On the festival circuit: Colorado Short Circuit

April 22, 2017.  After Wales, Overwhelming Majority got one more chance to screen in the Springs, at a brand new iteration of the Indie Spirit Film Festival.  Colorado Short Circuit showcases the work of Colorado filmmakers working in short films.  I think for this version most of the featured films were made by people living on the front range, primarily Denver and Colorado Springs.

As always, a great time was had, and I certainly knew lots of people already.  As a bonus, I shot a few rolls of super 8 for my experimental/avant-garde cinema class.  I will be finalizing that project sometime in the Fall and then it’s back to submitting to festivals.

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On the festival circuit: Wales International Documentary Festival

I never would have considered traveling to Wales for a film festival if not for some generous offers of funding when I had just learned that Overwhelming Majority had been accepted.  Unfortunately that funding fell through and I cancelled my plans, then decided very last minute that the opportunity to go was too good to pass up, even if it meant paying out of pocket for my plane flight.  It was a gigantic leap of faith my part and I am currently accepting donations to recoup this expense, as well as help me get to festivals further on down the road.

Though only at the festival in Blackwood for two days, I was able to get to know some cool filmmakers from Britain, Scandinavia, and Belgium, as well as see some interesting documentary films.  Probably the best part of the festival though, was being able to share my experiences with the interns, mostly film and journalism students from Cardiff University.  They were all cool people and I found that I fit in pretty well there.  I hope I’ll be able to get back to the UK before too long.

I brought the Canon 7 and the Olympus Trip 35, loaded with some classic black & white and slide films, shooting 4 rolls total.  There is much more to be posted from my first overseas trip.

On the festival circuit: Greetings from Durango

March 1-5, the Durango Independent Film Festival.

It seems that each festival I go to is a better experience than the last, but I don’t know that Durango can be topped.  They treated the filmmakers so nicely there, and it being 6 hours away from me, I decided to stay for the entire thing, which was definitely worth it.  I stayed in the General Palmer Hotel (living in Colorado Springs for so long, I could stay nowhere else) which looked largely untouched by time.  There were lots of activities I to do around town (like a trip on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad), plus a special filmmakers only-lounge in the basement of the local Irish pub…assuming you didn’t watch films, and I did try to catch as many programs as I could.  The best part though, was that the entire festival took place in the space of two blocks in downtown Durango, making everything nice and easy to get to.  I forged some great relationships with people and will definitely be going back in the future.

Film festival information, pt. 3

The film festival submissions process still baffles me.  I have no idea if I’ve gone about this the right way, if there are things that I should be doing but aren’t, and what I can do from here to improve my chances.  One of the things I did is to send out emails to the festivals after they’re over asking for comments and some have been nice enough to respond.  I’ve gotten a few emails from festival directors who have taken the time to reply in depth giving me some interesting perspectives on my work, and it has helped me see exactly what these festivals are after, how I can improve for the next film, hopefully.  Actually, one of the most in-depth and longest critiques I got helped me understand how much of an idiot that festival director was (or at least how different out perspectives are), so at least I learned not to submit to that festival again.  I’ve also started taking the opportunity to get the programmers drunk and ask them in person when I go to festivals, to find out specifically why my film got in.  From my communication so far, here are some good points to take away:

-There will be festival directors and programmers out there that are idiots.
I appreciate the in-depth response that I got from this one guy, not least of which is because he took the time to respond: most didn’t.  And I don’t feel defensive about it, don’t want to use this post to lash out, but I will say this: he just didn’t get it.  Since none of you have seen my film anyway it’s hardly helpful to delve too deeply into specifics.  Everything in my film that other people have complimented me for was for whatever reason seen as a mark of amateurism, right down to calling it an ‘experimental’ film.  Some festival programmers will have no experience with (or interest in) experimental films, no art background, and no desire to play anything but the slickest Hollywood-style productions.  And to be fair, my film isn’t for everyone and probably wouldn’t have played well to that particular audience.  I’m still working out a way to know in advance which festivals my work will play well at, so I’m not wasting as much money in submission fees.

-Don’t submit unfinished work: only submit the best possible film.
If the film you’re sending in isn’t ready to go up in front of an audience that minute, it’s a waste of a submission fee.  Programmers will not watch a film in its entirety if it sucks, and I’m sure they have to watch a lot of shit.  And whether it’s true or not, they say they can tell from the first few minutes (seconds?) whether a film is worth their time.  You’re not guaranteed to have your film watched all the way through.  For the other side, rough cuts aren’t accepted well.  A direct quote: ‘If they can’t submit a finished film before our submissions deadline, how can I trust them to finish it on time for the festival?’  Really, I think that’s a legitimate argument.  ‘Submitting late is better for you than submitting an unfinished film.  Or don’t submit at all, wait until next year.’

-It’s really out of your hands.  Also, shorter is better.
There was a programmer who really loved my film, had it as a contender all the way up to the final notification deadline, but still didn’t program it.  He wrote me that people programming festivals see a lot of shit (which I can firmly believe) and that originality is greatly valued.  Talk about mixed messages, considering that he rejected me, so I’m not sure how valued it can be.  But he said it would have gotten in if it were shorter.  ‘Programmers love short films that are in the 5 to 7 minutes range in total run time. Why? Because they can usually fit it in easily anywhere into the schedule.’  Unfortunately, Overwhelming Majority is 10:46.

-Programmers will read your cover letter
Evidently that’s one thing that set me apart, or helped explain my work, or gave insight into my film for one programming director.  And because it’s so rare, finding the one person who totally gets this film is great…especially when he’s the one who picks the films for the festival.  My cover letter’s description of central themes and inspirations helped him build a program around my film.  Also, that guy from above, who thought the term ‘experimental’ was just a mask for it being severely amateur, read my cover letter too, and mentioned it as another reason he rejected me.

Even other filmmakers I’ve talked to don’t have any special insight into submissions, they’re just as confused by the whole thing as I am, and they’re on their third or fourth film now.  And I sure don’t know why I got into the festivals I did, except that the programming directors that saw them liked them enough to include them.  So in conclusion, I really don’t know anything after all, but I’m slightly wiser going into the process and hopefully others will be as well.

edit: this is post #200!  Congrats to me.

Part One | Part Two

Film festival information, pt. 2

My film professor gave me a couple good pieces of advice when I started applying to film festivals:
Don’t use Without a Box, do use Film Freeway
-Write a cover letter with your submission
-Apply to niche festivals, stay away from the big ones

Armed with only that knowledge, I started submitting to festivals left and right (I also found some other good information along the way).  Here are other things I wish I had known or followed from the beginning:
-Get the best festival you can for your film’s world premiere (oops…now I know…)
-Know the festival opening dates and earlybird deadlines, and always submit by that earlybird deadline.  It saves money and increases the chances of acceptance, before festival programmers are too burned out to care
-Look professional: get a website together, social media, etc, even for a short film (or maybe especially for a short film, if you want to set yourself apart).  An IMDB page isn’t a bad idea, either.
-Apply to festivals where you have a connection, like it being your hometown or the state in which you’re currently residing (I can partly attest to the efficacy of this one: the only state that’s been interested in my film is Colorado.  Even Ohio festivals don’t want me…yet)
-Research the festivals before submitting, know what they play to see if yours is a good fit

I’m really not good at following that last one: too long, boring and I hate watching most of the films.  My solution was to throw money at the problem (sort of the shotgun approach), and hope some would accept me.  Now, this way does work, as I can attest, being accepted to a total of 6 film festivals as of this writing.  However, that’s 6 acceptances out of nearly 150 submissions, so I don’t really consider that the best acceptance rate.  And you will pay the price for that approach!  I’ve spent $1700 of my own money submitting to film festivals; remember I made the film for $1000 (and $200 of that was dedicated to submission fees, so really I’ve paid $1900 in submissions).  Hopefully I’ve learned something about which festivals to submit to in the future and will be able to not waste nearly as much money next time.

That said, with all the wondering about festivals that program mostly from films that did not pay submission fees, I can say with confidence that it is possible to get into film festivals from blind submissions.  It’s happened to me several times, I’m happy to say, and hopefully will again sooner rather than later.  But I do happen to know one co-programmer of a local festival, so nepotism has also worked to my advantage.  I even submitted to one festival through their website where the payment was supposed to be sent in separately through Paypal, which I neglected to do.  A month or so later, I got an email from the festival director inviting me to screen at their festival, if and only if I paid my submission fee.  There are all kinds of festivals out there with many ways of doing business, and whatever the circumstances under which my film is accepted, I for one ain’t gonna look a gift horse in the mouth.  I’ve contacted festivals about waivers, but usually only if they’re available to students or for local filmmakers.  Usually they’re only applicable if you live in that particular state, but if an Ohio festival offers a waived fee for current residents, I’ll send out an email to see if I’m eligible for anything as a native Ohioan who lived his first 23 years there.  Sometimes the festivals can be generous.

I still don’t know about the whole film festival process though.  Maybe it will be a good stepping stone to making features later on down the road and hopefully learning the hard way with a short or two will make it easier in the future.  Let me talk about Film Freeway for a second: it’s definitely a double-edged sword.  Film Freeway makes things super easy on the filmmaker, as all one has to do is make a project, upload a screener to their server, find festivals that are currently taking submissions, load up the shopping cart, and connect to Paypal.  Isn’t modern digital technology wonderful?  But just like how DSLRs enable filmmakers to make a movie easily and cheaply, so it is with festival submissions.  Now that everyone can do it, everyone and their dog is doing it, and flooding the market with shit mostly, making it that much harder to get noticed.  On every rejection letter I’ve got (and there have been a lot of those), they always talk about receiving a record number of submissions.  Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference in my case if 500 or 5000 films were submitted, but either way the competition is growing year by year, and from here it will just get harder to wedge your foot in the door.  Any way you can set yourself apart (aside from making a really good film) will help, which is why writing a cover letter is so important.  I’ve had one festival director mention my cover letter in accepting me to a festival, so I don’t know if I’d be there without it.

So does the cream still rise to the top?  My professors seem to think so.  I could wish for a few more (and more prestigious) festival acceptances.  And I know I’m biased, but I know I made a good film; it’s the singular work I’m most proud of so far.  So getting so many rejections really does bruise the ego (and maybe that’s another consequence of that shotgun approach I mentioned at the beginning).

After all that, I’m still doing pretty well, having played 6 festivals since May:
2016 UCCS Short Film Festival (won best experimental film)
2016 Blissfest333 (won best experimental film, nominated best documentary short)
2016 Southern Colorado Film Festival
2016 London International Documentary Festival
2017 Durango Independent Film Festival
2017 Wales International Documentary Festival

film-banner8b1I’ll just post this again since it’s a relevant picture.  Free advertising!

One of the things that might have hurt me slightly is that I didn’t get the best premiere.  Of course I wasn’t thinking that when I submitted to my school’s festival but no one cares about your regional university’s student film festival, whether it’s in its 16th year or not (and according to my film professor school festivals are ineligible for premieres, which means that technically my world premiere was Blissfest).  He thinks that with a better world premiere I would have got more acceptances, say if I had held off for LIDF, though I think for an international premiere, I did quite well (Prof says there’s no such thing as an international premiere, but I’d disagree based on the criteria of some of the different festivals to which I’ve submitted).  So is premiering at a large, prestigious festival better than winning awards like I did at the smaller festivals?  I can’t answer that.  As it stands though, even if my film professor says it isn’t eligible, my world premiere was at the 16th Annual UCCS Short Film Festival.

Through all of that, the good side is that every festival I attend is better than the last.  I’m finishing up writing this from the Durango Independent Film Festival which has been a great experience for me.  After wondering whether it’s worth it sometimes (especially having spent $1700 of my own money), the counter argument is being able to attend a good festival, where people want to see your film, colleagues want to connect with each other, and everybody is there to have fun.

Part One | Part Three

Film festival information, compiled

I’ve decided to compile all the things I’ve learned so far as I’ve gone through all the film festival submissions process.  I’ve been tracking this info down for a while now, and this is what I tell filmmakers when asked about applying to festivals.

Here are three sources that I found to be useful:
Film Festival Secrets – Christopher Holland
The Ultimate Film Festival Survival Guide – Chris Gore
Official Rejection, dir. Paul Osborne

Now one of the problems with those books and movies is that they all came out in 2009 and so are almost 10 years old now.  Information moves fast, and some of the stuff in there isn’t quite applicable.  That’s why there haven’t been any new books (or even new editions).  Supposedly, websites were supposed to take the place of these new books, giving us more up-to-date information.  To some extent, that’s true, as there are some good things to find online, however, Chris Gore’s Ultimatefilmfest.com (advertised in his book) isn’t there anymore, for one.  Christopher Holland’s Filmfestivalsecrets.com is still up, but I have no idea how long it’s been since it was last updated.

One of the problems I’ve found is that most of the information out there is directed towards people making feature films, and especially narrative feature films.  I made an experimental documentary short, and while the information I found was still applicable, it wasn’t directed at me.  So then, why write books, articles, etc toward helping people that have made a few shorts and are on to their first feature?  Why let people struggle through film festivals with a short and then give them information for taking their feature to festivals?

Here are some articles that I’ve found informative:

http://justshutupandshoot.blogspot.com/2013/12/my-definitive-list-o-recommended-film.html

http://therumpus.net/2016/05/the-great-film-festival-swindle/

https://stephenfollows.com/what-film-festival-directors-really-think/

http://reelplan.com/2016/06/01/the-other-sides-truths-about-film-festival-submission-fees/

http://www.raindance.org/worlds-top-short-film-festivals/

http://www.indiewire.com/2014/10/attention-filmmakers-heres-everything-you-need-to-know-about-film-festivals-68857/

http://www.moviemaker.com/archives/best_of/50-film-festivals-worth-the-entry-fee-2016/

A few of those websites have lots of past articles about festivals and have proven useful.

Part Two | Part Three

On the festival circuit

First, an updated banner.  As is evident, Overwhelming Majority is having a pretty favorable response so far.

film-banner-new1a

This sort of continues my Advanced Photo project.  Now the show’s on the road.  Here are a few pictures from Blissfest333 in August and the Southern Colorado Film Festival in October.

I’ve met some pretty cool people, had some good discussions, and seen some interesting films.  Can’t wait to see what’s next.