MCN Blogs
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

How (Not) to Fest

My good friend and documentaries whiz Basil Tsiokos, — whose blog What (Not) to Doc should be one of your bookmarked regular reads if you’re a filmmaker of any stripe or aspire to be one, or even if you’re just a big fan of watching films — has written an excellent three-parter for IFP offering his expert advice for all you indie filmmakers on making the most of your film festival experience. Whatever type of filmmaker you are, you should stop whatever you are doing and go read all three parts of this right now. Seriously. Go make yourself a cuppa tea, take a break, and read it.

Part One of this terrific tutorial, which ran back in early January, was a follow-up to previous articles on how to submit to festivals. This one covers what you should do to get prepared now that you’ve been accepted to a festival, and offers excellent advice on what to do next.

Part Two covers actually attending the fest, and Part Three is about your premiere and the ever-important question, “what’s next?”

It might seem that a lot of the advice Basil offers in these three pieces should be obvious to anyone wishing to work in the realm of independent film, but over the years I’ve seen and dealt with enough filmmakers who are not just inexperienced in dealing with fests, but completely unprepared about what to do once they’ve wrapped filming, to feel I can tell you frankly that a surprising number of filmmakers have no idea what to do now that they’ve gone and made a film.

The first key thread I hope you take from all three of Basil’s articles, as well as much of what I write here about film festivals and filmmakers, can be boiled down to Wheaton’s Law: Don’t be a dick. This might also seem to be obvious, but I can assure you from many experiences dealing with filmmakers (and talent) who apparently are unaware of this basic rule of interacting with other people that it is not as obvious as you might think. Or at least, it’s not as widely practiced as a philosophy as one might hope.

Partly I think the problem is that people who are not narcissistic jerks by nature are already successful at interacting with others, while folks who are, apparently, just born to be dicks, are either unaware of their dick-ness, or just not inclined to either read advice on how not to be one or to change their nature. But I can assure you, if you are a dick at a festival, word will get around very quickly.

The fest community is insular and relatively small, everyone knows everyone else, and people within this community love, love, LOVE to regale each other with stories about this or that filmmaker or actor or journalist who was a total ass to everyone he or she came in contact with. Trust me, you do not want to be that guy. Your behavior and interactions at fests for this particular film are going to establish your reputation within the community, and you have to get pretty powerful and important before people are willing to tolerate your dick-ness just to have your presence at (or your film in) their festivals.

The other important thing I hope you glean from Basil’s series is this money quote from Part Two: “… you are responsible for actively promoting your work. Your job doesn’t end when you lock picture.”

I know, I hear you. You’re an artist. You’re a filmmaker, not a publicist. But you are also the person who knows the most about your film, who’s put countless hours and bottomless energy into making this film, and presumably you would like more people than your mom and dad and grandmother to watch this film. And if you want that to happen, it is up to YOU to make a plan for how to get your film seen — and, if it’s your goal, to try to get your film sold.

You need to have a strategy for which festivals you are going to submit your film to, which means you need to do your research. Are you just submitting to the Big Fests and aiming to sell to a major distributor? Or are you targeting a more grass-roots promotional approach that relies heavily on word-of-mouth, and therefore needing to focus on smaller regional fests. And speaking of regions, are there parts of the country where you feel your film will speak to the audience more than others? If so, you need to know which fests are most important ones for that region and target them.

As an aside, I think it’s important to note here that not every filmmaker has the goal of selling their film to a distributor. I know indie filmmakers who would argue that distrib deals tend to screw over the filmmaker and that you can make more money back on your film by self-distributing, and I will be bringing you, over the coming weeks, profiles on some filmmakers who are exploring some interesting methods for distribution and promotion, and some fests who are trying new things to help filmmakers out.

So more to come on both those things, and if you are a filmmaker who fits that bill, or you work for a fest that’s trying some interesting things in this regard, I’d love to hear from you.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon