You’re probably already mad at me, huh? Because film festivals are fun! And that’s how you can get your ticket to the big time, right? Right…
Though there is a time and place for film festivals, I believe there are also many reasons to consider NOT submitting your movie. Here are some ideas to think based on my experience:
1. No Guarantee Your Film is Watched
So you make your list of the top 10 or 15 festivals you want to submit to. You go on Withoutabox or FilmFreeway and pay your submission fees, send in your digital link or DVD and then you wait. While you’re waiting, you assume that your film is being watched.
But in fact, there is no guarantee that your DVD of the hundreds or thousands submitted is actually viewed by someone on the festival staff. Or what if someone (a subjective human being like the rest of us) starts watching your movie and doesn’t like the first 10 minutes.
I find it disturbing to pay for a service in which there is no loss to that service for taking my money and never watching my product. For all I know, the film could be thrown in a stack and never considered…
2. It Can Get Expensive
When talking with non-filmmakers, I normally see surprise in their eyes when they learn that festivals cost money. Most of these submissions cost anywhere from 30 to 100 dollars. Now, is that really a lot in the big picture? No. But when you submit to 10 to 15 festivals it adds up. And that’s not to mention the cost of materials and the time to produce those materials.
Could this part of your budget be used elsewhere? I think so. I believe it could be used to have your film played on your own terms and in a situation where you benefit from the system, not the festival.
3. Your Movie Sits on the Shelf
During this time in which you wait to hear back from these 10 to 15 festivals, what is happening with your movie? In most cases, nothing. It’s finished, it’s ready for an audience… and it’s sitting on your shelf.
Most film festivals that can really help a film’s success are premiere festivals. This means that in order to be accepted your film must make a world premiere, nationwide premiere, or premiere in that state (all depending on what festival you submit to).
Therefore, in many cases, festivals force your movie into hiding for an indefinite amount of time while it could be seen by people!
4. They Earn Your Money in that Market
Following that thought, say you are one of the lucky (or talented) ones who gets your film in. You pack your bags and travel to this destination full of hopes and dreams for the accolades your film will receive at this festival. First of all, don’t assume just because your film is admitted that anyone will go see it. Most likely it will not be the only film playing during that time slot and unless you have great buzz in that area or work your butt off when you get there, don’t be surprised if your screening is poorly attended.
Not only that but you have spent money, time and energy so that another business (not yours) can make money in that market. You should be the one benefiting in that market (city or town), not them. There is no profit share. Why not I wonder? They asked you to pay them, why shouldn’t they pay you on the back end…
In fact, a short little anecdote. One of the festivals we submitted our recent movie Durant’s Never Closes to had an interesting response after turning us down. One of the festival programmers (part of a committee) asked if we wanted to screen our film separate for the festival at this theater. We made a deal to play the film and split the ticket sales 50/50. There was no cost to us and we made a good amount of money from this showing!
5. Festivals Pay Distributors for Others Films
I learned a very disturbing fact while negotiating a distribution deal for Durant’s Never Closes. Did you know that many festivals pay distribution companies and sales agents to play certain movies? I was quoted that festivals OFTEN pay 300 to 3,000 dollars for key titles. Where do you think that money came from for them to do so? Your hard earned cash. Your submission fee. So in many cases, you are paying for some other film to be played instead of yours!
To be perfectly honest, I think the film festival system is not only old-fashioned and out of date, it’s corrupt. It may benefit some films but it takes advantage of many more. It’s a dime made on the hopes and dreams of the filmmaker.
I encourage you all out there to at least consider these and to know there are other ways to get your movie seen and to make a profit from it!