“So You Think It Would Be Fun To Take Your Film To Festivals”: PART 2

Click here for the first part of this series.

GETTING READY TO SUBMIT (Not A BDSM Type of Submission, But Damn Close)

I strongly recommend small test screenings with feedback like We Make Movies’ “What’s Next” to get your project festival ready. Remember when I said, “your film is done, and you don’t want to change a frame”? If you THINK it’s done and you have not screened for an audience, think again. You need to test screen with audiences. Not just to get their feedback, but to know what YOU feel needs to be improved. We don’t often know what we want to change about our own work until we release it to others.

The other films I have worked on have all been through similar pre- screening processes and the filmmakers rented theaters for these to happen and drummed up audience on their own. Thanks to We Make Movies, we can do such test screenings for a built-in audience (though you still must promote through social media and word-of-mouth) with great feedback at Theatre Asylum (this was written before we were in The Lillian). In the case of “What’s Next,” plus The Monthly Screening Series for more completed work, and WMMFest (We Make Movies Annual Showcase of Films), these are at no cost to you if your project is accepted to screen at one of these three venues.

what's next J&LLuckily for me, the timing was right and I got “Jes and Lora” into “What’s Next” for a rough cut test and feedback, then the Monthly Screening Series to test picture lock. All good. OKAY, we are ready to go. I have one month to get the files to Sam Mestman (brilliant colorist and he offers discounted services to We Make Movies Members) for final color correction and inclusion in WMMFest.

BUT, just when you think you have lots of time left to get your film ready for festival submissions, SURPRISE, you get asked to screen your film early. One of Terri Freedman’s connections who ran a festival in Walnut Creek, CA invited us to submit for a special non-competitive late-entry screening program for California Filmmakers. This meant we could have a screening in a commercial theater if I could get it to them immediately. We were not to the point of final color and sound mix, so it would have been easy to say, “We aren’t really ready for that.” But, “what else am I here for?” kept ringing in my head so I decided to submit. Of course they needed it in a format I did not currently have it in, but foregoing the post production particulars, I got it out to them, and it was reviewed and selected to screen.

Walnut Creek International Short Film Fest was an invaluable test for the film. How does it play in a packed theater with an audience of mostly total strangers on a big movie screen? Answer: beautifully. Walnut Creek was a fantastic moment for me since it was the official beginning of the red carpet photo-ops and step and repeat photos (those banners over the red carpet when you get your picture taken). Take photo-ops wherever you can and post, post, post on social media. That creates buzz like nothing else. But I think the most important thing about Walnut Creek was that it was the beginning of the dreaded Q and A.

q&aNow, I say, “dreaded Q and A” because I am nervous talking about my work as a director, writer, editor. Not true. I am actually terrified. That being said, I am not too bad at it. I just need practice. Again, “What’s Next” and the various We Make Movies venues gave me great practice with friends before I faced an audience of a couple of hundred strangers. Because “Jes and Lora” is such an important project to me, I was determined to do well at the Q and A, so that meant I needed to do my best to personally attend any opportunity to participate in a Q and A. Practice, practice, practice.

WMMFest would now be the venue for a final review of sound mix and color correction. It should be noted that even WMM Members are not guaranteed a screening of their film with We Make Movies. It is a selective film festival.

WMMFest was amazing. AND, I used it to unveil the one sheet (or poster, but more on that later) and give Brendan and Terri their own copies. Not only did I consider it essential to show my gratitude to them for their unflinching support of the project from the very beginning, but it also created a great “postable” and “tweetable” moment for a photo-op to promote the film on social networking sites. The pictures are also in our online press kit to festivals as festivals should see that we are having a blast promoting this film and will do the same when we come to their events. They want to select people who promote their festival.

A word about test screenings and premieres: They are NOT the same thing. Most fests, have a completion date requirement, which means you should wait until your film is 100% finished to mark it as PREMIERED. I consider the premiere of “Jes and Lora” to be WMMFest since that was the first screening that was picture locked, color corrected, sound mixed and had final titles. I list earlier screenings as “rough cut” or “test screenings” to make sure the completion date is not too early. That is what would cut me out of certain festivals more than having premiered elsewhere.

A lot of filmmakers want to protect premiere status and do so by sitting on their film until Sundance opens for submissions. I speak with filmmakers all the time who think Sundance only wants premieres for shorts.  (clearing throat) PLEASE read the submission rules for each festival. SUNDANCE HAS NO PREMIERE REQUIREMENT FOR SHORTS!!! A few festivals insist that even shorts be REGIONAL premieres (i.e. TriBeCa wants to be NYC premiere, SXSW wants to be Austin premiere, Edinburgh Film Fest wants to be U.K. premiere and Cannes wants to be the International Festival premiere). These are clearly stated in their rules. Read them. In short, if you are a short, research ahead of time the festivals you really want to get in, and submit cautiously to other fests in that region. If you are a feature, wait for Sundance or LA Film Fest, or one of the other festivals that insist on a premiere.

pdAnother situation that must be dealt with before you premiere your film is rights. Any copyrighted or trademarked material must be licensed or permitted in writing before you submit. If you read all the rules for the various festivals, they seem to have this stipulation in common: “It is the responsibility of the submitter to secure permission and authorization for any and all copyrighted and/or trademarked materials included in the film. This includes, but is not limited to music, video, images and logos.” At the very least, you need a festival license for usage of any material anyone else owns. These licenses can be free, but often a “small” honorarium is requested, so allow for that in your budget. Best policy; don’t be attached to any content you might not be able to use. If you copyright your own film, the form allows for you to include their material, but only copyright your content (more about this at www.copyright.gov).

We are now well tested and good to go. Thanks We Make Movies and Walnut Creek International Short Film Festival. Other pre-submission things to do are talk to other filmmakers about good experiences they have had at festivals and go to festivals yourself. My colleagues have recommended a dozen or more fests that I have submitted to so thanks for all the recommendations. Also, attend fellow filmmakers screenings when you DON’T have a film involved. Support other people’s work and see what actually makes the cut. It is here where I reveal my acting roots, “It’s who you know.” Sucks if you don’t know anyone and they don’t know you, but this system can work in your favor if you do. So, go to festivals, meet programmers and other festival personnel, perhaps volunteer and otherwise involve yourself with some festivals BEFORE you submit your own film. I should also add at this point, that if you meet a festival programmer, DO NOT ask for a waiver of the fee for your film. You can hope that they offer, but do not ask. They get asked this all the time and many take it as shorthand that a filmmaker is a PITA (Pain In The Ass) if they ask for a waiver.

For all the same reasons an actor needs to be connected with filmmakers, a filmmaker needs to be connected to festival programmers. I myself have a couple of connections who have always shown my films in the past, so they were the first of the festival submissions I made. I then moved on to my team to find out if they had any connections to festivals. Lead actress, Terri Freedman had already helped us get a screening at the Walnut Creek International Short Film Fest and had several other festival connections, so I made a list of these and was determined to submit when the time came. From the beginning, Terri worked hard to make festival connections on behalf of “Jes and Lora.” Almost half of the submissions so far are a result of her leads and research. Thanks Terri!

Now that you are confident with your film, Part 3 of this series will focus on targeting and submitting to the festivals. This is a work in progress and new data is being compiled every day. Stay tuned … It should be … what’s the word? … fun.


This is the second part of a two week series about film festivals. 
Be sure to check out the next installment next Monday