By redmachine, April 20th, 2009

I’m very ambivalent about festivals — we’ve been to a lot with short films and had some really great experiences, but now that we’re about to take our feature THE RED MACHINE out into the world, we see festivals as only one small element of our overall release and marketing strategy.

I think part of the problem is that after going to so much effort to make exactly the film that you wanted to make, it’s really frustrating to put the film into a situation where it may not be able to shine its brightest. You really want to lure the right audience into your screenings – the people who will click with the movie. And those people for your film may or not be in attendance at a given festival.

It’s also hard to control how and when your movie screens. We’ve seen too many other filmmakers’ features screened way too dark, with unintelligible sound, at a horrendous time, in front of four people who are clearly not its demographic. And that doesn’t seem like a very solid foundation on which to build a movie’s community and future. Plus, it’s so easy for filmmakers to get demoralized from situations like that, or for movies to get unfairly tainted: “Oh…I saw [movie] at [festival]. It just lay there.”

So for all those reasons, we’re don’t want to rely on fests as the thing that will make or break our movie. We’d rather focus our energy on things that we can control ourselves.

I think one of the most important points of Zak’s post was what he and Hunter Weeks and Todd Sklar said about the importance of fests as a place to network, and I think that is critical. But at the same time, I’d also point out that depending on one’s personality, fests may not be the best way to do that. I spent a long time as a journalist, and because a big part of what I covered was movie technology, I went to the trade shows like NAB and Siggraph and places where manufacturers cluster for a few days of frenzied marketing and sensory overload. But I eventually stopped going, because I found that I could get deeper information and forge better relationships if I met with people at other times, when they weren’t so overwhelmed, and when we could sit down for a one-on-one conversation.

And even though we’ve made friends at festivals, the reality is that we’ve made far more valuable connections in other ways – introductions by mutual acquaintances, web correspondences, handing DVDs to people we meet through work, encounters based around collaboration.

As we plot out our strategy, the question we’ve been asking ourselves is what do films/filmmakers get out of a festivals, and can we get those things in other ways? In addition to networking/connections, the big ones I thought of were:

Exposure/Press
Sales
Ability to learn from watching an audience watch the movie
Prizes
Getting to go to cool places

What other things would others add to that list? And are there ways to get those as effectively outside the festival structure?

CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW THE ENTIRE PANEL DISCUSSION ON “MANAGING EXPECTATIONS ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT”.

STEPHANIE ARGY and her writing/directing partner, Alec Boehm, are in the final stages of post-production on their debut feature, The Red Machine, a Depression-era spy caper. Their previous work includes the award-winning short film Gandhi at the Bat (a mock newsreel about the little-known and totally fictional incident when Mahatma Gandhi pinch-hit for the New York Yankees in 1933), and Scene (a movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie set in Scotland). Stephanie has also written hundreds of articles on filmmaking and movie-related technology, and for three years she edited a magazine on post production.

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