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Producer Laura Zinger on Film Festivals in 2012

February 13, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Laura Zinger

Yesterday, I received an email from a Chicago Filmmaker asking me if I had any advice on how to go about entering their film into film festivals. Of course, my canned response was WithoutABox.com which makes entering your film into multiple festivals a snap as well as a drain on your checkbook, because festivals, of course, are money-making ventures as much as anything else.

But in all honestly, my initial inner response, was “Why?” In this day and age, with how many online distribution outlets are available to indie filmmakers, would anyone want to pay to enter their film into film festivals? Chances are you just spent a boatload of money making your film (unless you just used your iPhone 4 or 4S and recorded external audio which is my recommendation for any new and budding filmmakers out there reading this. Keep it cheap, Sister.)

Not only do film festivals cost a lot of money to just enter your film (Do you know how pissed I was when I paid over $2,000 in festival fees for my first documentary feature and only got into a few of them? I could have made a great start on another indie film with those bills!), but it takes forever to find out if you got into any of them, then you have to wait around until the festival happens, and then you also in almost every case have to pay to fly out to the festival to represent your film. You’ll have to pay for your own hotel and food as well. I even had one festival contact me recently inviting me to enter my documentary into their film festival, then was shocked when I asked them to waive the fee (which is standard etiquette as far as I know when a festival INVITES you to submit to THEIR festival), then they agreed to waive the fee asking me to pay it if my film was accepted. Lame, but fine, because indie filmmakers have been trained to believe that the film festival is the be-all-to-end-all. So I started filling out the application, and then read that if you submit your film and your film is accepted into this film festival, you have to commit to attending the film festival including paying for yourself AND another crew member’s entire travel, lodging and food fees. This festival, which was only in its third year mind you, has this as a REQUIREMENT for entering this film festival. I was horrified! Are only rich people making indie films? Am I a total oddball here in admitting that as a 32-year old filmmaker, I am completely and utterly devoid of any kind of savings account or IRA or 401K that I could possibly tap into in order to attend a film festival like this?!  I would rather spend the money on my next film.

The only film festival at this point that I think is worthwhile in terms of paying to go to is Sundance, and that is only because it’s probably one of the last few, if only, American film festivals where the films accepted into their festival have a chance at getting distribution. As a matter of fact, Sundance just announced that all films PAST and PRESENT will get online distribution by none other than Sundance itself. Read the article here.

I’m probably a terrible person to write this article, because I am a little grumpy about film festivals and honestly I have a bad attitude towards people who say oh, you HAVE to get into a film festival, or else no one will watch your film. I’m calling bullshit on that. There are all kinds of ways to get your films seen, and at this point, I have to agree with a great local indie filmmaker and friend I know, Ben Hicks, who recommends that until you build a name, you should put your films online for free.

In fact, he insists that this is the only way for an unknown indie filmmaker in today’s world to get their films out there.  But I do want to add that I think this is great advice only for strictly narrative films. People will pay to watch Indie documentaries. It’s amazing to me how much money an indie doc can make, no matter how poorly or well it is made. If you make a doc about something where very few docs about it exist, you’re golden.

But you can still part-time apply Ben’s freebie model, if you’re an indie doc maker by putting your indie doc up on SnagFilms.com for free for a limited time (i.e. one month) and then tell all of your friends and hope that word gets round. If there’s an audience for your doc, word will really get around if people can watch it for free, like it, and share it.

So, in closing, my thoughts on film festivals in 2012 is to stop thinking about them, stop worrying about them, put them out of your head, and just go and make the film that you want to. Just focus your energy on making your film and getting it done. Then if you feel the need to waste large sums of money entering your film into film festivals, instead of just putting it online and finding some kind of online distribution outlet, do it after you finish your film. That’s my plan for 2012 at any rate. Happy filmmaking, folks.

Read more from Laura Zinger on her Tumblr blog.

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