Greg Pak: FilmHelp: Festivals & Distribution

Slant Film Festival needs help

A FilmHelp post by Greg Pak
Just got word that the Slant Film Festival is facing a budget crisis due to arts funding cuts. For the past ten years, Slant has provided audiences in Houston, Texas, their only chance to see many, many Asian American films — including a few of my own.
Click here to donate — and if you have an Asian American film, click here to submit it to this year’s festival (deadline is January 30).

Menus for screening on DVD

By Greg Pak
More than once when screening at colleges on DVD, I’ve encountered problems because the remote control for the DVD player was missing. Without a remote, it’s often very hard to navigate menus and submenus. So for DVD screenings at colleges, I’d recommend making DVDs with no submenus and with the simplest main menu possible — so that when you press “play” or “select” on the machine, the video plays.

DVD projection tips

By Greg Pak
So I’ve finally learned how to make and burn DVDs on my Mac and am now screening with frequency at festivals on DVD.
A few tips for making DVD screenings run smoothly:

  • Don’t put labels on the DVDs used for the actual screening. Labels can cause some machines to stutter or fail — instead, write out your label information on the DVD directly with a Sharpie.
  • Send in your DVD early and exhort the festival folks to test the DVD on their machines. I haven’t had a single problem yet, but DVDs made on home computers may not be compatible with some DVD players out there. Verify!
  • Specify the aspect ratio of your DVD — generally, 16×9 widescreen or normal television aspect ratio. Our “Robot Stories” DVD screeners are letterboxed, meaning you see the entire film frame with black bars at the top and bottom of each screen. If the DVD is played on a projector set to 16×9 or widescreen rather than 1:1.33 or normal television aspect ratio, the image will appear stretched horizontally, as the machine squashes it vertically, adding MORE black bars on the top and bottom. Not a pretty sight. Write the aspect ratio on the DVD itself.
  • Politely request the return of your DVD after the screening. It’s generally not a good idea to let too many DVDs of your film float around in the world — no festival person would knowingly rip you off, but screeners tend to drift and you don’t want to get pirated.

Tip of the Day: Submit Early

By Greg Pak
Many festivals lock in their opening, closing, and spotlight films many months ahead of time — sometimes before their official call for entries has even closed. Now usually festivals directly solicit their high-profile films from the filmmakers. But even if you haven’t been solicited, if you have a feature film which you think has a real shot at a spotlight slot, submit your film as early as you can. And follow up over the next months by emailing information about any new awards or press your film has received.

Essay from a festival programmer about what he’s looking for

By Greg Pak
Dean Treadway, program director of the Dahlonega International Film Festival in Dahlonega, Georgia, has written an essay about what he looks for when programming films. It’s an idiosyncratic and informative piece which filmmakers may find interesting. Not every programmer shares the same peeves as Dean, so don’t worry if your film violates his dictum against showing people smoke, for example. But it’s fantastic to get a honest, first hand look into the mind of an actual festival programmer. A highly recommended read.

Print traffic hints

By Greg Pak
If your film is getting into multiple festivals, you’ll need to coordinate shipping from one festival to another. In order to avoid the disaster of a print not reaching its next destination on time, I recommend emailing the following information to both the print traffic coordinator for the festival which will send the print and the print traffic coordinator for the festival which will receive the print:

  1. An introduction
    (i.e., “Jack, meet Jane; Jane, meet Jack! Jack is the print traffic coordinator for the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Film Festival and Jane is the print traffic coordinator for the Oh My International Film Festival.”)

  2. A request for the outgoing festival to ship the print to the incoming festival, including the following information:
    • Shipping address with contact person and phone number
    • Due Date
    • Method of shipping (i.e., 2 Day FedEx)
  3. A request that the outgoing festival send tracking numbers to both you and the incoming film festival.
  4. A thank you.
    In the immortal lines of Slim Cessna, always say please and thank you.

It’s important to include all of the above information, particularly the method of shipping and due date. Most festivals are run on a shoestring and print traffic coordinators will prefer to send prints by the cheapest method possible. But if your print needs to get to its next destination quickly, specifically requesting Fed Ex 2nd Day Delivery will nail home the idea that you don’t want the print sent via ground.

Tip of the Day: Pass out the pads

By Greg Pak
After hitting seven festivals in three weeks, I’ve finally found a good method of building an email list of interested audience members. I used to mention at screenings of my film “Robot Stories” that I send out a newsletter about the film and would be happy to take people’s email addresses. Then, after the screening, I’d try to pass around a pad and pen to folks milling around. This was semi-successful — we built a pretty formidable list of names this way. But not everyone who’s interested in getting on a mailing list is willing to fight their way to the front of the theater after a screening to sign up.
So finally, at the Wisconsin Film Festival last weekend, I tried out a new method. During the Q&A, I didn’t just mention we have a newsletter — I physically passed a couple of small pads with pens down the aisles. About a quarter of the audience signed up, which is a pretty great ratio. My conclusion: Folks sitting in their chairs are more likely to sign up for a newsletter than folks on their way out the door, heading to the bathroom or dinner or bed.

Tip of the Day: How ’bout patches?

By Greg Pak
Robot Stories patchesWe’re taking my first feature film, “Robot Stories,” to the Slamdance Film Festival this week in Park City, Utah. And we wanted to come up with a cheap promotional device which would work in a snowy town which has municipal ordinances limiting postering and handing out flyers.
Our big brainstorm: Patches which we could sew onto knit caps and scarves.
We ordered a hundred patches from Moritz Embroidery, which did a fine job and delivered in about a week.

A Filmmaker’s Memo to Film Festival Organizers

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):

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.


  12. 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…


Film Festival’s Memo to Filmmakers

By Greg Pak
Over the years, I’ve worked in various capacities for a number of film festivals. So as a companion piece to the Memo to Festival Organizers, here’s a Memo to Filmmakers, from a Festival Organizer. Just a few pointers (including some advice I should take more often myself):

  1. Provide all the information and materials requested on the entry forms.
    Design of websites and programs begins as soon as films are selected for the festival — so having complete synopses, biographies, contact info, and production stills is critical. Filmmakers who provide this material promptly also gain an added advantage — their stills are more likely to be used in key festival art and posters.

  2. Read all the emails and correspondence you receive from the festival!
    Filmmakers are usually notified weeks in advance about ticket policies, etcetera. But there’s always a last minute rush with angry filmmakers outraged about certain ticket policies. Reading all the notes the festival sends will help filmmakers avoid these kinds of scenes.

  3. Deliver your print on time.
    Festivals ask for prints to be sent early so that projectionists have adequate time to check everything out and prepare each screening. When a filmmaker brings a print to the screening at the very last minute, it increases the chances that the film will be projected improperly — with sound levels too high or too low or out of focus. Which no one likes.

  4. Respect the festival’s policies.
    If the festival tells you that you’ll get four comp tickets to your program, don’t send an email to a hundred of your friends telling them that they can get into the screening for free (I’ve actually seen a filmmaker do this). The chaos which ensues won’t endear you to the festival or to your friends.

  5. Communicate!
    Like filmmakers, festival organizers love getting feedback from an appreciative audience. If you like the way things have gone at the festival, tell the organizers! Or if you have had problems, give them constructive feedback (at the right time). They’ll appreciate the compliments and consider the recommendations more seriously than you might imagine.

  6. Don’t badmouth festivals for rejecting your film.
    Most festivals get ten to a hundred times more films than they can program. Many, many good films end up not playing at any given festival. It’s a subjective, aesthetic process, much like casting a film. Now you can badmouth a festival if it cashes your 50 dollar entry fee, rejects your film, and never bothers to send you a letter or email. But don’t badmouth it just for rejecting your film. Instead, send your film out to other festivals — it’ll eventually find its audience.