93% of filmmakers are screwing up your festival chances with one simple error.
No beating around the bush or click-baiting here. That 93% is actual math from the films I screened last year. 93% of the films I saw didn’t have a 50 words or less summary on their screening page.
This means when I click through to screen your film for evaluation, all I know about your project is a cryptic file name like “TDOSTP_final output_0915_final_final_final”.
This tells me you don’t give a shit about presentation.
That’s really bad.
If you have uploaded a copy of your film, go look at your page right now. If the 50-words-or-less summary of your film isn’t on that page, you’re screwing yourself because I hate you as a filmmaker before I even push play.
Go now. Post your summary. Then come back here for more insight.
Got that straightened out? Good.
So who am I?
I am a volunteer for a film festival, screening feature films. When you fill out your application and send in your money, it winds up in front of someone like me.
I’m a filmmaker like you. I’m a multiple alumni of the festival I’m screening for. And I’ve volunteered to screen your films because I love being a part of the festival. So the good news is that I’m doing this out of love of indie film. I learn something from every film I screen, and the excitement of finding an amazing film is unbeatable.
Here’s the bad news. I also have a full-time career as an editor so I’ve already spent the whole day sitting in front of screens, watching cuts. I also have a wife, children, a TiVo full of shows I really want to watch, a Playstation 4, and a couple of books I’d like to be reading. So right off the bat, your movie is fighting for my attention. You don’t want me watching your film, you want me excited to watch your film.
Here’s more good news: I’m a pro at screening things. Even if I’m not into your movie, I can and will give you a thumbs up if you hit the right artistic marks. I’m not judging your film by “did I like it as much as I liked Furious 7” metric. I’m looking for something compelling, an artistic voice or point-of-view, something that represents indie filmmaking at its best.
So I really do want to like your film when I push play. However, when I have to push play on a blank slate, not knowing if I’m about to see a found footage horror film, a documentary, a musical, or a screwball comedy, you lose points. When I have to spend the first five minutes of your film just trying to figure out what to expect for mood, tone, genre, lead character, point of view, and in a lot of cases, even a title, you lose your best chance to hook me as a viewer.
Don’t assume that all the information in your application automatically gets passed along to everyone who will handle your festival application. Festivals are run by fantastic and dedicated people, but they’re powered by volunteers and you need to make life as easy as possible for those volunteers. Vimeo has a big, empty, user friendly space on the page of every video that’s there to have a good summary of your film project, and when you don’t use it, it tells me two things about you right off the bat:
- You’re lazy.
- You’re going to be poor at marketing your film.
Neither of those are good qualities for filmmakers. I’m a filmmaker, too, and you’re not getting by me on charm. Filmmaking is hard work, and if you don’t respect the last mile of the process, you’re not winning brownie points from the judges.
Not convinced yet? Think I just sound like a bitter and cynical hater who is being unfair to your film? Think of it this way. That 50 words or less synopsis is the lifeline for your film. For a festival, I’m just the first hurdle to clear. If I love your movie, I have to get the programmers excited about it. I’ll write up a solid page about your movie, but if I can’t explain it in 50 words or less, we all know it’s a problem. Why? Because if the festival programmers love your movie, they have 50 words or less to sell it to the people attending the festival. If I can’t sell your film to the programmers, they can’t sell it to audiences, and your whole venture winds up in a Vimeo desert getting pity clicks from your mom.
This is the reality of filmmaking today. You’ll expend a ridiculous amount of energy and resources to make your feature, and you have less than a paragraph to convince me to love it. Like it or not, selling your film is part of the game, possibly the most important part of the game.
A good rule of thumb is that you should be revising and refining your 50 words or less synopsis from pre-production on. Then once you have a compelling synopsis, it should be pretty much attached to everything connected to your film. The good news is that it’s never to late to revise your synopsis, so if you’ve got a film ready to hit the festival circuit, go re-write it one more time. The screeners will thank you.
More secrets? Part 2 is here.
Are you a film festival screener with horror stories you’d like to share? A festival volunteer with something you’d like to get off your chest? A programmer with a pet peeve? I’d love to share your story, e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and get it out there.