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Friday, July 14, 2006

Your father's always picking on the dog

This is Jane.

It's funny now that I've made one film I feel like an advice-dispensing machine. Over the past couple months, we've been gearing up for our theatrical and video distribution. I spent several weeks editing the special features for our DVD. Georgia, Mia, and I recorded a filmmaker commentary track that I had to lay down against the film. I did a lot of editing on that one. We talk A LOT. There are also interviews with each of us and the cast members.

For the last several weeks. Michael Bartholow has been helping us record podcasts that are now available in weekly installments for download on our website and at iTunes. Again, more talking and more opining from the three of us. Add to all this the panels we've spoken on and all the Q&As we've done at film festivals... we are practically professional speakers on the independent film circuit.

The thing is, in the independent film space, one film DOES an expert make. The learning curve is so steep and the potential mistakes so costly that it really does help to listen to those who go before you. Here are my best bits of film festival advice:

Your festival premiere is paramount. The ultimate goal of an independent filmmaker is to gain distribution for your film. In this day and age, the best way to do that is to sell your film at a film festival. Certain film festivals are known as "markets" that is, acquisition execs go to them with their checkbooks ready. Sundance is, of course, the biggest American festival that is also a market. Tribeca is rapidly becoming a market as well. It is every filmmaker's dream to take their film to Sundance and sell it for millions to Harvey Weinstein. The unfortunate reality is that A) it is really hard to get your film into Sundance - this year, 120 feature films were selected from over 3,100 submissions. That's less than 4% acceptance rate (you have a better chance of getting into Harvard). B) Only a small percentage of Sundance films get acquired. C) The Sundance films that are acquired for big bucks usually have stars in them. i.e. "The Illusionist" with Edward Norton - $7 million; "Little Miss Sunshine" with Steve Carrell and Greg Kinnear - $10 million. D) Many of the multitude of films that go to Sundance but don't get acquired unfortunately never do. The sad truth is that your premiere is the most buzzworthy event of your film's lifecycle and it is a small window to generate interest. Sometimes, a film that isn't "discovered" at its first festival will be passed over at subsequent festivals because of the perception that it has already been picked over and discarded by the rest of the industry.

A corollary to maximizing your first festival is to go to your premiere with your A-team intact. That means, getting a publicist and sales agent (producer's rep) on board and working before your world premiere. You have one chance to make a first impression and you attack it with all guns blazing. Unfortunately, I have met so many filmmakers at festivals who go to their first festival hoping to find a producer's rep there. That's too late because the premiere is the best sales tool in a filmmaker's arsenal and instead of using the heat and buzz to attract a sales rep, you and your sales rep should be using that buzz to SELL YOUR FILM. Start a few months before your premiere and send screeners and set up meetings and find a good rep who gets your film and will stick with it through the sales cycle.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you probably won't sell your film at the first festival. Buyers will sniff and circle but typically junior acquisition people screen films first and then they bump it up to their bosses and their bosses bosses. There will be second looks and second thoughts, and third thoughts... basically it will likely take several screenings over several festivals before all the right people have a chance to see and sign off on the buy. So patience and persistence are important. Also, this is where a committed sales agent is important. Some of the "top" sales agents are known for pumping and dumping - that is, if a film doesn't sell at its first festival, the rep will dump it and move on to fresher clients. Make sure your sales rep is in it for the long haul because chances are, it will take a while to seal your deal.

Maximize each festival experience. This means befriending the programmers in advance and lobbying for key screening times. Depending on the festival, this usually means shooting for an opening weekend screening - preferably in the evening. Make sure your film is not up against a powerhouse film in the same time slot. Also try and get into the competition section of the festival. Usually competition films get more press and, of course, there is a chance to win which is huge exposure. Hustle to pack your theaters - call all your friends and family and hand out postcards like a madwoman. You want to make sure that the theater is as full and rowdy as possible for the acquisition execs.

I've got tons more advice but I think I'll just let this sink in for the time being.



Jane spreads the gospel of Red
Doors at a recent panel event.

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