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by Bryce J. Renninger
December 12, 2012 12:36 PM
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Five Things Film Festival Programmers Told Us about How They Use Crowdfunding Sites

When Indiewire went to its film festival programmers to ask what they wanted filmmakers to know about how programmers use crowdfunding sites, they all wanted to make one thing clear:  programmers make sure that every film that passes over their desks gets seen by someone, and they program films based on quality.

Still, sometimes film festival programmers don't know about films.  Other times, the programming team must decide between two or more equally good films.  Can crowdfunding sites be used by filmmakers to up their chances in these hairy situations?  We talked to four festival programmers about how they use crowdfunding sites and what they think filmmakers should know about crafting a campaign.  Here's what they had to say:

Let's face it, most filmmakers don't apply to every festival.  Sometimes programmers are looking for films that didn't apply and might be finished just in time for their festival.

Says Genna Terranova, Director of Programming at the Tribeca Film Festival, "When we look for films, we do a lot of research.  We attend festivals all over the world and look at projects getting funded by the Tribeca Film Institute, Sundance Institute and other places like that.  We're starting to see Kickstarter as a resource as a way to find films that will be ready in time for the festival.  Of course, crowdfunding sites are not technically for our purposes, but you can get a lay of the land of what's going on.  Do we go on Kickstarter, watch a promo, and make a judgment on the film.  No, but maybe we call them up after we see the campaign and ask if the film is in post-production at the right time.  It's a great resource for that."

And sometimes maybe a programmer's friend passes a crowdfunding page on.

SXSW Film Festival & Conference Producer Janet Pierson explained one situation from last year's festival.  "We as a programming team, we're really small.  We don't track films the way a lot of other festivals do; with us it's much more erratic.  We deal with what comes to us and onto our radar.  That said, it was interesting:  last year, there was a film that someone from the gaming arm of SXSW mentioned because she had seen it on Kickstarter.  I wrote to the filmmakers and they sent me the film.  I saw them and invited them the day after."

Crowdfunding sites are opportunities to get on the radar of the right people:

Hot Docs Director of Programming Charlotte Cook says, "People who may not have connections in the industry can now get on the radar of the people they want to. Ultimately it, for me, doesn't change whether they'll get into a festival as I still believe that comes down to the quality of the film, buzz or not. But it levels the playing field, and to an important extent, puts more control in the hands of a filmmakers in getting attention for their film."

Crowdfunding sites are good opportunities for filmmakers to show their film does have an audience.

Sheffield Doc/Fest Programmer Hussain Currimbhoy said, "I think filmmakers should be aware that as a doc programmer, I'm looking to see where they get their support from and if they have a lot of supporters. If they do, that means there is a big fan base and it will be good to promote to when the film is done.  Also, when we see that active fan base, we know the filmmaker will do a lot to make it a good screening. Crowd funding is a LOT OF WORK and filmmakers who undertake this are generally very clued in, ready to promote and push their film, and will go the extra mile making screenings really good and valuable."

Be aware of what you're sharing.

Janet Pierson made a comparison to what she tells her children:  "If I'm reading your Facebook page, anybody can be reading your Facebook page."  She added, "I think filmmakers should think carefully about everything you put out there representing their films. It's all potentially useful, but it could work against if you if it's not done well.  Of course, ultimately, once we get it, the film is paramount."

Genna Terranova, who used to buy for The Weinstein Company, explained, "When I was a buyer, if I watched a promo I didn't like, I would really question whether it would be worth it to watch the whole project.  As a programmer, someone at the festival watches everything.  Every filmmaker doesn't need to be a great promoter for festival programmers."

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3 Comments

  • stareye | February 27, 2014 10:12 AMReply

    What a sick article. "Oh we look at all the films", "we want the newest and edgy films". The politics behind programming are amazing. Boards have to decide if your film is worthy. The film has to match the festivals audience. Friends of friend's films come first. If your film is different and you are a nobody, forget it..no screening for you. You are better off renting a theater for a night and advertising the event. You 'll at least get some press and maybe some $$

  • jackson | May 10, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Do not waste your money submitting to festivals that do not draw acquisition managers and agents. 95% of the short film festival scene is a scam. The festivals rake in tens out thousands of dollars from submission hopefuls, and these festivals are not required to report what percentage (in any whatsoever) of the official selection is chosen from the bulk submission process (WAB, and direct submissions). The fees are frequently used to pay for travel expenses of festival staff to visit other festivals to choose films that already have the stamp of approval.

    Submit to the top 10 or 15 festivals. Leave the rest of the smaller regional festivals alone – you’re money will be better spent on your next film rather than even getting selected to one of these regional festivals. If you don’t get into one of the top 15 festivals, either you don’t have the right connections or your film just wasn’t good enough – work on those two things for your next film.

    Also, stop wasting time and money making short films. If you’ve made a couple shorts, it’s time to move on to a feature.

    Stick to these fests:
    cannes + directors fortnight
    sundance
    berlin
    venice
    south by southwest
    tulluride
    tribeca
    edinburgh
    seattle
    santa barbara
    los angeles
    slamdance
    montreal

  • docman | December 12, 2012 12:50 PMReply

    bullshit. bullshit. bullshit. festival programmers program films that their friends make or that their friends recommend or that other festivals program or that have celebrity attachment. has absolutely nothing to do with quality of films or your fan base.