For film festival organizers, filmmakers... ATX Screen Scene review of Cat Daddies here:
While it's fresh on my mind, here are my takeaways or observations after attending 18 in-person film festivals and organizing 4-5 of my own screenings in the past 7 months. It's been a particularly challenging time to get folks back to the theatres - and FFs especially. I'm only noting the positives here. In case this helps anyone.
Hybrid festivals - for many reasons, keeping a virtual component of the fest is a good idea. However fyi, I decided to withdraw from festivals that were virtual-only. Most were a hybrid and some were in-person only. I didn't see much difference in attendance numbers between these fests - and almost all were lower attended than pre-pandemic times, btw. (I DID, however, see a difference in attendance if there was a community partner involved and if the festival was not just relying on their regular loyal audience to show up. But also, my film has a specific target audience and not all films may have that....and not all FFs of course have the bandwidth to attach community groups to each of their films.). I also feel that the virtual component dilutes the attendance for the physical screenings, although I don't have evidence to back that up. I do hear a lot of people say, I'm not going to show up, I can just watch it at home.
Milwaukee's program book had a statement that was something like "Is it still a film festival if you're watching alone?" Each FF will have to decide how they want to move forward in this new world. From a filmmaker's POV, it would be much more helpful if FFs would use their virtual platforms to help our eventual VOD release with some rev share. And distributors should be more open to allowing this. Another idea is showing short films individually on virtual rather than in a shorts block. (I'd be more prone to watching a specific short film I heard about rather than an entire block sometimes. But at the same time I'd rather get audiences back to the theatre for short film filmmakers.) Another idea is showing last year's features on virtual with a rev share with the filmmaker/distributor.
To virtual or not to virtual? A common question among filmmakers. I tried a bit of everything, and I appreciated when the festival offered revenue share for virtual, or geo-blocked, or limited the virtual window to a few days - anything to not let it feel like a VOD-free-for-all. In doing my own hybrid event, I raised the price for virtual higher so that there was more incentive for doing the in-person event. I packed the in-person event...and still had a super successful virtual turnout!
(I should also point out that the virtual screenings were more work to put on than the in-person. About 8% of the virtual audience had technical difficulties and I had to offer a lot of customer support over a week even after the virtual screening was over. I really don't prefer running these virtual events.)
Transportation - loved that some fests offered LYFT codes for airport transpo and getting around town. A few fests gave me $200 in the form of a credit valid for the dates of my travel, and whatever I didn't use, I guess went back to the fest. It was super easy to use. I also enjoy professional car services and volunteer drivers, but if you're a fest that doesn't have all that, this Lyft thing was pretty useful. I ended up using less than allotted.
Marketing - I noticed that Seattle and Milwaukee had a scavenger hunt around town for tickets. I personally wouldn't get into games like that, but it was cool to see it unfold on social media. Tickets were hidden in local shops and clues were given on where to find them. The winners were photographed and the local business got some social media love too. Seems like a win-win for everybody.
Program books - some fests cut this out completely, and it turned out to be a bad move and the biggest complaint I heard from attendees. Other fests cut the size down very small, which is cool, because having something is better than nothing. It is really hard to plan a full week of films without a program in hand. We can only research so much when it's only on our phone. Finding good wifi at the festival can be annoying as well, so a printed schedule with a grid really helps.
Swag Bag - To reduce waste, I liked it when the fest had one bag per film instead of every guest. They were able to really pack the bag with snacks and drinks that way. I don't expect any swag at all, but whenever I get chapstick, sanitizer, snacks and water, and party confetti, I really appreciate it. I had posted that Salem had the cutest bag of all, handmade with upcycled old festival tshirts. They also gave me museum passes and restaurant vouchers from sponsors. (And I used them!)
Press - really good press (no surprise) made a huge difference. It was the difference between 200 to 20 people showing up. Our best press came out of SF Indiefest where we had print, radio and TV (amazing!) and not only did we pack the house but the virtual capacity also sold out. Obviously not every organization can afford a publicist, but it does make a difference.
Audience award voting - some were paper ballots and some were completely online. Julien Dubuque did verbal voting. Volunteers entered 1-5 on an ipad as patrons exited, voting verbally or by hand gesture. The scores could be tallied pretty instantly. Alternatively, online voting can be cool, but most patrons don't want to hop online nor scan a QR code to vote. I did like how #AniFab the Animalis Fabula Film Festival had the voting QR code on the screen during Q&A so that folks could scan it from their seats.
Merchandise - I liked that Cleveland and Frozen River sold merch from past years and I purchased quite a few things. I also thought Big Sky had really unique mugs and alternative art shirts and hoodies. I didn't mind spending more for quality. Cleveland gave out free shirt vouchers to the filmmakers (one per film) which was nice. It also gives filmmakers the chance not to take a shirt if they prefer not to have one.
Parties - I attended the outdoor parties/bonfires at Tallgrass, Big Sky, Oxford. Big Sky fed us with chili and had live music inside a large bike repair shop, and a bonfire with smores outside. I liked the unique, not-your-run-of-the-mill setting. Some fests such as Seattle opted to take the filmmakers in groups of 15 or so to nice dinners, instead of parties. I really liked both. And they were much better than just loud parties (IMO). Julien Dubuque had a huge indoor party in a very large space with high ceilings and I felt safe and could keep a distance. They also had the most amazing food spreads at the party and all day long in the lounge.
Filmmaker Lounges - many FFs cut out lounges this year, understandably. But I really appreciated the ones that had it - Julien Dubuque was among the best and always had catered food. There were actually filmmakers hanging out there and I found it to be conveniently located and comfy. SLO had a lounge and panel space all in one and I liked that very much. Anything is better than trying to meet at a crowded bar during covid times.
I keep getting asked which fest was my favorite and I can't pick just one. Each was unique and different and I really enjoyed all of them. I did use Moviemaker Magazine's Top 50 to help decide which to apply to, as well as past experiences. I do think a lot of these regional festivals are underrated. They often have better hospitality and engaged audiences - and they like to have fun! I made the most new friends from Tallgrass, Oxford, Seattle, AniFab, and Julien Dubuque. I got a sales agent thanks to Tallgrass. I got a ton of press out of SF Indiefest and Dallas. A lot of unexpected connections have happened and all because of the return of in-person fests and my effort in attending them.