Once you finish a feature film, the worst thing that can happen now is for no one to see it.
And yet, it happens all the time. If you don't have the wherewithal to put some bucks into marketing or have a sales agent get you on the big platforms, it can be hard to get your film to the right audience. No Film School sat down with Jon Dieringer of the independent, ad-free New York film curatorial hub, Screen Slate (which is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter to expand the platform). Below, Jon talks about today's distribution landscape and how to work with curators to navigate it, and offers three concrete tips on a successful run.
NFS: How would you characterize today's environment for independent filmmakers when it comes to getting audiences to see a finished film?
Jon Dieringer: I think there’s a strong consensus that it’s incredibly difficult. Independent filmmakers are up against so many gatekeepers when they’re trying to get their work seen by audiences. They don’t often have the ability to spread the word about their work, and in a similar way, small and non-traditional exhibition venues can also struggle with building their audiences.
When I started Screen Slate, I was looking to solve a problem that I was having as a film-goer: there was an incredibly rich array of work being shown in New York City, but there weren’t many good ways to find out about it. In order to find out what was playing in repertory, independent and microcinemas, not to mention in galleries or temporary venues, I had to search venue by venue to see what was playing at each one, or look at other websites and weekly publications that only listed a small portion of what was playing on any given day.
Other publications were curating their lists of what to see, and I didn’t appreciate their curation. I started compiling everything that was going on outside of mainstream film exhibition, and this meant going beyond the larger independent film venues as well. If readers of Screen Slate who are film-goers are able to find out about all of this great work being done at the margins, that’s good for the filmmakers who are making this work and the venues who are supporting it. It’s become a community where makers and venues are able to engage with people who are actually interesting in seeing these films. Without any kind of community and without support from institutions, these films can languish.
NFS: How can filmmakers use curation to reach audiences?
JD: If you can understand how your own work fits into a larger picture of moving image culture, you can begin to identify the people who will be genuinely interested in what you’re doing. With Screen Slate, I’m able to champion work that I believe in because I think readers should go and see these films. Going back to this idea of gatekeepers, filmmakers need to find out about the curators and programmers, critics, bloggers and others who can help by spreading the word about their work. I realize this is pretty straightforward advice, but I think that, too often, filmmakers end up showing their work to people who are not the right audience for it, and that is very discouraging.
If you think your film run could be even more successful with the help of curators to champion your work to audiences, here are Jon's tips for success:
Understand what kind of work you are making and where it fits in.
Is your film in tune with a particular filmic movement? Does its visual style align it with a certain genre of filmmaking? Is your work suited for a movie theater, gallery, or non-traditional space?
Find out what programmers and writers are championing the kind of work that you’re making and reach out to them.
It’s rarely helpful to share your film with people who are have no interest in the kind of work you’re making. Be familiar with the kinds of work that particular curators are showing and that particular critics are writing about.
Join a community.
Get involved with like-minded filmmakers, smaller venues and DIY spaces. There are so many smaller venues who are doing work they really believe in, and systems of support should go both ways.
Here's a little more background on Jon's genesis of Screen Slate, which is currently crowdfunding to grow the site and bring the template to other cities for filmmakers everywhere:
NFS: How does Screen Slate fit in to all this?
JD: Right now, Screen Slate lists films playing at nearly 100 venues in New York City, including repertory cinemas, arthouses, experimental and documentary film centers, art spaces, cultural institutions, galleries, museums and DIY spaces. Screen Slate is totally ad-free and will never charge venues a fee to list their their programming. It’s really important for a site like Screen Slate to remain independent. One thing I’m really excited about is the possibility of letting people in other cities set up their own sites using Screen Slate as a template. This way, the community can grow to encompass other cities, but each would remain local in a meaningful way as well.
Thank you, Jon!
Right now, Screen Slate is nearly finished with a Kickstarter campaign, so if you'd like to be a part of helping this curatorial mainstay grow and stick around to help future independent filmmakers find audiences, check it out here!
Have you had a curator champion your work? Did it help your film reach the right audiences?