“I Don’t Know Who You Are”
By Wesley Boyd Ellenwood
In early autumn of 2016 I had contacted a film festival director. Having just finished No Blood Of Mine, I was eager to enter it into a festival. Prior to speaking with him I left two messages with questions about the level of press coverage his festival receives. I thought the festival he managed would be a good fit for the murder mystery I had made.
When he returned my phone call, we started out with the typical pleasantries then I steered the conversation toward my press coverage question. I asked if there had been any films that had been chosen by his festival that had garnered significant press reviews and I added a second question. Had any film selected for his festival signed with a distributor?
The director hemmed and hawed and shifted the conversation to the topic of submission fees. O.K. I thought. I’ll listen to what he has to say.
He explained how most festivals don’t really need the entry fees that filmmakers are charged because the ticket sales from the multiple days of screenings generate the vast majority of a festival’s operating budget.
His explanation was logical. It doesn’t take an accountant to calculate how much 200 seats times 20 films at ten bucks a seat adds up to be ($40,000). Compare that amount to the typical submission fee for a filmmaker ($50) times the number of films submitted (50) and most anyone could tell which amount is larger ($2,500 < $40,000). So I listened silently agreeing with his assertion that film festivals really don’t need the fees earned from submissions.
He went on to offer the reason why festivals continue to charge fees was to deter ‘the casual filmmaker’. I totally understood his point. The Internet is littered with video sites displaying all types of videos including dogs wearing holiday garb, some are an hour and half in length. An entry fee is a practical hurdle to limit these ‘work of arf’.
I have to confess to have made a video of my dog Zoey wearing Reindeer antlers. But no, I have never entered it in a film festival. I also made one of her splashing in a river biting the waves made by a passing speedboat while a Mozart Sonata plays softly in the background. It’s adorable!
After he completed his explanation I sensed an opening and asked my crucial question. “Well,” I said. “Do you think your judges would select my murder mystery for your festival?” His answer was pithy. “I don’t know who you are.”
I don’t recall anything that was said past that point but his answer stuck with me for several days. Later, I examined his words from every angle like an art critic studying a marble statue. After mulling over the expressed meaning of his words as well as those hidden or implied, I arrived at a finished analysis.
My film made by a no-name director and starring a group of no-name actors, didn’t have a well-known celebrity or ‘name’ attached to the project. Without a ‘name’, his opinion of my film didn’t matter. My film to him, because he’d never heard of me, was an untested product by an unknown director with an unknown capacity to attract an audience. And if the film couldn’t sell tickets, then it was a questionable selection for his festival. Story quality doesn’t matter. Name recognition does.
Like a cartoon grenade exploding in my hand covering me with silver confetti and waving a tiny ‘BANG’ flag in my face, I got it. My first feature would attract a smaller audience than … let me think here … say … my adorable dog in a ‘Christmas Caper’ wearing a Santa hat and barking frantically to warn the plucky neighborhood heroes of the villainous next door neighbor waiting around the corner to pounce on them with a net. Hard to swallow but I got it.
After doing some research on what film festivals want I figured out that besides lacking a ‘name’, my film didn’t contain a hook or a catchy description, tackle a social issue or have a dog. I made a murder mystery. Oh well. Woof.
As a film director you are presumed incompetent until proven otherwise.
Now I’m sure not all film festival directors are as driven by the bottom line as this one. I hope there are festivals out there that select a film because it tells a good story even though there’s neither a celebrity nor a notable name attached to it. I do so hope.
So, with my first foray into the film festival circuit I rediscovered what I all ready knew; it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And because I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me, I learned my dog was a better bet to sell tickets than me. Arf.