They say the hour before dawn is the darkest, and whether that is literally true I have no idea. However, metaphorically it’s completely on the money – oh dear, there I go confusing my metaphors again. But that’s what happens when you decide to adapt a four-year-old Radio 4 series into a webseries pilot, raise £11.4K via a Kickstarter, film it in four mad-as-a-hatter days, edit it – and then think, what the hell do I do with it now?
Darkness. Pitch black darkness. And you stumble towards a bat squeak of light.
Each stage is so unique and thorough in its challenges – writing a script, raising money, putting together a film crew – there is a temptation to want to postpone the really important decision forever. Where to send the finished version of YOURDADSGAY, to give it the best chance of blossoming into something bigger and better. What to do now?
In the fantasy football version our Pilot gets picked up by Netflix or Sky or Amazon and immediately commissioned into a fully-fledged series, but realistically, we are looking at the Festival Circuit. And that can seem as intimidating and labyrinthine as negotiating BREXIT. What advice can I take from a more experienced Film Director in these matters? I asked a colleague, who gave me a number of personal and candid views about the grief and glory of submitting your film to festivals, based on her experience. They are as follows:
- Factor in possible potential Festival destination even before shooting your film. If you’ve set your heart on submitting to Raindance, for example, then you need to scrutinise their Festival submission guide to ensure you give your film the best possible chance.
- It’s the Criteria, Stupid. This doesn’t just cover the ‘small print’ on the Festival website, but is also an acknowledgment of the nature of the festival itself. Is it commercially or artistically driven? Now of course these things aren’t incompatible, but we all know what to expect from a Indie as opposed to a Hollywood Blockbuster, and understanding this will prevent a lot of wasted time.
- Be honest with your own film. Does the subject matter, the feel, the atmosphere of the film have an international appeal? It could be that very Englishness of your film, it’s parochial setting, is part of its success – but recognise that won’t play as well outside the UK/Ireland. Be realistic about what is possible.
- Watch, watch and more watching. Go on the Festival sites and watch the films that were selected, last year, the year before that.
- Stay away from Film Festivals that are under 3 years old, and any that charge more that $60 for entry. Ideally, they should have proven their sustainability over 5 years.
- Look for the different Selection deadlines and Criteria. For example, different fees accrue to Early Bird, Normal Submission and Late Submission. There is even a category called the Waiver Fee, if you have submitted in previous years and know any of the organisers. A relentless charm offensive designed to lower entry fees is always to be recommended.
- Prestige. Difficult one this to assess, but in part defined by 5 above – ie the longer the Festival has been going the better its reputation. Obviously Raindance, the BFI etc are no-brainers. They ooze prestige!
- www.withoutabox.com and www.filmfreeway.com are your research. They will give you all the information of forthcoming festivals you need. The former site is owned by Amazon (who also own ImdB) – so if you apply through this site and are even taken into ‘consideration’ at a festival, you automatically get a live credit on ImdB, as well as your cast and crew. Like most things in life, Amazon have it covered (creepy!)
- If you have a direct line to the Festival Director, his/her/their PA, or anyone involved in the organisation of the Festival, then contact them directly. Personal relationship trumps an application form, any time. Indeed, it is fair to say that only a personal contact at certain Film Festivals (BFI I am looking at you) will get your film screened. Yes, I know – it’s politics. There is always going to be politics.
- Get in your Ghetto. If your film has an LGBT+ subject, or a BAME aspect, or any other under-represented minority, you have a two-fold approach. Look for the specific platform to showcase that dimension of your film, as well as the more general festival. Everyone loves a breakout film, and the focus a specialised film festival offers may just be the perfect spring board for you.
- Always have a packed bag ready to go. Ultimately the only way to further your career and to lobby for your film, is to attend any festival you are invited to – and hopefully part of the competition. You win an award, and immediately you are everybody’s new best friend, or at least whilst the drinks last that evening. Initiating, forging and building long term creative relationships are the key to any successful project – we all need collaborators and allies in buildings, in offices, in meetings – to champion us. Festivals – with their air of celebration and of engagement, provide the perfect opportunity to start that process. But you do need to be there.
- And finally, be patient. It may take three of four years before that Producer who congratulated you on your first Award (because, of course, you are going to win so many of the damn things) eventually offers you a job or comes on board on a passion-project. But then working in this crazy business was always a long game. And of course you never give up.
As I put down the phone and absorbed what I’d been told, none of it seemed especially surprising. However, the last thing we discussed in many ways seemed the most relevant. And that was the realisation that, despite guidelines and rules and criteria, many of these Festivals – especially the smaller ones – inevitably operate like small fiefdoms, run by people as crazily passionate and opinionated about film as well were. Accepting that would somehow make the whole process a little more manageable.
But ask me in a years’ time. In two weeks we will have finally finished YOURDADSGAY, added graphics, and titles and music. Finally, after nearly three years gestation, our baby will be born and sent out into the world.