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Shadow and Act Filmmaker Diary Series w/ Matthew Cherry: “Film Festival Budgeting”

Shadow and Act Filmmaker Diary Series w/ Matthew Cherry: "Film Festival Budgeting"

Here’s the latest in our still ongoing filmmaker diary series with The Last Fall writer/director Matthew Cherry. I last posted an entry three days ago regarding Cherry’s efforts to raise funds via his Kickstarter campaign in order to cover SXSW Film Festival Premiere trip expenses and post-production costs.

Read the details below where Cherry talks about film festival budgeting:

Hey guys, so I’m sure a lot of you know by know that we are currently raising $15,000 via in order to finish our film in time for our world premiere at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. As an artist that is currently on the front line, I wanted to take the blog space today to give some advice and tips on budgeting for film festivals.

The definition of being an independent filmmaker has to have a strong section in it that includes raising money in. You can have the best idea in the world but if you can’t get it made or financed then an idea is all it will ever be. There are many great people who we have never heard of because of some reason or not they just were not able to get their project made. A lot of times as an independent filmmaker you are so happy to get the funding for just the actual movie itself that you feel some kind of way about going back and asking for additional money after the process. There is no law or rule that says you have to go the festival route when you complete your independent film but it is a great way to get the word out about your film and to help find an audience for it. In some cases you can actually sell your film at a festival as well. I always had the film festival circuit in mind, even when I wrote the film and now that we are less than a month away from our world premiere at SXSW I want to share and explain some of the costs and expenses that we are facing for our premiere.
TRAVEL: This is an obvious cost but one that often times gets put on the back burner. You gotta be there to take advantage of what the festival has to offer. Most films bring down key crew; writer, director, producers, DP, casting director, etc. and then they bring down select cast. Every film is different and you have to do what makes sense for you and your budget. Some actors and even some crew will have it in their contract that you have to fly them out, put them up and provide tickets to them for the film festival. It’s pretty standard practice that you take care of your lead actors even if it’s not in their contract to do so because you simply need them with you to help you promote the film and why would you want it to cost them to do so. A lot of times actors have their agents and managers down there at the festivals with them, but you do not have an obligation to provide travel and lodging for them (that is of course unless it’s in their actors contracts). SXSW is an interesting situation because it is more just a film festival so their hotels fill up FAST. You can got the hotel route or you can rent someones house. I saw a Super 8 Motel in Austin that was going for over $500 a night for SXSW and normally the rate is like $80. You have to budget for flights, hotel and transportation. That will all vary depending on how many people you bring but know that at the major festivals they really hike up the prices on you unless you have amazing insight and booked months in advance.
PUBLICITY: This along with travel can be one of your biggest costs. Good publicists for film festivals are not cheap. They are actually quite expensive. The good ones range from anywhere from $5,000 all the way to $12,000 (per festival). Yes I said per festival, it messed me up too lol. Believe it or not a strong publicist can make or break your film. Contrary to popular belief, publicists that specializes in film festivals do way more than just get you photo ops. They can help you get a potential sales reps and get you in front of distribution companies or get them interested in coming to your screenings. They send out your press materials to the movie reviewers that will be at the festival to get them to try to review your film. They get butts in the seats at your screenings. They set up interviews and press for your talent. They help set up your events and parties, etc. The right person seeing your film could potentially mean the difference between you selling your film or nothing happening at all. Film festival publicity is an extremely niche field and a regular publicist just won’t do. I suggest any filmmaker or producer reading this, if you are going to spend money anywhere, spend it here and do your homework. It can really make or break your film.
MARKETING: This one is tricky. You want to have a presence at your festival but you don’t want to waste money. A lot of times filmmakers will print out a lot of posters and post cards and bring them down to the festival with them and hand them out to potential audience members. We are going to do some creative things down in Austin for our SXSW run. In addition to keychains, post cards, buttons and posters we are going to be giving out some towels, courtesy of Gatorade and we may possible get some mini footballs made with the films name on them. Anything to stand out. It’s hard for me to give you hard numbers because the costs of these things vary depending on how many you get but you typical want to have a couple thousand dollars set aside for printing and creating your swag. Some people hire street teams too. If you have to budget for it then why not? Face to face interactions trump sending out a tweet all day. If nobody knows about your film then how will they see it?
PRINTS: You are going to have to provide a final copy to the festival so that they can screen the film. Some festivals are doing blue ray and dvd now, which is great but most of the time you will have to do a HD Cam tape or 35mm. I am a fan of HD Cam and that is what we are going to ship to SXSW. It pretty clean and kind of affordable. This entire process will probably end up costing us close to $500.
SALES AGENT OR PRODUCER REP: This isn’t something that you have to pay for up front but I do want to talk about it. Along with your publicist this maybe one of the most important decisions you make as a filmmaker. A lot of films go to festivals with no representation at all. A festival like Sundance which is a market festival, you have one but a lot of times at other festivals having strong lawyer who is able to negotiate your deal is just fine. I, like most of you, plan on having a robust filmmaking career and getting a sales rep for your film could possibly put a filmmaker on the fast track to obtaining representation for themselves. I currently have no agent, only a manager (Monica Young) so we’ll see what happens. Sometimes a sales agent will call you and reach out to you directly but sometimes you have to pick up the phone and call them and let them know that your film exists and that it is playing at a major festival. We had a few sales agents call us after our SXSW announcement but we also had to pick up the phone and let some other agencies know about our film directly. I mean, yeah, it’s better if they reach out to you but hey there is a lot going on and sometimes you taking the initiative can make all the world of difference. So what normally happens is, they reach out to you and say that they’ve heard good things about your film, either in a press release or a trailer, or referral. Then they ask to view the film and then they make a decision based off of that. I do not encourage sending a DVD, especially if you have a rough cut. You don’t want unfinished work floating around an agency. Who knows what’ll happen to your baby you know. But if you must I encourage watermarking each copy. People are less likely to do something crazy if their name is on the film. What we have been doing is sending out a password protected link of the film. Maybe it’s not any better than sending a DVD but I sleep better at night doing it this way. Also you do not want to have to beg or plead with someone to rep your film. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and if it’s meant to be then it will be. You want someone that is going to champion your film and put it as a high priority not treat it like they are doing you a favor. Some agencies that I have become privy too during this process are Cinetic, The Film Sales Company, Submarine, Preferred Content, CAA, WME, ICM, UTA and Gersh. Not every agency does every festival so make sure you find someone that is going to be apart of the one you were accepted to and make sure they don’t have too many films that they are dealing with 3-5 is about the norm. A sales agent normally takes between 10-15% of the sale of the film but everything is negotiable. Typically they don’t get money up front but they get it on the back end once the film is sold. Our film is currently under consideration at some major agencies right now so wish us luck.
I think I have covered a lot of the major costs. I’m sure more things will come up as I get further into this process but a festival run can get pretty costly and this is what I have been dealing with so far. I encourage all filmmakers and producers to include some money in your main budget for this as it will come and bite you later. Liek I said before we are raising $15,000 in 30 days and we are 30% toward our goal with three weeks left. If you got something from this post please feel free to click the link below and donate because we really need your help. Thank you so much for reading and I’ll see you guys next week.

~ Matthew A. Cherry

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