The Biggest Little Thing
No one goes into the world as a filmmaker saying they’ll be the best little thing out there. Most go in with the highest of hopes and dreams wishing to make it big. I mean, how many times have you compared your work to David Fincher, Quentin Tarantino, or even Steven Spielberg? Come on, now – we’re all guilty. We love these directors (or don’t .. but if you don’t, you probably have another director that you worship. Just look at the posters around your room. You’ll get the idea, pretty quick).
For some, Hollywood is a pipe dream without a lifeline of hope. No really… that’s the truth… but aside from the masochistic reciprocation of the Hollywood machine that keeps you out of the spotlight and out of getting your film seen by an audience, there’s a drive that makes you want more: You love film! – And there is a way to get your film in front of the right audience without breaking your bank… or your fists.
While they used to be smaller, more exclusive, film festivals are becoming a revamped and energized distribution platform. We all know the big ones… and while they’re exclusivity is as stunning as the elaborate spectacle they hold, there are reasons to avoid them: much like the studio system, they become a political machine that makes you as queasy as those pesky campaign ads from your neighbor seeking to be the next President of the PTA… or even worse mayor!
The chance is you probably have come across some festivals out there that take your money and don’t even give you feedback on your film. How do you expect to grow from that? Or even worse, how do you know what your niche is? It’s said that you’re defined by your last film and in some cases your next project. But if you don’t know the ends, how can anyone, including yourself, be able to evaluate what that next stepping stone is exactly in your career? Time is money. Making a film requires money. And distributing a film eats up money. It’s as simple as that. So instead of banking on whether your film will be the next Fincher, Tarantino, or Spielberg blockbuster, the best investment in your film, really is YOU!
There’s a reason that the studio system died out – it’s archaic and greedy. And, no doubt, where there’s money there’s greed. Welcome to Hollywood, right?!
The truth is…just like any story, there is a hero, an antithesis to the devil that is distribution. Smaller film festivals, even ones with a simple bar and screen as venue, will get your film in front of an audience (depending on your film this may play to your favor) – some even provide feedback and take the time to view every single submission no matter what the cost. Those are the festivals that are spending their time on you. They make you a star, even when you aren’t one. There’s no better feeling than that, especially when you get your laurels knowing that someone actually looked at your work and helped you and your crew along your journey. So don’t ignore them. Look for the film festivals that give you an opportunity to experience growth. Distributing your film is an investment… an investment of critique and evaluation.
If you don’t know if a festival is worth it, here’s a list of tips to ask a festival director… and make sure you do:
Does the film festival give feedback?
This let’s you know that they actually have viewed your film in its context. Be prepared for criticism, because that’s going to help you… not just as a person, but as a filmmaker.
Does the festival have a venue?
Several seemingly large film festivals actually award every film in their category. This is a red flag when it comes to choosing your festival distribution plan. When it comes to competition, there’s a clear winner and the internet is not a venue where you can invite your friends and sit down and experience a film you just financed for $5,000+ and talk about what worked and what didn’t. While platforms may be more digital, there’s still a nostalgia that is escaping into the comfort of your seat and hearing other people react to what they see on the screen. In fact, there’s no better feeling that watching this happen!
What is the film festival’s acceptance rate?
This one you’ll be able to figure out quickly. Take a look at their program or even their mission statement form previous years. The Greenville International Film Festival, for example, operates with an acceptance rate around %25. That means your film has a higher chance of being seen – 1 in about 4 films. While this may vary from festivals, your distribution investment is just as important to consider, when it comes to film festivals considering you. Don’t think for one second that just because you’re a filmmaker, that you also don’t hold cards. You’ve got a film and BIG idea!
What do filmmakers say about the festival?
This is a big one… film festivals need to have just as much clout as you do. You’re in the entertainment business together. It’s business and, yes, it’s personal. You can see the list of winners and chances are they’re accessible via twitter and facebook. So make a connection and ask!
Now that you have these tips… put your film out there. If you haven’t made one, make one. If you need to structure your film for that, but don’t sacrifice your voice and vision. Film festivals want a film that’s as unique and complete as you are. They aren’t looking for Fincher, Tarantino, or Spielberg. They’re looking for you… and you may be the biggest little thing out there!