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My Middle Toe Is Longer Than Yours

Are Film Festivals a Scam/Waste?

Over the past few weeks I was wondering what is the best way to get into film fests and which ones to go to. Then I started to digress and think that maybe film festivals are the biggest scam or waste if not used correctly. In this article I am going to examine local scum, people with hidden agendas, and ideas why it may be better to stay away from festivals unless it's absolutely right for you and your film.

About 6 months ago I met a festival programmer through FIND which used to be IFP/LA out here (Los Angeles). I mentioned this on the Crazed Fanboy Message Board before. He said always consider the "4 Ps" when you do film festivals, and they are in this order:

1.) Prestige - is the film festival a big festival like Sundance? Is it going to help you in the future or your movie just to say you played there?

2.) People- do any people attend this film festival. If it's some little start-up fest in St. Pete what are the chances someone is going to see your film who matters to your future. Is there a film market at the festival that you can maybe sell your film? Basically, who is going to be there?

3.) Prizes- what do you get? Its kinda bullshit that we make the film, spend all the time and money, pay an entry fee and get nothing. What do you get back?

4.) Personal- this is your local film fest? You may either want to play it for your friends and family.

In 2003, Vito Trabucco and I created a short film called Homeland Security. Not a Oscar-nominated-type film by any means, but more or less our equivalent of a film school type effort. Just like a proud new parent we sent out our baby to everyone because at the time we felt it was the best. We spent more in film festival submissions than we did on a 10-minute 16mm film. What did we really get out of it? We could've made another film and practiced our craft even more instead of submitting to film festivals. Instead, we got caught up in the hype and maybe the dream that Sundance would see something in it.

Around the same time the Saints and Sinners Film Festival was really hot. No matter how badly people talk about Rick Danford or the way he promotes things he really made the film festival with the community in mind. The first few fests had no entry fees. A hot venue which was well promoted. Danford never put his own films in competition and there were prizes. Without a doubt, the film festival fell into category 3 and 4. It was really more of a personal film festival than anything which is #4 since it was a smaller festival in the big scheme of things.

Switching gears let's talk about one of the top 20 film festivals in the world according to most sources. The Sarasota Film Festival which is basically in your back yard. Here is totally the other side of the spectrum. Sarasota has money in the area and behind the festival. The sponsor list reads like a who's who of local business and local film community. I need not remind you that Neil McCurry, a guy in Central Florida no one respects due to him not keeping his word, is the "president" of this film festival. I personally don't know any local filmmaker who has ever got into that film festival and I know a lot of people. At one time McCurry basically bought his way into the film festival as a sponsor in years past but, ironically, is no longer listed as a sponsor anymore. His recent short "video" movie with B-Movie scream queen, Debbie Rochon, may not have even got into Saints and Sinners, let alone his own film festival. Did Sarasota find out why everyone in Central Florida is angry with or hates McCurry? Is it worth it to submit to a festival like this and pay between $20 and $55 (depending on deadline and length) with a guy like McCurry in charge? This festival would fit into #1 category IF you got in. Chances are if your film was truly good enough to get into the film festival you wouldn't need Sarasota to begin with.

Sounds like a lot of politics are involved with film festivals and moving making, right? Well, there are even politics in Little League Baseball so when a lot of money is involved with an "art" form be ready for the politics to begin.

I always ask this question for our projects, other peoples films, or film festivals. "What's in it for you?" If you are an actor working for free, you get to be seen on screen. If you are a make-up artist, you get your work seen if you are unknown or try something new. If you want to be a director you get to show your vision instead of working your way up the ladder. That's why people will work on movies for free.

Why would someone do a film festival? A business will do a film fest to make money. If it's a filmmaker running the festival, it's usually to push their own films and/or raise money for their next film. Very seldom does a film fest come around like TamBay or the Independents Film Festival that really helps the area.

That brings me to the last film festival, the new Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Pete. If you work on a movie for free you at least deserve a copy. If you PAY to submit to a film festival you at least deserve an email to see if you get in or not. If do not return the favor, I feel the person is selfish and in this realm of movies has committed an unforgivable sin. I know a handful of people who submitted to Sunscreen (including myself) and didn't hear a peep back. I didn't even know the film festival happened. I totally forgot about it. I emailed their festival director about no reply and here is what Tony Armer said:

"Understood. In our case there are essentially 2 people doing everything when it comes to organizing the festival, couple that with running my own business full time to make a living and working on my own film projects and time becomes very limited. So we made a conscious choice not to notify all the filmmakers because we just wouldn't have time. I know it can be frustrating waiting to hear something and not knowing anything."


I wonder if he had time to take the checks to the bank? Should a filmmaker take on this irresponsible festival programmer if he can't do what most film festivals do? It sounds like it was more of a decision of priorities and it was just not a "conscious choice" to notify all the filmmakers after cashing their checks.

Ironically, Armer already knows this, and in a article by Steve Persall from the Times he made this comment:

"When it comes to independent films, some people put a year or two into making a movie, spending all your own money and running up your credit cards," Armer said. "You have nothing to show for it in the end except what people think of it."

So what does all this mean? These questions I am asking myself as I am writing to all of you. Are these film festivals all situational? What's really in it for the people putting them on? Does anyone care about your film as much as you do?

The answers to me are pretty clear. If you have a short film you want to play you pretty much have to go to a film festival. Freeport.com and Chris Gore's Film Festival book are great places to start for free film festivals or to get more info on who you are sending your film to.

When it comes to features, I honestly feel you are better off taking your film festival money and staging a low cost premiere. You care most about your own movie. Have the attention directly on your project, not 40 other films. If the premiere makes money, that's money in your pocket instead of a programmer who can give a crap less about you.

In the end, it's about building your career and the people who are working for you. Don't be a fool like I have in the past and spends thousands of dollars for nothing. That money can go into reaching your ultimate goal.

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    "My Middle Toe Is Longer Than Yours" is ©2006 by Mark Terry.  Webpage design and all graphics herein (except where otherwise noted) are creations of Nolan B. Canova.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2006 by Nolan B. Canova.