Festival Revenue Earners.27 May 2009
So it is with Glee that I put an end to a fifteen year saga, and completed the film A Place in my Heart. It was shot on 16mm, workprinted, and the rough cut was produced on a Steenbeck. Eventually, my patience got the better of me and I telecine'ed the entire film negative onto DVCam and uploaded it into Final Cut Pro.
I had issues with NTSC (long story) and reverse-telecine, but this is a family site so I'll spare you the details.
I also had to convert around 4,000 feet of fullcoat audio into a WAV file and re-lay that back on the picture. Again, it wasn't trivial but it's done now.
Once I got to a point where I could once again begin cutting, it was a marvel. Final Cut Pro almost works a step ahead of you. I tend to be a keyboard-shortcut kinda guy, and I prefer to not have to stop typing and move my hand over to the mouse, etc. FCP has hotkeys for just about everything and it's possible to move shots around and tweak cuts with little or no mouse use.
The upshot of all this is, I reached picture lock and very quickly, after some basic mixing and colour grading, I had a version of the film which wasn't entirely embarrassing.
Thanks to the Apple workflow, I was able to drive the project into Compressor to produce a very good quality MPEG fileset, and then push that into DVD Studio Pro, and produce a DVD. Hey Presto!
Things couldn't be easier - no wonder there are so many short films produced nowadays.
Interestingly, the Short Film Depot festivals are all free. You register the details of your film, and click away. You have to send them a DVD, but that's no great hardship. In days of old, I would have to send out for VHS dubs in NTSC and PAL to submit to festivals. I'd also have to write to each one and ask for an official application form, manually fill it out, and submit it.
The bad news is that Withoutabox festivals all seem to charge an entry fee. This seems to average about $30 per festival.
Now, OK, I understand that it's tough for the festival to sit down and wade through a thousand or so DVDs with films ranging from mediocre to just-plain-awful, with the occasional gold nugget buried in there.
But seriously, does it really cost $30,000?
Let's not forget that people pay an admission fee to see the festival films.
As film-makers, we look the other way and don't expect the festival to share their largesse with those of us who made it possible for them to hold a festival in the first place.
But asking us to send them money so they can decide if they want to screen our film, is another thing entirely.
A rule of thumb is that a short film can cost anywhere from $200 to $2,000 per minute of screen time. (If you're budgetting a short, by the way, split the difference and go for $1,000 per minute). So, you've just spent the equivalent of a used-car price to make your short film, and now "Ben's Ultimate Film Festival" in Woebegone, Arkansas (apologies to Woebegonese people, if there is such a place) wants you to pay him or them the sum of $30 to be considered. So that Ben can screen the film to a paying audience.
Assuming, of course, that Ben isn't using all that cash to make his own short film, and had no intention of screening the film before anyone other than himself and his buddy Joe.
So where does that leave us?
Well, it means that those festivals which are charging an entry fee, will need to be scrutinised before I'll bother sending them a DVD.
If I know the festival, such as Clermont Ferrand (which doesn't charge, by the way), I'll definitely want them to see the film. If it's some hodunk festival in somewhere out of the way, I won't bother.
Not that I expect an Academy Award for Best Short Film any time soon, but I'll certainly use their list of "qualifying festivals" to tell me which ones have some sort of kudos, and are worth the admission price.
Withoutabox lists something like 800 film festivals in the US alone. How is anyone supposed to manage that? I'm sure the bulk of those are one-offs, or something attached to an Arts and Crafts weekend, with a DVD player in a back room for those people who want to watch a film.
I won't be spending thirty bucks for the privilege of having them consider the worthiness of my film. Not today, and not any time soon.
A lot of festivals talk about the awards they offer. Personally, I'm not a big fan of festival awards (ask me again, if I win something for this film!). Audience awards are often bulked up by friends and family of the winning film - we've all seen that happen at a festival. The place gets swamped just before a particular film plays, and clears out afterwards. Surprise, surprise, they win the audience award. I'm not bitter, honest! :)
The other types of awards are Jury Prizes. These have a much more even playing field, but let's face it, your average comedy is rarely likely to win in this category. It's hard to win Jury Awards, and some film-makers actually set out to try and do just that. Personally, I'm just glad if a film of mine plays at some festival or other.
So, the upshot of all this is that a lot of films aren't going to bother travelling to out of the way festivals, because of the burden of entry fees. Regardless of what the winning film can take home. This is a bad thing.
Surely, in an ideal world, a festival would look at as many films as possible and decide on their short-list of screening films. That way, they could be sure that the programme represented the best of what was on offer, insofar as their taste as programmers was concerned.
For those festival directors who are considering how to solicit film submissions, why not have a look at the Short Film Depot website. It's easy to use, straightforward, and most of all, doesn't seem to charge fees to cash-strapped film-makers.
Me? I'm off to create a new film festival called the Dermot Tynan Short Film Festival, entry fee is only $50. This way, I might even be able to afford to submit my own film to the 800 festivals in the US, from the profits.