If you are a filmmaker who actually makes films then you will have submitted one or more of your films to a film festival.
In the past three years you’ve probably been using FilmFreeway. Ten years ago you’d have been using Withoutabox and submitting directly to film festivals via their own forms. Now it’s basically FilmFreeway and Withoutabox [and a bunch of other similar but smaller platforms like Reelport] hardly any festivals allow you to submit direct.
FilmFreeway has made submitting your film to a festival super easy. Like incredibly easy. Now you can have your screener at the quality you want it, you have control over your submission and how it is seen, you create a page for your film and that’s all you need to do. You click on a bunch of film festivals, check out the criteria, click submit, create a basket of 100 festivals, pay your fees and off you go.
This is film festival freedom.
Or is it?
Let’s rewind. 5-10 years ago submitting your film to a film festival was hard work. It was laborious, time consuming work. Websites would crash, digital formats would be rejected, Withoutabox was clunky as fuck to the point where you would literally give up submitting out of frustration. If you submitted directly to the festival, the odds were that you had to print off a submission form, fill it out by hand, burn a DVD and post (yes actually POST) the submission. This was hell, especially for an undiscovered genius filmmaker who just wanted their mini-masterpiece to be seen by the world and to be given the awards they so much deserved.
FilmFreeway has completely changed everything making it an absolute breeze to get your mini-masterpiece out there.
But what it’s also done is to make it so simple to submit to film festivals that EVERYONE is now doing it.
In the past most filmmakers would give up submitting their films to festivals. They didn’t have the tenacity to go through the process for each and every festival. They didn’t believe in themselves and their films enough to put in the effort to submit and so they left their films on a shelve [read; tape in a drawer]. This was good for those who submitted their films to festivals because it meant you had already gotten over a hurdle. Your film was sitting in the hands of a screening team which back then was a giant leap as oppose to a small step.
With the free market that we now have, film festivals are inundated with film submissions. Festivals that used to get 300 submissions are now getting 3000 submissions. Festivals that got 3000 submissions are getting 30,000 submissions. This isn’t a good thing – for filmmakers and film festivals.
For filmmakers this means that everyone who has ever made a film is now submitting that film to the same festival as you. Even if the film was made in an hour and is a piece of crap, it’s been submitted and needs to be watched by the festival.
Having run a film festival I know it’s hard work to watch all the screeners you get. Even with a team of 8 that we had it was hard work to watch everything (but we did). Think about the job of a Film Festival Screener. They get a bunch of films and have to watch them all, decide on what fits their festival and relay that back to the festival director. Festivals have a certain budget for hiring screeners (even at the big festivals, screeners are usually unpaid volunteers). The festivals need to train the screeners in what is good enough for their festival, they need to trust the opinion of the screener so they spend time developing a relationship, mentoring, building them up. It’s a huge investment of time and money. So when the market suddenly expands ten-fold how do the film festivals cope? How can the same team of screeners watch ten times the submitted films?
Well they don’t. A film festival that goes from 3,000 submissions to 30,000 submission is fucked. There is no way they are watching everything that is submitted and if they are they are so fatigued by all the dross that is submitted that some films will drop through the cracks. The pressure to get through all these submissions is huge. FilmFreeway has basically made the job of curating a film festival harder in terms of sheer volume of entries – though I’m sure the added income generated is appreciated.
What FilmFreeway has also done is to lead a literal explosion in film festivals. Now every cupboard in Manhattan has a film festival. There are now MILLIONS of film festivals. All saying they want your film and charging you handsomely to consider it.
Running a film festival is now so easy that people are doing it everywhere and making a shit ton of money off of wannabe filmmakers. New filmmakers are daft [that includes me]. They believe so much in their little gem of a film that spending two-three hundred pounds on festival submissions seems like a good idea. People across the globe are taking advantage of this and literally fleecing filmmakers of money while running ‘online’ festivals or running screenings out of a cupboard [note; I have been to a festival where the films were screening on a loop in a hotel cupboard].
FilmFreeway have turned the Film Festival market into a racket that takes money from people because they are naive. A filmmaker in Scotland who submits to a festival in Chicago is unlikely to attend and so the film festival organisers can assume that if they don’t pick it then it doesn’t matter but if they do pick it then the person won’t turn up so they don’t have to worry about the state of their ‘screening room’. I’ve traveled to a film festival being told my film is playing only to arrive and find that it’s not on the programme… a genuine error I was told.
Now I’m not talking about established festivals here and festivals run by genuine people with a passion for film and filmmaking – these festival do care and work hard to put their programmes together but there are thousands of charlatans out there ready to make some easy money on the Film Festival circuit and FilmFreeway is facilitating it.
Think about those companies facilitating tax invasion and you get the idea.
FilmFreeway is a fantastic platform for submitting your film to film festivals but it is not film festival freedom.
Personally I made a no budget feature film in 2015. I submitted it to 97 film festivals, costing me £1000 (the same amount it cost to make the film) and it was accepted into….
Yep, one festival, the East End Film Festival and I submitted to that through Withoutabox.
Of course my film could be shit. I get that. 96 festivals rejected it, so it must be shit. But what FilmFreeway allowed me to do was to use my Vimeo link as a screener. This means that I had access to see how many people had viewed my film, for how long they watched and when they watched.
So from 97 film festivals how many times was my film watched by a screener?…
So that means that 65 festivals didn’t even look at my film (and I’m assuming that those 32 watches was from 32 seperate festivals, which is unlikely).
These 65 film festivals rejected my film generically through FilmFreeway’s easy rejection email algorithm having taken my money and having NOT watched my film.
Aren’t super easy convenient film festival submission platforms great?
Now I’m not bitter about this [anymore], it has taken a good seven months to sit down and compose this post. What I want to do here is call bullshit when I see it.
As a filmmaker I am naive and stupid – I made a film and believed it was of a certain quality. Not a great quality but maybe a wee tiny DIY indie quality that might play at a niche festival… or 97 niche festivals to be exact. I’ve been around long enough to know that as a filmmaker you need to be realistic about your film and where you are at and not pitch it as something it’s not. But here I am having not made a film for two years because I’m an insecure mess who wasted a grand of cash he doesn’t have literally flogging a dead horse to film festivals who didn’t even watch my movie.
So what’s the moral to this story?
For me I have learned;
- that I need to be a better filmmaker.
- that okay isn’t good enough.
- that the market is saturated and it is incredibly difficult to stand out.
- that the reason my film is not screening at a film festival is not because of what I have outlined above but because it’s not good enough and only I can change that.
- that I need to make better films.
- that I have to reevaluate my talents and where I’m at and start again.
- to remember that you shouldn’t get bitter but instead take every experience and learn from it, advancing towards your end goal.
Filmmakers need to be resilient, persistent, dedicated. We need to perfect our craft, be dynamic and never give up.
No one is trying to make our lives easier. No matter how good something looks or seems we need to always question it, to be vigilant, to believe in our gut, to not become complacent and to not get ripped off.
As I said my film may be shit but find out for yourself here.
Thanks for reading.