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 But ask anyone who used it and the technology was hopelessly out of date with ridiculous fees.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.
A couple of weeks ago I sent an update to the actors and crew of First Signal about what our release strategy may look like. I believe, if all goes according to plan, our first theatrical screening will be sometime in October. I hope that follows with additional theatrical and festival screenings into the second quarter of 2021 with a VOD release around May.
As someone who reads the trade publications, I see how release dates and general overall strategy is changing on a daily basis. This article in The Hollywood Reporter today, pretty much summed up the current state of the industry. Fortunately for First Signal, the film itself wrapped principal photography last year and just finished post in early June. So, all things considered, our release strategy hasn’t changed all that much.
I do believe one of the real issues that’s going to face this industry next year is available inventory of new product. With very little being produced over the last several months, eventually this empty space will catch up to the industry. I believe this is why we are seeing studios and distributors stagger their releases from the 3rd quarter of this year into 2021. They need commercial films to bring audiences back to theaters. Honestly, who really wants to see a previously released movie in a theater when you can watch it from the comfort of your sofa for a fraction of the price? Of course, I would love to see classics return to the silver screen. Particularly those from the 1930s, 40s and 50s!
So far, the festival market is going well for First Signal. I was delighted to receive a Best Director win from the Eurasia International Monthly Film Festival last week. To receive an accolade of this stature from a festival is truly an honor. This is all about building a momentum so when First Signal goes to VOD, a hopeful following has built up for the film. From a media point of view, there is so much noise to cut through to get noticed.
The release strategy I’m looking to employ is the model I did with Justice Is Mind. It started with a world premiere followed by a limited theatrical and special event run before it went to VOD. My feeling with Justice, and now First Signal, was to follow the studio model. If it works for them, why try to reinvent the wheel? I just adapted it for the scale of my project. At the end of Justice Is Mind’s run, we had numerous media reports and reviews that helped propel the film when it was released on VOD.