We have started a tips series on indieWire in the lead up to the book’s release. These are meant to help you understand the material found in the book and share some of our knowledge gleaned through working with independent films and festivals. This first series appeared on the indieWire site August 16, 2011 and was written mainly by our film festival expert Jeffrey Winter.
1. You need two high-impact festival premieres.
Target an impact festival for both your world and international premieres. An impact festival is one that directly leads to results, whether that means sales reps soliciting you, distributors pursuing you or other festivals requesting to see your film. If you aren’t sure which festivals qualify, consult several industry professionals; every festival will tell you that distribution deals are done at their festival… and that’s almost always a lie.
2. Don’t be provincial.
Remember that the U.S. film market is only 30% of the world. That means you may be faced with making that same high-impact premiere choice in several key territories around the world (esp. Canada, U.K., Continental Europe and Asia). However, there are just as many places in the world where your film likely won’t sell anyway, so you might as well take whatever invitations come your way as long as you don’t think you are opening yourself up for piracy. In other words: Don’t overthink your Slovenian premiere.
3. Think Globally, Act Locally.
For many filmmakers in large markets, the best film festival close to home may be the best place to premiere. These festivals often have sections dedicated to local films that make acceptance easier; they also have locally themed prizes that often come with cash. Also, a local premiere may be easier to fill through regional word-of-mouth, and a packed house is always better than the alternative.
4. Know Your Niche.
Consider that for many films a niche festival may be an impact festival as well. The Chicago Latino, San Francisco Jewish, Pan African Film Festival Los Angeles, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, the San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Fantastic Fest are all examples of top-notch specialty fests that may represent the best festival circuit in which to engage your particular audience.
5. Don’t spend before you have to.
Before engaging a sales agent, a publicist or throwing a premiere party, ask yourself exactly what you want that money to achieve. Hiring PR and throwing a party at a small regional festival where there is no national press and no industry attendees is unlikely to pay off professionally. Be targeted in the reasons you spend money at film festivals.
6. Include the festival circuit in your production budget.
Always remember to carve out a small percentage of your production and post-production budget to allow you to enter the festival circuit; we recommend 10-20% of the overall budget. Film festivals require submission fees (unless you can get them waived), exhibition deliverables, support staff, marketing materials and travel costs. A microbudget film might expect to spend up to 50% on film festival costs.
7. Don’t expect the festival to sell your film.
Actively market your own film. The festival won’t fill your seats; they have many movies and yours may not be their priority. You can nudge this process by requesting a prime slot and being in regular contact with the festival’s publicity and marketing teams, but in the end it’s your baby. And if you pack the seats with friends, you’re that much more likely to win an audience award.
8. Look for allies outside the festival.
Reach out to like-minded organizations to help promote the film. Offer perks like free tickets in exchange for email blasts to their partners. If the festival will allow it, let a local organization set up a table outside your screening for their literature in exchange for marketing support.
9. (Some) Films can start making money now.
Learn the game of monetizing your film festival run. If you have a world premiere at one the top film festivals like Sundance or Cannes or a handful of others, other programmers will request to see your film. The general rule is: if a programmer requests to see your film and then accepts it, you can ask for a rental fee (between $500 and $1,000 is a good place to start). If you submit on your own, generally they will not pay you. However, if you are represented by a distributor or a producer’s rep, they may have more negotiating power and be better able to get you a screening fee. Also, niche festivals are much more likely to pay you fees to screen your film, since there’s less product for them to choose from.
10. Your theatrical release starts now.
Most filmmakers experience a mental disconnect when saying that they want a theatrical release; what they really mean is they want their work seen on the big screen, not on a laptop. Film festivals are big screens; envision your entire festival run as an event-driven theatrical release. Once your premieres have been achieved and other festivals are asking for your film, let it fly. Every festival has marketing, PR and word-of-mouth value.