It still surprises me that there are filmmakers unfamiliar with, the film festival submission site. You enter all of the information about your project and it allows you to select the festival you wish to submit to, you pay your entry fee and the festival gets access to all of that information you entered. The service streamlines the filmmakers’ process by requiring only one data entry process to enter as many fests as you can afford. On the festival side, they get all the information they need, complete and on time.

Big news this week is that Christian Gaines, director of AFI Fest in Los Angeles is leaving his post for a job with Withoutabox. Eric Kohn at indieWIRE has coverage of the move. I’d like to point your attention to the end of the article, which is to me the most interesting. I’m not sure what it portends, but there is something here:

Gaines displayed confidence about mastering both the physical and online components of the festival world. “Neither experience is better, just different,” he said. “For filmmakers, film festivals have become, more and more, an ad hoc theatrical distribution infrastructure. Still in flux is how to formalize this distribution platform so that there is a financial upside to taking this route for producers and sales agents as well as a tie to audience feedback and thusly festival success.”

Gaines’ new job marks the second major movement of a festival programmer to the digital realm, following South by Southwest film festival producer Matt Dentler’s new job with Cinetic Rights Management. Both cases signal major decisions being made in an effort to import aspects of the established film world into uncharted terrain. “The bottom line is that festival audiences crave quality cultural experiences,” Gaines noted, “And the challenge to the film festival community is to positively influence the changes that will occur as they mature over the next ten years.” Read the whole article>>

I’m totally reading between the lines here, but if the festival circuit becomes the de facto theatrical distribution circuit for independent films, the next logical step seems to be monetizing. Right now, filmmakers generally get their travel to the festival covered and occasionally, some get token screening fees, but after submission fees, costs for marketing and publicity (postcards, posters, etc.) and the incidental expenses incurred from traveling, most festival appearances are at best break even.

When Tribeca raised the cost of their festival tickets in 2007, there was a not-so-minor uproar. How can you charge $18 for a film that no one has ever heard of? Corporate sponsorship is one of the main revenue streams for fests–they get what amounts to gap financing (the cost difference between what they get in admissions and what it actually costs to put on the event) and the sponsors get their logo in front of fairly erudite eyeballs. How could the economics of festivals make room for more of a cut for distributors, sales agents and filmmakers? That part is unclear to me, but Gaines seems to hint at it with his “audience feedback” comment.

Interestingly, I worked as a theater manager at the AFI Fest in 2006 when Withoutabox was launching this audience feedback feature. They had young, cute people handing out postcards after screenings encouraging audience members to go online and register their opinion of the movie. To me, it seemed odd and I didn’t notice enthusiasm with exiting audience members. If I were handed that postcard, first off, I wouldn’t take it, but if I did, it would hit the trash at the next opportunity. There were no computers around to get them to do it right away, and why, as a non-media industry person, would you ever go to a site like Withoutabox. At best, I’d go back to the festival’s website to comment or decide what my next show would be. What if there were handsets at your seat in the theater where you could rate the movie right then? Well, we should probably get digital projection before we worry about being online at the time of a screening.

I guess Christian, and perhaps Matt Dentler (as hinted in the indieWIRE article) are the new vanguard of linking the online payola (such as it is) to the festival distribution network.

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Tags: festival, festivals, film-festivals, online festival, online-film-festival, regional-film-festivals