All the Things Money Can’t Buy

Indie GritsI have a lot on my mind this week as Spring Break for VSU comes to a sudden halt – our film MIRACLE BOY continues to be accepted into film festivals, I have to finish a script to submit to UFVA by Friday, my federal taxes are due soon-ish, and all that actual personal relationship stuff doesn’t stop.

So of course, I spent too much time cleaning out e-mail and futzing with this website. Which all lead me to re-reading this article by Heather Croal for INDIEWIRE. If you are into independent film and don’t read IndieWire, you’re not into independent film. Anyway…

Her article discusses a some of what I’m running against with the festival distribution of MIRACLE BOY. There are literally thousands of film festivals in the world today — why screen at any of them? With the window of distribution for any piece of media shrinking and shrinking, there have to be more and more reasons to allow your project to appear where it does, when it does.

Her article is a reaction to Sean Farnel‘s article demanding festivals share revenue with filmmakers. While I think her even tempered response has many a fine point, and Sean’s gnarly threat at the system also rings true – I find that there’s a thin line between the festival that respects the filmmaker and the one that sees them as a cog in a giant wheel.

Once upon a time, I was lucky enough to help run a festival with the marvelous filmmaker Nicole Triche (if you missed her film TAXIDERMISTS at the Atlanta Film Festival recently – that’s your loss). We had a small budget, but a budget. We were able to give a small stipend to visiting filmmakers, but more importantly we were able to give them attention. We showered them with attention – mostly from student filmmakers who were in adulation over people who were actually making movies. We hoped to screen people’s films on the way up and spread the word while the word needed spreading. We had no delusions that our festival was anything more that a love festival – love the filmmakers and share their movies. No one is signing a three picture deal at NY Pizza on Tate Street. But I am still a fan and friend to some great filmmakers I met there.

I have never expected to receive the attention that we tried to show filmmakers. Things happen. (Like the year I sent the rejection e-mails with a Subject Line that read CONGRATULATIONS….not my finest moment.) But sometimes, festivals see a stack of DVDs and a slot that needs to be filled and regards you as just a number in a much larger process. I have been at festivals where there are more advertisers than filmmakers – and the advertiser will in fact be back next year; so, guess who gets the attention.

Don’t misunderstand me. This is a blog of respect and appreciation.

We have been accepted into some incredible festivals this year. Seth and the crew at IndieGrits have been tremendous and are helping us get the highest quality version of our film to screen. The reception we have received from the other festivals has been so encouraging as well, but it does remind me…. you don’t spend $20 to $75 to submit a film for no reason. You have to have a plan. Why did I click on that link at Withoutabox? What was I expecting to happen when I sent my film off to the jungles of East St. Paul (I apologize to those in Minneapolis, that’s a joke I don’t get tired of).

We submitted to IndieGrits because they put on a great event with movies, music and culture in a very growing city in the South that I felt would react to our film. What are we getting out of it? They are promoting our film to thousands of people we would not have connected with otherwise – and a few we have already connected with (What up, South Carolina!?! Greenwood County represent!). Those connections will help get our film to the next festival, or maybe help develop the next film. This is a supportive atmosphere for this film to be seen, which will allow us to make sure we are presenting the film properly going forward. Along with possible providing us with some technical expertise.  😉

After spending nearly a thousand dollars submitting our film to festivals, I am excited to see that everyone that received a check so far has extended an invitation to screen our film. Now I have to go back and remember why I wrote that check and fulfill both our promise of a great film to the festival and the reason why screening our film there will make a difference going forward. There are Academy eligible festivals – which sounds good for us. There festivals with big cash prizes – which sounds better when I remember how much I spent. There festivals that I know have been supportive of other filmmakers through connections, fans of future work or just great promotion.

As a filmmaker/professor, I was thinking about that line on my CV during my annual review. The Athens International Film & Video Festival looks pretty nice beside “what did you do this year”.

Every festival has a reason to exist. A lot of them have very little to do with the films or the filmmakers, but once those filmmakers are there – you have to be considerate of why they are there. See what reason those filmmakers have to be at your festival. I remember going to Cucalorus – one of my favorite festivals in the country – and meeting a great filmmaker of surf movies. Sure, Wilmington, NC is near the water, but I didn’t buy that this was a surf town. Then why screen this film in North Carolina? And why did the festival put up the filmmaker? Because both knew that there were people there who believed in the surf lifestyle…and would buy his DVDs…from the stage and later online.

Sean is right – sometimes the festivals owe the filmmakers cash money. Heather is right – sometimes festivals present films with opportunities for financing or other resources. Whatever festivals can offer – they need to do that. We’re not showing up just because you’re nice, but start there and help us with our film. And if all you have is love, that’s fine. But lather that stuff on thick and let us know up front what your intentions are.

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