What Film Festivals Think

I was just in conversation with the head of a film festival. Nice woman. Lovely woman, actually. As Henry Higgins said, “The milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein.” But, man oh man, when the topic of independent filmmaking wormed its way into the conversation (after I brought up my script critiquing services), she turned into the Hydra.

Her neck swelled up and snakes burst out and started waving around in anger and she got about fifteen feet tall and her head turned into a snake’s head and it looked down at me and started talking in a deep, deep voice, like the Exorcist. I nearly dropped my canapĂ©.

Don’t Anger The Hydra

You’ve got to understand, these film festival people, they look at lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and LOTS of movies. Well, they look at the first minute or two anyway. Not the WHOLE movie, unless it’s great. Generally, thirty seconds is all it takes to know what you’ve got in your DVD player is a steaming turd that you better yank out of there before it cruds up the machinery. A minute or two, at most.

The Hydra’s eyes started turning red and steam shot from its nostrils. That grating, awful, Exorcist voice started its mantra…

Bad camerawork.
Awful acting.
Shitty sound.
And no story.

And these are FEATURE films that some bonehead convinced a bunch of nice people to work on. Not to mention the awful shorts. Or the money…

The nice people on festival screening committees do not know you. They do not care how long you worked on your film or how hard it was or how you nearly froze to death shooting outside at three in the morning because you forgot handwarmers. All they care about is getting back in their warm bed with their girlfriend or boyfriend or girlfriends or boyfriends or girlfriends and boyfriends. So, to get what they want (i.e., doing something more fun than screening awful short films or features) they punch EJECT and get to the next one in the pile.

And you, the filmmaker, must never forget it. That stack of DVDs as well as the willing, warm, and waiting folks in the nearby bed. That’s your competition.

You’d never try out for the NBA without practicing. You’d think, “These guys that I’m going up against are really good, so I better get my act together.” And that’s what a film festival is (or, God forbid, a BUYER) — just like the NBA or the NFL or Formula One. It’s the Big Leagues and you better be ready.

Go back and rewrite your script about ten more times.
Then rewrite it again.
And again.
Give it to people to read. Have a table read. Have a table read where you pay the actors.
Get the script really really really ready.
And then shoot.

But do your homework.
Prep.
Be prepared.

At this same party, I talked to a student who was headed off to Med School. Stanford. Good school, I hear. He knew, when he was headed out there for his interview, that he only had one shot at it. The upcoming interview was like speed dating, a round of ten eight minute interviews. He would be handed a piece of paper with an ethical situation on it. He would have thirty seconds to read it and prep his answer. Boom. Seven minutes later, rotate to the next Hydra. He prepped for that non-stop 80 minute interview for a month.

And, for the last two weeks of the month, he prepped all day every day. He did nothing else but prep for the one interview. Because he knew he had only one shot at it.

And he got in.

The MASSIVE amount of work paid off.
Which is how you must regard your script and your film. Your one shot at getting into Stanford Medical School.

Getting in a festival (or getting distribution) is the NFL draft, a moon landing, and fucking the homecoming queen all rolled into one. A lot of prep, but worth it.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “What Film Festivals Think

  1. Melody Lopez

    I was thrown off by your first paragraph. I was starting to think she turned into the Hydra because you offered your script critiquing services…but as I kept reading I realized the piece was about how you have to really perfect your craft before hoping you’ll not only “get the one shot” but also win. I do see how this can circle back to your script critiquing services (which I TOTALLY RECOMMEND) but I have heard that some film festivals doesn’t like to impose any particular “service” provider to their attendees. Regardless, reading how the person turned into the Hydra made me impressed with you and I was thinking “wow, look at how well Will handled being threatened by the Hydra… way to go man!” LOL

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      Thank you Melody! Part of the problem is financial people who say, “I don’t need to see the script, show me the business plan…” Read the script. If it’s awful, you’ll know.

      • Melody Lopez

        During Austin Film Festival’s “Conversation in Films Event,” I was able to ask invited speaker, Tom Holland (FRIGHT NIGHT, CHILD’S PLAY), about the deleted scenes in Fright Night. Paraphrasing, he said, “There aren’t any. Paper’s cheap. Get it right there.”

        Word.

  2. Ian

    Maybe the problem is that some of the people are impatient with their progress and feel like they need to submit their films anyway? It can take a long time to develop and be at a level you’re confident with to compete.

    It might also be that maybe these people don’t take it seriously enough?

    • yourscreenplaysucks

      I think it’s because raising the money is so hard and writing seems easier… that, when a filmmaker gets the money, they think they’ve gotten approval from… the gods?… to make their film. And, the other GIANT problem is that the Writer is the Producer is the Director. No one to yell at her and say, “You’re not ready yet!”

  3. Shannon Bee

    You had me at canape. Stepped away from the page for numerous reason…life…returning will be work, but this post brings with it inspiration. Tough love inspiration, but inspiring at least. Thank you. I shall keep checking back.

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