The Black & White Rules of Indie Filmmaking – part 13

13. Film Festivals – part 1

I’ve already two blog posts on how no to be a film fest douche. They are here and here. Study them. I’ve spent a lot of time taking to the people who run film festivals. They’re usually the ones at the fests I spend most time talking to. I know of which I speak.

Ok, now the first news flash. You’re not getting into Sundance. Not unless you have a major star, a major studio behind you, a major film rep, or your parents are rich and famous. But if you have one of those things, you probably aren’t reading my blog.

But y’know what? Submit anyway. It’s like buying a Lotto ticket. You can’t win if you don’t play. And sure there’re probably 4 slots saved for the almost 5000 feature submissions. And Lady Luck might be one your side.
Submit to SlamDance, if you’re a first time director. Submit to SXSW. Likewise for Tribeca and Toronto. And of course Los Angeles. And if your film is a documentary add Hot Docs and Silver Docs to that list. Those are the no-brainers. Those are your lottery tickets. But don’t hold your breath. And you probably are not going to submit to them all. If you’ve finishing your film and it’s November . . . and you’ve missed the Sundance deadline . . . do not wait a whole ten months to start submitting. Move on, submit to the next on the calendar list, and save Sundance for the next movie. Use common sense, there is no reason to let a film sit for almost a year. Even you will forget about it. And by that point you should be knee-deep in production with your next film anyway.

Ok, those submissions are in the mail. Now let’s find the fest that is actually going to screen your film. And here you need to do homework. There are literally thousands of film festivals. You need to find the ones that are a perfect match. You need to research what they’ve played in the past, what other filmmakers say about them. If all they do is play film with known actors, and seem to promote all their red carpet parties on their website, your little no-name film is not a good match. If they like art or foreign fare, your torture porn horror film is not making the cut. Hell, I know first hand, even if they specialize in rock docs, your critically acclaimed rock doc which breaks all the rules is not getting in. Really study the films they’ve accepted.

Likewise, look for warning signs. If you read filmmaking after filmmaker complaining about their treatment, bad projection, disorganization, take that as a red flag, and do not submit. There are plenty of fests that have their shit together, and who love well-made films, even without stars. But there are also festivals that don’t even acknowledge your presence when you’ve flown a thousand or more miles to attend and do a Q&A. There are festivals that project your 16×9 feature in 2:35, or worse 4:3. Watch the brilliant film OFFICIAL REJECTION to witness one of the most offensive film festivals of all time. (Actually, watch OFFICIAL REJECTION because it’s an amazing film on the film fest world. It is a MUST SEE.)

Remember festival submission fees are not cheap. I’ve dropped between $3 to $5 thousand dollars on submission fees for past features. (That’s PER film, not what I spent on all of them.) And you’re on a tighter budget than that.

Also, if you’ve gotten into a few fests, won awards, or have amazing press, forget the fees, email the festival directors, tell them all about your film, and it’s acolaids, tell them how you feel the film would be a great fit for their festivals, send a trailer link, and finally ask for a waiver of their fees. Worst case, they say no or never answer. But after 6 months on the circuit with COLOR ME OBSESSED, I decided no more fees. And it worked. A good email, backed by packed houses and great press, and guess what, we got waivers. With my Archers of Loaf doc I decided no fees at all. So far, so good. We premiered at NXNE in Toronto last week, played another Canadian film/music fest on Monday, and are having our American premiere at the CBGB’s Festival in July.

Next up: more on life after you’ve wrapped

My filmography.

The making of COLOR ME OBSESSED – part 7

Somehow almost a year went by, as I needed to finish up the tax credit paperwork (don’t get me started) for FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS), complete the film, do the sound mix, begin submitting to film festivals, then actually hit the road on the festival circuit. (I could blog about that, but instead watch the amazing indie film OFFICIAL REJECTION, and you’ll learn more than you will ever need to know about film festivals.)

But in August 2009 I posted an ad on Craigslist stating that I was looking for a co-producer. I got one worthwhile response from Jim Leftwich, who not only wanted to learn about production but was a huge fan of The Replacements. We sat down over pizza at Pepe’s and hashed it out. Jim would work the East Coast interview schedule.

I believe Adrian Correia, my cinematographer on FRIENDS (WITH BENEFITS) had always been on board. I had been turning Adrian on to new bands since hiring him to shoot that last film. Despite no up-front pay, Adrian jumped at the chance to work on CMO.

Sarah, Jan, Jim, Adrian…that was my crew at the start. It would change as we moved along…but for now, everything clicked.

And…yes, no up-front pay. Everyone including myself would own a chunk of the back end. If the film did well, we all did well. I did not want to spent months (or more) looking for investors. I didn’t want to do all this work on another film, and then when it finally sold not see a dime. And luckily a new web startup would help me achieve that goal.