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by Laurie Kirby
April 1, 2014 3:13 PM
43 Comments
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10 Things Every Film Festival Wants Filmmakers to Know

International Film Festival at Rotterdam

Although the viewpoint from filmmakers is that festival programming is as opaque as midnight fog, it is assuredly not the case when you speak to the festivals. They may be gatekeepers but they definitely do not want to lock you out of the process. To build a bridge between programmers & filmmakers, I offer some insights that I have gleaned from years of managing film festivals, programming the International Film Festival Summit and speaking to hundreds of programmers and festival directors.

1. Programmers love filmmakers. They want to discover your film because it is good for their festivals, not to mention their egos. One well known programmer revealed she views each premiere screening as potentially finding the next "Fruitvale Station."

2. Don’t tell every festival you are waiting to hear from Sundance. It's a bit like saying you’ll go on a date if your first choice says 'no.' Virtually every filmmaker believes that Sundance is the Holy Grail. Yet, filmmakers often have better audiences in regional festivals that embrace the film. Better to premiere at Austin Film Festival than be lost in a larger event. Surf movies do well in Maui, according to filmmaker Sam George, and garner a lot of media attention. This is particularly true for documentary filmmakers and genre festivals. For example, buyers do attend LGBT festivals looking for product to acquire.

Laurie Kirby

3. There is no conspiracy against you. As much as filmmakers like to believe, there is no payola, payoff, conspiracy or edict against your film by the festivals. If you didn't get it in, please don't assume this. There are a multitude of reasons it may not be chosen. Don't get paranoid about it.

4. Festival programming is a balancing act. Festival programmers have to balance a lot of competing interests. Distributors, audiences, formats, genre, timing, and balance are just some of what they must consider when choosing films. I personally would almost always select a local filmmaker's film (i.e. Michael Corrente) all things being equal because he would get out the vote & make sense for our audience.

5. Don't harass festival programmers. Programmers don't mind hearing from you once in awhile  but please don't make them seek a restraining order. I actually have encountered festivals that have had to do this when a film is rejected for lack of legal clearances. That is an altogether different issue.

Read More: Here Are 10 Things Filmmakers Want Festivals to Do

6. Don't ask for a screening fee. The festival is already broke; the free marketing, publicity, awareness is all the love they can give. Use this opportunity to network, promote your film, leverage the publicist and create future collaborations. I have seen producers and directors connect at a festival and then strike deals, which is way better than any $500 screening fee.

7. Don't take your screening time personally. Your screening time is based on a number of factors. Thus, everyone can’t have the Saturday night at eight o'clock slot. There is a method to this madness and programmers spend countless hours serving many masters to get it right. The fact is your experimental film, as groundbreaking as it may be, probably won't appeal to the mainstream audience...yet. After programming a rather dark but brilliant closing film starring  Chiwetel Ejiofor (when half of the audience walked out in full view of the director), I learned this valuable lesson.

8. Behave yourself. Please don’t a) get drunk and make a scene at the hotel that the festival put you up in b) charge dinner, Grey Goose and room service to the festival c) steal the rental car that they provided. p.s. --  Yes, I have personally experienced all of the above.

9. Show some appreciation. Plan on making another film? Send a thank you note to the programmer after your showing. Show them the love. It goes a long way. No one exemplifies this better than first time director Chris Lowell who, after winning accolades at both Austin Film Festival & Mill Valley, sent flowers to the festivals' staff.

10. Festivals cherish filmmakers. The festival is not the enemy. They love filmmakers -- even if it doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

Laurie Kirby, Esq., president and CCO of the International Film & Music Festival Conference, executes an annual conference for film, music festival and tech leaders and oversees a magazine publication LINEUP for festival executives. A former attorney and former film festival executive, Kirby is a consultant and frequent speaker at film festivals and event conferences in areas that include event planning, nonprofit management, distribution, celebrity relations, film production, sponsorship, sports law, real estate and conservation law, grant writing, licensing, social media and traditional marketing.


43 Comments

  • Michael | July 9, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    Sadly, I know someone who is a programmer for a very big festival. She is in charge of the short film program and freely admits that if a short film hasn't grabbed her attention in the first minute or two, she just shuts it off. So if your film has a slow build or isn't what she likes, oh well...

  • John Hancell | July 7, 2014 5:53 PMReply

    This is a badly written article.

  • David Brown | May 28, 2014 6:29 PMReply

    Here's my problem with the whole festival circuit, big and small. I have assisted in some festivals and I can tell you that most judges are clueless as to what quality is and what is not. The reality is that they might get 1000 submissions but can only exhibit 100 at max, and only have a few weeks to view these films before opening night. I got news for you, once the first 100 are filled the rest most likely will not even be viewed. But the festival collects none-refundable fees from all. Not fair you say? You're right! It's really like the Lotto; you hope that your film gets viewed as one of the 100 picks. If you have A-List or B-List talent in your film you override all of this of course. You're better off submitting your film to distributors directly. At least they don't charge to view it.

  • Jeremy | July 8, 2014 1:49 AM

    Most festivals will view every film before they choose. They may have a handful of more prestigious features as tent poles but they want to see if they find some gem. It isn't first come is automatically in. Most well ran festivals actually have at least two viewings for each film they don't just take one screener's word for it. Screeners rate them then programmers will watch them then they try and figure out which ones fit the festival and their other picks. Maybe you have a great horror movie but maybe there is two others that are just a tiny bit better or one is a comedy or there are to many zombie movies to choose from or to many possession movies or to many found footage movies. So, then it is just a kind of iny miny mini mo.

  • Brian Rose | May 28, 2014 6:06 PMReply

    Where are these festivals you speak of, because I've sure never encountered any like this. My last feature was accepted by two festivals. One festival screwed up and showed my work-in-progress screener DVD instead of the final piece. Another festival accepted my film, and then when I flew halfway across the country for the premiere, they announced that due to a venue snafu they had no place to show it. The programmer even had the nerve to complain that I didn't promote the film adequately, and they thought I would be supplying the audience. The f*ck? They then took 8 months to refund my entry fee, and only after I started writing their sponsors about my experience, and posted my story on their facebook page. (By the way, the offending festival was the DC Independent Film Festival...avoid like the plague).

    My experience has been most festivals do a piss poor job of promotion. They pocket fees from filmmakers who worked their asses off and just want a chance to get their work seen, and they all just get a damn form letter.

    Filmmakers and festivals should be a team, a symbiotic relationship, and instead it's a parasitic one...unless you're fortunate enough to have an "in" with the festival programmer, or you're an A-lister making his/her directorial debut with an "indie" film budgeted at "only" three or four million, featuring all your A-list buddies working for scale.

    It's a corrupt system, and my dream is to become notable enough as a documentary filmmaker that I can get funded through foundations, I can get shown on PBS, and I can tell festivals to f*ck off.

  • Jeremy | July 8, 2014 1:56 AM

    Try the Sedona International film festival. When submitting to festivals you need to read reviews. Don't just submit to just any one. Submit to good regional festivals that have been going for at least 3 years and you do need to promote. Watch "Official Rejection." You gotta do your research not every festival is worth visiting. You need to ask them about their turn out from years before. How many screens and how many tickets they sell.

  • Bob | April 10, 2014 9:43 PMReply

    If a festival can't afford to pay for the films it screens it needs a new business model. Festivals have access to advertising revenue and sponsorship dollars that filmmakers do not. If the festival has a policy not to pay people for their work, the filmmaker can decide whether or not to accept the invitation. To suggest that they are obliged to give their work away for free is insulting, and de-values the artist's work - the one you claim to "cherish." This list does not give that impression.

  • Burleigh | April 18, 2014 10:17 PM

    Completely right, Bob. Filmmakers, especially feature filmmakers, are entitled to a screening fee.

  • Matt | April 4, 2014 11:53 AMReply

    "if you aren't comfortable with a film festival, can't you just opt out? Nope."

    Disagree. So many options these days for getting your film seen, it's ridiculous.

  • Calamity Jones | April 3, 2014 4:01 PMReply

    As a filmmaker who got to attend dozens of festivals in the past year with my film, I consider myself fortunate and grateful for the experience. But there are plenty of things we would love to tell you....

    1) Thank you. Your job is certainly hard and thank you, seriously, for providing this service.
    2) Offer travel support. When you say you don't have enough money for travel expenses but you show our film 3 times to over 800 people, many of who bought tickets, it's hard not to feel a bit used. And when we meet other filmmakers that you paid for their travel expenses, we know where stand on the totem pole. I say this having been on both sides of it.
    3) Pay screening fees. Related to #2. Films aren't free to make and most of us don't make any money off of them. If our own industry doesn't support us, why should we expect small theaters, community screenings, and individuals to pay for their content. (Yes this goes for you Sundances and SXSWs out there. We know you are big but thats no reason to skimp on filmmaker support)
    4) Don't do that. Don't go up to a group of filmmakers and gush all over the one who's film you like best. Each festival has their favorites and sometimes its my film, but we are all professionals and no ones is THAT much better than anyone else there. Also don't go up to two filmmakers, one of which you like better and heap praises on her for premiering at TriBeCa and all of those festivals she has travelled to while ignoring the other filmmaker who premiered at SXSW and has screened in many more festivals -because this happened. Not that its a competition, but you should acknowledge all filmmakers success and contributions or don't acknowledge any.
    5) Don't be predictable. We all know you want to be one of the festivals that screened the big films of the year, but it's frustrating to see 60% of each festival being the same films as the last one. Sure it's nice to be one of those films, but it also shuts out a lot of other great films that deserve some exposure.
    7) Don't get a big head. For you smaller festivals, keep in mind you are just one of literally thousands of smaller festivals (just like our films are one of thousands). Sure you might be the biggest thing in your population, 50,000 town, but please don't act pompous or act like we are lucky to be included your festival, its embarrassing for you when you do this.
    8) Don't burn bridges. Not all filmmakers (especially first time filmmakers) are going to stop making films after this one. So invest in newer filmmakers instead of treating them like anomalies. It might make the difference between them wanting to make another film and moving on to something else.

  • Jon | April 2, 2014 10:45 PMReply

    11. Even if you get accepted, don't quit your day job.

  • dialogue coach | April 2, 2014 8:47 PMReply

    On the topic of festivals, IndieWire could acknowledge the rivalry among regional festivals that filmmakers are forced to internalize and reconcile. How about an honest appraisal of the influence that film festival stakeholders have over programming decisions. What about the delusions that regional festivals maintain about their identity (for example, that arbitrary need to have the word "premiere" next to a title) in order to appeal to sponsors, or the press and industry who won't be there anyway.

    Festivals are not a service to filmmakers. We actually support film festivals with back-breaking work. We would do well to understand what we are supporting: start with the structure of the organization, its goals and cultural mission. Is it in line with your film work and your values? Where are the conflicts-of-interest in the organization?

    The frustrations that people feel about film festivals are rooted in reality: that festivals most often pretend to be something that they're not. Festivals bring people through the door, whether through submissions or ticket sales with an egalitarian ideal that they ultimately must compromise. A filmmaker's anxiety may look like the obnoxious insecure behavior of a neophyte to this author or to a festival programmer; but don't ignore that it's rooted in a valid anxiety which film festivals create. I mean, if a film festival is a profit-making enterprise selling overpriced tickets while fueling the effort with massive sponsorships, inflated egos and social events, as many are, well . . . that organization has brought this reaction upon itself. Add to this any list of complaints and activities that have nothing to do with film.

    But as a filmmaker if you aren't comfortable with a film festival, can't you just opt out? Nope. Filmmakers don't have a choice but to apply to every film festival. And no doubt, we're subjected to all manner of vagaries and rejection through this process. The festival landscape is a filter that's full with conflict. And this article tries to soften that, but why? Acknowledge it and face it honestly.

    Filmmakers, once you're at the venue, get to know one another, make friends, find the like minds, and challenge each other, and be challenged; and find the festivals that you want to call home because you see the potential for mutual support in the long term. Festivals have a vital role in providing touch-points for the creative community and for providing instances of dialogue between filmmakers, and filmmakers and audiences.

    The festival directors, the parent organizations, the staff, must maintain this primary responsibility to the filmmakers and the audiences. I know that it's hard to keep a focus on this, given the balancing act you have to maintain, and the basic nature of an economic exchange which lies at the root of every film festival. But as film festival leaders, this is your responsibility to us. If you can't hack it, get out. Stop trying to flip your problems onto the filmmakers. We've done our part.

    Here's my offering:

    1. Programmers love filmmakers and filmmakers love programmers.

    2. Be honest with every festival. Who cares. Everyone knows you're waiting for Sundance . . . for obvious reasons.

    3. There is a conspiracy, it's called popularity. Festivals need it too.

    4. Understand and engage with the undisclosed parts of the festival balancing act. It can be very ugly, get to know it.

    5. Get to know the programmers and be normal with them. They are good people.

    6. Get a screening fee every chance you can. You deserve it.

    7. Fight for the best screening time you can get. This is the most important aspect of your festival success--and the programmers and the festival know this. As does the author of this article. It just may not be at the time you think it is. Early morning or mid-afternoon can be good in the right venue. Engage with the festival about this in a real way.

    8. Have as much fun and get as drunk as possible. This is where the best deals are done and the relationships are created. After all, it's called a "festival". . . get crazy, as long as you aren't hurting anyone, fair game.

    9. Become friends with the festival, and they'll know your appreciation is sincere.

    10. See above.

  • matt | April 2, 2014 4:44 PMReply

    I'm still waiting for sundance to at least acknowledge they got rid of the "NEXT" section.
    It started out as a section where unconnected , truely low budget movies can have a chance- Yet this year it was budget in the millions, connected producers and stars ( just like the rest of Sundance) - so out of 14000 submissions filmmakers thought they were competeing for 7 spots when in reality it was 0 spots. All about pedigree.

    If we had known that the "next" section had morphed ( something an outlet like Indiwire should have noticed) we would have saved that submission fee for a fest that would watch blind submissions-

  • jeremy | July 8, 2014 2:07 AM

    You still don't know that Sundance is an industry fest now? Come on man you are living in the 90s. Sundance has not been an indie festival for 10 years or more. Most of their movies are from Search Light or Focus features or some other art house division of the studios. Slam Dance is the closest thing they only except first time directors and you can never be screened there again as an alumni. This insures that they always screen new blood voices that have not been seen before. SXSW is the closest truly indie festival of a large size that I know of. You gotta go regional now then if you are lucky and good you might get invited to Sundance. F#@! Sundance.

  • Charles Judson | April 2, 2014 6:14 PM

    Once again, where are the numbers? What was the budgets of the NEXT films? What was the budget of the other films at Sundance?

    Here's Sundance's descriptions of NEXT.

    "Pure, bold works distinguished by an innovative, forward-thinking approach to storytelling populate this program. Digital technology paired with unfettered creativity promises that the films in this section will shape a “greater” next wave in American cinema."

    "Films selected for this category stretch a low budget to create big art. (less than equals greater than) is our speak for the creativity that limited resources can inspire. Although these films share a Festival category, there is nothing categorical about them. By nature, they embody the spirit of indie filmmaking."

    There's nothing in there about films having connections, or what's truly low budget. Is it $50k? Is it $250k? Is anything below a $1 million low budget? $10 million?

    We can get trapped in that budget discussion all day long. First ask if they really programmed bold and innovative films. Question if the films were indeed creative. Having a low-budget doesn't add quality to a film. Having a higher budget, doesn't take away quality either.

    When it's all said and done, the story and film should matter most. Not the budget. Yet, we also have to admit that not every story can be told on a shoe-string budget. Making a film for nothing isn't admirable if that resulting film looks like it was made for nothing.

    Let's also not forget, crews need to be paid and compensated. There are times donating your time is worth it. Everyone should try donating some of their time to helping young filmmakers and interesting projects get made. Let's not jump right over crew, location or equipment costs.

    We can keep simplifying this conversation to blanket statements. It's not going to get us anywhere.

    We also have to stop picking and choose the one or two films that upset us. A hundred and twenty feature films play the festival, and folks like to point to the 30 or 40 "big" films, while ignoring the 80 other films playing the festival. We can't define an event based on a third of it's lineup. And it's more like a fifth, because that doesn't include shorts.

    I've loved some of the films in NEXT. I won't name films, I've seriously questioned others they've programmed in the past. One I just don't get at all (it didn't play this year, it's from a previous NEXT). If you think the films in the NEXT section are not innovative, and not the future of filmmaking, that's a great place to start. Let the debate begin there. But budget does not equate to story.

  • john | April 2, 2014 4:29 PMReply

    I'm very frustrated with festivals right now. My film received good reviews from many indie film websites; however, I've submitted it to over 35 and haven't been accepted to one, yet when I book theatres myself and take the movie on tour, I not only have full houses and audiences who enjoy the film, I make money. The entry fees are getting too high to make it worth submitting, and really when festivals get over 5 thousand submissions (or insert your number here) what's the point? Plus, many of the regional festivals that rejected my film ended up showing work that was clearly inferior by other regional filmmakers, but was more "commercial" (dumb romantic comedies or Tarentino knock-offs). With my next movie, I don't see film festival participation at all - and maybe that's something more lower/mid-level indie filmmakers need to consider; then perhaps festivals and their programmers will give more thought into supporting work made on a shoe-string budget with no stars.

  • Charles Judson | April 2, 2014 5:31 PM

    John, festivals hear this all the time.

    If you're really having success booking your films on your own, why do you need to play film festivals? If you're having that much success, are you using that to entice film festivals to program your film?

    I've heard this myself. I've also done the research. I've yet to find a filmmaker who actually has had more than one or two sold out screenings. In almost all cases, its a hometown screening with friends and family that packed out the place. You might be different. And there are filmmakers who genuinely sell out theaters taking their film out themselves.

    We've had a few local filmmakers who didn't play our festival who have really good runs at the local theater on their own. That doesn't mean we would have had a packed out screening though. When it's your film, and you're booking theaters on your own, you are much more invested in making sure the screenings are a success. Some filmmakers apply that to their festival screenings, others do not.

    Any festival that's carefully managing its revenues would not turn down films that could bring in money if its a film they also want to play. Regardless of perception, not every festival prioritizes ticket sells when selecting films. Festival that tend to do that, not only suck, no one knows who they are. Reputation matters, locally and nationally. It doesn't help a festival to knowingly program an awful film just to get the ticket sells. Once you burn your audience with too many bad films, they tend not to come the following year.

    Fees. Almost any film festival programmer would tell you to NEVER pay the fees for 35 festivals. Submit to 5, no more than 10. Try to get into the highest tier festivals you can, then use those acceptances to get in. If you can't get into one or two of the ten fests you submitted to, there's a good chance you're not going to get into any festival.

    As for dumb romantic comedies, festival audiences are diverse, there are those who want to see a "dumb" indie romantic comedy. Consider the audience a festival is catering to. Their audience may not be your audience. Submit to festivals you would attend yourself. Submit to festivals your film fits with. Above all, by calling them dumb romantic comedies or "commercial", you passively insult the audiences those festivals serve. Festivals exist for audiences AND filmmakers.

    As for getting 5,000 submissions. That seems like a lot of money. That's about $120 to $150k. The cost to put on the average regional film festival is about $400k. If they are year round, they're looking at about a $500 to 600k budget. With in-kind sponsorship covering hard costs $350 to $400k is the cash needed to put on a decent festival.

    Slice off a $150k for fulltime staff. Slice off another $50k for contractors and seasonal staff. Slice off another $40k for venue rental. Technical will be another $20 to $40k. So far we're at $260k.

    Take $10k for the program guide, another $30k for travel. $310k.

    Outside services including hiring an accountant to audit the festival, accountant, etc, we're looking at $10 to $20k. $320k. Replacing equipment, computers, etc. $3k. $323k.

    Office rental is $25k. $348k. Office supplies, copies? $5k. $353k.

    General operating costs, phone lines, internet, etc? $8k.

    We're already at $361k. I haven't even gotten to food, insurance or transportation. Nor have included costs for any events the festival hosts throughout the year. There's also additional costs, such as having to use a venue's catering company, which jacks up the cots. Some venues make you pay a minimum catering fee, regardless if you have food or not. There's also signage, ticketing, website, marketing, art design, photography, security, permits, etc, etc.

    If you want to change the system, first understand the economics. Also keep in mind that when submissions jump up in numbers, festivals tend to take that money and pour it right back into staffing. Essentially, for every extra $2000 they get in, they're using that to bring in someone two weeks earlier, or to have another staffer at the festival. For about 5,000 submissions, in terms of hours, that's going to take at least four staffers to administer that. That's at least $70k in human resources alone.

    Can festivals do a better job? As a staff member of Atlanta, I have always said we've done an awful job of transparency and resource management at times. For festivals at large, the Sundance/Film Market chasing some of us have done has made things worse. Ducking the questions about press and industry participation, and not being straightforward has given filmmakers good reasons to not trust us.

    However, blanket statements about how money is coming in and being used doesn't move the conversation forward. Every sign, van, hotel room, staffer, t-shirt and ticket has a cost with it.

    If we want to have a conversation about how we can better use that money to improve festivals for filmmakers AND audiences, let's HAVE that conversation. We need it. More now than ever. But this mantra that festivals are getting rich is old and tired. It's been around for over a decade, and it's not helped filmmakers one bit.

  • GLV | April 2, 2014 11:01 AMReply

    10 THINGS FILMMAKERS WANT FESTIVALS TO KNOW

    1. Filmmakers love themselves: We know that if one of you programmers pulled your head out of your ass long enough to see us for the geniuses we are really are then the world will become a better place for everyone.

    2. Don't tell us your festival is better for us than Sundance: Unless you are flying us in a private jet plane and putting us up in a villa overlooking a crystal clear body of water that locals believe to be the fountain of youth. And after our screening, which is obviously opening and closing night of your festival, you will encourage the entire audience to lift us on their shoulders and carry us through the streets chanting our name and vowing to never watch another film besides ours again.

    3. There IS a conspiracy against us and you are obviously part of it: Unless of course you are programmers of Sundance and you accepted our film or you do as requested in number 2.

    4. Balancing Act Shmalancing Act: Just program our film already. And if you don't, it means you didn't like it and we deeply mistrust your taste and worth as a human being. Frankly it scares us that one person with such little sense would be given such power over our lives and the state of art in the world. We recommend that you give up your career as a film festival programmer and take on profession like gymnastic or tightrope walking which utilize yours skills at balancing that you are always yammering on about.

    5. We only harass you to make you a better person: Face it, if we are harassing you it is because you have made an awful decision and we are deeply concerned about the effect your decisions will have on your life and those around you. Think of it as an intervention, although you might not know you need help, you do. So that's why we are calling you at 3 am...it'€™s to save you from yourself. And if you don't care about yourself then do it for the children.

    6. Please give us all your money and your house: Chances are if we are applying to your festival, we are poor and barely have a pot to piss in. If you don't own a house, please buy one, preferably the villa mentioned above, and give it to us. Thank you.

    7. We take our Screening time very personally: We are very sensitive souls, so in order to avoid hurting our feelings, just program our film for the entire festival.

    8. Behave ourselves?: Is that what they tell Justin Bieber (unfortunately he's the most badass musician I can think of these days) when he's in town for a show? We made the f*****g film that is going to make your f*****g festival! So if we want to drink glasses full of LSD and recarpet the hallways with our underwear before we turn our hotel room into a champagne hot tub, then you better well let us or we are going to start harassing you even worst than we did when you rejected our films from your miserable, no fun at all film festival. Except this time we will be hallucinating heavily and will not be wearing underwear.

    9. Show some appreciation: You can start by sending us flowers everyday for the rest of our lives. That is the least you can do considering we just screened our film at 5:30 am at your festival that is not Sundance, for no screening fees and we weren't even allowed to one take beer from the hotel room mini-bar.

    10. If you cherish us so much please stop writing these lists: And as I've proven above you ARE the enemy and we will treat you accordingly.

  • GLV | April 2, 2014 10:54 AMReply

    10 THINGS FILMMAKERS WANT FESTIVALS TO KNOW

    1. Filmmakers love themselves: We know that if one of you programmers pulled your head out of your ass long enough to see us for the geniuses we are really are then the world will become a better place for everyone.

    2. Don't tell us your festival is better for us than Sundance: Unless you are flying us in a private jet plane and putting us up in a villa overlooking a crystal clear body of water that locals believe to be the fountain of youth. And after our screening, which is obviously opening and closing night of your festival, you will encourage the entire audience to lift us on their shoulders and carry us through the streets chanting our name and vowing to never watch another film besides ours again.

    3. There IS a conspiracy against us and you are obviously part of it: Unless of course you are programmers of Sundance and you accepted our film or you do as requested in number 2.

    4. Balancing Act Shmalancing Act: Just program our film already. And if you don't, it means you didn't like it and we deeply mistrust your taste and worth as a human being. Frankly it scares us that one person with such little sense would be given such power over our lives and the state of art in the world. We recommend that you give up your career as a film festival programmer and take on profession like gymnastic or tightrope walking which utilize yours skills at balancing that you are always yammering on about.

    5. We only harass you to make you a better person: Face it, if we are harassing you it is because you have made an awful decision and we are deeply concerned about the effect your decisions will have on your life and those around you. Think of it as an intervention, although you might not know you need help, you do. So that's why we are calling you at 3 am...it’s to save you from yourself. And if you don't care about yourself then do it for the children.

  • GLV | April 2, 2014 11:00 AM

    8. Behave ourselves?: Is that what they tell Justin Bieber (unfortunately he's the most badass musician I can think of these days) when he's in town for a show? We made the f*****g film that is going to make your f*****g festival! So if we want to drink glasses full of LSD and recarpet the hallways with our underwear before we turn our hotel room into a champagne hot tub, then you better well let us or we are going to start harassing you even worst than we did when you rejected our films from your miserable, no fun at all film festival. Except this time we will be hallucinating heavily and will not be wearing underwear.

    9. Show some appreciation: You can start by sending us flowers everyday for the rest of our lives. That is the least you can do considering we just screened our film at 5:30 am at your festival that is not Sundance, for no screening fees and we weren't even allowed to one take beer from the hotel room mini-bar.

    10. If you cherish us so much please stop writing these lists: And as I've proven above you ARE the enemy and we will treat you accordingly.

  • GLV | April 2, 2014 10:57 AM

    6. Please give us all your money and your house: Chances are if we are applying to your festival, we are poor and barely have a pot to piss in. If you don't own a house, please buy one, preferably the villa mentioned above, and give it to us. Thank you.

    7. We take our Screening time very personally: We are very sensitive souls, so in order to avoid hurting our feelings, just program our film for the entire festival.

  • Daniel Delago | April 2, 2014 9:22 AMReply

    Good advice and so true about young filmmakers believing that Sundance is the be-all and end-all film festival. Even from a film critic's point of view, I find the smaller, boutique festivals a less chaotic and more enjoyable experience. The wait-list system for obtaining tickets at Sundance makes you feel like a herd of cattle. Robert Redford even states that Sundance has turned into a monster.

  • MRandall | April 2, 2014 4:04 AMReply

    Someone should start a festival or add to an existing festival a grouping of a selection of great films that were rejected by other festivals that are known to be political in their selection/rejection.

  • MRandall | April 2, 2014 3:54 AMReply

    Your tips seem very much like those of an author of a book on film festival secrets. He recently got a job at the Atlanta Film Festival, so his strategy worked. Trouble is, he was billing himself as a consultant to filmmakers the whole time he was applying for jobs at festivals. Unethical conflict of interest. Also many alleged reviewers of his book suspiciously slammed a competing book. In the interest of more full disclosure, do you have anything to share, Laurie? You clearly are writing from the same perspective he did. Change title to "10 Things Some Film Festivals Want Filmmakers To Believe". SXSW in particular sends out a very arrogant rejection letter, and they are not even number one.

    I volunteer pre-screened for a major LGBT film festival. Due to politics, no doubt, the best Gay film I ever saw was not even selected by them despite the fact I gave it my only 5 out of 5 stars and that they select for screening over half of the films submitted to them. It went on to screen at major straight and gay festivals around the world and won audience awards. The same director just finished his first feature film and it has already screened or been selected by festivals around the world including Berlinale and Tribecca as well as other major European festivals. I'm sure he won't hold a grudge but if I were him I would not let this festivals be the film's US LGBT premiere. What advice would you give festivals that don't select the best films and show garbage instead?

  • Charles Judson | April 2, 2014 9:34 AM

    Chris Holland is the author of that book. A book he published in 2008, when he was working B-Side. The last time he worked for a film festival was at the Austin Film Festival, which was before he was at B-Side. He was consulting with filmmakers then, he's consulting with filmmakers now. And your point?

    He's working at Atlanta because a staffer quit in the middle of the holidays in 2012. He had just moved back to Atlanta, and he stepped in because we asked him to. At the time, we wasn't interested in working at a film festival. I'm glad he did. We did great work together at the festival.

    As for your 5 out of 5 review, you have to accept that film selection is subjective. Your 5 isn't my 5. If you can't accept this, you will forever be bitter.

    Film festivals every year let great films slip through their grasp. Christopher Nolan's first film played at Slamdance. Sundance rejected King of Kong for Chasing Ghosts and the former was the breakout hit. If you overlapped the lineups of the top 100 film festivals, you'll find that thousands of films are playing. That doesn't mean filmmakers careers are hampered. Jeremy Sauliner's Murder Party played the 2007 Slamdance Film Festival, his 2013 followup Blue Ruin premiered at Cannes. Filmmakers make films. Good filmmakers who continue making films will prevail.

    Keep in mind, every film festival has an ego. EVERY festival. No festival wants to be the one that rejected a breakthrough film or filmmaker. All festivals want to be in a position to say they played a filmmaker's film before anyone knew who they were. Those festivals would like to do that multiple times every year. If you think festivals don't want to discover filmmakers, or promote young talent, you must believe those festivals want to fall into obscurity as well then.

    Is there politics in film festival selection? Of course. Are they people? Are they breathing? Politics is an unavoidable fact of life. Why are the O'Toole's having the family reunion in Baltimore in the middle of a sweltering heatwave, because no one one wanted to piss off Grandma, who still isn't happy about what Aunt Betty did two years ago. And if Grandma doesn't come Cousin Jude doesn't come, that means her mother is out. If she's out...so on and so on...

    While there is politics, most festivals try like hell to not play that game. It's like taking money from a loan shark. Once you're in, it's hard to get out. Yet, sometimes you take the crappy B-film with the A-lister because it means you get the two films you really want. Sometimes, it's because someone dropped the ball, and you have to make it up somehow.

    Can we stop being so naive about this? Mostly, because the number of films selected for political reasons is very small. The number of films available is vast. The number of distributors with films is large as well. Don't believe me? This list is just the start: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_film_distributors_by_country#United_States

    No festival can play the politics game full on because the number of films, distributors and alumni out number them. You can't manage that many relationships doing that. That way lies madness, and endless email chains and angry phone messages.

    If you see great films, advocate for them. Get to know festival programmers and tell them about these great films. Write about those films and tell people. If you need to start a festival or event, then do it. Whatever you do, fight for them.

    Be part of the solution, or stop bitching. Whining in the comment sections of film sites isn't helping those films. And saying someone should start a festival is just passing the buck. Man up and do what you think you should to help these filmmakers. Because they DO need the help.

    Charles Judson is my name. Spell it right if you want to put me on blast. Just don't call me Jackson.

  • Josephine David | April 2, 2014 12:31 AMReply

    I have been a festival coordinator for many editions of few festivals. I certainly agree with all the points. I am a supporter of film makers and strongly recommend that the film maker must ask for screening fee only if their film is invited by a festival programmer.

  • Laurie | April 1, 2014 9:22 PMReply

    Stay tuned. I will turn the table on festivals (so to speak) next week with what Festivals Need to Know about Filmmakers. I don't have all the answers (obviously) but better understanding between festivals & filmmakers begets better collaboration.

  • CPJ | April 2, 2014 12:33 PM

    I'm eager to read the other side of the story. The second-tier (and beyond) festivals should understand the squeeze that's being put on filmmakers who don't premiere at fests like Sundance and SXSW. Between their own premiere requirements and the fact that most of the second-tier fests are essentially curating a "Best of Sundance/SXSW" program with some local films thrown in, there are very very few remaining slots for others. I love festivals, but this situation doesn't bode well for discovery of fresh films.

  • H | April 1, 2014 10:27 PM

    That would be great to see, and I'd be happy to contribute. I've had many great experiences at film fests, there are some fests that do it right, and can give great examples. But I've also had many bad experiences and can give specific examples of those too. "Show some appreciation" work both ways, especialy given that filmmakers provide all of festival content, usually free of charge, or worse, paying for the privilege.

  • FP | April 1, 2014 7:06 PMReply

    I really want to make it clear that I agree with much of content and purpose of this piece. However, a few points irk me:

    - Flowers? Seriously? If my team was flown in, received the rental car, meals, hotel for free, then I could see it. That saves us the cost of all of it, so even though we're already broke as it is, a nice bouquet seems fine, if overkill. If a festival doesn't do all that (and since we shouldn't even ask for a fee, even though programmers have literally said the opposite to me and others), aren't such levels of unnecessary flattery yet another cost we're being asked to undertake? I've found that a simple and plaintive email or letter can do the same as such a gift. Can we agree not to ask poor indie filmmakers to extend themselves even further, especially to those programmers you claim love us already?

    - The conspiracy theories that creative people make up about festivals come from one thing - unless they're truly off the wall and think their mini DV epic short is the next Von Trier - programmers and directors who are incapable of recognizing the efficiency of a gentler rejection notice. Some of the major fests don't bother to offer more than one paragraph that are self-congratulatory about how many more submissions came in this year. If the last film cut doesn't even merit a "we really tried, but couldn't find room in the schedule," then it's no wonder people freak out. That part has to be owned by festival staff who don't differentiate chancers from those who barely missed out, or worse, don't even bother with that one paragraph email. It creates ideas in people's heads, and most films are personal. Rejection of your personal story will engender ire, so mitigating it seems so much easier.

    On that final point, you may also want to let the world know that Sundance programmers openly brag at festival panels how they print out egregious responses to rejections and post them on a wall in their offices. Which begs the question, which offense is worse?

  • jj | April 2, 2014 4:34 PM

    My question is, when festivals receive thousands and thousands of entries...yet just go ahead and program whatever sundance/sxsw programmed... how do you expect film makers not to get pissed?
    its also terribly annoying as a fest goer... I loved Blue ruin at Cannes... but did it really need to be at every other major fest as well? shouldnt at least the big guys "discover" stuff from their entries? its one thing for the regional fests to replay sundance/cannes movies but we expect more from the first tiers. oh and what does that say that Blue ruin was initially rejected from sundance, but then they took it the next year after the cannes premiere.

  • N | April 1, 2014 7:01 PMReply

    Film festivals are a questionable endeavour.
    You charge the filmmaker to enter.
    They think they are competing for a certain number of spots but after the executive directors wife's film takes a premium slot there are only a handful of places left.
    Your film does get accepted.
    The festival charges the public to see the film.
    You get nothing.
    And if you're lucky the film will screen through a beautiful new digital projector, but you'll have to pay another two grand for the DCP.
    The majority of festivals are a business capitalising on the wealthy's crap ego project.

  • TN | April 5, 2014 11:45 AM

    I know this is getting off topic a little, but I saved two grand on my film by mastering my own DCP using the open source software OpenDCP. I had to redo it a few times to get my colour options correct, but it was nothing that a few overnights worth of rendering time couldn't take care of.

  • Cornelius Dubois | April 1, 2014 6:46 PMReply

    While I don't think there's a conspiracy against filmmakers, I do think their is a culture among festival screening committees vying for the friends' films, regardless of merit, at the expense of others. Nothing wrong with it, cause it's a community, but it just seems to happen and someone always comes up on the short end of the stick.

    I'd like if there were some sort of supplemental online component to film festivals, where quality work that there wasn't room for is available to stream for a limited time.

    I think showing appreciation is a great tip, and I will be sure to do that in the future.

  • M | April 1, 2014 6:11 PMReply

    I disagree with two points. There are only a handful of festivals that occur post-Sundance that may let a filmmaker know they were accepted before Sundance. If that festival is offended b/c you are waiting on Sundance, that's idiotic. It's a business decision, not a creative one. Every film has a better chance of finding a wider audience if it premieres at a top tier festival like Sundance. You'll even have a better festival run if your premiere is at Sundance. It's as simple as that.

    Secondly, there's absolutely no harm in asking for screening fees, unless you know full well that the festival doesn't provide them. If a festival is offended b/c you simply asked, that festival was not worth playing anyways. Most of the festivals I've played at have said no to this, but there was absolutely no harm in asking. Some of the other festivals I've received screening fees from (sometimes as little as $50) only give out screening fees to those who ask. And that $50 was absolutely appreciated given the financial state one can be in when traveling the circuit.

  • FP | April 1, 2014 10:27 PM

    While your point about $1,000 fees adding up is a good one, M, I will agree with Laurie that attending festivals has a value as well. I've met post collaborators who do expensive edit and FX and color and sound work remotely for a fraction of what I can secure locally. Those personal relationships in all areas of the process (PR, producers, writers, filmmakers from many corners of the world, and of course, the festival staff) are forward-thinking investments, not to mention real-world/real-time info sharing about distributors, deals, and festivals. As producers we must think about money, but none of us got into this biz to get rich. The person you don't meet can be the difference between real success and hobby.

  • M | April 1, 2014 8:45 PM

    @Laurie - (responding to your comment below) Then you're talking about filmmakers who aren't being strategic. The advice really should be: there's no reason to apply to any 2nd tier festivals until you have your 1st tier festival locked in. If the film doesn't get into Sundance, you wait for SXSW. If it doesn't get into SXSW, you wait for Tribeca. And if after a year you don't get into any of them, only then is when you start going after the 2nd tier fests. Otherwise you may blow your premiere, and chances of the film gaining larger traction. If any filmmakers are reading this, and didn't think to do that - you can graciously ask any 2nd tier festival to wait a year to play the film. It's not that big of a deal, and if they truly love your film, they'll do that.

    In addition to that, the "festival experience" really does vary from fest to fest. There are so many incredible non-prestige festivals like Maryland or Dallas or Cucalorus, that really cultivate a sense of community when the filmmakers arrive. And in those cases, you're totally right, the screening fee is a moot point. However, there are many festivals that are absolutely wonderful for the local community, but are a waste of energy for filmmakers to spend the money on traveling to in person. But now, it's so great to be able to do a remote Q+A via skype, and simply ask for half of the money a festival would have spent on my plane ticket + lodging - it's a win win scenario. Not only that - but there are a few festivals out there that will pay $1000 to screen your film if you ask. They have the budget to do so! So it's not a waste of energy, it's one email. And these screening fees really can add up and offset all the cost of festival promotion / travel to the airport / meals / shipping prints / making extra prints / press kits, etc.

    And so if there are any festival programmers reading this comment right now, just know that if a filmmaker asks you for a screening fee - we're doing so because we don't know if you're one of those lucky festivals that are miraculously well funded. And we don't fault you if you don't. It's not a turn off for us, hopefully it's not a turn off for you.

  • dougly | April 1, 2014 7:28 PM

    If a programmer pro-actively invites you to screen at their festival, it's fair to politely ask for a screening fee. But if you applied with the masses, it doesn't make as much sense and they will probably say no anyway. That said, I do think that every self-respecting festival should pay or meaningfully contribute to a feature filmmaker's travel and accommodation expenses.

  • Laurie | April 1, 2014 6:23 PM

    Offended is not the real issue. It is more strategic. If you will only wait until Sundance decides (and your chances of getting in are very slim), then the programmer may well move ahead without you and you have now lost a bird in the hand. It hurts the filmmaker more than the festival frankly. There is no harm in asking for a screening fee but it is generally a waste of time & a turn-off. Kudos to you for your $50 but I believe the festival experience will benefit you more than that.

  • Giulio Vita | April 1, 2014 5:56 PMReply

    Thank you so much for this article. This is exactly what we want to tell to all the filmmakers we deal with.

    @La_Guarimba

  • H | April 1, 2014 5:40 PMReply

    Laurie has spoken to hundreds of programmers and festival directors, now she needs to speak to filmmakers to hear the other side.

  • Laurie | April 1, 2014 5:49 PM

    With all due respect, I wrote it because I also speak to hundreds of filmmakers and wanted to clear up so many misconceptions that they have.

  • H | April 1, 2014 5:28 PMReply

    And now for "10 Things Every Filmmaker Wants Every Film Festival to Know"