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

Completed

Well, I locked picture and sound today, a full 22 hours before the deadline for submitting to my school’s short film festival (not that anyone reading this is in Colorado Springs, but just in case, here).  So glad to be done with it, at long last.  There is still more to do, as I’m going to submit to film festivals (I allocated funds from my budget for this) but I don’t plan to start that process until next week.  Tomorrow I have a photography critique, then music composition jury, then I officially submit the film, then there is judging that night for the festival, which I will attend.  After that I’m going on a much-deserved 2-day vacation.

Film banner5d

May 1st, Overwhelming Majority will be unleashed on the world.

Edit: and nearly a day later, I decided I’d just remix a few things…just a few things…

We have picture!

Much to my surprise, all my super 8 footage is usable.  Here are a few screenshots just looking through the (very) big Quicktime file.

In fact, I wonder just what I’ve gotten myself into with these 4K log scans I got.  The above screenshots were much flatter, but I just brought them into Photoshop and added my standard still photography adjustments.  Now while evidently I can do somewhat the same taking video clips into Premiere or After Effects, it’s a steep learning curve for me and hasn’t been going too smoothly.  My only other option at the moment is to use the settings in Final Cut Pro X which are more rudimentary, with unsatisfying results.

I ended up sending my film to Pro8mm in California instead of my local stop, Cinemalab in Denver, which gave me more options than I needed, but also a better price all around.  Still I think that instead of 4K log scans, I’d have been better off with something that included their in-house color correction but I never asked how much that would cost.  I didn’t plan on using Pro8mm, but it turns out that Cinemalab, despite what they say on their website, does not offer super 8 processing.

So what will all this mean?  I suppose the final film won’t look quite as good as it has the potential to, honestly.  But then 20 years from now I can hire a professional to do the work for the re-release and charge you all more money to buy it.

A budget for super 8 film

AA026a
Some very kind donations/loans, a Canon 1014XL-S and 4 reels of film

I make a big deal here about motion picture film, talking about super 8, Kodak, and other things, quite a big deal considering I’ve never actually shot any myself.  That will change in the next coming weeks, thankfully.  I’ve made a few short films before, exclusively using my 35mm still cameras, have even posted two of them (here and here), and was planning on doing the same for this next project.  However, thanks to winning a grant from my university, I have an actual budget, with an increasing amount of it being dedicated to shooting on super 8 film.

I plan on keeping my shooting ratio as close as possible to 1:2, something I don’t necessarily know if I’ll be able to accomplish, but depending on how long the finished film ends up being, I’d like to see approximately 50% of the film ending up being super 8, the other half being 35mm stills, so for a ~15min film, say 6-7min or so.

Though I’ve read of plenty low-budget productions that have found it possible to shoot film, it gets a bit hard for no-budget projects.  If the option exists to borrow a DSLR from a friend, use school equipment, etc, that’s understandable.  It’s hard to argue for film when you have no money for it.  With a budget of $1000, I’m putting roughly 70% of that toward super 8 film and processing.  When there’s a will to shoot film, a way appears.  And it seems that once you’re over that initial hurdle, it gets easier.  The cost differences between 8mm processing/scanning vs. 16mm are very low, and most of the extra costs you incur come from longer film lengths in larger formats (50ft of super 8 film is equivalent time-wise to 100ft 16mm, etc).  It’s enough to make me wish I had access to a 16mm camera…maybe someday!

Colorado really is a film-user’s dream in some respects.  I found out in my research that there happens to be a full-service photochemical lab for motion picture film just up the road in Denver, so I don’t even have to send my film out of state.  I suppose they get a lot of business from the University of Colorado film school in Boulder, which by all accounts a great school (and headed up by director Alex Cox).  UCCS really is the baby brother here.  In addition to this, all of Kodak’s 8mm and 16mm film is slit in a facility near Fort Collins; pretty neat.  I’m proud to be able to finally take part in this rich Colorado film history.