Several years ago the only real way to submit to film festivals was through a service called Withoutabox. On the surface it looked great as it interfaced with IMDb and Amazon. But ask anyone who used it and the technology was hopelessly out of date with ridiculous fees. When FilmFreeway came along they had a user interface that was smooth, visually appealing, free to filmmakers, easy to navigate and great customer service. In the end Withoutabox folded in on itself, while FilmFreeway continued to grow and shine. I want to state that FilmFreeway has not asked me to write anything about them. In addition to being a filmmaker, I work in consumer marketing. It’s the latter that I’m going to speak out.
After I placed First Signal on FilmFreeway I began the process of submitting. As no filmmaker has an unlimited budget, we look to submit with enthusiasm while minding our treasury. We ask ourselves, does the festival cater to our genre? Do they offer something unique? How does their website look and social media accounts? To be honest, it’s a daunting task as there are thousands of film festivals to review.
What I admire about FilmFreeway are the marketing services they offer filmmakers. I took a look at their offerings and for a negligible fee they send an email to their festival partners notifying them of certain films that are actively submitting. The festivals can then invite those filmmakers to submit to their festivals with a discount code. I thought I signed up for a particular date, so when that day came and went and I didn’t receive any responses I was like “oh well” but it was a negligible cost. But that was not the case.
Last Monday I received an email to submit First Signal to a festival. By the time I checked that festival out, several more arrived in my email box. As of this writing, I’ve received close to (or over) 200 invitations (Looks like I marked the wrong date on my calendar!). Discounts ranged from 10% to a full fee waiver. The majority were 50% fee waivers. In addition to these nice discounts, I discovered festivals that had sci-fi categories that I had missed in my searches. I was also introduced to a wide variety of interesting niche festivals. What works for both the filmmaker and film festival is the mutual introduction and advertising. We are introducing our film and they are introducing their festival. It’s a promotion that works for all parties.
What I find interesting is how much the market has changed from the time I was promoting Justice Is Mind in 2013 to First Signal in 2020. While I could write an entire book about the changes in the market, I think the one thing we all need to be is flexible and open to new ideas. Change can always be scary as it’s about the unknown. But as Cedric says in First Signal, “Once you know the unknown, it no longer frightens you. Because you can learn from it.”
This past week I have been reviewing my political thriller SOS United States and First Launch—the sequel to First Signal. In addition to distribution opportunities for First Signal, these are the two other properties that I’ll be actively marketing at AFM in a couple of weeks. As this is the second “virtual” film market I’ll be attending this year, it will be interesting to see where the market is heading.
Since my last post, First Signal has been accepted as an official selection in the Bucharest Film Awards and Aasha International Film Festival. To date, this makes eleven festivals that have accepted either the trailer or feature. I have to say I’m very encouraged by these early results. While there’s no guarantee of acceptance to any festival, I remain hopeful that First Signal will continue to be discovered by film festivals around the world.
Although I had planned to start screening First Signal independently of film festivals in October, I have put that plan off until 2021 and will wait and see how the film does during its festival run. Since I’ve submitted to additional festivals over the last few weeks that have a United States or world premiere requirement, any independent screening would jeopardize acceptance.
The theatrical market is the lifeblood of the film industry. While PVOD has demonstrated great promise during the last few months, theatrical is the key to success. Without theatrical, certain types of films either simply won’t get made or will be done so with dramatically reduced budgets. Sadly, some states have enacted the most draconian and restrictive requirements for theatres I’ve ever seen, while some (Los Angeles and New York) aren’t open at all. These types of restrictions do nothing except ruin industries while promoting fear to keep people out of indoor gatherings. I’ve never subscribed to those narratives.
The bright side to all of this is that smart states and countries have very relaxed if not completely opened their economies. They smartly treat citizens like adults and not like children. What this means is the obvious, businesses and creative industries will flock to these destination points. We all know enough now to know what is reasonable about events from the last few months. But, sadly, there are those governments that, for some odd reason, what to keep control of their citizens. Those citizens will simply move as no reasonable person wants to live under any form of totalitarianism.
I continue to remain optimistic that 2021 will return the world to normalcy. Some say the world will never be the same again. Some live in a world of such pessimism that optimism is like a foreign language to them. There are those times you have to look far down the tunnel to see a glimmer of light. But when that light is found, I prefer to be with those that share that destination. Life is too short, to waste on those that want to hold you back in their world of darkness.
While I do some repositioning with First Signal’s marketing plan for the festival market, an idea came to mind the other day for an offshoot story that would focus on one of the characters that is introduced in First Launch. This is a character that I introduced in First World, but never fully explored. Between my archive and what I have of this character in First Launch, my aim would be to create a stand-alone story that would expand the “First World Universe” and compliment the sequel.