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Filmmaker Mark Thimijan’s Once A Week Online Film Festival

September 5, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

originally posted 2/8/2012.


Terrence Flamm

Even the most gifted independent filmmakers face serious challenges in finding an audience for their work. Pursuing the festival circuit targets an appreciative but limited audience, and posting on popular online sites like YouTube runs the risk of being lost among countless amateurs. That’s why filmmaker Mark Thimijan launched the Once A Week Online Film Festival in September, 2010. His inventive format matches high quality independent films with a worldwide audience.

“I believe online film festivals are the future,” Thimijan explained in a recent email. His own background includes starting out as a screenwriter before moving on to becoming an assistant director. He currently writes and directs his own projects, including the feature film Barstool Cowboy, which is available on Amazon and Netflix. “Movie theatres all over the world are closing and more and more content is being viewed online. A traditional film festival will give you one, maybe two screenings and the audience is never guaranteed.”

Based in Lincoln, Nebraska, Thimijan is pretty much a one-man operation as he sorts through a new batch of films each week. Submissions to the Once A Week Online Film Festival must follow the same rules as for YouTube, and can be no longer than 20 minutes in length. Thimijan consults a rotating panel of judges comprised of film critics, professionals and enthusiasts, who rate the submissions on a scale of 1 to 10. The film with the best average rating (usually an 8 or higher) is then shown on the YouTube channel for a week. The Once A Week Online Film Festival, which attracted 15 views during its first week in 2010, now ranges between 1,000 to 3,000 views for a film during its run.

“The festival was created to give filmmakers more exposure and have their work celebrated for an entire week,” Thimijan noted. Films that don’t win remain active for a year, giving them a chance to be showcased at a later date, depending on the competition.

Viewing previous winners at the Once A Week Online Film Festival archives underscores the wide variety of films that have been showcased, including drama, comedy, suspense, animation and documentaries. Thimijan has received entries from teenagers through senior citizens, as well as from other countries. At its peak, the Once A Week Online Film Festival received about 50 submissions a week, but the total has dropped since Thimijan implemented a submission fee policy.

“I honestly did not want submission fees in the first place,” he maintained. “Being a filmmaker myself I understand how expensive the whole process is and the last thing any filmmaker needs is to spend more money once production is over.”

So he strived to work out an ethical  system that basically translates into a contributor paying $1 for each minute of his film, with a maximum of $20.

“I never liked the idea of a one minute film having to pay the same fee as a 20 minute film; it just doesn’t seem fair to me.”

Plus, Thimijan’s rationale for the fees goes beyond economics, and has more to do with maintaining the quality of his site. He had discovered that trying to process 50 submissions on a weekly basis sometimes resulted in quality films being overlooked.

“The fee was put into place to slow down the rate of submissions and it worked,” he explained. “Any film submitted now will have a much better chance of being shown. Six months ago it was very difficult for a film to become the highest rated, and [it’s] much easier now.”

Thimijan has toyed with the idea of breaking the competition down into specific categories, such as music video, animation, comedy, and drama, or holding multiple online festivals that focus on particular genres. The danger in doing that, he feels, is that it might water down the success he’s worked so hard to achieve.

“What I like about the Once A Week Festival platform is that we have the biggest audience each week,” he said. “I’m afraid that if it’s broken down and more specific the audience could also potentially be broken down.”

Operating his site gives Thimijan a first hand look at the most current trends in filmmaking. He’s seeing a lot of films being shot in Canon 5d, 7d, and 60d, as well as submissions that utilize the advantages and capabilities of DSLR’s. Short films are evolving from a time when they were pretty much a practicing ground for future, long-form work, and becoming more polished and technologically advanced works that can stand on their own.

Thimijan says it’s hard to tell how many of the winning entries on the Once A Week Online Film Festival have gone on to bigger things. He does know that the director of the film Slings And Arrows was contacted by the South Texas Underground Film Festival and invited to show his film there. The site’s greatest success, Thimijan believes, has been to consistently present quality films on a weekly basis and watch the site’s audience grow. He recalls that it took about three months for really good films to be submitted, as people began to trust that the Once A Week Online Film Festival wasn’t going to disappear.

“I really didn’t know if this would work in the beginning but it’s now clear to me that there was a need and want for this.”


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