2015 is the start of a new era for Independent Film! (Part 4)
by Benjamin Oberman
April 1, 2015
Today there are an estimated 3,500 film festivals in the United States with more than 5,000 worldwide as noted by Sundance Institute Executive Director, Keri Putnam at the 2015 Art House Convergence. There can’t possibly be room for more? Wrong… New festivals appear daily. And yes, we’re joining those ranks, but with a spin, ours are completely online.
During my tenure as a distributor I’ve seen a major shift in the role of film festivals. Once about discovery of films, they now serve as a powerful marketing tool for the release of major films and, as a circuit, are often the dominant revenue source for many independent films. While first time filmmakers are spending through the nose to submit to festivals in hopes of being accepted, distributors and sales agents are marketing highly credentialed films to be booked from city to city. We use new names, but we’ve returned to the original way a film print was toured around the country playing at special events for the public.
As you complete your film and plan for your distribution, your festival strategy is potentially the most important decision you’ll make. If you’re not extremely well versed in the festival world, it’s worth considering engaging a festival consultant, sales agent, or distributor who understands the strategies, impact on release and revenue potential, and has deep relationships with the various festival directors, programmers, and publicists. You may notice when looking at the line-up year to year that the same distributors, sales agents, Producers, and directors have films in competition. Are they truly the best year after year, or is there an inside track that you’re not privy to? Yes there is.
Mark Fiskin, Founder of the Mill Valley Film Festival has spoken for years on the growing role that film festivals play in the discovery and exhibition of independent films. He’s often stated publicly that festivals should participate in the downstream VOD revenue generated by the films discovered through their marketing efforts. But are there really profits to be shared? A leading digital aggregator told me that they didn’t make back the onboarding costs for the majority of the films they released in past three years.
Festivals are a unique experience. Mark Cuban stated on Shark Tank that the next generation of entertainment is experiential. Film Festivals bring people together and foster a sense of community. People are open to new and unknown films. Critics are more favorable and complimentary. People trust the curation by the festival programmers and believe they won’t be let down no matter what they see. And do you know what happens? They like the films and they have a great time!
In 2011 recognizing the power of the film festival we flipped the traditional models applying the film festival experience to a commercial releasing strategy. Conceiving and launching a nationwide monthly theatrical premiere series we gathered crowds and garnered press for small films that traditionally wouldn’t have been seen outside the festival circuit. Instead of using the internet to drive people to theaters, we used our theatrical series to drive audiences to our VOD website.
In 2015 we applied that film festival experience, which worked well theatrically, online. The internet is the great equalizer offering audiences around the world the opportunity to discover great films, to interact with filmmakers and notable individuals, and to watch what they want, when they want, where they want.
I believe that as an independent filmmaker you should become a festival expert. Craft your film with an understanding how festival screening committees and festival programmers work. (The mainstream marketplace functions the same way so you’re not compromising your film.) Choosing the right festival to launch sets the tone for all that will follow. Leveraging the festival circuit may provide the financial returns you need. Applying the festival model to all you do will help you navigate the best use of distributors and direct to consumer platforms.
President / CEO
Film Festival Flix