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by J. Neil Schulman, guest contributor  [March 28, 2010]




[]  The third Shrek sequel, Shrek Forever After, is opening the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival. Thank you, Robert De Niro, for financing your festival with submission fees from thousands of starving independent filmmakers like me, then using our hard-found money to highlight high-budget studio sequels!

I submitted Lady Magdalene's to all the major film festivals -- sometimes more than once -- which took submission fees ranging as high as a hundred and twenty bucks -- some of them from thousands of filmmakers each year -- then turned around and used the money to promote major studio releases.

This year it's Tribeca opening with a Shrek sequel, but the gone-and-not-missed CineVegas took hundreds of thousands of bucks in submission fees from indie filmmakers like me … and opened its festival a couple of years back with Oceans 13 -- the second sequel to a remake.

It's disgusting.

I submitted for the 2007 and 2008 Tribeca Film Festivals, not 2010. After they took my money twice, and sent me emails telling me how many swell submissions they got so they weren't accepting my movie for festival play, I decided not to throw good money after bad.

My point is, these big "indie" film festivals take submission money from thousands of indie filmmakers, pick a few to play at their festivals like they're lotto winners, then spend the indie filmmakers' money by giving free publicity to major studio releases.

Let's say more people attend a festival because they get to see a studio release. It does no good for the filmmakers whose money they took and didn't accept their films. And if they sell extra tickets to fill the theater, the festival keeps all the money -- not a dime of festival box office is shared with the filmmakers.

And the chances of an indie film making a sale to a distributor because of festival play are minuscule anyway.

No, there aren't any refunds if your movie isn't accepted for play at a festival.

It's a real sucker play, worthy of Bernie Madoff.

I've been thinking a long time about how I'd run a film festival.

First, I would not charge filmmakers a submission fee. If they wanted to buy an ad for their film in the program book -- not a requirement for submitting their film -- they could do that. But that's the only thing I'd consider charging a filmmaker for, since they're providing their film to the festival for free, and the festival is selling tickets and not sharing the receipts with them.

Some festivals find all sorts of things to charge filmmakers for -- award banquet tickets, press conferences, premium display of posters, etc. This makes the festival concentrate on squeezing revenue out of the very people it should be supporting -- the filmmakers who have already struggled with the costs of making the movie which the festival is going to sell tickets to see!

The festival should make its money off ticket sales, sales of refreshments, sale of memorabilia.

Sponsors and advertisers should pay for the rest, and provide product placements. At the San Diego Black Film Festival all the parties were hosted by Tommy Bahama rum and vodka -- which provided both free food and an open bar.



One other thing. I think there should only be one track of film programming. Films at a festival shouldn't have to compete for audience with other films. Run the festival extra days if necessary.

A movie theater setting isn't required, but there should be theater quality projection of films -- and that means high-definition players and projectors should be used, and nowadays that means Blu-Ray disk -- as well as standard-def DVD -- should be the main projection formats, in addition to 16mm and 35mm film.

Sound is important.

And seating needs to be comfortable, when you have people sitting for entire days.

One big advantage of existing theater seating is that it can be raked -- that is, you don’t have a flat floor where people can't see over the heads of the people in front of them.

Or, the screen can be raised. But that means people will get stiff necks from looking up.

Plenty of bathrooms. Plenty of water.

And decent security, so people don't steal the filmmakers' posters.

Publicity, promotion, and advertising is crucial.

And this is the most important thing:

The movies selected for play have to be appealing to the audience. If it's all depressing movies about how much everything sucks -- artsy fartsy, nihilistic, evil always triumphs stuff -- don’t bother inviting me. I like uplifting movies with heroes, great music, great stories, and lots of laughter and pathos.

Prioritizing entries?

1. Every film submitted needs to be watched all the way through by someone with some cred, who will fill out a form on whether it meets the various criteria the festival is setting as its standards for selection, and add up the points in each category for a numerical score. Categories might be quality of writing, acting, directing, editing, cinematography, music, etc. Plus somewhere the viewer can notate that a film was so good it knocked them on their ass.

2. I would eliminate from consideration any film which already has distribution through a studio.

3. A film festival is a convention, and needs some experienced people running it -- and probably a lot of volunteer labor.

Copyright 2010 by J. Neil Schulman


Also read about J. Neil Schulman's production and test marketing for Lady Magdalene's. Schulman blogs at Rational Review, where this article first appeared.


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