Director of Sarasota Film Festival Tom Hall gave an upbeat and honest speech at IFP Filmmaker Conference today, encouraging filmmakers to build relationships with programmers at film festivals long before they apply. He acknowledged the "inherently arbitrary and subjective process" of film festival selections, and said what we all know, but never hear: the best way to get your film selected as this year's industry darling is to make friends with the industry.
"Film Festivals are in the relationship business. We want to make relationships with filmmakers who we admire and support." Hall spoke to a roomful of IFP participants who had each paid around $300-400 to connect directly with the gatekeepers of the industry, so this advice fell upon welcoming ears. I, for one, had grown tired of hearing advice from directors whose films starred major celebrities like, "Just sell your DVD on your website, and your audience will find you."
Skipping the double talk, Hall cut to the chase:
Erase submission to festivals from your minds as a viable way to get your film discovered. Film programming is not a fair scientific process. It is completely subjective, and you are at the mercy of a person who makes decisions not caring about anything that you're thinking.
Odd as it may sound, it's comforting to hear this from an industry insider. As much as reclusive filmmakers like myself may want to believe that our films will speak for us, it's difficult when no one outside the festival world has heard of them in the first place. It's not hard to tell that many successful directors like to talk about themselves (I've engaged in more one-sided conversations during IFP Film Week than I care to remember,) but perhaps in this industry, egocentricity is a learned trait. To hell with modesty, Hall said:
Festivals have mailing lists and social media strategies -- press festivals to keep the story of your film alive after the festival. Incorporate them into your DVD and digital launch. Make sure you are constantly reaching out to the people you are interested in working with. Reach out to programmers -- don't be afraid to send an email or pick up the phone. Even if you don't hear back, you can learn by not hearing back. It's better to know if it's not going to work sooner rather than later -- before you have kids.
Hall kept it funny, short and sweet, stressing the importance of transparency between industry players. The 1500-1700 film festivals in the US right now provide different platforms for different films, and he acknowledged the importance of disclosing the details before producers pay the application fee. On the flipside, he encouraged producers to quit beating around the bush when communicating with programmers about festival strategy:
Programmers talk to each other. Sarasota is 2 weeks before Tribeca. Sometimes Sarasota and Tribeca like the same movies. Be transparent with us about your strategy. If you're holding out for Tribeca, just tell us. We understand.
IFP will release the official video of the speech in the coming weeks. In the meantime, check out this Sarasota Film Festival trailer from their 2013 SFF Ringling Trailer Contest:
Sarasota just rose towards the top of the list for my next film festival release. I'll be giving Tom Sunday morning phone calls up until then. ("There's a line," he said finally. "I don't want to know what you had for breakfast.")
What are your thoughts on Tom Hall's advice? Let us know in the comments below.