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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

2 Questions for indie filmmakers & festivals re: Festivals & Money

Two Questions Re: Film Festivals & Money:

1. Should film festivals share some of their ticket sales $s for a given screening with the maker(s) of the film being screened?
- Since the vast majority of films that play festivals do not win awards or get a distribution deal because of the film festival screening, shouldn't at least some of the $s being made by the fest through a given film belong to the makers of that film? I think that would be fair (a lot of work goes into making a movie).

2. What are the festivals that currently give film makers a share of the ticket sales $s?

Let me know if you have any comments & thoughts on these two items.

Thanks a lot!

Sujewa
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35 comments:

Caveh said...

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The Sujewa said...

Thanks for the quick response Caveh.

Sujewa
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amir motlagh the humanzee said...

1. yesssssssssssssssssss
2. i dont know of any that do

The Sujewa said...

Thanks for your thoughts Mr. Amir.

I remember reading about at least 1 such fest that shares ticket sales w/ filmmakers, will have to research it.

If this does not exist yet, this may have to be the film festivals version 2.0. 'cause I think filmmakers will get tired of handing over expensive products for free.

sujewa
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Jacky Treehorn said...

Hell Yea! I wonder though, if Indie film fest Orgs. will run some of that infamous 'Hollywood Accounting' saying there is no money left after all expenses were paid..? :)

LC

Anonymous said...

This is a tricky question, and one I'm not sure I can provide a full answer to here. But some thoughts . . .

I think that the festival landscape has changed significantly in recent years. There are, by some accounts, over 600 fests around the US right now. And for many films, those fests are the only "distribution" that they will see.

It's also true that only a handful of these fests attract any significant "industry" presence (more on that in a bit). The "dream" of the big money acquisition is only even possible (and still unlikely) at that small group of high-prestige fests.

So why show at fests at all?

Because, as filmmakers, we want our work seen by audiences. This is what fests, all fests, do best. They connect audiences with films that they wouldn't otherwise have a chance to see.

But, as fests multiply, it certainly becomes reasonable for filmmakers to want, at the very least, to not LOSE money on their fest experience.

The way my fest approaches this is to offer every feature filmmaker that we accept full travel, food and lodging expenses. Very few US fests do this. And almost NO fest will admit to paying screening fees for some films. But almost all do.

So, what to do? How to balance the playing field and give films that are "festival favorites" but don't receive any sort of official release a chance to make back even a part of their budget on the fest circuit?

Using a recent conversation with a hard-travelling filmmaker with a very popular fest film (now in the early stages of DIY rollout), he attended 70 festivals in the last year. Now, travel aside, what if each of these fests had paid $150 each as a screening fee.

That works out to $10,500. Now, that's not a ton of money compared to a film budget. But it's certainly a start.

And what does that mean for the fests? Let's say I'm a week long fest that shows 100 features and does 20,000 in tickets (at an average of $8 a pop). My budget for the fest is probably about $300,000. So now I've added $16,000 to that budget that I have to come up with. As the director of the fest, can I do it? Maybe. Maybe I can do it for half my films or two thirds. Certainly there shouldn't be any expenses more important than those that surround what the fest is based on.

However, even at a small fest, there are certainly indirect benefits (and some direct ones) that go far beyond just making some cash. So how to balance out what the fests can handle with the changing face of festival exhibition?

First of all, I think that some filmmakers submit to, and screen at, far too many fests. What that number is will vary from film to film and personality to personality. But just sending a tape off to some fest is rarely going to do much for you or the film (other than hit a few more eyeballs).

I might suggest that most filmmakers adopt a certain number of fests and screenings that they are excited about and committed to. For these, there are benefits (again, varying with the individual maker and project) that make screening fees unneccessary. But after these fests (and I would think that this number would usually be between 5 and 10), the makers would ask for travel or a screening fee from any additional fests.

And then you make exceptions. Because there will always be small scrappy festivals that LOVE your film, and don't have any money and will work to build a large and enthusiastic audience and treat the film and you as well as they can.

Ok, that's a whole shit-ton of commenting. If you want to see what my fest is all about you can go to http://www.truefalse.org . . And, for the record, we pay all travel costs (including food and lodging) for all of our feature filmmakers. And we help as much as we can with shorts.

david wilson
true/false film festival

The Sujewa said...

Hey LC,

Hmmm, entirely possible. And I am sure it can be expensive to put on a fest. Filmmakers who attend their own screenings can check up on how many peeps come to their shows. Filmmakers & the fests can have an agreement, no matter what, maybe from gross $s, a certain percentage (25%?) gets paid to the filmmakers. 'cause fests can make $s through sponsors, festival entrace fees, merch, etc. also. I am only talking about filmmakers getting a share of the $s from each screening of their films only.
The goal is not to put fests out of business but to try to get filmmakers some cash (only fair, 'cause: no indie films = no indie film fests) from screenings of their work.

Sujewa
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The Sujewa said...

Hey David "T/F" W!,

Thanks a lot for the comments. Very useful in thinking about this issue. And specially important to get the perspective of a festival organizer.

I think by the time most indie filmmakers get to the festival stage they are beyond strapped for cash from the production period. I think even making an extra $100 would be a big plus. That 70 fest/$10K plus speculation you mentioned is certainly something worthwhile to think about. Making $10K while in festival stage can make the whole lo-budget indie film production & distribution enterprise a lot more bareable to a lot of filmmakers, I think.

It's cool that T/F fest takes good care of its filmmakers.

Talk to you soon.

Sujewa
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Blake Calhoun said...

Most filmmakers would probably like this, but realistically it doesn't make much business sense on the part of the festival.

There are waaaaay more films looking to screen than there are festivals looking to accept them (and there are a ton of festivals). So they have no incentive to do this - and as a matter of fact (as you know) most CHARGE to even enter. So we as filmmakers are already eager and willing to pour cash at festivals for an opportunity to screen - why would they need to pay us or revenue share?

The best thing is when your film is "invited" to screen (from word of mouth, etc.) then you don't have to pay a submission fee and often get travel expenses covered.

Would it be nice to reap some revenue from your film's festival screenings? Sure. But not likely a reality in the current over populated film festival market.

My two cents,
Blake

The Sujewa said...

Hey Blake,

Thanks for the comments. I think paying the submission fee to a fest is totally cool, peeps have to take time out to watch the hundreds of movies, that costs money.

I see more filmmakers getting paid from festival screenings in the future. As festival organizer David Wilson mentioned in a comment above, this already happens informally at this point, in some cases.

Precisely the fact that there are a lot of festivals now is the reason why some festivals may start offering revenue shares to filmmakers. If I have the choice of playing my movie in two festivals/attending two festivals on the same day, I am likely to go w/ the one that pays more cash (unless there is some other overwhelming reason like activism, etc.).

When I find the website for that 1 fest that pays filmmakers I'll post it here.

Nothing is fixed, things that we want can be made to happen.

Sujewa
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David Lowery said...

The Dallas Video Festival pays filmmakers a portion of the proceeds. That's the only one I've ever been aware of.

When we were on the festival circuit with Deadroom last year, we never received any fees, but at a few of them we DID get things like free hotel rooms, free food, etc. Which, when you're travelling with a film, is as good as getting paid.

Oh, and free alcohol. Every film festival seems to be sponsored by some brand of vodka.

The Sujewa said...

Re: David Lowery's comment:
"The Dallas Video Festival pays filmmakers a portion of the proceeds."

Go Dallas Vid Fest! You've just been moved to the top of my "festivals to consider" list.

Sujewa
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Blake Calhoun said...

Didn't realize that was the case at the Dallas Video Festival... cool. I've never had a film screen there, but I know lots of folks who have. They tend to play more experimental stuff and lots of docs.

BTW, I know the festival organizer if you need any "help" with an entry Sujewa. I actually live three blocks from where the event takes place. :)

-Blake

The Sujewa said...

hey blake,

there ya go:), a perfect example of being able to make desired things happen (u being in a position to "help" me w/ a fest). i think, as filmmakers & active media people, we may have more ability then we realize. after u see my new flick, if u dig it, feel free to mention it to your friend. all assistance will be much appreciated.

if i get into that fest one of these years, we can hang when i come to play.

later on.

sujewa
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Doug Block said...

Good discussion, Sujewa. David Wilson's comments were right on the money (so to speak). And he mentioned something very important - asking for a screening fee.

Just about all the festivals my film, 51 Birch Street, has been invited to understand that doing the festival circuit is like a non-paying full time job, and then some. Most will pay screening fees IF YOU ASK. At the very least, they'll try to reimburse me for the cost of an additional PAL or NTSC DigiBeta, Beta SP or HDCAM that I invariably have to dub off.

I've been getting screening fees anywhere from $100 to $750 (European festivals tend to go higher).

As far as % of box office, the only one I know that does it is a little known festival in New Zealand called Aukland and Wellington (Bill Gosden is the Director). They offer a tour with the filmmaker getting 25% of the box office, with a healthy minimum guarantee.

The Sujewa said...

Excellent info.Doug, thanks a lot.

Sujewa
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BNewmanSBoard said...

All good comments, but as a former festival person (Atlanta) I can say that this is tough. European fests pay rentals, but most of them have state support, which very few US festivals have. Most regional film festivals are barely hanging in there as is, and I know that our budget couldn't allow for splitting the proceeds. We occasionally rented foreign films, but no domestic films. We did try to bring in all competition filmmakers, and as many of the rest that we could and out them up for free. Many fests will work with you on this, and both of you benefit. You don't lose money on the fest, and the fest gets a good Q&A and possibly a panel.

That said, the gay & lesbian film circuit is completely different. At IMAGE, we also ran Out On Film, the LGBT fest of Atlanta, and there we paid for almost every film. The LGBT filmmakers have done a much better job of organizing and saying "you've gotta pay me." But the LGBT audience is also much more devoted - I could count on filling up more screenings there as well.

For most films, the fest tour is their only theatrical. But remember gang, most filmmakers that get distribution don't make money on their theatrical tour, and hope to recoup it in DVD sales. As I've written elsewhere, I think most filmmakers should be honest that they won't get a distributor, and use their fest tour to promote and sell their DVDs. One could make more money this way (as long as you only went to fests that paid for your travel and hotel) than most do with a distributor.

Many fests do exist to help filmmakers, but they also exist to help their local audiences. In many towns, none of these films (even the indiewood ones) would ever play. I'd rather see the two worlds work together to devise a solution that helps filmmakers make a living without over-burdening the fests.

Last comment - the fests that can most afford to pay - all the big ones - will never do it, because they know that filmmakers need them. If someone wants to start pushing for fests to pay, let's see Sundance , Toronto and Tribeca start before Atlanta or Cleveland!

Josh Boelter said...

Even a little bit of money would be appreciated. As you said, most filmmakers are already in debt by the time they get to the festival circuit. Every little bit helps. But I tend to agree with Blake that there's not a lot of incentive for most fests to do this since they have such a large pool of films from which to choose.

The Sujewa said...

Thanks for your thoughts Brian. Playing your movie in a big name festival may be very useful even if they don't pay, since being associated w/ that fest can be a useful marketing item. And by big I mean the 10-20 most recognized fests in the world. For the hundreds of smaller fests, a different approach may be warranted.

Your idea about selling DVDs at festivals is a good one. I am going to try to do it.

I am lightly planning a festival at this point (not sure when it will happen, will know once Date Number One distribution phase 1 is in full swing - maybe by July or so) and at my fest I plan on sharing ticket revenue $s w/ the filmmakers. This fest of mine will definitely happen in'06 or '07.

The way I see it, a festival is like a theatrical engagement. Theaters that book films have to pay something to the owners of the film (in the case of indie filmmakers, its the filmmakers themselves),and theaters are for the most part for-profit venutures that do not get the breaks a non-profit community event such as a regional fest would get, so I do not think it is too much to ask that fests pay filmmakers something FROM THE MONEY MADE BY SCREENING THEIR FILMS (not through fest merch, sponsor $s, etc.). Of course flexibility is required on both sides. The goal is to make it possible for festivals to exist & grow while filmmakers receive some of the revenue that should be theirs, in my opinion.

The situation that u mentioned w/ the Gay & Lesbian film fest is promising. Perhaps a good model for the rest of us indie filmmakers.

Festivals are popular, and at least here in DC, well attended, as far as I can tell. Some of the revenue generated from these fests should belong to the makers of the content.

But we'll see how it goes. All money issues aside, it is a thrill, I am sure, just to be able to participate in a fest.

It is also a thrill to be able to pay some of your bills from cash that comes from all the work you have done,and will be doing (work that benefits both u & the fest, such as showing up @ the fest, doing press, etc.).

Thanks again for the comments. They have been entered into my head calculator :) for future use.

Sujewa
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Chris Hansen said...

Hey Blake -- re: Dallas Vid Fest... I just sent off my film to them, so if you wanna put in a good word for me, go right ahead.

;-)

Chris

The Sujewa said...

Hey Josh B,

Thanks for the comment. I think the next "generation" of indie filmmakrs will be blog savvy & DIY distro savy, much more then the current generation/our current peers. These two aspects of the scene will affect festivals & all other existing elements of the industry. Por ejemplo - if a filmmaker shows her film to fellow indie film bloggers even before she start submitting to festivals, & the blog reviews are good, that may certainly be a factor in how badly a fest wants her movie. If a fest wants a movie bad enough, I am sure they will accomodate the filmmaker through screening fees, etc.

Also, don't forget, any filmmaker can rent a screening venue & show their film in a town that has a fest going on, around the same time that a fest is going on and possibly benefit from the crowd & the general indie film awarenss the fest generates, even though that filmmaker is not an official part of the fest. That's DIY distro playing a role in fest culture.

Indie film is essentially a relatively under developed DIY media making arena in the US (relative to indie music let's say). I see it getting more developed very soon, as traditional distro makes less & less room for indies, indie filmmakers will take on DIY distro & will innovate, blogs will help. This conversation itself would not have happened 5 years ago, since I bet very few us were blogging at that time.

Sujewa
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Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Hey, Sujewa--

Great piece. You opened up a hell of a can of worms and I hope more good info comes out of it. Frankly, even now, after a fairly long time as a critic (and more recently, filmmaker) I still don't know very much about how festivals operate. But anecdotally I have gathered that even the ones that appear outwardly healthy might be hanging together with spit and baling wire -- though hopefully they're professional enough that the behind-the-scenes scrambling doesn't become apparent to guests or ticket buyers. You're right that the fests wouldn't exist without indie filmmakers, but there's a pretty good tradeoff: even if you don't get into a fest where there's a lot of buying action (and that's most festivals) you still get the equivalent of free (or relatively cheap) focus group screenings, a chance to see how it plays with an audience. That alone seems worth the bother.

I am curious, though, about the notion of cutting down one's festival submissions and targeting fests that might be amenable. While there are some obvious candidates to rule out (no sense submitting a slasher picture to a religious film fest, for instance) the more general fests don't give you guidelines to make such a call. And in fact, on a few occasions I and other filmmakers I know have called particular festivals to ask this very question (i.e., what are the odds that if I drop $50, I might actually get accepted?) and the answer has been, "Go ahead and submit! You never know!" I'd suspect that no general interest festival would discourage anybody from submitting anything sight unseen (because they need the cash, and also they don't want to turn down a film they might end up accepting), so I'm not sure what, if anything to believe here.

More grist for the mill.

David Lowery said...

Heh, the organizer of the Dallas Video Festival might acutally be making an appearance in a film I'm shooting this weekend. I'll drop some names...

The Sujewa said...

Cool deal Mr. Lowery. If you can, please ask The DVF Organizer to e-mail me, I'd like to interview that person about the fest, since it appears that what that fest does is fairly unusual/unique (paying filmmakers openly). Thanksalot!

Sujewa
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The Sujewa said...

Hey Matt,

Nice to see you here. Yeah, I bet some fests are not well financed. But thinking about a filmmaker revenue share may be a part of the solution: If my film is going to pay a fest, at let's say a venue that holds like 200 people (the old armory/show venue here in Kensington holds 300+, and when i do my lo-budget fest i'll probably use itif i can, cheap & cool, nice venue), anyway, if my films gonna play at a venue that holds 200 and I am getting 25% of the ticket sales, then I will hustle extra hard to make sure the event is a sell out, there is a very useful financial incentive there (like josh boelter said earlier, at the end of the production phase, i think most indie filmmakers are hurting for cash).

Lots of great ideas & opinions being expressed here. Very healthy to talk about the issue & think about it, I think.

Film festivals play an excellent & positive role in an increasingly big corporate culture obsessed with big money, festivals make cool little films, also little but important films, accessible to ordinary people. I am all for further growth of film festivals.

At the same time, as a filmmaker, I like the idea of some of the revenue being generated by my film coming back to me. That being said, I am not going to turn down any festivals that can't pay but wants to play my movie, generally speaking. But when festivals are or seem financially healthy, it is cool to ask: "hmmm, should some of that money that you guys are making off my flick be mine" :)

one of the possible positive outcomes of this line of thinking is greater self-sufficiency for indie filmmakers. we are going to/we want to play festivals no matter what, so no harm in seeing if that activity can also be a source of revenue. specially when we have sacrificed much/worked hard to get the movie made. w/out our movies there would be no fests. however, the reverse may not be true 'cause if filmmakers want to put on a fest, they can make it happen, because they/we already have the content for the event.

perhaps filmmakr produced/revenue sharing festivals will come into play in the future. as opposed to non-filmmaker produced/non-paying festivals.

Thanks a lot for the thoughts & also pointing to this entry at the House Next Door blog.

Sujewa
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Agnes Varnum said...

Hey Sujewa: Of all the festival folks I know, all of them are trying to help filmmakers at least collectively. David's comments were great because he was specific - I challenge you to 4-wall a film (even a couple of filmmakers getting together and splitting it). Getting an audience and making back your money will be a challenge, and you will have new appreciation for the issues festival organizers are dealing with. (I planned and executed a small film festival my last year of college...)

But what about not putting yourself in debt to make your film? You aren't addressing why, if you can't make back your investment, you've dropped in your own cash? I know this is a somewhat loaded question and I'm guilty of it too. I wish that we could put some energy into coming up with creative funding ideas - that way, if your film is paid for upon completion and all the festivals you attend pay for your expenses, you are in "the black" at the very least.

The Sujewa said...

Hey Agnes,

Thanks for the comment.

I have four walled films and not lost money.

In May I am four-walling the new film in Seattle. Looking forward to it. I like four-walling due to the relative ease with which the event can be set up, the overall simplicity in the arrangement, the clear understanding on who is responsible for what, prompt pay of any monies due, the not needing to wait around for others to make decisions about distro or fest play, etc. The whole DIY aspect of it is very appealing to me.

However, for longer(more than a week let's say) & wider(multiple cities, near simultaneously) distro, bookings would be more managable/affordable than four-walling.

On my current film it won't be too difficult/won't take too long to make back the money spent on it. The budget is less than $10K.

There are other filmmakers, such as Joe Swanberg, who make movies for even less (two films for less than 5K each as far as I know), those projects should be "in the black" fairly quickly after distribution begins (depending on DVD prices, amount of distro & publicity work being done).

There are some indie films that can't be made for the amounts listed above, yet the makers believe the films must be made, thus they may go into serious debt.

Putting self in a little bit of debt (if u must) to make a film is OK- totally cool w/ me. Shows that u believe in your project, want to make it no matter what. Of course there is debt & then there is DEBT.
I would not recommend unmanagable debt.

I've produced a couple of screenings where 50% of the ticket sales vent to the filmmakers. I am producing 2 events (@ Capital City Microcinema - see LINKS @ http://www.wilddiner.com/) April/Kelley Baker, May/David Lowery, where 50% of the ticket sales go to filmmakers.

Even if you have 0 debt when you finish your film, the festival & start of distro adds new expenses, u will have to take time away from day jobs & other work, activities.

Ultimately it will come down to: are the films that the film festivals are based on important enough for festivals to think about paying the makers of the films some of the revenue earned through the event?

As many have described ahove, there are other benefits to filmmakers playing a fest, other then cash. Retaining those benefits & sharing $s w/ filmmakers from screenings held @ financially healthy screenings can be a new level in development in festivals.

This may be similar to filmmakers paying cast & crew on their projects. Perhaps on the first & second features the filmmakers can't pay, cast & crew get credits & a copy of the work. But if the filmmakers keeps making movies & makes money on those movies, then they must take into account the fact that the cast & crew are essential to the projects & share some of the revenue or pay beforehand those essential elements of the project.

So, if a fest is just getting started, them not paying the filmmakers is cool I guess. But if the fest is a regular annual thing & they are doing well ticket sales, merch, sponsors wise, I think that's time to start paying some cash to the filmmakers.

Talk to you soon Agnes.

Sujewa
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The Sujewa said...

Here's the URL to Matt Zoller Seitz's post re: the discussion here:
http://mattzollerseitz.blogspot.com/2006/03/festival-business_114377364990537664.html

And here's his latest comment re: this subject (made @ his blog, in response to a long comment a Sundance fest attended filmmaker made about that experience, go read it):

Matt Zoller Seitz said...
PS -- Nobody picked up a bar tab for me at a festival, but like someone said over on Sujewa's thread, the parties always seem to be sponsored.

All in all, though, things like this don't really make a dent in the cost of making a feature, which in our case has been somewhere between ten and twenty thousand dollars. If we hadn't been able to convince private investors to kick in for the second leg of shooting and for postproduction, the movie never would have gotten finished, much less submitted or shown. The more I chew over this, the more sense Sujewa makes -- particularly with regard to how a cut of ticket sales would motivate filmmakers to think of themselves as partners in the process rather than guests. (See his comment thread for a better explanation, I'm paraphrasing.)

3/31/2006 4:29 AM

Matt Zoller Seitz said...

Agnes asks, "But what about not putting yourself in debt to make your film? You aren't addressing why, if you can't make back your investment, you've dropped in your own cash?"

Good question. Is it okay to answer, "It's a compulsion?" Because that's what it is for me. Before embarking on this process, I asked several no-budget indie filmmakers for tips, and they all said, "Don't do it. Without a star or serious distributor/festival connections, you're going to face an uphill battle, even if you do get the movie done, which is highly unlikely." I didn't listen, and my story is one of the few with a relatively happy ending; we played medium sized and small fests, we had a New York theatrical run, and we're going to on video with a reputable commercial distributor in the summer. But it took four years and a lot of money, and I undertook it knowing full well what all the downsides were (I knew because I had written numerous profiles of people who did exactly the same thing as me, and for some of them, the process ended in disaster).

Recently several different friends made the circle complete by asking for pointers. I said pretty much the same thing = this is an incredibly tough way to go, much tougher than when Kevin Smith, Linklater and Rose Troche had their now-legendary breakthroughs over a decade ago, because there are so many more features in the marketplace, many of them superb. So think long and hard about whether you even want to go there, particularly with your own money. I have never been able to talk any of them out of it. They have that Mel Gibson gleam in their eyes. They've already decided to do it, that theirs will be one of the success stories, and they don't want to be dissuaded, they want to be cheered on. So what can you do besides get out your pom=poms and shake 'em?

The Sujewa said...

Nice post Matt. I'd say that gleam in the eyes, that irrational abusurd foolishness that makes indie filmmakers decide, decade after decade after decade, no matter how long the odds that they will triumph, is the reason this whole field of activities - indie filmmaking, exists, and also the reason that indie film fests exist. no indie films = no indie film festivals.

sujewa
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Doug Block said...

It's funny, Matt, my first film, The Heck With Hollywood!, released in 1991, was about that very subject. Followed 3 first-time indie filmmakers as they set out to make and find disribution for their credit card-funded masterpieces. That gleam has only grown stronger over the years.

Indie filmmaking has always been a very Darwinian experience, and digital camcorders and Final Cut Pro have only made it moreso. I do think, in the end, that the cream still rises to the top, but it has to creep through a lot of sludge to get there.

Chris Hansen said...

Doug -- I've seen your film! I thought it was excellent, and I recommended it to my students to show them how hard the process is and how dedicated they have to be.

David Lowery said...

Doug, for some reason I didn't connect you with The Heck With Hollywood when I watched 51 Birch Street the other week. It made an indelible impression on me when I was 12 or 13 or so, and just beginning to understand what independent filmmaking was. In a lot of ways, you may be responsible for the path my life is currently taking!

Matt Riviera said...

Hi everyone, just discovered this wonderful blog through House Next Door's link to this post.

I've run the Commonwealth Film Festival in Manchester (UK) for four years (250 films, 4 screens, 10 days), and now run a series of small fests in Sydney Australia. Here are my two cents:

- The economics of small and medium-sized film festivals are often poorly understood.

The increase in the number of film festivals has nothing to do with the revenue potential of this 'business', but rather with the self-implosion of the arthouse distribution system. Festival organisers are stepping into the breach left by the closure of indie distributors and indie cinemas, mostly because of an all-consuming passion for cinema.

We're not in it for the money. Mostly we struggle month after month to make ends meet. Festivals are usually set up as non-profit organisations and run by volunteers.

Sound familiar? That's because indie filmmakers have been operating with the same motivation for years, making work out of nothing. We are all in the same boat and should be working together. Rather than try to extract cash from eachother (through submission fees for fests, or through a share of box office for filmmakers), we should lobby distributors to give filmmakers a fair deal, and governements to subsidise their exhibition sector (as happens in Europe).

- The festivals I've been involved with go out of their way to cover travel and hotel expenses for filmmakers to attend. We provide other things of value: networking opportunities, pitching workshops, a chance to meet with buyers, mentoring opportunities and the chance to meet the audience. Many festivals also offer substantial cash prizes through juried or audience awards. Also, at all the festivals I've worked on we've made it our policy not to charge a submission fee. The idea is to keep the financial burden off the filmmaker's shoulders.

Finally a few tips for filmmakers:
- do sell your DVD's at the event, or better still, use the festival as a word-of-mouth and press platform to launch a city-specific self-distribution operation for your film.
- if you want a cut of the box-office, show that you know what the economics of the screenings are and ask for a cut of the net profit (after venue hire). Alternatively, you can ask for a rental fee for any repeat screening: if a festival's doing repeat screenings, this is more akin to a distribution model, and you deserve some of the proceeds.
- as a programmer I've ALWAYS welcomed the chance to talk to filmmakers before they submit a film. We have to sit through 1000's of submissions, often stuff that is ineligible or unlikely to fit with our programming criteria. Of course I can't tell you if I'll select the film or not, but I will tell you what I'm looking for for that year's program, and I can verify with you that your film is indeed eligible.
- Do your research: some festivals do pay a fee to filmmakers, which is great. But I'd also be weary of a festival which needs to pay to attract submissions: this could also mean that they're not able to deliver the sort of platform that filmmakers actually find useful.

Remember that most festivals have the same goal as indie filmmakers: to improve the distribution chances for quality indie cinema. Working together as non-profit entities with similar objectives seems crucial if we're to make any headway.

The Sujewa said...

Thanks for the comments Matt. Lots of ideas in there, stuff to think about. Sounds like there are lots of festivals that are struggling financially, but I also know that there are festivals that do well w/ the $s also. So I guess the approach to a fest would have to depend on several factors, including how well they're doing & how badly they want your film & of course if they need your film or whether if another fest a better fit for your film. Selling DVDs at fest screenings & using the fest screening for further distro work in a given city are two very good ideas.

- Sujewa