Last weekend, “Wildlike,” my first feature film as a writer-director, was invited to its 100th film festival (so far only in the U.S.) since our premiere at the Hamptons International Film Festival in October 2014.
“Wildlike” has now won over 50 film festival awards including 25 best film and audience awards. In September, “Wildlike “will come to a dozen or more theaters throughout North America day-and-date with On Demand, concurrent with international sales. I am hopeful that with our international festival run starting at the Montreal World Festival and with many U.S. festivals still to go, we will reach about 150 to 200 film festivals total.
Below are some concrete tips for or developing your first feature into a movie visible on the festival circuit and beyond.
Be diligent, in all respects, from the very beginning.
Recently, several filmmakers have asked about our “festival strategy.” To be fair, I did not have a plan, but I was diligent. Quoting Roman dramatist Terence, my father often urged “moderation in all things.” But I have also had trouble achieving this equilibrium. The fact is that I have gone to extremes. I have been working to set up my first feature film to be a tremendous success since before I even dreamt up the story that would become eventually become “Wildlike.”
Start before the film is a film. Do your homework.
Since I was a teenager, I have been watching foreign films, independent films, art films and low-budget movies. Between then and making my first feature, I have been ear-marking smaller budget, first-time feature work — movies that I could emulate in going after my first feature. I noted the production quality, the location, the scope of the story and the actor’s popularity at the time the movie was made.
Knowing the look and feel I wanted to accomplish for “Wildlike,” I created a reference film list for the film — not including big-budget Hollywood classics, but instead, recent films made for around the same money that we would have and that went on to have decent success in the indie film world.
Do not try emulate a large indie or major feature film with your sub-million dollar budget. When I got ready to make “Wildlike,” I looked at which films had been shot for our budget, and achieved what I want to achieve. Other comparisons were fruitless. Such an example was Lance Hammer’s “Ballast” (2008), achieved on a small budget with few characters in remote locations, with a dramatic authenticity. Though they’re great American productions, referencing “The Master,” “No Country for Old Men” or “127 Hours” didn’t make sense. “Winter’s Bone,” maybe, but, that was a sophomoric feature. Debra Granik’s “Down to the Bone” (2004) was a better, more instructive reference. I made studying successful first features my homework and it paid off.
Build a reputable project.
What are the attributes of great indie films? Of great first features?
Once I was accepted into the prestigious NYU Tisch graduate film program, I felt I had secured the first line in my dossier of credibility. As I graduated NYU, I was looking to accomplish that big short film festival hit, the one that you write the feature script for, and then walk into the Sundance Labs, IFP, etc. to develop. That never happened. Instead, I spent years developing skills as a producer, working from AD to production manager to line producer to producer, learning the nuts and bolts of accomplishing a low-budget feature along the way. In the end I knew what could be accomplished from a production standpoint, and that informed my screenplay.
In “Wildlike,” I told the story that was inside me with the people, themes and locations I had a passion for, inside the realm of what I knew and was capable of learning. But I also concocted a first feature that would have value or stand-out in theme, mise-en-scene, production and location.
“Wildlike” could have been told in New York, but I set it in Alaska. We could have shot on 5D, but I went after 35mm film and cameras from Kodak and Panavision. I could have told a love story, but I decided to tackle the difficult, poorly represented subject of sexual abuse. We could have shot in just a couple of Alaska locations, but I chose to cover 3,000 miles. I tried to combine the best of everything: a subject matter that would justify the verb “tackle” and the noun “gravitas.” Filmed on 35mm. A fantastic location. An amazing team.
People attract people, and people sell films.
For better or worse, the film business works by reputation, association, connections, credits, credibility, verification, recognition and buzz. There is a difference between name-dropping and sticking with the winners. Perhaps because I was already 30 and into a second career when I entered graduate film school, I knew that building a reputation and associating myself with successful people was critical.
Once the script for “Wildlike” was written, I knew I would need as strong a cast as possible, and I would be responsible for finding the money through family, friends and anyone who would listen and contribute. But I also sought to surround myself with winners. I started with the concept: I am nobody. Nobody knows Frank Hall Green. So beyond the script, every person to work with, every vendor, every application, every friend of the film, everything must bring credibility to the project. I needed people who not only had the skills and the personalities to make “Wildlike,” but the reputations and resumes to bring cache to the project.
Frank Hall Green is a writer/director and a producer at Catch & Release Films with partner Tom Heller. His directorial debut feature “Wildlike” stars Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood and Brian Geraghty, has played at over 100 US film festivals and won numerous awards including 26 best film awards. Amplify will release “Wildlike” on September 25.