By Greg Pak
After taking my short films to festivals for nine years, I’ve developed strong opinions for how I think things oughta be done. From one cocky filmmaker’s perspective, here’s a brief list of requests for film festival organizers (and for the flip side, check out the Film Festival Organizer’s Memo to Filmmakers):
- Don’t schedule any program earlier than 1 p.m.
Unless you’re an enormous festival like Sundance, hardly anyone will attend 11 a.m. screenings on Saturdays and Sundays, particularly if your big opening night party happened the night before. Just say no!
- Don’t make any shorts program longer than 2 hours.
No matter how good the films are and how comfortable the chairs are, no one really wants to watch more than two hours of short films in one sitting. When programs are three hours long, you end up losing half of your audience before the end of the show — if the program’s less than two hours, people are much less likely to come see their friend’s short and then take off.
- Give enough time for the Q&As.
Sometimes festivals will schedule programs exactly two hours apart. The screenings tend to run a bit late. And the ten minute slot allotted for Q&A disappears. This can be deeply annoying to filmmakers. We’ll often travel to a festival at great expense and our one big chance to be seen and get first-hand response from an audience is during that Q&A. If that Q&A gets casually bumped, we seethe with impotent hatred for days.
- Hold the Q&A in the same theater in which the films screened.
Sometimes schedules will run tight and festival organizers will announce that Q&As will be held in an adjoining room or in the lobby. This is better than nothing, but it usually fails — unless there’s a bright, clear, charismatic moderator encouraging people to come, almost no one ends up making the move to the other room after the film is over.
- Have an experienced moderator on the ball at the end of the program to get the Q&A going.
Many times I’ve been at screenings before which a festival organizer will announce that there will be a Q&A after the screening. But when the film ends, the organizer is nowhere in sight. People look around as the lights come up, then shrug and leave the theater. The organizer walks back into the room a couple of minutes later, but then it’s too late — you end up with five audience members rather than fifty. Depressing and entirely unavoidable — organizers just need to be on the ball and pleasantly aggressive in reminding people that a Q&A is happening the minute the program ends.
- Give filmmakers free festival passes and free tickets to all main parties and events.
Almost all festivals are excellent about giving filmmakers access to films. Sometimes filmmakers have to fill out ticket request forms before the festival, which can be a pain, but is entirely understandable given the logistical pressures organizers face. But some festivals make filmmakers pay for everything. I was at a festival which once didn’t even give me a ticket for the opening night film and party. Did not make me feel particularly respected or valued as a filmmaker.
- Make the filmmakers’ names and the film names on badges big enough for people to read.
This sounds silly, but it makes a difference. When you’re an unknown filmmaker attending a festival for the first time, you don’t know anyone. If the type on your filmmakers badge is so small and arty that no one can read it, no one will glance at your nametag and say, “Omigod I loved your film!” And we live for those moments. Badges should feature filmmaker names and film names in BIG BLOCK LETTERS which are readable in murky bars at a distance of six feet.
- Avoid ridiculously high entry fees.
I don’t think any festival should charge an entry fee for shorts higher than about 35 dollars. We short filmmakers are POOR. That’s one of the reasons we’re making shorts. If you want 50 bucks to consider my three minute short for your festival, I probably won’t be able to enter.
- Notify filmmakers you don’t accept with promptness and grace.
If you never tell a filmmaker if his or her film hasn’t been accepted into your festival, that filmmaker will probably never submit to your festival again. And besides, why spread bad karma around? Send an email if nothing else. The entry fee should have bought at least that amount of attention.
- Turn on the sound.
I don’t have enough fingers to count the number of times I’ve been at programs during which the film began without the sound turned on. It’s been particularly annoying to me, since I’ve had a number of shorts which often get programmed first in a program. And they have important sound effects at their very beginning. So the impact of the film gets spoiled — and if it takes the projectionist a while to get things sorted out, a quarter of the film might roll by soundless. Which can drive a grown man to tears, under certain circumstances.
- Organize filmmaker get togethers during the festival.
At the first San Diego Asian Film Festival, the organizers had a green room for festival guests. It was a great place for filmmakers and actors and producers to hang out, chat, hobnob, network. At the San Francisco Int’l Asian American Film Festival a few years back, the organizers had a bar a few doors down from the theater which held a Filmmakers Happy Hour every day from 5 to 7 p.m. They had a small spread of vegetables and appetizers — and a dozen or more filmmakers hung out with each other every day. Amazing.
- Finally, thank you, thank you, and thank you.
Putting on a film festival is an exhausting job which no sane person would do if he or she didn’t deeply love movies. So thank you, all you festival organizers. Even when we filmmakers moan and groan about everything from the quality of the projection to the freshness of the crudite, we love you for loving us and our work enough to provide us a venue. Now if you could just hook my producer up with a festival pass…