad idea to not only show your film at 25 film fests, but then to brag about it. All it shows to interested parties is that the film has already saturated the festival market. Going to a festival is to sell or launch your film. Only distribute a limited amount of materials and photos because you really don’t want to spell out your film before anyone watches it.
Mary Jane Skalski was next to talk about her projects. She’s the kind of producer I want to be when I grow up. She was the first to mention that it’s key to get into Sundance because if it’s in the competition part of the festival—your film will get seen. She agreed that your best shot is to get as many people to see your film at an initial screening.
Kerry Weldon followed up with pointing out: Start big. Try to get into those A-list fests and premiere there, then work your way down. We’re talking about starting with Sundance, Berlin, Cannes, Toronto, SxSW, etc. When you’re submitting your films, look at the calendar and plan accordingly. I know it seems to go against an artist’s natural talents to be so pre-meditated but hey, this advice is for people committed to getting their stuff seen.
The panelists had witnessed some filmmakers getting into Sundance, then not knowing what the heck to do once they got there. It sounded like Sundance was one of the most democratic in terms of selections while Cannes seems to be the least—more expensive and more into politics.
Another consideration that Steven brought up was to please get your film in for review EARLY. And if you think about it, yeah, you want your film on the pile before it gets nuts in the office as they're making last minute plans, doing damage control, etc. He told the story of how these filmmakers came to him at the last second and though it was and excellent film, he had to turn it down. It seems to be regrettable, but there’s only so much justice he could serve each film with so many on his plate, even if it was Once.
One point that was made that may not be considered—If your film doesn’t sell at Sundance or a festival, then what? That’s when the challenge begins.
This is when Kerry pointed out: do NOT harass the programmers. I know that when a filmmaker gets rejected (and boy do I know this feeling as does anyone who puts themselves out there)—do not project your anger onto the selection committee. You simply do not KNOW if you were rejected within the first 10 minutes of your film or after much deliberation.
Your film may have been squeezed out as the 21st film of 20 slots—you do not know. Or your film was great but not great in concert with the rest of the program. Perhaps they’re calling their buddies at other festivals and recommending your film as a better fit for their slate. Obviously if the latter is the case, you’re ruining your chances with all your hate mail. David Nugent agreed with all these sentiments and added that you could email a short, friendly invitation to get someone to check out your film but that’s about all they can handle.
Additionally, do your research. Don’t waste time submitting your films to festivals specializing in Pancakes when your movie is about Hamburgers (my example, albeit a silly one). It’s also smart to know the problems your film will encounter upon release—music clearances, copy right issues, etc. If you try to float by without mentioning, oh yeah, the music costs double what they’re paying for your film...well, you get the picture. It’s best to be up front. Besides, different distributors will deal with it in different ways. Harvey can buy rights whereas Roadside Attractions is going to want a clean, packaged film.
How rough can your rough cut be when sending it in to make a deadline? 95% done and include a note that mentions the work that needs to be done to show you recognize it. Then provide a finished copy before the screening. And whatever fixes have to be done; they can’t be too terribly distracting. Obviously people reviewing your film can use their imagination to an extent—but even bad music can make that hard.
When considering trailers and press kits: production notes are important; be sure to compose a nice synopsis. Make the press kit solid. Be picky with the stills you choose—you don’t want a lot of preconceptions before the first screening. Just enough to reel people in. Mary Jane joked that she was told the synopsis for the Station Agent was boring. Also, trailers aren’t as important as you may think—they’re a different art anyway. Worry about the film. Steven even sounded as though he totally doesn’t want you to fret with them. The film will speak for itself at this stage. Let the distributor worry about that stuff.
Steven said that his biggest pet peeve is the instinct that filmmakers have to make every distributor to love their movie. You don’t need everyone to love it. Just two to play them off each other. Make the film you want to make and then find the appropriate distributor.