Notes From A Festival Programmer: Positioning Your Artist(Film) In Your Emails or How to Insure You'll Be Ignored

The submission season for the Atlanta Film Festival has opened and so begins the influx of email pitches. We receive all manner of pitches which include, but are not limited to: smartphone apps, distribution portals, distribution deals, SEO optimization, PR software, food vendors and vendors looking for tables. What we also are pitched on the regular are bands and performers. At this point, we've met with enough companies over the years that we only rarely meet with anyone. They almost never pan out, and by almost I mean 9.8 times out of 10 we meet once and that's the end of that. The primary reasons they never pan out is because very few of those companies:

  1. Know what a film festival is and isn't
  2. Have attended any incarnation of the Atlanta Film Festival
  3. Can articulate how their product will organically fit into our mission
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of how a film festival differs from a conference or a music event

These are also the main impediments to why we don't program bands from emails sent to us blindly.

May I present exhibit A below. I have stripped out the names, addresses and identifiers. My goal is not embarrass this person. My goal is to use this exchange to help folks understand how they can better target and communicate with festivals, get a better response and actually gain some traction.

Her First Email:

Charles,

Are you also working on the Film Festival for 2013?

Me:

Yes I am.

Her:

How can my artist be able to perform at the Film Festival?

Mistake number 1: It should not take three emails to get to this question. She could have asked from the start.

Mistake number 2: I'm given no clue about the type of artist that's being pitched to me. There's no name and there's no genre offered.

A general mistake: Asking about 2013, as it's already passed. No big deal though.

Not a mistake: Asking if I'm working on the film festival. Organizational turnover, changing job descriptions, I may indeed not be working on the next film festival. So asking is not a mistake, and isn't bad practice if you haven't spoken to someone in months.

 

Me:

For our parties and events that have some live component, we try to match the performer to the vibe of the venue or the film. So it varies. Other than The Goat Farm, we won't know what we'll be screening and doing till around December. And for Goat Farm, we heavily program the event from the videos selected to be in competition.

While no name or genre was included, that doesn't preclude this phantom artist from potentially performing in 2014.  Maybe I could have narrowed down my response. At this point any and every artist is a potential performer for next year, so there is no need to shut the door.

 

Her:

My artist is a ********** think of ****, **** and **** all put together and you have ****. She is universal so where ever your put her she will create a vibe that matches the venue. For example she performed and opened up for ****, ****, ****, **** and much much more. If you like I can send you a press kit, and hopefully we can be apart of the Film Festival or any other events you may be coordinating.

Mistake number 3: Okay, so I now have genre and a name. Why did it take 5 emails to get this information?

Mistake number 4: The artist has opened for some name talent I recognize, yet not one film festival or an event built around film. Again, not a deal killer. There are parties after the films where she might fit.

Mistake number 5: Of the acts the artist has opened for, only one potentially fits our demographic and vibe. This I would have partially forgiven if she had asked who makes up our audience, and then tailored her answer, but...

Mistake number 6: Bolding this because this all too common. Saying that her artist is universal and she'll "create" a vibe that  matches the venue is bullhockey. Filmmakers will often send a similar email about their films as well. Programming is about selecting a film or performer for concrete reasons. One can't say an artist (or a film) is universal and then list performances, save one, that doesn't fit anything that's occurred at the festival. If you have a film or artist that can play to multiple audiences, then illustrate that from the outset and then offer up some specific scenarios in which her performance can add to the festival.

 

Me: 

It's much better to followup with us around December. We've just opened for call for entries and we're already on track to hit 3300 submissions this year. I can take a press kit, but the chances this will stay on my radar for 8 months is near 0. Especially because we focus most of our attention on selecting performers from the music videos that are submitted first and then go from there.  

Here I'm reinforcing that inquiring about an artist in April/May is too early. I'm also reinforcing the most important point: We are a film festival first and foremost. I have now mentioned twice that we look to our music videos before we start considering anyone else. Lastly, I'm trying to be honest that at this moment in time. Our focus won't be on performing acts.

I've become more blunt with my recent emails, not because I want to dissuade. What I want to avoid is wasting someone's time or put them in a holding pattern. It's incredibly hard to not put people on permanent pause. Sometimes you just don't know if you can or will say yes or no. When I can, I try to avoid it, cause it's rude.

 

Her: 

 As per your request attach is my artist Press Kit I will also follow up with you in December. Look forward to working with you.

Mistake number 7: What!??? Reread my previous email. I didn't request a press kit. I in fact politely, yet pointedly made it clear that a press kit is absolutely useless.  I can take a press kit, but the chances this will stay on my radar for 8 months is near 0. It's irrelevant digital data taking up space in my inbox. Maybe I was being too lenient in my response. I could have straight up said no, however, as a manager, one should understand this is the time to stop pitching. At this moment in time I'm a dead end. Add a calendar reminder for November or December and keep it moving.

EVEN BETTER: Tell me you're going to submit a music video for consideration at the festival. Press kit or music video? Which do you think is most useful to me right now?

I get the distinct feeling there is no overarching strategy in how this manager is approaching bookings. Throw her artist at as many events as possible, hope someone will respond.

 

So let's go back to my 4 reasons these emails fail and compare:

  1. Know what a film festival is and isn't? Not evident
  2. Attended any incarnation of the Atlanta Film Festival? Not evident. The artist was never pitched as "she'd be perfect at Paris on Ponce, or The Goat Farm." Nor did she mention attending the festival in the past and why she thought we were even worth approaching. So I'm going to say the answer is no.
  3. Can articulate how their product will organically fit into our mission?  We're easy to find more information on. We have a website. A Wikipedia page (where I personally added a short blurb about Sound & Vision and The Goat  Farm). Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram and Twitter accounts. We're easy to Google with fairly strong SEO--we can post a new page and Google will often pick  that up and add it to its search results in less than 15 minutes.
  4. Demonstrated an understanding of how a film festival differs from a conference or a music event? Simple answer, no.

We in the festival world harp on misuse and abuse of email for a reason. It's not that we don't want emails. Two films we played this year, CASTING BY and OUR NIXON, only came to our attention because the filmmakers emailed us. We want useful emails that will help us program the best, most interesting event possible.

If you're going to email any organization, I strongly suggest doing just a bit of research first. Ten minutes visiting a website and basic Googling should be enough. Not all events and organizations are equal. And email is such a low-cost, low-barrier tool, it means without specifics, your email will more likely be lost in a sea of digital white noise and dismissed.

Notes From a Festival Programmer: Your Marketing and Outreach Should Start NOW! BEFORE You're Accepted, Not After

We get hit up with the "how are you going to market our film" question every once in a while. While a festival should always be hustling to put butts in seats, filmmakers should realize that they are not powerless. A festival should be part of a continuum, not just a beginning point. Here's some things to do right now. Things that can be useful even if you don't get accepted.

  1. For every city you've submitted a film to, contact at least 10 to 15 groups that would be interested in your film. Tell them about your film, tell them why they should be interested. Tell them you'd like to have them involved in someway if the film is or isn't accepted in their city.
  2. Identify the one group you'd like to partner with most. Start building up a relationship.
  3. Leverage your current relationships to see if there are contacts they already have, or knowledge they can share about other cities (most useful for Docs with experts in their films).
  4. Identify the local websites, blogs and forums that would be interested in your film. Start posting about the film. Leverage your niches.
  5. Search and see what press writes about your topic and how often. Search and see what they write about films period. Knowing even a little of what is and isn't covered can assist in filling the gaps. It can also help you refine what to pitch to a paper so they'll consider writing about your film.
  6. Don't ignore the trickle down effect of national blogs that cover niches and topics. Be you a narrative or documentary, if you have a strong core story about aging, a website on aging is much more likely to write about you and someone on the local level who follows that blog may be more likely to read about it.
Now here are some more general things to keep in mind:
  1. Use the 30 day rule. Almost no one can get anything done if they don't have it in their hands 30 days before.
  2. Most press will NOT write about your film till they've seen it. If you're not going to allow preview copies to go out to press you'll need a hook for why they'll write about your film sight unseen. If you don't have major, major buzz coming in, aren't local, a huge star, or cover a topic of interest to the paper, the chances of getting a write-up is pretty much null.
  3. Even if you send preview copies, even if they watch it and like the film, most press aren't going to write about most of the films they are sent unless you are one of these things: Local. Cover a topic of major interest to the paper's readers. Have a huge star that even your grandmother and her grandson knows her name. Have major buzz.
  4. TV coverage is becoming more and more impossible--although it's realistically always been impossible--to get regardless of the town you are in. Even if you get it, expect to be up at the crack ass of dawn on morning shows, or be on the evening news, and in both cases maybe 3 or 4 minutes is the best you'll get. Even if you get on, you may or may not be speaking to your core audience. Your hip audience may not be up at 6 in the morning. So don't count on it and don't count on it to be a major plank of your promotions if you're lucky enough to get it.
  5. Most outlets have gotten smaller in the last 10 years, with many using syndicated columns for film reviews. Do not expect a press onslaught to be at your screening. While members of the press may want to come, they've often moved onto their next stories and columns because they have more on their to do list.
  6. Because of decreased staff sizes, if an outlet is going to do major coverage, they tend to do it in one huge block. One-offs are increasingly rare. If you aren't added to the overall coverage, you're probably not going to get it all.
  7. Decreased staff sizes does not mean decreased sections. Many outlets have specialized sections to add coverage on everything including religion, family, couples, kids and by even local industry. Look beyond the lifestyle/entertainment sections and be pitching to them as well.
  8. Documentaries are generally easier for outlets to find something topical to write about than Narratives. Duh, yes. Needs to be said, YES.
  9. The more your Narrative feature doesn't include or target a paper's target audience, the less likely they'll write about it. Sorry, but your tale of 20-somethings may be of little interest to a paper whose core readership is mostly over the age of 40.

I write all this not to dissuade you. I write this in the hopes you'll wisely start thinking now about what are the marketing and press challenges for your films and you'll start figuring out to get around them now. Don't wait till you're two weeks out from a festival to get frustrated that you keep hitting roadblocks. Many of these obstacles can be anticipated with a little bit of research. Research that you can hopefully apply to other festivals, your marketing plans post festival and on your next set of films.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: Filmmakers, Please Stop Being So Cavalier Using the Words "Homo" and "Fag"

I wasn't sure if I should write this one. Telling any artist, any creator, any filmmaker what they can and can't include in their movies is not something I endorse or believe in. Any piece of art is a result of  a series of choices and while some choices may or may not work, some are strong, some are weak, some are just plain confusing, it's in the hands of the artist to make and decide which of those choices they think are the right ones. However, I'm a programmer for a festival in a city with one of the largest and most culturally, politically and socially active LGBT communities in America. We're a festival that has an LGBT award, if we program a film in which characters, which in films submitted to us are overwhelmingly white, male and straight, drop the word "fag" or "homo" every five minutes we have to be able to defend why we chose that film. If the use of terms doesn't add to the film, if it's more distracting than illuminating, if the use of those words don't organically (be it a comedy or a drama, fiction or non-fiction) exist as a part of the film, why should we select that film over another?

I'm personally a huge Tarantino fan. In fact, I was the only one on the staff who came out of an afternoon screening of INGLORIOUS BASTERDS who loved the film and I've been eagerly awaiting DJANGO UNCHAINED. Yet, when Spike Lee had issues with Quentin Tarantino's use of the word nigger after the film JACKIE BROWN was released, I totally understood why.

 "I'm not against the word," [Spike] Lee said. "And some people speak that way. But Quentin is infatuated with that word. What does he want to be made--an honorary black man? ... I want Quentin to know that all African Americans do not think that word is trendy or slick."

When my roommates and I, four young black men in our 20s, rented RESERVOIR DOGS, this was about a year after PULP FICTION had come out. One of our roommates had seen FICTION in the theaters like the rest of us. When we had told him that DOGS was from the same writer and director of that film, he expressed his concerns over Tarantino's use of the word nigger, but he said he would give the film a chance.

My roommate gave the film a fair shot and two-thirds of his way into the film he got up and in a visible rage left the room. He didn't come back in till we had finished and moved onto the next movie of the night.

“I am working with The English language. I am not just a film director who shoots movies. I’m an artist, and good, bad, or indifferent, I’m coming from that place. All my choices, the way I live my life, are about that.” - Quentin Tarantino

What many folks forget is that Tarantino was cast as the character QT in Spike Lee's GIRL 6. A film that came out after DOGS and FICTION and before BROWN. If Lee had taken exception to the use of the word at all I doubt the incredibly outspoken Spike would have included him. Although, considering QT is auditioning African American actresses for "the greatest romantic, African-American film ever made. Directed by me, of course," Spike might have been channeling a lot of his issues and critique into a meta casting stunt.

I didn't have an issue with Tarantino's use of the word in either DOGS, FICTION or JACKIE BROWN. In each case I felt the use fit the worlds he had created. But, I like Lee did have to wonder and be concerned why the word had showed up so prominently in three of Tarantino's films back to back. Four if you count Tarantino's script for TRUE ROMANCE.

I can AND will defend a director and writer's use of any word. Language is as much an artistic tool as the camera itself.

What is not always defensible is the why a word was used. Which can be easy to parse at times and at others can be muddy and convoluted. And sometimes there is no why. Again, it comes down to choice.

What becomes incredibly difficult to defend is when any creator demonstrates a continued lack of understanding and empathy, especially when they have ultimate control over the worlds they are creating. As Spike put it later, "[Tarantino] says he grew up on Blaxploitation Films and that they were his favorite films but he has to realize that those films do not speak to the breadth of the entire African-American experience."

Tarantino never seemed to truly acknowledge that it would be natural and right for folks to be offended when he used the word "nigger". He's defensiveness at times signaled almost an unwillingness to take responsibility for what he had written and created.

Spike on the other hand, never really acknowledged that Tarantino's worlds are specific and were never meant to speak to or replicate the African-American experience. At least not the African American experience that existed outside of a certain genre of films. A genre that, while reflected the themes and issues of African-Americans, never claimed or aimed to be realistic. Tarantino has repeatedly noted that some of his movies are meant to exist as a heightened reality in an alternate universe he's called the "Realer Than Real World Universe". Others exist in the "Movie Movie Universe" and these moves are much more like comic books and films.

SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT, DO THE RIGHT THING, RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION are by no means constructed using the same rules. As far as I'm concerned, PULP FICTION is the film characters in DO THE RIGHT THING could rent and watch, but never be in. While, even for all their intelligence and experience, PULP FICTION's character would likely struggle to last more than a month in Mookie's shoes.

For all the shocking things that happen in PULP FICTION, there's a grounded reality in DO THE RIGHT THING that even Samuel L. Jackson's Jules would be ill prepared for psychologically. From the mundane work of delivering pizzas to watching his neighborhood explode, I truly believe Jules would be rendered powerless and go into shock if he had to watch Radio Raheem killed in front of his eyes. In PULP FICTION,  the violence is integrated into that world on an almost a molecular level and its effects, while impactful, are so common and natural, they could not happen with the open regularity they do in that film in the real world. DO THE RIGHT THING is still a powerful work because the source of violence in that film is tangible, experienced by men and women of all races, classes and religions in the United States everyday as well as by young protesters in Arab countries and workers fighting for their rights in Russia today.

We receive films that have women calling each other "bitches" and "ho's", black men and women calling each other "nigga" and LGBT characters calling each other "fags" or "dykes". Over the years we have programmed some of those films with no reservations and with no concerns.

But, the number of film submissions over the years that have had straight characters casually calling each other "fag" and "homo" has been troubling. Yes, it's true that people straight and gay call each other "fag" or "homo". However, just because one replicates an event, big or small, in a film,  in a book, or on stage, doesn't mean that replication has verisimilitude. It doesn't mean that replication gets deeper to the ideas, themes and undercurrents that those events represent and what  led to those moments to begin with.

I grew up with guys who playfully called each other "fag" and while they may have not meant each other harm, their inability to connect or interact with gay men said volumes about what all that "playfulness" reveals about how they truly felt, knew and understood about sexuality, gender and masculinity. The irony wasn't lost on me how many of those guys who wanted to grow up to be "real men" never quite achieved the vision of manhood they were striving for: home, car, wife, good job and kids. Did some of those guys fail because they used some word 20 years earlier? NO. However, their lack of insight into the power and meaning of the words they used. Their lack of growth to look back and gain that insight is definitely reflected in their inability to see their own lives with clarity.

To be truthful, some of those guys are also now very successful, happily married and have gotten pretty close to their childhood dream. I'm not going to lie to you and say they were punished or that they'll likely have horrible, crappy lives at some point. However, I do wonder how they'd cope not only if one of their children comes out to them, but if their child comes to them with anything that doesn't fit their worldview. A few may be able to adjust, others may completely reject their kids and others may need some time to work at it.

Just a few weeks ago, a filmmaker at festival related a story of a friend whose mother was incredibly supportive of her coming out. She marched in parades, wore the shirts and donated to organizations. Then her daughter announced her engagement to her partner and this mother started to freakout and some of what she said shocked her daughter.

Filmmakers are free to put anything they want in their films. And a viewer, an audience, is free to be offended by whatever has been included. However, it's not the offense itself that we should be concerned about it. The ability to offend is what not only makes some art work, it's what fuels it. Without it the art is inert. Without elements that may offend, nor can a creator be free to comment, explore or document any number of issues or events. They can't raise questions, nor can they attempt to answer ones that have been posed. Without the ability to offend so much of our comedy and humor would become bland and lifeless. It's history reduced to dates and names without any of the understanding and awareness.

And it's that awareness and understanding that should be first and foremost in a filmmaker's mind. A filmmaker could never use the word fag or homo, include Gay and Lesbian characters, even have them get married as part of their stories, and still create a film that offends. A few weeks ago me and my fellow programmers watched a short film at another festival that we found to be incredibly sexist and misogynistic. It's steampunk fairytale aesthetic couldn't cover up what were some troubling messages and themes. That it won an award troubled us. Having spoken with many filmmakers over the years, I'm sure the filmmakers of that film never intended to create a sexist short, however, I can't ignore the results and go on intention alone. It was a really good looking film and minus the issues I would have enjoyed it. Just a few tweaks, or even a tacit acknowledgement of the sexism that was made a part of the story, and it might have been a work we would have invited to submit to us for consideration.

When a filmmaker uses words like "nigger", "fag", "bitch", "dyke', "homo", et cetera and they're submitting to us as a festival, we're never going to automatically dismiss the films. Nor are we going to evaluate a film on those words alone.

However, even "nigger" is not used so blatantly casual as the word "fag" in film submissions. That filmmakers aren't submitting anywhere near the same number of films that have non black characters using the word "nigger" as they are "fag", it's an indication of one of three things.

One, filmmakers are aware of the problems using the word fag and they're choosing to ignore it. Two, filmmakers still don't have an understanding of not just the problems with the word fag, but the larger social implications of that word. Three, they know the word is damaging, but are underestimating just how damaging it can be.

Again, let me stress in very big, bold letters: I'M NOT TELLING FILMMAKERS WHAT THEY SHOULD OR SHOULDN'T INCLUDE IN A FILM. I'M NOT SAYING THEY CAN'T HAVE CHARACTERS CALL EACH OTHER WHATEVER THEY WANT. I'M NOT SAYING A FILM THAT USES ANY OF THOSE WORDS WILL NEVER BE PROGRAMMED, BECAUSE WE HAVE PROGRAMMED THEM AND WE WILL CONTINUE TO PROGRAM THEM.

While we want risky, bold and interesting films, we take this job seriously and we aren't just programming films, we're programming films for our community as a whole. We are programming to reflect where we are in the world not just where we've been. As such, we will aim to judge fairly, but we won't turn a blind eye. Filmmakers shouldn't create work to just please or appease, but the "I'm an artist" defense can and only will go so far.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: You STILL Have No Facebook Page or Website?????? Or How to (Possibly) Improve Your Chances of Being Accepted or Invited

I can't believe I have to write this one AGAIN, but I--and others--will keep pushing this rock up the hill... I was sent an email this morning by a filmmaker who addressed it to the Ann Arbor Festival and not the Atlanta Film Festival. But that wasn't what bothered me. I skipped over the error of the wrong festival because I've made much bigger stumbles than that myself, and on a much wider scale--like 1,500 filmmakers wide. It was that she included only a title about her film and no other information.

So I Googled her film, which has such a unique and attention grabbing title--and the title is what made me want to know more--it should be easy to find her Facebook page or Website. Nothing. Tried the title and her name. Found a still from her storyboard, but it didn't reveal much. It did indicate that the film is animated, or at least I think it's supposed to be animated.

So here's some advice for filmmakers:

Create your Facebook page (and website if possible) during pre production and keep it up to date on at least a weekly basis (but posting at least 3 or 4 times a week is better)

Do not create a page you aren't going to update at least once a week. It can be a still. A video. It could be just be as simple as posting: "Taking a week break next week from editing to let this cut sit a while. Still too long, but not sure what has to go yet."

If it's between a film that will promote themselves and one that hasn't updated anything in months, which do you think we'd choose if we liked both equally. Flip this around. If you're submitting to a film festival, which gives you more confidence, a fest that hasn't posted in three months, or a fest that's at least posted something in the last week?

Don't just post about your film

ATLFF12 selection Derby, Baby! Is a good example. They're as much a resource for Derby information as they are about where and when to see the film itself. They also post about related issues and topics: women athletes, Title IX, young girls doing amazing things, etc. They also very much post more like a human than a promobot.

Consider having only A website for all your shorts instead of creating an individual one for each of them 

Why? First, putting all your shorts together has them collectively working together. As a calling card for networking, as a draw for anyone that might become a fan of your work, it should be one stop shopping as much as possible.

Second, you're unlikely to get major distribution for a short. It's not impossible, yet still highly unlikely. Don't spend too much time creating a website for each new work when you really just need three or four more pages. Save that for the feature films. Even then having a single site for all your features and shorts may not be a bad idea. You can always have a domain redirect to the feature's or short's home page on the site.

Three, it makes your work much more search engine friendly having it in one place and easier to find.

Four, as a festival is making decisions a short that comes from a filmmaker who shows incredible talent or promise or huge growth can be a plus. It could be the factor that pushes a film ahead of one that's equally as good. Seeing your last short(s) may give a boost to your current one.

Five, if you're always working and updating your main site, the pages of your short (or feature) never have to be updated, but it's easy for visitors to see you're still working. That short from 2006 doesn't give the illusion that you haven't done anything since then because it's a click away from the film you just finished last week.

DO create a website for you and your company or film collective that showcases all your work in one place

Not sure I should or have to explain this one.

If you have a Vimeo page or Youtube Channel link to it, included it on your Facebook page and embed it and/or the films. If you don't have one, create one. CAVEAT: Do this after you have enough films.

Vimeo and Youtube are easily searchable, easy to share and give you multiple tools to share public and private links, track views, and more. It also gives your fans a chance to share the video once you've uploaded it after your festival run.

Little more than two years ago, I attempted to share festival shorts we had screened every week on our Facebook page. I ran out of films after about 3 to 4 months. Either the films weren't online, were only trailers or impartial films, or they only existed on the filmmaker's sites.

Considering we've programmed roughly 60 to 100 shorts every year since 2005, the year YouTube launched, getting to only 12 to 16 shorts out of 350 to 500 is kind of depressing. Even more so if we go back to 2001 when the 48 Hour Film Project was able to debut on the scene because digital technology had lowered the barrier enough. Out of nine years of films, I should have at least gotten to 50 films.

Just be sure to include your best work and take down anything that is sub par or doesn't match where you are. That 1998 short maybe cute, but it may undermine that short you have now in 2012. It all depends on what you're communicating.

Even more powerful presence have you will if Facebook pages and website do exist with a video page. Diminished presence will be if not.

DON'T rely solely on twitter

Tweets are temporary. Folks should be able to find basic information any day or night.

Make sure your synopsis and information is text and specific enough it can be found using search engines

If I can't remember the name of your film but I remember the plot and maybe a character name the more detailed your synopsis is the more likely I can Google it. And if I can't use your name to find your film because it's a part of some fancy jpeg that's a major fail.

L!fe Happens is a comedy centered on three young women - Kim, Deena and Laura - who all live under the same roof in Los Angeles. When one of Kim's one-night-stands results in an unexpected pregnancy, things take a sudden turn for the trio. With the help of her girlfriends, Kim must cope with single motherhood as she jumps back into the dating scene amid the fear that toting around a tot can be a dating 'buzz-kill.'

I was able to use these words to find the above synopsis from our 2012 Opening Night Film: "kim pregnant los angeles film" and "pregnant los angeles film single mother ritter"

Will everyone have or want to use Google or Bing to find your film? Maybe, maybe not. But don't make it overly difficult to do so if you don't have to. You also never know when someone may genuinely discover your film. Just don't use bait words.

Include compelling images from your film on your website and your page

Production stills are cool, but not particularly enticing. Get people excited about the film with something juicy and helps convey the story. Also, you never know when someone from the press or a festival might need (more) images and being able to download them from your site makes it easier. And again, some fans may want to share an image, but not a trailer.

AND, even as cool as your synopsis maybe, it just might be the still that grabs a festival director or programmer's attention, especially if the synopsis sounds like a story that's impossible to pull off.

Recount your film's personal successes and try to tell a story

If you had 3 sold out screenings add that. If you did outreach with 8, 9, 10 different organizations on your own and that's why it sold out add that as well.

Every film and filmmaker has their own journey. Think of your film as more of a character with a life of its own and treat it as such. It's not born when the editing is done, or is accepted on the festival circuit, it's living and breathing from pre production and beyond. Facebook pages that give audiences the impression that they're following and are even a part of its journey the better.

One filmmaker has been posting the good and bad news for his film, what he was working on and why he made the film, and posting often, and it's like reading a journal and not a series of promotional posts on a Facebook Page.

MAYBE IT'S JUST ME BUT...DO NOT USE FLASH LANDING PAGES OR PAGES THAT AUTO LOAD MUSIC OR VIDEO!!!!

Seriously...don't do it. Few things turn off visitors more than having music blasting at them. And no one cares if you've got mad motion graphic skills...okay, maybe they will, but not on the front page. Although, if it's funny and relevant to the film I could be proven wrong...but, that's honestly been so rare I'm going to stick to DON'T DO IT.

Contact info, contact info, contact info <---- Include this, make it easy to find, avoid forms

 

Will all this guarantee you will get into a festival? No. Every film and filmmaker has it's own path.

Yet, you never know when a festival director will stumble on your film and will ask you to send them a copy. You never know if a festival is unsure if your film has an audience till they see that you've marketed your film to fans and got them out. And you definitely never know when someone will decide that they want to be a part of helping you get to the next level. You never know when a stranger may find your film and contact a festival to ask if the film is coming to their town (these emails really do exist and they really do come from strangers and not people connected to the films).

And ensuring you have pages and sites you can share with festivals and groups once you've been accepted is paramount. Start building that up NOW, not three weeks before your first festival.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: Arrested Development, Man Children and the Slow Road to a Beginning

One of the great advantages of being a festival programmer is that from the number of films one can see back to back it's fairly easy to find the commonalities in submissions. One that's most frequent, and is a pretty constant submission every year, are the stories featuring a man-child experiencing some kind of stasis. The character is usually in their 20s, however by every measure, job, school, personal relationships, they are years behind in relation to those around them.

As characters, they aren't inherently uninteresting. Nor are they that far removed from the world off-screen. What does make them lacking in heft at times though is how often in the films the characters haven't really been striving for anything. There's no hint of failed ambition. There's not much reference to any dreams. They are effectively automatons going through their routine.

There's nothing wrong with stillness, yet, even in stillness, there's potential energy. And in that potential is the chance to drill down to explore what makes that character unique. And out of that uniqueness can a film possibly standout and emerge as different.

If I had one specific piece of advice I would encourage writers and filmmakers to do is to find pursuits other than writing and filmmaking for these characters. Engineering, science, construction, business owner, stunt man, house painter, preacher...the list of jobs and professions that a character could find rewarding and find themselves is limitless, and less cliched.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: Who's More Important? Filmmakers or the Audience?

  If you ask most filmmakers and film festivals the role festivals play, the one that is offered most is that festivals exist to help serve filmmakers. The functions of that role are generally identified  as:

  1. assist independent filmmakers in reaching wider audiences
  2. selecting or curating challenging or riskier films that exist outside the mainstream
  3. being a safe haven from Hollywood style filmmaking
  4. aid emerging and upcoming filmmakers in building their careers

Regardless of where you are on the spectrum (<--pay attention to that word) of audience to filmmaker, it's doubtful you'll find any of those objectionable or without merit. It's when it comes to the concepts of serving and reaching audiences that things become a bit more complicated, as illustrated by an email exchange I had with a friend and filmmaker a few months ago. Here are two key bits from that:  

"By anticipating what your audience wants (according to you), you are doing a disservice to them. The only purpose for film festivals is to present material and directors that you can't see anywhere...Fests MUST seek the most challenging material and leave the audience-anticipated material to the multiplexes."

"The film festival should operate under the guise of film afficionado - finding the next, interesting and challenging films and filmmakers. If you are good at that, your audience will follow."

Months later I still find myself understanding the core and source of my friend's points while vehemently disagreeing that audiences will follow if I relegate prime importance to films and filmmakers over them. I strongly believe there is no must and that lies in the reality every festival has a different Spectrum (told you to pay attention) of audience to filmmakers.

At one end is the audience lying at the other end are filmmakers. What doesn't change from fest to fest, event to event is that along that spectrum everyone is an audience member right down to the filmmaker. Even if one has a festival by filmmakers for filmmakers, that is still an audience. Overlaid on top of that are multiple spectra of Audience types, which can be predominately male, predominately female, old, young, niche, general, industry insiders,  industry contrarians, cinephiles and just plain old casual film fans.

What's most important to a festival, more than films or even attendance numbers, is energy. It's the vital lifeblood to sustain what we do. That energy can and should resonant long before an event has started and long after the credits on the last film have finished rolling.  Any festival that doesn't understand what their particular spectra are and aren't in tune with them can mute or kill that energy. When I was covering film festivals on a regular basis prior to ATLFF there were quite a few I attended that tellingly don't exist anymore, or have radically fallen off  the collective radar, and strongly illustrate that.

From year to year those events struggled to build and maintain an audience. They all generally had a few screenings that would hit, while the majority were misses.

If you're the filmmaker or a member of the audience, there are few things as uniquely awkward as sitting in a dead or dying screening. Disappointing and disheartening are the screenings that could have been so much more. And there's nothing more draining than attending back to back screenings in which there is no rising energy.

I've seen filmmakers become visibly angry, dejected and even withdrawn as they go from screening to screening, finding they are not in a unique position.

I've watched audiences tune out and in varying cases, by the middle of the festival, the numbers have dwindled to (near) nothing or become spotty. With the event almost always taking on the solemnity of a cultural wake in which attendance has become an act of obligation to see things through to the bitter end.

It's such a self-defeating approach to crafting what should, regardless of it's purely industry or purely audience, be a rallying point for community however one defines that. It's something we at ATLFF have not been immune to and have to constantly consider and reconsider, being honest with ourselves if we want to stay true to our mission.

It's results that defy the very definition of festival, making the use of the word meaningless:

fes·ti·val

   [fes-tuh-vuhl]

noun

1. a day or time of religious or other celebration, marked byfeasting, ceremonies, or other observances: the festival of Christmas; a Roman festival.
2. a periodic commemoration, anniversary, or celebration: an annual strawberry festival.
3. a period or program of festive  activities, cultural events, or entertainment: a music festival.
4. gaiety; revelry; merrymaking.

There's nothing gained if a festival is so inwardly focused it creates no entry points and no spaces for audiences to become part of the festival itself. It's a recipe to create a hermetically sealed atmosphere that can be deadening, inert, reaching only a few, becoming doggedly elitist by intention or by sheer lack of awareness

It's what leads many to spend more time convincing , cajoling and educating--which eventually morphs into lecturing--audiences than engaging with them and frankly just having fun.

It fosters a desperate need to manufacture energy, which is impossible, yet still props up the perception that events need gimmicks to create the illusion of energy to attract people. It encourages a cynical view that infects all that it touches, becoming a self-fulling prophecy that some films and audiences will never connect. It leads us to put in place correctives that even when we mean well put up artificial barriers and distance that need not exist.

It's what has convinced many audiences that they need know film/music/art theory or history to enjoy a particular work and that they are not allowed to trust their own instincts, their own visceral gut reactions.

Film festivals should be where audiences feel that they are part of something participatory, that their presence and their own experiences matter. Considering audience should be an organic process that has its goal to create an environment in which film, audience and filmmaker meet to create a mixture of empowerment, excitement and the energetic. Presenting audiences films that push them outside their comfort zone and ask them to work even a little harder is an integral part of that. However, every film will do that differently and not every film will do that with every audience.

I'll end with this pulled from my response to my filmmaker friend:

"I'm not saying that you bow down to the audience, that wouldn't make one a very good programmer or curator. However, festivals for the most part are community events that serve audiences and filmmakers. One can't ignore one or the other. Alienate the audience and what good are we to filmmakers? Don't try to curate films that will surprise people, what good are we to audiences?"

Notes from a Festival Programmer: Dear Film Schools, Your Time Requirements Are ******* Stupid and Counterproductive

I just finished watching a really strong short submitted to us for ATLFF13. When it began I was fearful it was going to be another cliched riddled affair because of the subject matter, but 60 seconds in I was hooked. By the halfway point I was excited we had gotten such a submission. By the end I was elated to know we're looking at another strong year for shorts. If only it wasn't 29 minutes long.

The film's length, and because it's a Graduate Thesis film, reminds me of the conversation I had with Christopher Holland of Film Festival Secrets about three weeks ago. Many film programs require that students start with short time frames and then work their way up. As Chris rightly brought up, this is a backwards way to train students.

Many will disagree with me, however I sincerely believe the notion that making a feature is more difficult than making a short has grown more out of the logistics and costs of making a feature than it does the form itself. Even then, that perception of logistics and cost can be an illusionary barrier as there are filmmakers who made critically acclaimed features with no more than two or three actors and a crew of two.

With a decent script with a serviceable character arc, decent production values and smart editing, most folks can make a feature that works. It may not blow minds but it can be at least a functioning story that hits all the beats. What takes a feature from decent to "holy sh*t" lies in the power of individual scenes and moments.

I'm not confident that encouraging filmmakers to aim towards learning how to stretch out a story, as opposed to learning how to pack more story into smaller moments, is the wisest course. I would love to hear from film schools why they instruct students to make longer shorts. What are the goals.

Below I've included the last three minutes of THE GODFATHER as an example. Even if you haven't seen the movie, if you don't know the plot, you can learn and infer a lot about what kind of man Michael is, what his relationships are currently like, and what likely preceded this scene. More importantly, we don't need to know the specifics, we as the audience only have to be clear about what the characters want and where they end up. The central conflict is Michael convincing his wife Kay that he's still a decent man. Michael does that. Relieved, Kay exits satiated. Seconds later, from Kay's point of view, we visually see that comfort she gained instantly evaporate.

The Godfather End Scene

Story aside, where the greatest impact on shorts can be felt is in how far and wide a short can travel. That 29 minute short, as good as it is, has to be so good that programmers can justify taking up the slots of two or three shorts. If they can't do that, then they have to consider if they can program it in front of a feature or elsewhere. Chances are they'll be hard pressed to find a film that it will work with. Thirty minutes in front of a feature can feel like an eternity for an audience, making for a long screening. Even if they can slot a 30 minute film into a shorts block, once an audience becomes accustomed to seeing several 10 to 15 minute shorts back to back in a 90 minute block, a 30 minute film can feel long as hell.

By requiring filmmakers to make longer shorts at the point of their career when they'll most be trying to get noticed, film schools may be making that harder than intended. Not only on the festival circuit but online as well. Some data shows that only 50% of online watchers will finish a video that's 2 to 10 minutes long. Over 20 minutes that number gets closer to 30%.

Below I've embedded two shorts. Both clock in around 8 minutes. One name you should definitely recognize and the other, even if you don't, did go on to make a few features and you'll find people that remember this short immediately. If your school allows you the freedom to make a short of any length, go for under 15 and definitely shoot for 8. Eight is what programmers at SXSW and Sundance, two biggies suggest. We at ATLFF definitely say go for anything under 15, and as a programmer I enjoy packing in as many shorts into a block as I can.

If you're a school, may I suggest you rethink what your requirements are. If your students are making 25 minute shorts and they're playing multiple festivals more power to you. However, if you seriously aren't seeing your alums coming out with shorts that are playing more than a handful of festivals I say it's time to reassess. SPIN wouldn't likely have played 8o festivals if it hadn't been so short. More importantly though, if your students aren't learning to pack more into less, you're sending them into a world in which their daily bread is likely to be making short form content like commercials and their training could be hindering them. Most important, audiences crave moments that they can connect with, the two Suns in STAR WARS, Gene Kelley dancing with Jerry are what make films memorable, and audiences aren't going to care if your students got an A because they hit some arbitrary running time.

 

Jane Campion's PEEL (1986) Short Film Palme d'Or at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival

Jamin Winans SPIN (2005) Over 40 Awards at 80 Film Festivals

Double Edge Films - Spin (2005) from Luku on Vimeo.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: They Hated It, We Loved It, Why We Welcome Polarizing Films

It's early in the submissions process for ATLFF13, but we have enough films that the screeners have started watching and scoring films. This morning I opened the screening sheets to see how they were doing so far. Under the features one film immediately jumped out at me. Three screeners didn't like the film and each gave it a very low score. Two screeners gave the film a high score. In those respective camps the scores are almost identical.  This of course piqued my interest and got me excited.

I queued up the film and gave it a watch. Ten minutes in I immediately understood why the low scoring screeners didn't dig it, I also in those ten minutes saw why the high scoring screeners had written such glowing reviews of the film. It's a genre bending work that definitely isn't for everyone. And I loved it.

It's precisely because the film is able to neatly divide our screening committee that reflects why it's in my opinion such a strong film. It's a film that attacks its subject with a rigor, focus and audacity that's exciting and refreshing. Out of that rises so many questions and turns the film into a Rorschach test about the very subject it's covering. The filmmakers vision is evident in every frame. This is the exact kind of film that I'm thinking of when I tell filmmakers that the way they tend to think of scores as a barometer of bad, poor, good, great doesn't match what many festivals are looking for. To paraphrase: "Art that's created to please everyone tends to please no one."

Will it get into the festival? Way TOO early to say. We're still five months from our last deadline and a good six and a half months from having to make final selections. As Head of Programming my job is to stay as open minded to all the possibilities of what the festival can be and that changes every time a new batch of films come in. But to the filmmakers that made that film kudos and keep pushing the envelope.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: NEVER, EVER Hire That Guy (or Gal) for Sound Again. Or, Why We Loathe Omni-Directional Mics

Of all the advice festivals and festival programmers will give, sound is likely the one that will appear in everyone's list. Sound is the one element almost no film can overcome when it's noticeable for all the wrong reasons.

"Getting good sound is one of the most affordable things that you can do to up your production values and make your movie look better" -  David Hechenberger

In the past, the biggest issue in this area has had to do with productions relying on the on camera mic. That was even more so five or so years ago when the digital cameras indies were using would be of the more affordable prosumer quality, which would have a mic built in. In general, they're terrible for capturing sound on narrative productions. There's almost no compensating in camera. The mic's are omni-directional so they're pulling all sounds that are within range. The mic is at the mercy of the acoustics of wherever one is shooting. And you're pretty much stuck filming close ups and medium shots, because they only pick up sound at relatively short distances.

Fast forward and the mantra of "boom mic, boom mic, boom mic" is one we don't scream at the screen much anymore. More filmmakers, especially self-trained, are aware that shooting on set without a boom mic is a non-starter.

Which brings me to a new issue, that's really an old one, and that's having people who know nothing about sound running it on set.

I've watched films this submission process that have been filled with:

  • dresses rustling against the lavaliers
  • clearly audible mic bumps
  • scenes that sound like they were filmed in a bathroom, but weren't
  • extraneous background noises, such as cars honking and passing on the street
  • mic pops
  • the sound of the dreaded, overbearing, and pretty loud, refrigerator and or drink machine
I've personally been on indie film sets in which the person running and monitoring the sound has immediately after the take, let everyone know when they didn't get clean sound. They've never let production move on till they were sure they had something usable. To watch a film and hear such errors, angers me.

No, it pisses me the fuck off.

Why would you do that to a filmmaker? And filmmakers, why would you find that acceptable?

Now, the reality is that sometimes you can't actively monitor sound as you're shooting. Or, get as fancy as you'd like. Logistically and budget wise there are constraints, we get that. Here's some advice and observations from a layman, who isn't an expert, but knows he detests bad sound, especially in what could be good movies.
  1.  Always include the sound guy when making final decisions about locations. Figure out what the issues will be before the day you start shooting.
  2. When in doubt, ask the guy behind the counter for a uni-directional microphone.
  3. If you can hear the car, dog, plane, door slam, yelling without a headset, you know for sure the microphone picked it up. Do another take.
  4. Always be monitoring the sound as you're shooting, not afterwards. And a semi-decent headset is better than no headset at all.
  5. If you can't afford to monitor the sound--which means you probably shouldn't be shooting, but if you decide to go ahead anyway--then build in time to review sound on set every few takes. Missing a key line of dialogue could come back to bite you in the ass, don't let it. However, this will EAT UP time. Monitoring is the faster, cheaper way to go.
  6. If you've got a dialogue heavy, or quick paced scene, with lots of back and forth, and you're only working with one microphone, you may need to get more coverage. Shoot more with a few takes focused on just getting the dialogue of one character. Yes, you may have to add shoot days, or hours, however, this may save your butt in editing.
  7. If you can use multiple mics and multiple recorders to record each character to a separate track do it.
  8. If you're using lavaliers, work with your costume designers, or in the case of most indies, the actors who will be picking their own costumes, to make sure the mics are firmly secured and the costumes won't present any issues. If it dangles, jangles, or swings, it WILL bump up against something. ALWAYS.
  9. ADR for exterior scenes (almost) never work for low budget films, and even at best, are just barely convincing. ADR for interior scenes can kinda work for low budget films (but rarely do), and are convincing after lots of work and manipulation, i.e. you'll be spending extra cash or extra time. Aim to avoid ADR if you really don't have the budget, or find ways to shoot key scenes without the dialogue--even if you plan the shot to be entirely silent, or to only have music, still capture on set sound to give you the option of layering that back in.
  10. Use the same mic(s) and gear, throughout an entire scene, and ideally the entire shoot. If your sound person owns her own equipment and won't be on set for next week's shoot, see if you can rent her gear for a nominal fee if she won't allow you to use it without her present. Trust me, that extra bit of consistency will be worth it.
  11. You can NEVER fix it in post. You can only patch it up.
  12. Never be afraid to fire the sound person as soon as you know something is wrong, even if they are your friend.
  13. And following that up, unless you know your friend, or anyone for that matter, is really great at sound, don't hire them. Take your time and find the right person, not a person for right now. Delaying shooting may save you the heartache of having a nearly useless film.
Good reading:

Notes from a Festival Programmer: 60 Seconds Or Less, That's What You're Competing Against

Sixty seconds or less. There are so many good films capturing my attention in that amount of time this year. As a filmmaker, this is what you are up against. There is no "wait till you get to the good part." There is no waiting for Act II to kick in. As a filmmaker who is submitting to festivals, or will be submitting to festivals, you must keep in mind that your film is not existing in a void. If your film doesn't grab us till ten, twenty, thirty minutes in, and the ones before did it from the jump, which ones will we gravitate to most?

If you're worried that this means you can't have a film that is more meditative and takes its time, fret not. A few of the films I've seen have fallen into this "category"* and they're still captivating. One film I'm really digging so far has a ten minute long, dialogue free scene, with no other characters but the main one.

So what has that 60 seconds entailed?

For me so far, it's ranged from a series of beautifully composed shots, to an opening joke that made me choke on my drink, to a character introducing herself with some misleading dialogue, to a high energy action sequence. Will these films all get in?

Not sure yet. There are still so many more films to consider, however, they are the ones that I easily remember without having to refer to any of my notes. More importantly, I instantly remember why.

 

*Every year there are several filmmakers who email us asking if we take "slow, thoughtful" films. Their impression is that festivals don't program them much. One, they really haven't been to enough festivals, because "slow, thoughtful" films are selected all the time. Two, programmers may love those films, that doesn't mean their audiences do, nor does it mean those audiences still aren't adventurous. Festivals still have to put butts in seats and serve their audiences and not just dictate to them. Three, harsh reality here, if you're a filmmaker that describes your film as such, and your film has been rejected time and time again and hasn't been accepted into any festivals, it probably means your film is not slow, it's boring. Four, the issue with some "slow and thoughtful" films is that they're the intellectual flipside of the action blow 'em up coin. Just as we've seen the drug deal gone wrong movie a thousand times, we've also seen the contemplative movie in which a character wanders the Earth learning lessons a thousand times. However, when we see someone with a fresh take, we will take notice and maybe even fist pump (yes, I've done that, several times this year in fact) and nearly shit our pants because we enjoyed the film so much.

Notes from a Festival Programmer: How Your Trailer May Kill Your Chances of Being Accepted

Movie Posters and Trailers. Two marketing tools that are nearly as old as cinema itself, with posters going back hundreds of years when you link its lineage to the theater. Of the two, Poster has become a (lost) art form unto herself. Unlike her marketing sibling, Trailer, Poster can't use clips from a film, or sound, or narration, to convey what a movie is or what it's like. She knows that she can never--well not never, maybe rarely...like super duper rarely---distill a 90 minute story line down into one image. Astute, she's skipped trying to tell you what the story is, and she's honed in on recreating the experience of a film.

To that end, Poster has earned herself a reputation as having the ability to be iconic, even avant-garde. She can be mysterious, she can be daring, she can be bold, she can be sexy. She's understood that when she does her job well, when she connects on an emotional level, a visceral response will entice even the jaded to look a bit deeper.

Her brother though, he's a lucky ass bastard because he can use any clip he wants from a film. The problem is, Trailer often forgets that conveying the ups and downs of a 90 minute movie actually becomes both more complicated, simplified, and riskier.

The simple? The audience can now see the story, the genre and quality of a film even more clearly. "Hey, it's a comedy, I'll show a pratfall here." "It's a romance, here's a guy yelling a man or woman's name in the rain." "Insert obligatory man jumping something dramatically with a determined face shot here to indicate there'll be action." Audiences see, they process, they understand...but, wait...

The complicated? Good films, and great films most of all, are rarely that easy to break down. The more reductive the clips, the more likely Trailer is to over or under sell what a film is. If he leaves out a key moment or three, he could entirely mislead an audience into thinking a romance is a comedy, or a drama film is all action. If what he creates doesn't piece together just right, he can effectively tell you what the story is, yet bungle conveying what experiencing that story will be like.

The risky? Audiences can now make a decision if the film is something they one, want to see, two, will likely enjoy, and three, want to share--for good or bad--with others, even if it is or isn't for them. And most important, Trailer can't hide the quality of a film. Sub-par picture, sound, acting, that will always come through.

So what does that have to do with being accepted into a film festival? Programmers are no different than anyone else. Just as it is with audiences going to a local multiplex, we look at trailers and we instantly decide if films are ones we think we want to see, as programmers and as film lovers, and if we think will enjoy them. We can also decide if it's a film we believe we can share with our festival audience, even if we personally aren't reacting to the story or subject matter.

However a regular audience member isn't watching 2000 films to decide which 140 they want to watch on Friday. And even if they skip a film, they can probably choose to take a chance on it at a later date. Or they may even have someone else persuade them that they should take a chance. Once we have formed an opinion, it's been formed. It can be altered, it can be changed, but there's almost no going back to one and reevaluating a film from scratch. As such, there's a reason I and most of my screening committee try to avoid seeing or reading too much about some film if we can do that (it's why we always want at least two eyes on a film).

Unfortunately, too many films submitted to festivals either have misleading trailers--stop playing by the Hollywood big budget marketing playbook and you would be much better off. Or they do not have strong trailers at all.

So far this season I've seen at least three films that a filmmaker sent me a trailer for that had me pumped, and I walked away a little disappointed that the film was nothing like the trailer. Those films aren't out, but they are not as high on my list as when I watched the trailer. Based off the trailers alone, I could see telling audiences they need to see X film for Y reasons, because Y reasons was in the trailer and I know their interest would be piqued. Afterwards, I had to throw out Y reasons because that wasn't what the films really were and to a greater extent not even about. Now my Z reasons are formed not by the film, but by me taking those Y reasons with me as I watched the film and having those shaped and reshaped as I react.

Film festivals, having festival in their descriptors, should be about experience first and foremost. It's about sitting in the dark for hours and hours and being moved to action if it's a social doc, to tears if it's a drama or laughter if it's a comedy. The films I personally react most strongly too, aren't the ones I just think are just of great quality, it's the ones I'm betting (rightly or wrongly) an audience will react positively to on an instinctual level.

As any film goer can tell you, there are few things more exciting than having a film exceed the promise of its trailer. They will also tell you that there are few things more disappointing than a film that doesn't.

Notes From a Festival Programmer: Rejection Ain't Pretty

It's festival submission time around the country. Which means we're getting closer and closer to the last week of November. Which as many of you know is when Sundance contacts the filmmakers who were accepted, and at that point, the "did we or did we not" waiting comes to an end for thousands of filmmakers. Over the next few months to a full year, the emails and letters come in and filmmakers either squeal with elation and start texting, Facbooking, or dialing if they're old school, with wild abandonment, or they gnash their teeth in frustration.

The harsh truth is that most films are going to be rejected more times than not. It's the nature of the beast. A function of logistics, taste and timing.

In the Washington City Paper, Mike Riggs has posted what happened with Jeff Krulik's Heavy Metal Picnic, after it premiered in August of 2010, on the festival circuit. If you're a filmmaker who has submitted a film to any of the 2012 festivals, this will either hearten you to know you're not alone, or you're going to get super depressed. I'll err on the side of  super depressed if I tell you that Krulik was a juror for ATLFF10 and even that didn't guarantee his selection for ATLFF11.

Heavy Metal Picnic was supposed to be Jeff Krulik's big break. The documentary filmmaker behind the cult smash Heavy Metal Parking Lot has made every kind of documentary over the course of two decades. But he hasn't made anything with as big a place in the zeitgeist as the impromptu footage he and John Heyn captured in 1986 outside a Judas Priest concert in Landover, Md. When Krulik came across some footage from a totally rocking field concert held in rural Maryland in the late ‘80s, he decided to tap intoHeavy Metal Parking Lot's magic one last time. Over the course of a year, Krulik tracked down and interviewed the festival's major personalities and cut those interviews with footage captured by a shoulder-cam and a CBS microphone stolen from Ronald Reagan's second inauguration. On August 6, 2010, Heavy Metal Picnic premiered to a packed house at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. Here’s what’s happened since.

Read the rest of Heavy Metal Picnic's 2011 festival journey

Festival League Returns, Designates August Independent Film Month

Atlanta's Festival League is back for another round, again bringing their coalition of film events and niche festivals to various venues around the city this August. Eric Panter and crew, to tie into Atlanta's revitalized and growing film scene, have also designated the dog days of Summer as Independent Film Month here in the A. The League has grown quite a bit from the first Atlanta Underground Film Festival in 2004. Of all the Atlanta groups and film events that sprouted up in the 2000's, it's arguably the only one, outside of Urban Mediamakers, that has stuck to it's original vision and will likely reach the magic 10 year mark. They've also done a great job of partnering with groups like ASIFA-Atlanta.

My only knock against the League is the number of venues they use each year. When the Atlanta Film Festival (which I started working for in August of 2007) was spread out across the city prior to the April 2007 fest, I wasn't a fan of  their use of multiple venues either. It's not the venues themselves I have problems with. As it was with a pre-2007 ATLFF, my issues have to do with creating a true festival vibe and the convenience of getting around the A.

After years of covering  film events around the South with CinemATL and attending them as an ATLFF staff member, I've come to only love multi-venue events when one, I can easily walk from one to another, and two, the venues are being used simultaneously. Remove those elements and its hard to really give people that "wholly crap there's a lot going on" feeling that makes festivals so dynamic. Being spread out also doesn't lend itself to fostering the most idyllic atmosphere for networking and mingling, leaving it up to parties to do the heavy lifting.

Still, as I have done since at least the 2005 AUFF, I'll be planning to catch a flick or two, and schedule permitting may get my party on--where's the booze son. Oh, and I hope Atlanta's film community realizes attending events like Independent Film Month and making it a success does nothing but raise the city's profile, making the A even more attractive to the nation's film community at large. So I better see some of, if not all, your asses there.

More at FestivalLeague.com Festival Highlights from the Festival League Below:

Independent Film Month:

The most ambitious project to date by Atlanta's Festival League, Independent Film Month runs the entire month of August 2010 and presents over 300 films at a series of film festivals and related events designed to unify Atlanta's top film organizations, independent filmmakers and film fans from across the world.

IFM events include: Atlanta Shortsfest, Atlanta Horror Film Festival, The Best of CinErotic Film Festival, the Film Series at the Center for Puppetry Arts, the Peachtree Village International Film Festival, DocuFest Atlanta, Animation Attack!, and Atlanta Underground Film Festival.

The first year of IFM will serve as a smaller-scale test run for next year's event. As IFM grows, a series of panels, lectures, galas and other events will be added to the schedule. Our goal is to become the largest film event in history, serving as a month-long meeting ground for everyone involved in the film industry.

Director of Events, Eric Panter, urges everyone to attend at least one event during the month of August. "Georgia is very close to becoming a center of activity for the production of large and small budget films. IFM will help solidify Georgia's reputation as the place to shoot, promote, and screen your film. It's time for everyone in the industry to join together to prove our enthusiastic spirit for the art of filmmaking."

Venues for IFM are stretched far across the city, and include: Plaza Theatre Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge Spring4th Center Hyatt Regency Center for Puppetry Arts Eyedrum Wonderroot Carter Center Goat Farm Art Space Five Spot Studio Bar at the Artmore Hotel Woodruff Arts Center. (unconfirmed)

Attendees can attend all film screenings during the entire month with an Independent Film Month All Access Pass for $99, or purchase separate passes to each event at: festivalleague.com/tickets

Screenings are $5 - $10 per program. One-Day passes are available to most events.

Contact: Eric Panter office: 404-347-3564 cell: 678-428-5968

Atlanta Shortsfest August 6 - 8, 2010 Director: Lisa Highfill http://AtlantaShortsFest.com The First Annual Atlanta Shortsfest showcases the best short films in the world at the Plaza Theatre and the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge.

Friday, August 6 highlights include the Darker Side of Comedy Shorts and the first installment of Animation Attack! at the Plaza Theatre.

Saturday, August 7 highlights include the Lights, Camera, ACTION! Shorts , Matters of Life or Death: Horror Shorts , the Lighter Side of Comedy Shorts  and the second program of Animation Attack! at the Plaza Theatre.

Sunday, August 8 presents the closing at the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge, and features Family Histories Shorts  and Some of the Best of Atlanta Shortsfest

Atlanta Horror Film Festival August 13 - 15, 2010 Director: Beth Cunningham http://AtlantaHorrorFilmFest.com The Fourth Annual Atlanta Horror Film Festival is held at Spring4th Center, and presents short and feature horror films that tend to break the mold of  the typical, shallow horror films that saturate the market.

Highlights include a Zombie trifecta on Friday, August 13 with the double feature program screening Kiss the Abyss with one of the nominee's for Best Feature, AHFF 2010,  Zombie Dearest, followed by the late-night Something Smells Dead: Zombie Shorts Program

Saturday, August 14 highlights include a fanatical double-feature featuring the throw-back to Christian "scare" Cinema, Satan Hates You and the thought-provoking comedy, God Thinks You're A Loser with a variety of short films and more features all day and night.

Sunday, August 15, explores the terrifying scenario of being held against your will with the double feature, Shellter and Curio or choose the A Captive Audience Shorts Program followed by the Closing Night Feature, Cyrus - Mind Of A Serial Killer

DocuFest Atlanta August 20 - 22, 2010 Director: Matthew Newman http://docufest.com A celebration of the best documentary films in the world, the Fifth Annual DocuFest Atlanta features a unique program of important documentary films from every continent. Events are held at The Carter Center and the Woodruff Arts Center. (unconfirmed).

Full schedule coming soon!

Highlights include:

The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls Directed by: Leanne Pooley http://topptwins.com/ 'The Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls' is the first time that the irrepressible Kiwi entertainment double act, Jools and Lynda Topp's extraordinary personal story has been told. The film offers a revealing look into the lives of the World's only comedic, country singing, dancing, and yodeling lesbian twin sisters. With fans ranging from hard core political activists, to sheep farmers and 'Ladies who Lunch' the twins have the ability to relate to all kinds of people, and their natural gift for humour, has helped them cross from the fringes to the mainstream. It has often been said that if the story of the Twins was fictional nobody would believe it. From rural backwaters and busking on the streets of Auckland, to headlining on the stages of London’s West End, their appeal is infectious. The twins have morphed from radical activists into Kiwi 'national treasures', and 'cultural ambassadors. According to 'Variety' this documentary will have you 'falling in love with two of the crazier people you've never met'.

Being the Diablo Directed by: Rod Murphy http://www.beingthediablo.com/ Micky's Daughter Stephanie has spent most of her life defending and justifying her father's choices. His quest for a deeper, yet more simple, spiritual life was constantly at odds with what Stephanie's family and friends expected from a father. But Mickey Mahaffey's search for himself could not be derailed by what people thought of him. The path went from preacher to living homeless, to being committed to a mental institution, to finally dancing with Tarahumara Indians at the bottom of a remote canyon in Mexico's Sierra Madre.

A Film About Races Directed by: Jonathan Marc Baker http://www.afilmaboutraces.com/ The most revealing, honest and laugh-out-loud funny documentary about race you will ever see. Follow Welshman Paul Duddridge as, with the help of some of the world's greatest writers, thinkers and professors, he attempts to push aside society's taboos and find out what 'race' really is. Along the way he attempts to solve the middle east peace crisis, buys hundreds of twinkies and desperately tries to find contestants to join him for a mini-Olympics staged in Los Angeles where teams are split by race rather than nationality. There is a serious point to the seemingly irreverent approach: if we can't easily define race, why can it sometimes seem so easy to define racism?

Animation Attack! August 6 -7 and August 27 - 29, 2010 Director: Brett W. Thompson http://AnimationAttack.com The Fourth Annual Animation Attack! will present a dazzling display of animated goodies at the Plaza Theatre on August 6 and 7. The Best of Animation Attack! will be screened at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, August 27. A special screening of The Secret of Kells will be presented on Saturday, August 28. The controversial feature,  Gangs of LA 1991, will screen Sunday, August 29. Animation Attack! is a collaboration between Festival League and ASIFA Atlanta.

Atlanta Underground Film Festival August 27 - 29, 2010 Director:  Mark DiNatale http://auff.org A festival for filmmakers, by filmmakers, the Seventh Annual AUFF goes back to its roots, screening shorts and features at Eyedrum, The Goat Farm Art Space, and the Highland Inn Ballroom Lounge. AUFF is a laid-back festival serious about promoting talented, up and coming filmmakers from Georgia and beyond.

Friday, August 27, 2010 highlights at Eyedrum include the Comedy Double Feature with local gem, Disney Shot Kennedy and the hilarious Americatown Meanwhile, at the Goat Farm Art Space, outdoor screenings include the Local Shorts program and the ultra-creepy documentary,  Sell it to the Devil, which follows a a struggling heavy metal musician who attempts to sell his soul to the Devil.

Saturday, August 28, 2010 highlights include the North American Horror Shorts and the one of the nominees for Best Feature AUFF 2010, I Heart Doomsday At the Goat Farm, the AUFF, Push It (push it real good) - Erotic Shorts promises to be as outrageous as ever, followed by the disturbingly awesome Serbian feature, The Life and Death of a Porno Gang

Sunday, August 29 at Eyedrum, join us for an action-filled day of features with Mad World followed by the wacky, Dynamite Swine At the Goat Farm, enjoy more outdoor screenings with the German thriller, Blindlings and the AUFF Closing Night Film, Endings Over at the Highland Inn, there will be a special re-screening of the Best Feature, followed by a collection of the best shorts at Independent Film Month.

Dirty Dancing Festival (Time to Work On Those Abs)

Jennifer Grey and Patrick Stewart Dirty Dancing After two decades Dirty Dancing is one of those films that young girls--and young men--all over the country rediscover every year. I can remember working at Suncoast Motion Picture Company almost 10 years ago and each week reliably selling a few copies of the film to pre-teens who weren't even born when the film became a hit. It's always been the soundtrack and choreography, plus a shirtless Patrick Swayze and a very relatable Jennifer Grey that have gotten the credit for the film's drawing power. However, if you seen the flick, then you know the locations used in the film are freakin' amazing and they become another character. It's difficult to imagine the film having the same romantic feel if it had been shot anywhere else.

Capitalizing on the films staying power comes the Dirty Dancing Festival at Lake Lurie, also known as Firefly Cove, NC, this September. Located where Dirty Dancing's most famous scene, Swazye lifting a dripping wet Grey over his head, was filmed, the event is going to include a screening of the film and a full day of dancing and games.

If the number of times my own sister watched that film back in the day is any indication, the inaugural event has a good shot at becoming an annual tradition for many, many years.

Dirty Dancing Festival at Lake Lurie September 17 & 18