“Even being on the Festival Circuit for 30 years, this is my first time in Mannheim. My first experience with a festival was when I took a film called “Tramway to the Sea” to Gothenburg, (the festival I am now working for as a Selector). We arrived in the afternoon – we had an evening screening – and I was running into the Festival office asking “Where can I find sausages?” – there were special kinds of sausages eaten in the film and I wanted to serve these Wurst and red wine at the cinema. It was 3 o’clock and everything closes at 5 - so it was very stressful, but it turned out as a major event that went through all the national papers with (Swedish) moral panic breaking out and a full discussion whether you should in fact serve wine in a cinema.
Anyway it was a good start for a long festival career, and a good start for the film: still one of the best films I’ve produced… And a short time after that I was on the staff of the Festival itself….in a period when there were still very few film festivals in the world. This meant festivals were all icing on the cake for producers, who were of course most interested in getting their films on national cinema circuits, and thus planned their marketing accordingly.
We all know the situation isn’t like that today.
Today the festival circuit is as important for a film as a national release, especially in the arthouse sector. – a heavy shift in marketing emphasis.
For me as a festival selector, Mannheim Heidelberg Film Festival is the 16th Festival I have attended in 2013, and there will be another 3, so it will be 19 festivals in all. Which translates to around 600 to 700 films seen.
Of these, maybe 7 or 8% get through to festival pre-selection. There ARE too many films out there. And the festivals want world or continental premieres. Even so there are not enough good films to satisfy the festivals. The competition for the good films is so hard , and too many films are chosen just because they are premieres.
In Gothenburg’s case we only have the Nordic Competition and for the rest - as long as they are Swedish premieres - we can just choose the best available titles from the whole world.
A word to producers: as the festival circuit has developed into an alternative distribution channel, too often you forget it also takes time and money. For example, a Sundance acceptance can easily cost you €25,000 euros for a stage appearance there including some decent local marketing.”
From the audience:
A producer and film critic from Belgrade:
On his experience with the Balkan co-production “Some other Stories” (2010) which visited 33 festivals:
“The Sundance experience is pretty unique – with “Some other Stories” and other festivals we did occasionally have some small outlay, but with institutional support we came out with a “positive zero”.
Olsson continued: “Sundance give some money for the director to spend on travel and or subsistence, that’s all. The producer will pay the press agent, the crew, the staff, the
better hotels for his above the line talent – all very expensive. And a good press agent, in Sundance or Venice will cost at least 10,000 US Dollars. You need to spend it to get any attention there, to get the trades to review the film, to get the film noticed in the marketplace.”
Dukic continued: “For the majority of films however, which don’t go to Sundance or Venice, you need someone working for you that knows how the festivals work, and who knows the programming chances and perhaps the people. Many festivals have 500 titles upwards to screen for selection as DVD’s in situ – in many cases they can’t screen them all, so a title is better off with a recommendation. Today, a producer should send a DCP to a festival, not a DVD – let the film be judged properly on a big screen. Any festival worth its salt will carry out such a screening. And while it’s always good to know the film critics personally, you should also be ready to pay for the services you need. Don’t expect things to happen automatically.”
Olsson: “This has all to be thought about at budgeting stage – otherwise you will get lost on the festival circuit. Many producers think that appearing on the festival circuit is a no-brainer – but they need to be there to fully capitalize on the film’s presence.”
And thus about 10 or 15 years ago a new phenomenon was introduced into festival life – the specialized sales agent. Around that time arthouse producer Paolo Branco reputedly collected the first festival screening fee.
It is in fact the sales agent today who has the power to extract maximum screening fees where smaller producers cannot. So it’s important to get a good sales agent on board and make a strategy as early as possible. Even though sales agents cost you money and minimum guarantees practically don’t exist any longer, especially for start-up films. You get your 10-15,000 euros and, that’s it…
Without that clear strategy you are lost. There are so many films out there being released (500 films plus in Germany in a year) – they have to find their market and their best festivals first.
From the audience:
A shorts expert on getting films into festivals as a specialized activity:
“This activity should always be seen in two stages. The second has been discussed, while the first has to include screening and constructive criticism of the rough cut to make the film more accessible for both sales and festivals. While producers who work with public funding are habitually involved in feedback processes where their project is examined from all angles by many experts, directors are more often rather left out after script development stage. And it is often very difficult for them to spot their own mistakes, or then act on such knowledge.
Especially post production of a film should be scheduled to allow rough cut screenings with potential sales agents and other industry experts (publicists etc) but on a one-to-one basis when possible to see the full work-in-progress and allow for any re-structuring.”
From the audience:
A critic and film promotion specialist:
“Since DVDs were introduced, it can happen it will be the cleaning lady who will see some of the films submitted to a festival on her weekends. Olsson is quite right – if you can arrange a large screening for your film for festival selection that is what you must do. At the larger festivals it is worthwhile to arrange a market screening, inviting festival directors to attend. Gaining their attention is another problem, so back to the lobbyist who knows everyone as opposed to “only” a sales agent, unless the latter holds such power and the right contacts as well.”
Though is not wise to underestimate the help national film promotion boards can give you both in advice for festivals – if the people are appropriately experienced – but also with market screening support. Not forgetting public support for (European) film participation at a selected number of larger (non-European) festivals.
“It can happen that a film does not fit the top festivals, or indeed it’s home market – perhaps the subject matter is controversial. Which of the serious 650 festivals in the world (or the ”other” 2000) does the film fit in best?”
Olsson: “If you make your proper festivals strategy, then it is also important to stick to it. We do have this hierarchy among the festivals, and if you go too low on the list too early, your film is burnt for the others. Sticking to any good strategy will always take time. Think of films that win in Karlovy Vary and then take off to Toronto and other leading festivals – nothing succeeds as much as success for the films, their directors, their actors, their producers. Or then again, it might be better to be no.1 in a big village than no 59 in a small city. While to get there, make sure that you read every rule properly – a short that is broadcast on TV too early can suffer exclusion from the Oscars, for example.
From the audience:
of Film Republic, Salesperson, previous director of London’s Raindance Film Festival, selector for Sheffield FF etc:
“Festival fees are not often publicly debated, so they are an interesting subject for discussion. There are many festivals that just glean the crop that other festivals have found and popularized – that can make up 80% of an annual slate. The other 20% might be films that are much less known or even premieres that need to pay up to 150 pounds submission fee. And once you’ve paid a submission fee, and been selected, it is difficult then to start negotiating a screening fee, especially if it is much larger than the submission fee.
Where as a sales agent, perhaps you are already collecting public promotion support from your national or Euro-board, leastways to pay the party for your film at a foreign festival.
Ultimately, what is good for the sales agent collecting on screening fees can be bad for the producer – especially if “all” a sales agent can manage is screening fee income and the “big deals”(that might lift the producer above initial cost outlay) stay away.
As for the festival circuit, unless you treat it appropriately as a true revenue stream according to each given market you will cannibalize local distribution resources, eliminating income. In the US you can do the “college “ circuit and smaller festivals and event screenings, say 60 times, and that will bring more than a straight distribution deal with much larger costs off the top. (All of which means that commission fee structures between agents and producers are often very out of date today).
Olsson: Which again underscores that if a producer tries to work without the right specialist he’ll either find himself working badly, or without the time to produce new films. New films for which there is, relatively speaking, less and less room in theatrical distribution, and for which smaller and smaller advances are being paid.
Though let’s not lose sight of what film festivals are for: whereas it is easy in smaller markets to destroy commercial distribution chances through showing a film at a big local festival, a festival is indeed there to promote a film, to import its most important creators and to create a press presence and local profile for those artists.
Olsson: So it’s doubly important for a producer to follow the film to use the platforms that festivals offer. The festivals will attract a press that goes for the stars – how is that press supposed to support start-up talent from, e.g. Kazakhstan? It’s hard work.
And in a huge festival with 500 films one cannot ever expect fair treatment for all titles.
Bergson: So you need to be able to assess a festival’s potential and work with it in what they can do for your film. Quite often the film festival will be the only channel of exposure available, (or seem that way) and as long as you treat them professionally (assessing their capabilities and providing the right materials, discussing with their Press office, etc) then you have gone a long way to optimize your chances.
From the audience:
Producer, on using festivals in Canada:
“Toronto: if you want your film to go to the US, you need Toronto.
Press: Perhaps you need it less at a Festival in pre-release and more at the theatrical release for domestic, especially if the two are long months apart. I also stick to the same publicist from shooting start through to theatrical release. Everything speaks for the advantages of that.”
Finally, Olsson: The last money on a film gets put into post-production, and then the producer charges on into the next project. But the time and money does need to be found to get the film to its audience – it is worth remembering that a film is never finished until that point.
Note from IFF Mannheim Heidelberg: “It goes without saying that the IFF Mannheim Heidelberg does not charge submission fees, does not pay screening fees, and does actually look at each title submitted correctly. If the cleaning-person sees a film or two, that’s purely to their advantage”.