You did the impossible: you made a film that got into a top-tier festival. Time to celebrate, right? Not so fast.
After wrapping production on the post-apocalyptic thriller Here Alone, my sanity was in shreds. I tried to hoist my bruised body off the sofa. But somehow, while fighting the urge to let my skin graft to the polyester-blended fabric, Here Alone received an amazing invitation to premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. Director Rod Blackhurst and I, along with our fellow producers Noah Lang, Arun Kumar, and Josh Murphy, celebrated quickly.
...Maybe too quickly. We had so much work left to do.
Here are seven things you can do way in advance to ensure that your film's future premiere is streamlined, successful, and absolutely enjoyable.
Brainstorm talking points on what makes your film unique.
1. Anticipate the paperwork
For every frame of creative content captured, there is a contractual or supporting page created to match. Festivals are no different. Your festival will require a short and long synopsis, bios of major players (director, talent, writer, producers, etc.), and a catalog of questions used to target press. Questions can include: Are there any interesting stories about how your film was funded? What influenced this work? What are you working on next?
Secure updated bios as early as possible for your major players, as people get busy, and chasing them down for a bio can be frustrating. Also, start by writing a 500-word synopsis, which can then be narrowed down to 250 words, and finally to 50. While you can't predict exact questions, brainstorm talking points on what makes your film unique within the industry and press world, not just in relation to other films you’ve seen.
We created a poster concept in the development phase so that when production began, our on-set photographer knew which image to try to capture.
2) If you're out of money, be prepared to DIY publicity
A PR firm can provide tons of benefits to your festival premiere and beyond. But the reality is that established firms can cost up to $7,500. So if you're paying for everything in dimes at this stage, you’ll have to tackle your film's press yourself.
Begin contemplating and compiling the following to make sure your DIY outreach is backed up with solid assets.
- Hi-resolution film stills and behind-the-scenes imagery: Collect at least 10 film stills and 10 behind-the-scenes images, allocating 3-5 of each to the festival and the rest for press needs. For all stills and images, make captions short and sweet and credit your photographer or cinematographer.
- Create a digital film poster: Brainstorm poster design concepts prior to filming to save time on design later. On Here Alone, we created a concept in the development phase so that when production began, our on-set photographer knew which image to try to capture.
- Create an electronic press kit (EPK): As you’ll probably be cold-emailing a lot of press contacts and badgering your network for connections, the EPK is a great document to have at hand. Your EPK should consist of a logline, long synopsis, bios of your major talent and players, a director’s statement, and a full credit list. It can also include items like a "pre-interview" section, where your director and talent discuss important aspects of your film. Boil all of this down into a sharp PDF with a killer cover page.
- Establish a press contact on your film's team: Pinpoint a person on your team that is able to dedicate time to responding to inquiries and does so with exuberance. Also, make sure that you don’t list a generic email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, for your cheerful and approachable press point person. Members of the press want to know that someone is actively checking—and actively responding to—their inquiries.
3) Make all of your assets "exclusive"
There is nothing new about giving a little to get a little, which is why some crafty managers end up as associate producers. This adage also applies to getting coverage for your film.
Giving a press outlet exclusive items means that they can be the first to share that specific asset with their readership (and the world.) Provide exclusives and you'll entice press outlets to cover your flick, but there's also something in it for them: more traffic and eyes to their site (and, in turn, your film).
Exclusive items can include film stills, behind-the-scenes photos, trailers, clips, posters, storyboards, and more. Prior to submission, compile a list of assets that you'd be able to market as exclusive.
Research post-production facilities and get quotes and timelines for your DCP prior to submitting to festivals.
4) Tackle that dreaded DCP
A large expense that indie filmmakers can be caught off-guard by is the Digital Cinema Package (DCP). A DCP is a 35mm film print equivalent that many (but not all) festivals require for screenings. Like many technical things that are abbreviated, DCPs cost money, take time to create, and require a post-production house to complete. It's one of those processes that is damn near impossible to do yourself. A DCP costs roughly between $2,000-$3,000 and can take up to a week to process.
To make sure you’re not caught with your DCP pants down, research post-production facilities and get quotes and timelines prior to submitting to festivals. Also, when the time comes to start authoring a DCP, work with the post-production house and your festival’s tech department on the exact specs needed for optimal projection and sound.
You're going to have to buy extra tickets to your premiere on top of the freebies the festival provides.
5) Set aside $$ for your premiere tickets
Most festivals grant you free tickets to the screenings of your film, but those tickets are by no means limitless. If you have contractual obligations to provide festival tickets, have a long list of collaborators, or are just trying to make sure mom and dad see it, you're going to have to buy extra tickets on top of the freebies the festival provides.
Build in a ticket buffer for possible last-minute attendees, especially distributors or press that aren't able to make it to the Press & Industry screenings your festival arranges. Most tickets are in the $15-$25 range, so securing 10 extra tickets for each of your 2 or 3 festival screenings can add up fast.
6) Think about distribution
Your festival premiere is your first step into the distribution pool. Planning for it ensures that you’re ready to swim in the deep end without inflatable armbands.
Create a document that begins to address the massive amount of information distributors need in order to proceed with buying your film. Some of these major items include: establishing a proper chain of title for the script and film, showing screenplay purchase agreements, assignment of rights to the film's controlling company, and providing any other chain of title documents (such as copyrights or certificates of recordation).
Make a list of all applicable guilds that your film worked with (SAG, WGA, DGA, etc.) and a similar list with any above-the-line obligations, such as deferments, back-end participations, final cut approvals, and any credit or likeness ties for your talent or director.
Finally, if you don’t have one already, make sure that you’ve secured an attorney to handle the complicated distribution legal process.
7) Be prepared to answer "what's next?"
While it does put you in hopeful distribution waters, your premiere will also be a springboard for future projects. You’ll be socializing and talking shop with potential distributors, filmmakers, producers, investors, and more industry contacts than you can shake a stick at. And when talking about your current film, they’ll all eventually ask, “What’s next?”
We received requests for our "what’s next" just days after Tribeca announced their lineup.
Be ready to answer, not only at the premiere but also in the weeks leading up to it. With Here Alone, we received requests for our "what’s next" just days after Tribeca announced their lineup. Luckily, we have North, a dramatic feature that is scripted, budgeted, scheduled, and scouted. It’s a turn-key project that is ready to strike while our festival irons are still hot.
Being prepared for "what’s next" is a lot to ask—especially after considering the information above—but having your conversation points ready and a script or treatment prepped to send will show potential investors or collaborators that you have your ducks in a row. Add to the conversation as many supporting production documents as you can muster—budgets, schedules, casting wish-list, etc.—and those collaborators will be further enticed to jump on board.
Eventually, you'll be ready to get your "what’s next" ready for another festival premiere.