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FESTIVALS & DISTRIBUTORS
1.Motivation
2.Budgets & Breakdowns
3.Producer Stuff
4.Editing & Actors
5.Festivals & Distributors
6.Clean Up
7.Dealing With Agents
8. Production Checklist
9.Digital
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Congratulations. You've got something you can show to people that you're proud of and you want it to be seen by as many people as possible. The strategies you employ to get your film seen are varied. Here are some ideas and related experiences.

FESTIVALS

PRODUCERS REPRESENTATIVES often can have very beneficial results for your film. A producers rep. is a person supposedly with connections or some weight or pull with film festivals, buyers, and distributors. They can be beneficial at both the pre-production of your film in finding money, actors or procuring much needed favors. The drawbacks are financial, if you can afford one that helps you get your film started it is well worth the money. Their pricing structure changes and some are negotiable and will work a deal with you, especially if they like the project. At the other end of your film, when it's done, the same goes true. Film festivals and programmers are deluged with tapes, if a producers rep can get your tape to the right person it may mean the difference between it being in the festival and out. Most producers reps take about 25% of a sale they make to distributors or buyers, but you can work your own individual deal with them depending on what you think your film can do.

FILM FESTIVALS are one of the best ways to get your film seen and reviewed, and to start some kind of buzz about your film. Getting into festivals, and the right festivals for your film is not a trick, but will take some clear eyed analysis of your film, your contacts, and the festivals that are out there. It's very hard to see your film from outside your own perspective without getting too bitter about the realities of the present day film scene. But, you've made your film because you were motivated by something other than money, you think it's a great film, and now you'll do your best to get it seen, to hell with what other people think. Right?

Obviously you don't want to send your junkie road film to a documentary, children's, or mountain film festival. Sundance and it's satellite festivals (Slam-Slum-Bum & Whatever's next-dance), Toronto, Berlin, Cannes and Rotterdam are the big festivals for films and critics these days and getting into the "biggies" is like everything else, connections help a great deal.

It is much easier to program a film with Winona Ryder than your cousin Ed (who also happens to be a great actor) in a film festival. The audiences will come, pay for the tickets, and it has prestige for the festival. Cousin Ed may have done the seminal performance of the decade, but you'll have to get past the first wave of screening, usually done by young, overworked interns that may or may not of heard of Orson Bean, much less Orson Welles. Hard fact is that your film about aging may be a great film, but if the person who sees it first is 17, your film has an extra barrier that you must avoid if possible. Try calling the festival director, maybe you can make some personal connection and get him to see it, this is also where a producers rep. would be very handy, if they know somebody and if you can afford them. Again, get references from anybody you hire (casting your crew).

DO YOUR RESEARCH!

Opening at Sundance is great, if you get in, but if you've finished your film in February, do you wait a year before releasing it? THE WORLD PREMIERE IS VERY IMPORTANT TO A FESTIVAL. Berlin will not take your film if it shows in Rotterdam: Cannes will ONLY show premieres and all the other big festivals will want to be the first to show your film. Do you wait for a year and take a chance on Sundance, or enter Cannes, or Berlin, or Rotterdam? Do you think your film can compete with the glitz and money at Cannes? Do you know somebody in any of the festivals that you can be sure you will get in for your World Premiere?

What if you decide to wait a year and do not get in Sundance? That means your film is now old in festival terms, people will hear of it and word gets around, and what do you do for a year? You can't really promote your film because it will seem old by the time it premieres at a festival. It's unfortunate, but being the "next big thing" is status quo, festivals and festival directors love to discover films, and audiences like to feel they are seeing something for the first time, as they very often do at festivals, so promoting your film for 12 months prior to a festival could be counter productive, and will sour a distributor for the same reason.

WHERE WILL A BIG FESTIVAL PUT YOUR FILM?

If you get in the big festival are you going to be relegated to a bad theater at 9 AM. with little publicity, against the smaller festival in which your film will the opening night film? If your film doesn't hit it big with the big festival you might be much better off with the smaller festival which is thrilled to have you and will treat you and your film like the prize of the festival. However, having shown at the big festival sometimes is enough to get many other festivals in line to show your film next. This is something you have to decide in your strategy, and it changes with each film, and for each festival, and EVERY YEAR. If your film is a quirky, chatty gen-X upbeat film in which everyone lives happily ever after can you expect a festival with a history of programming films with 50 year old difficult characters and without stars that win awards and get 3 picture deals to program your film? And if they do, where will they put it and why should you wait?


ONCE YOUR FILM HAS HAD ITS WORLD PREMIERE

hopefully you will be approached by a number of programmers who want your film in their festival. The smaller festivals are often the best ones, at least the ones you may have the most fun attending, but, you should try to organize them close to each other, if possible. A European and a North American Premiere are independent of each other, and usually will not hinder either Premiere. If your film is not reviewed well in Cannes, maybe the critics here will like it, but, it's more likely if it's at a big festival like Cannes ALL THE CRITICS will be there and will have already reviewed your film. Very often a critic will print only a capsule review of a festival film waiting for a longer appraisal for the theatrical release. Partially because films can be recut and changed before a theatrical release, and partially because many critics feel they can't devote a large amount of space to a film that may not be seen by anyone outside the festival. This is not ALWAYS the case, some critics only review once and will reprint that review when/if the film is released theatrically. REMEMBER, you made the film, you're responsible for what's on that screen, you put it out there, you take whatever comes, it's a crap shoot no matter how you figure it so just make films that you're happy with and leave it at that.


RECENTLY I got phenomenal reviews from a city in which my film opened, embarrassing reviews, but the one national critic who was in the theater when my film was there for press screenings said he did not review films without distribution for fear of ruining their chance. Well, kinda', however, he has taken a few films under his wing and has really helped that film get around. I don't know what any of that means, maybe he was tired that day, or bored, or just saw a bad film, whatever, it's up to you to get them in the theater and take whatever comes. Find out their phone number, call them, talk to them, most will be open to that kind of entreaty depending on their schedule but call EARLY, give them every chance to make it and make it easy for them to come.

IF YOUR FILM IS NOT LOVED BY THE CRITICS you will have to try and get it in as many festivals as possible to generate some positive word of mouth outside the critics circle. It's always better to approach a distributor with positive notices and press about your film and just because one critic didn't like your film, doesn't mean another one will not, and vice versa.

FORGET THE REVIEWS, DON'T TAKE THEM PERSONALLY.

I've been pretty lucky so far, but the truth is you will know when someone has a valid review, if they have crap to say about your work and you know it's crap, forget it. Crap in this context means fawning butt kissing, and horrible derision's. If you believe the good reviews you have to believe the bad, that cliché' said, remember that a lot of great films have been trashed by the critics, as long as you know you've made a good film that's all you can hope for.

Another sad fact is that festival directors may be in touch with other festivals and share their opinion, good or bad, with that director. Great if they like your film. Not so hot if they don't.

It's not a democracy and it's not fair. 

But it is human nature to share opinions with peers, so that's just how it goes. I have it on good information that one festival director said, and I quote,

"I will never put one of Schlattman's films in this festival."

Well, don't waste your money by entering this festival. Simple. But what does that mean for other festivals? Probably a lot, but this sort of personal attack is not indicative of all festival directors thank God, pettiness on the part of this person does not mean that most festivals will not take a fair look at your film and base it's merits not on some wankers opinion, but on your film.

Fact is that most festivals try to get the best they can for their festival, however, "BEST" is subjective. Many bad independent films get made, and how many bad films can 1 person see before they start to hate everything?

Some Festivals are only in business to make money.

Be very wary of festivals that want exorbitant fees to enter, even if you get in your entry will mean nothing to everyone else that knows what a scam that festival is running, and could possibly hurt your film. These are unscrupulous festivals that would like you to believe that $150 to watch a tape of your film is a fair fee. You'll have to decide that for yourself, I suggest dropping that festival from your list unless they invite you, for free.

- FESTIVAL ETIQUETTE -

Your in, your at the festival, etiquette means forgetting about trashing the festival that has invited your film to screen. I was recently at a festival in which a renowned dilettante did nothing but moan and complain and cry in the bathroom because they weren't treating her like the royalty she thought she was, and in a festival in which everyone else was having a great time. Consequently this person became the festival joke and will never be invited back. Keep your mouth shut if you're not happy and praise the festival if you are, simple courtesy - act like a child and expect to get treated like one. Drink till you drop? Did it. Loved it. Will not do that again, on a bet. Can't tell you how many people I pissed off or impressed poorly, but I used the festival as an excuse to blow off some steam after finishing my film, seemed like the perfect place. WRONG. Couldn't have been a worse place, that's where all your peers are, and people that might be able to help you in the future. Have fun, play safe, and remember, 1st impressions last a long, long time.

FINAL FESTIVAL NOTE.

You'll have to decide what festival, and subsequent festivals will be the best for your film, AND, if you have not heard until very, very late in the decision process or the deadline, WAKEUP, they may take your film, but you're not high on the prestige list. If they really want your film, like it, and will give it a good screening slot and press, you will know RIGHT AWAY.  You may want to go to plan b, or call the next festival and tell them that they can have the world premiere of your new film if they act NOW. You have to take responsibility for the success of your film, it's wonderful if Sundance fawns over your film but if they don't, and want it only as a backup its poor position may hurt your film as much as help. DO YOUR OWN PRESS at the festival. Whatever press the festival does is great, but you can take out ads, offer yourself for interviews for any magazine/paper/shopping list that will take you in that town, put up posters -

DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET PEOPLE IN .

DISTRIBUTORS

Preface

Keep in mind the state of filmmaking in the new millennium: If you don't have a marquee actor that will sell tickets Nationally, and Internationally, the chances of you getting theatrical distribution are virtually zero. It's not impossible, but very, very, very unlikely.


DISTRIBUTORS ARE IN BUSINESS TO MAKE MONEY. No news flash, but keep it in mind. Remember, it's BUSINESS for them, and, as Mamet said in The Spanish Prisoner, "In business you must assume the other guy is ALWAYS out to screw you."  Tell me about it.

A rule of thumb for any deal with a distributor is that you make no deal without advance sales money. Period. You can fluctuate in how much you want depending on your film, but get as much as you can, theoretically all your production money, up front.

A DISTRIBUTOR THAT HAS 50 FILMS to sell will be trying to sell your film first if he has had to put out money for that film, simply to try and make his money back. If he is successful, theoretically, so will you be. Theoretically. What he will tack on to your film as
"EXPENSES" may in fact be one of the most dishonest practices in all of filmmaking so you will want to put a cap on his expenses in your contract. I guarantee an unscrupulous distributor will hit that cap, but you know what's coming, it's not a surprise. He will also have little motivation to sell your film against one he owes money on. He might be able to sell your film without an advance, but it will not be the first one he tries to sell.

HAVE A LAWYER LOOK AT YOUR CONTRACT, if you can't afford a lawyer, don't sign a deal. Are you interested in a distributor that just wants your film to expand his library of films so he can look good at the next market? Me either. Why choke up your film with a guy that won't sell it? It's better for you to just hold on to your film because you at least have the option to get it to somebody that will try and sell it in the future.

THE LENGTH of your contract is important, if your deal is not favorable, or you question the distributors ability, put a performance term in your contract. In other words put a stipulation in your contract that if he does not perform certain functions by a certain date the contract is null and void. I had one wanker that after 6 months didn't perform any of the contractual agreements, then wouldn't sign a release. Twerpism is rampant.

GET REAL. They're not all crooks, but don't expect your film with no stars, bad reviews and 3 hours in length to sell to a market that wants violence, stars and sex. It may be a great film, but if they can't sell it, they can't sell it. Look at the good films that don't do well, why will yours be any different? By the same token don't believe that your film won't sell because somebody says so. I know of a case where a guy got $10,000 for his film and the next day the distributor sold it for 1.5 million and the filmmaker never saw a dime. I also know of films with 1.5 million in advertising that did not make 10,000 at the box office. So GET REAL BUB.

SELF DISTRIBUTION
is just as much, OR MORE of a gamble as having a distributor work for you. If you have the time, the energy, and the desire to call theaters across the country, ship tapes, ship prints, call local papers, pay for advertising, check advertising in all the towns, colleges, bake shops and film organizations that will show your film then go for it. You may gain contacts, friends and experiences invaluable to you later on, but remember, very few films make money that way, you could be investing money and time in a MONETARILY fruit less endeavor. That might not mean anything to you and that's great, but don't expect to make a lot of money on the road with one film, and be able to pay back all your investors. Also consider what you're doing next and how much time do you spend NOT WORKING on the next script. Get your priorities straight before you go on the road.

DISTRIBUTORS
have contacts you don't have, it's a tough club to break into and I've heard the derision some distributors spew about filmmakers in private. I don't know that it hurts the filmmaker her/his distributor doesn't like them or his/her film, but talking trash can't help. AFTER A THEATRICAL RUN, if you're lucky enough to have booked one, you will have to start contacting the buyers in all the markets by mail, or phone, or go to one of the various worldwide markets at the festivals. They are very expensive but could be very lucrative if that's what you want to do. You will have to spend money on advertising, again, an office ($10,000 at the American Film Market ), phones, posters, tapes and all the other stuff. There are other, no-budget ways to try and sell at these markets ( AFM article ) that have been very lucrative for some, but I personally have not been very successful doing that.

MY EXPERIENCE has been bipolar. One film with great reviews was stolen from me through my own fault in placing any trust in this "distributor", but when he did not perform on his contract I did not give him my negative. He then refused to perform, and after ruining sales potential of the film started reneging on the contract I informed him he no longer represented the film. That's the last I ever heard from him, he has not delivered the tape elements and will not contact me. Fine. When I can afford a lawyer I'll get the materials back, but in the meantime you just have to forget it, move on, just another bad reputation you want nothing to do with. On another film, again with great reviews, no one offered any advance money so I took it to the IFFM on my own and got an immediate sale. I'm now selling that film worldwide and have had some luck doing it, and have made certainly more than I would have from a very small distributor. I've made no attempt to try and get it into theaters because I simply don't have the money. Simple as that.

DON'T SELL DISTRIBUTORS SHORT.

It's like used car salesmen, there are so many seedy lots out there you have to be careful where you step. The little guys can be just as good as the big guys, but brother, watch out. Distributors can do everything for your film if they are behind it. Ask yourself a few questions: How well did it do at the festivals? Compared to what's out there, how well will it do in the theaters, in video sales? Does it have any stars? What's the marketability of the film? In general, just get real about your film.

All that stuff is very important when getting a deal. Obviously if it's done great at the festivals, DISTRIBUTORS WILL BE COMING TO YOU. If you're not the "NEXT BIG THING", but you still have a great film, how you handle what you do with distributors could mean the life of your film.

SKIPPING THE FESTIVAL circuit is another possibility, but has some major drawbacks. Let's say that you think your film has some marketability but you don't want to bother with the expense and time of film festivals, what do you do? You start setting up screenings, or sending out tapes to the major distributors that handle the kind of film you've made. They may love your film, and if they have the first crack at it over anyone you may have made a friend, a great deal and see your film in theaters with a million in advertising. A NO IS A NO FOREVER, USUALLY. If they don't like it, and say no, no matter what it does after you then take it through the festivals they will more than likely still say no. Who wants to admit they were wrong, especially in the business arena? Nobody. A guy in acquisitions that said no to your film for whatever reason in January, will probably never say yes in October.

A SIMPLE POLICY for approaching reputable distributors is to offer them the film and wait for their response. You might want to call in a couple of weeks, but don't bug them. The acquisitions person may love your film, but the company he's working for may not be able to pick it up for some reason, or may not be able to do anything right now for some reason. Don't alienate them, let them tell you what they think, often they may not say no unless you're a pest. They may just say not at this time, or we'd like to think about it or some combination. Don't push them into saying no if they don't want to, that's good for both of you. Now take your film to the festivals and if it does do well then they can say yes and everybody's happy.

Most of the people working with distributors are there because they love film in one way or another, and most reputable distributors want to put out good films that they like and move them in some way. HOWEVER, when all the movie going public ignores great films and casts dollar after megadollar down a freezing watery hole for poorly written tripe, the man putting up the money for the film nobody goes to has to deal with reality. It's not a simple equation. X amount of dollars in advertising equals how much in sales? Do you take a chance on something you like versus something you hate that will make the payroll this month? You also have to remember how many bad, really bad films distributors have to look at. Thousands of films, I couldn't possible imagine looking at that many bad films and it having no affect on me, but that's what they have to do, these are people just like you, could you watch 40 tapes this week knowing that 39 of them will be God awful tripe and know you've got 40 more to watch next week, and the week after, and the week after? Not me.

Your problem is going to be in dealing with the unscrupulous distributor that makes money in a variety of ways off your film and has no intention of doing anything reputable with any film. That's what you have to watch out for and there are a ton of them out there. I get an anonymous list every month, usually of the same guys but it shrinks and expands according to which guy has gone under this month and come up under another name next month. This happens all the time. One ploy that seems to work for one guy is getting the filmmaker to pay for advertising, prints and screening selling a relationship with theaters. This is called a "Vanity Press" in the printing world, where the author pays for his own printing. It's called "4 walling" in the film world, where you rent the theater, pay for advertising and do all the leg work. What the hell do you want to share %50 of the door with a distributor who's doing nothing? Again, you should do everything possible to help your release including interviews, Q & A, personal appearances and posters and cards and whatever else you can think of, but if you're going to four wall your film, do you really need to share it with a distributor? The answer might be yes for your particular deal, and film, but it needs a big?

I recommend dealing with the top distributors with names you recognize, and that represent films you like.

I realize this sounds simplistic, but it is simple. You like what they've done, you're already off on the right foot. Don't discount the small distributor, he may have just as much regard for your film as you, but not the financial ability to deliver on his desires and then your film is dead, with his name on it. At least if you hold on to it the rights are still yours and if you or one of your actors has huge success and you all become heart throbs, the demand for your film will suddenly increase. If you turn into a sleaze and figure you can make money off your actors success by shooting scenes around your original short to make it a feature you deserve the lawyers he hires to sue you and your film into submission. PLAY FAIR. If you've both lived up to the contract you've signed betrayal by either of you should not be a problem because you not only want to work together again, but would like to see the film you just made have a life. But in the end, what's the difference? We know that you've both played fair, so none of this will apply, WILL IT?
IT HAPPENS. Use your best judgment, and be as intuitive as possible, if you don't have a good personal relationship, your professional relationship will probably suffer. Don't make instant decisions, take a few weeks to sign a deal, think about it if you question it. Ask questions, get it in writing.
It's your film, and you are responsible for it's life.

1.Motivation
2.Budgets & Breakdowns
3.Producer Stuff
4.Editing & Actors
5.Festivals & Distributors
6.Clean Up
7.Dealing With Agents
8. Production Checklist
9.Digital
Proletariat Home



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