So, my short film Baggage has gotten into a handful of festivals around the country, and since I’m sort of in a “Hey! Why not?” point in my life, I figured I’d try to travel to a few of them. The result has been a really interesting and rewarding experience—a chance to see cool places, meet new people, and watch a lot of movies.
As such, I thought it might be interesting to ruminate on all my festival experiences thus far. You know, sort of compile my thoughts (what I learned, what I noticed) in blog friendly form. Well, since this is the internet, that means a list. So, without further adieu, the top five things film festivals taught me! *cue trumpet regalia*
Stick to the Small Guys
Okay, this piece of advice won’t apply to everyone, but when looking at the gazillions of festivals listed on withoutabox, avoid the household names. Specifically, I’m talking Sundance. At the fests, every filmmaker I talked to—every single one—submitted their film to Sundance. Every damn one. Not a single one of them got in. You do the math. This isn’t to say that these filmmakers didn’t make good movies or weren’t talented—most of them did and are. It’s just that the odds are so stacked against you when it comes to Park City’s fest (you have better odds of being accepted into Harvard), that it just doesn’t seem worth the effort. I say save the money you might spend on Sundance, Cannes, and Toronto (and to a lesser extent, Slamdance and SXSW), and put it towards four or five other solid fests that offer a good festival experience (I can’t say enough good things about the Sedona International Film Festival). Which brings me to the next thing I learned…
Find Festivals that Match your Movie
Baggage is a heartwarming (some might say “cheesy”) romantic comedy. In turn, it just doesn’t play well with the younger, cynical set. Full disclosure: I got rejected from a lot of those “cool,” indie festivals that have that starving artist vibe. Not to mention, the East Coast sort of hates my movie (I’ve been rejected from every local DC-area festival I applied to). But, on the positive side, I got accepted to a lot of other places that wanted to feature more feel-good stuff. I also specifically chose festivals that prominently stated up-front a desire to provide filmmakers with a solid festival experience: Dam Short Film Fest, Festivus, Omaha, Sedona. They all do that. By looking at your film objectively—and I mean really objectively—you can eliminate about 80% of the festivals listed on withoutabox. Your pride (and wallet) will thank you.
Talk to People
If you’re going to festivals, talk to as many people as you can. Shake hands. Schmooze. Kibitz. Odds are that you’re not going to walk away from a small film festival with a three picture deal from a Hollywood studio. So, instead, use the opportunity to talk to other filmmakers—find out how they made their movies, how they funded them, how the accomplished those crazy effects shots. Ask them what their budgets were, how they found their actors—ask them about every damn thing you could ever think of. You see, I’ve discovered that us filmmakers love to talk about making films (crazy, huh?) So, use festivals as a sort of creative brain trust to learn and grow. And, if somebody blows you off, they were probably a douche anyway.
Everyone is Talented
Well, not, everyone, but you get the gist of what I’m saying. At every festival I’ve attended, there’s been more than a handful of films that blew me away, whether it be through story, style, use of effects, etc. (on the flip side I saw some real crap too). But, in general, there’s a lot of great stuff being made all around the world—something that my time as a writer for Short of the Week taught me rather quickly. I find all this amazing quality of content downright inspiring. It makes me want to make better stuff, to write better, to shoot better, to edit better. Festivals show you where you stand amongst your peers—how your stuff stacks up and where you need to go next to keep improving. It takes the filmmaking process out of your own personal vacuum, and let me tell ya’, that’s a very good thing.
Sort of obvious, right? If possible, go to as many festivals as you can. Not only do you get to see your movie play on a big screen (every filmmaker’s dream), you get cool swag and the chance to hang with like-minded guys and gals. Plus, you know, free food. 🙂