IFH 067: Film Festival Secrets – How to Crack the Festival Code



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Submitting to film festivals is torture. Did I get in? Did the programmer watch it yet? When will I know? How much to submit? You wait by your email to see if Sundance or SXSW accepted you? Wouldn’t it be amazing if you had some insight into the film festival process? Maybe even some Film Festival Secrets?

On the show today I have one of the leading authorities on film festivals, Chris Holland from Film Festival Secrets.comThe man literally wrote the book on the subjectFilm Festival Secrets: A Handbook For Independent Filmmakers.

Chris decodes the mystery that is film festival submissions and drops some knowledge bombs on us. Now if you are a listener of the show you also know that Chris and I created a one of a kind course on Film Festivals called Film Festival Hacks: Submit Like a Pro Course but what you may not know is we also created a FREE Podcast Series called the Film Festival Hacks Podcast. We should be launching that podcast in a couple of weeks.

It’ll be packed with info on the inner workings of film festivals, submission strategies and more. So check back here and I’ll put a link up when the show goes live! Until then enjoy my conversation with Chris Holland.

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Alex Ferrari 1:11
In this episode of our film festivals we have the leading authority on film festivals, the man who literally wrote the book on it, his name is Chris Holland. We've talked about him before. He's my co instructor on the film festival hacks course. He runs an amazing website called Film Festival secrets calm. Chris has been in the film festival game for over a decade now. And he created Film Festival secrets to kind of help other filmmakers and understand the process because it was kind of like a mystery. And he had seen all the behind the scenes stuff of how film festivals work. These work that's a major film festivals around the country, and really has an insight that was rare, and decided to write the book literally the book on a call Film Festival secrets. And later he opened up Film Festival secrets.com to help and consult filmmakers on their films how to submit to properly to film festivals, what festivals to submit to and so on. So wanted to bring them on the show and really kind of break down and get some inside information on what it really takes to get into film festivals and how to use film festivals for what they're what they're worth and what they can do for you and leverage them and not to be taken advantage by the process and not to throw money away. Because I've been in over 600 Film Festivals with all my projects over the years. And believe me I've lost 1000s of dollars in submission processes and traveling to festivals and things like that. And you know Chris really talks a lot about what to do how to be strategic with your money, how to be strategic with your time and make it work for you guys so without further ado, here is my interview with Chris Holland. May I introduce to our indie film hustlers the man the myth the legend Chris Holland. Thank you sir.

Chris Holland 2:54
You say that to all boys don't you?

Alex Ferrari 2:56
I say that to everyone sir. But but but with you. I say it's special.

Chris Holland 3:01
I feel duly special. How are you man?

Alex Ferrari 3:05
I'm doing great. Talk to you. I've been trying to get Chris on the show for God months now. We've been friends for a while and we're like, I can't get you on the show. Gotta get you on the show Got Game Show. We just never would never get around to it. Though. We talk all the time. We just never got around to it. So we finally set a time and I wanted to share all of Chris's amazing film festival knowledge with the with the tribe. So my first question, Chris, is how did you get into the film festival game?

Chris Holland 3:33
Uh, well, back in the dark days of the early internet, let's say 96' 97'.

Alex Ferrari 3:40
Rough times rough.

Chris Holland 3:44
I was a film critic, one of the very first what would later become bloggers. I want to tell you how special this was Alex, it was so special that it I think it was 99 my co writer and I actually got written up in the New York Times for reviewing Godzilla movies on the internet. I kid you not

Alex Ferrari 4:06
You got to be kidding. So there literally was nobody doing this.

Chris Holland 4:10
It was a brand new thing. Guys who review weird movies on the internet that is worthy of a New York Times article. It's framed on my office wall. Brilliant. Yeah. Anyway, but as time went on, you know, we thought man, we're gonna make some money on this internet film criticism stuff. No. When it became apparent that everybody in his dog was going to be reviewing movies on the internet. You know, I looked around for something else. And that's something else. Very soon became film festivals. Not that there's a ton of money in film festivals. But I eventually fell in with a distributor that was doing very interesting things that included film festivals in a big way. So I got to know two or 300 different Film Festival directors and You know, the rest is history I worked for. I worked on staff at four film festivals now. Austin, Atlanta, Oxford, and Portland. And you know, it's been a great ride.

Alex Ferrari 5:12
Nice to say. So, um, are the magic of our festivals even relevant nowadays, like for filmmakers to submit? Because I mean, in the world that we are today, like I know, before, it was the only way to kind of get noticed. But now with all the stuff that happens online, is it even relevant?

Chris Holland 5:28
Oh, I think, you know, this is a question that gets asked about once a year at somebody's conference or whatever, or in a blog or festivals still a thing? Yeah, of course they are. Of course, film festivals are still a thing. Sundance just made its largest ever, you know, now that they sold the film, but the film is sold during the festival.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
17.5 million.

Chris Holland 5:51
Yeah. So just because new doors open in the world of indie film doesn't mean that the old ones disappear. If anything, festivals are more relevant, because they're the only ones who are willing to go through the 1000s of movies that get made every year to find the good stuff. And let me tell you, there's more and more of these films being made every year. Submission rates go up and up and up. Every Film Festival everywhere touts its, you know, record breaking number of submissions every year. It's not like they're doing anything to earn that film right? coming to them. Right. So next time you hear a festival go, we had a record breaking 5000 films this year, you know, recognize that's a big number, but it just is the rising tide lifting all the boats, somebody's got to go through all those films. Somebody's got to figure out what what the good is and what the bad is. And I don't see the distributors looking to do that, you know, that's a labor of love. festivals are the ones who who have that love.

Alex Ferrari 6:51
Are there. Is there any money to be made at film festivals? Like I know, obviously Sundance in Toronto and the big boys but like, you know, Moose Jaw Film Festival somewhere in the middle of the country? Is it? Are they making money? Like how what's the what's the financial scenario with money with festivals?

Chris Holland 7:07
If you're talking about the festivals themselves, yes, there are many festivals that are run as nonprofits, most of them are run as nonprofits, okay, that doesn't mean that there is no profit involved. But very often the kind of people that you get who start a film festival, you know, to them nonprofit means so long as they break even there. Okay. So there's, you know, a lot of festivals are on the edge, a lot of them shut down in 2008 910. You know, when sponsorship money dried up, there are festivals that do very well, that are run smartly. and South by Southwest is a for profit endeavor.

Alex Ferrari 7:44
That's a monster.

Chris Holland 7:45
Yeah. there's money to be made. But you have to look at it as a business. When it comes to, is there money for filmmakers at festivals? Probably no, generally not. Generally, it is a way to get other benefits, which we can talk about later on. But, you know, with a few exceptions, you know, either niche content or films that are so you know, upper level that they already have distribution. There's no money changing hands between festivals and filmmakers,

Alex Ferrari 8:22
Generally, but there are prizes and things like that sometimes,

Chris Holland 8:25
Sure. But I wouldn't that's that's not a business model. Right? That's

Alex Ferrari 8:30
The business model for a filmmaker like, I'm going to make him submit and it's $10,000 at first price. So obviously, I'm going to get that right. That's more of a lottery ticket mentality. So so you just got back from South by Southwest? I've never been to the South by Southwest Film Festival. I've been to many other ones. I've never been to that one. Can you tell the audience a little bit of what you saw there this year, and how things have changed since last time you were there? And any any good gossip?

Chris Holland 9:01
Any good guys. Number Number one, Austin is changing. You know, for those who may have been there in the past, but haven't been a few years. Austin itself is almost unrecognizable. And I think that is a direct impact that South by Southwest has South by Southwest, you know, brought all of these creative and technically inclined people to Austin, who figured out how cool it was started moving there started starting companies there which brought the bigger tech companies who Facebook Google, you know, they brought their offices to Austin. And so now there's all of this technology industry, you know, building up there and they need offices, they need housing, but in a more direct way. There are more hotels and conference spaces in theaters in Austin than ever before. So they are quite literally changing the face of what Austin looks like from a festival perspective. You know, it's much the same as it was with the exception of sort of this sprawl of venues, they've opened satellite venues, they've colonized some live theater spaces. So it's actually a lot harder to get it a lot harder, it's harder to get a diverse sampling of things that you want to see because like films tend to get programmed at like venues. So tentpole features are going to play at the Paramount or a larger venue like that, and smaller indie films are going to play it's at smaller venues like the Alamo, Ritz. And then shorts, for some reason, all got, you know, sort of,

Alex Ferrari 10:43
In the bathroom,

Chris Holland 10:45
Well no not in the bathroom, and they had decent sized spaces, because there are lots of filmmakers who show up for those, right, they're all traveling in from out of town and those who are local or bring like, so they need space, but they're not getting the cherry downtown spaces that they could be. And that's it. They're not being exiled or anything, but they are, you know, it's get on a shuttle kind of thing. And so if you're going to do that, you want to spend as little time as possible sitting on a bus traveling between you want to be doing stuff, right. So if you're going to see short films, it makes a lot more sense to just spend a day at the venue where the shorts are being played, and watch a bunch of them. Got it. So the changes to South by Southwest that I see are logistical. And maybe that's just like, my brain like that's what I'm looking for. But artistically, I think they are as adventurous as they ever were. They're getting better and bigger sort of premiere type things like they had PBS big holiday. And you know, all they had that midnight Keanu screening. So there's more demand and more stuff. They're trying to stuff in the same amount of time. But it's still got that South by Southwest flavor.

Alex Ferrari 11:59
So it seems like South and again, this might be a horrible analogy, but it seems like it's it's a Sundance meets Comic Con because it's so big in scope. No, obviously not comic book stuff. But studios are starting to come in there. And there's and it's not just a film festival. It's a music festival. And it's also a technology festival. Correct.

Chris Holland 12:16
Right. So the three different sections of South by Southwest are music, which was its primary purpose from the beginning, film and interactive, Thurman interactive begin on the Friday of the first weekend. And film continues basically through the following week. I don't think it plays into the next weekend. But I could be wrong about that. And then interactive is only four or five days long. That takes place over that first weekend into like the that Tuesday. And then music starts up on Wednesday of the middle of that weekend plays through the following weekend. So it's actually these three things all taking place at once. Some of the film and interactive things overlap in terms of programming, like their panels that you can go to. If you have a film badge, there are films you can go to if you have an interactive badge, and then you know music and film also overlap in certain places. So there's a lot to get out of it.

Alex Ferrari 13:20
Sounds exhausting.

Chris Holland 13:21
It is exhausting. I was only there for five days and basically needed another week to get over it.

Alex Ferrari 13:27
Like Sundance is exactly like Sunday.

Chris Holland 13:31
Without the 12 pounds of additional clothing that you need to wear.

Alex Ferrari 13:34
Yes In the end, you can't breathe because you're at 5000 feet or over high you are

Chris Holland 13:41
but it has its own challenges for sure.

Alex Ferrari 13:43
What is your favorite film festival you've been at? Like that you absolutely just love the vibe and love the whole thing.

Chris Holland 13:49
As an attendee, the first five years of Fantastic Fest were my favorite film festival experience ever. I have not been since then. I think it's probably been five or six years since I've been to a Fantastic Fest and that just because of bad scarcity pay and the fact that I don't live in Austin. But when I was living in Austin, it was hands down like it's one of the few festivals where I went every time there was a film playing I was in a theater because the films themselves were so exciting and I wasn't going to chance to see them anywhere else. And man What a great just like film purist environment as an industry member, I mean south by is right up there. And there's so many good ones. I had a really good time in Toronto. I think hotdocs if you're a documentary filmmaker, there are a few few places that are better to be than hotbox and you know what? sidewalk birmingham alabama

Alex Ferrari 14:56
so yeah, heard about the sidewalk. Okay.

Chris Holland 14:59
You have heard me ramble on about the Oxford film festival? Yes, yes. You know there there's some festivals in the deep south, which is where I'm living now Atlanta that are just, you know, top notch in terms of like, small town audience feel they take care of the filmmakers, you know, Oxford and indie Memphis and sidewalk like these are great festivals.

Alex Ferrari 15:22
Awesome. Awesome. Now what are some of the benefits of screening at a film festival nowadays,

Chris Holland 15:27
I would say the three primary benefits these days are the credibility that you get from you know, a festival putting its stamp of approval on your film. The opportunity to build an audience and you thereby get some distribution and the ability to sort of meet your peers and have a career day, meet other people in the industry and then make those connections that will serve you through your future projects.

Alex Ferrari 16:01
It's very true. I've met so many different people at these film festivals. It's it's not even funny. And it's like at Sundance in Toronto and things like that. And I think that sometimes smaller festivals depending on where you are, if you're if it's in your town, then it's very beneficial for you to network. But those bigger festivals you meet people that you might never have access to, especially like a Sundance, when I was living in Florida, I'd go to Sundance and you have la there. La is in a three block radius. Everybody walking the streets is in the business. The access you get is pretty remarkable. Would you agree?

Chris Holland 16:36
Oh yeah, absolutely. No question.

Alex Ferrari 16:38
No. Do you have any advice on how to choose the right Film Festival for filmmakers film?

Chris Holland 16:46
Well, there's a lot of legwork involved for sure. I think you can get a real Head Start by doing two things. Number one, go grab the list of Oscar accredited film festivals printed out and tear it up. Because those festivals you know that list of festivals is so over relied upon by filmmakers, that those festivals even though the Oscar accreditation is only for shorts, feature filmmakers use that list too. And so those those festivals are just overwhelmed with submissions, you are instantly putting yourself at a disadvantage by submitting to an Oscar accredited Film Festival. Anybody who works at an Oscar accredited to film festival like I did twice, both Austin and Atlanta. Who feels offended that that really shouldn't because you're getting so much more than your share of the of the independent films that are made over here. All right. You know, let's give some of the other festivals they're just as good. have just as many people coming to them who treat their filmmakers just as well. You know, let's give this a chance.

Alex Ferrari 17:58
Well, the magic question when you say Oscar accreditation, that's not for features. That's for shorts, right?

Chris Holland 18:03
That's correct. Yeah. No such thing as Oscar accreditation for features

Alex Ferrari 18:07
I've never seen I've never seen the winner of the Austin Film Festival up for best picture at the Oscars.

Chris Holland 18:13
No, I mean, you've seen films, the shorts laid down, of course, like Slumdog Millionaire, Wade,

Alex Ferrari 18:20
Little Miss Sunshine. Yeah. All those kind of films got it. Now, how do you leverage Film Festival screenings to help you get film your film distributed?

Chris Holland 18:30
Uh, there are a couple that are different things you can do, depending on who you are, and what you've got. I mean, number one, if you're playing in a major film festivals festival, and you're a feature, distributors are going to come to you. So that's, I mean, number one sort of mission accomplished right off the bat, you're putting your film in front of distributors. But if you're at a smaller festival, or a festival, where the distributors don't seem to be coming out of the woodwork to find you, I would use that opportunity to start building your audience and start collecting the names and email addresses of the people who are your fans who love your film. There was a film called it was by the Yes, men. Yes. And it was out by Southwest. Yeah. What was the name of that film?

Alex Ferrari 19:21
It was the one that was called the Yes Men, which was a documentary.

Chris Holland 19:25
It was called something like everybody hates the Yes, man. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 19:27
that was a sequel the I only saw the original one. But yeah, there's a sequel to it. Right?

Chris Holland 19:31
So you know, the these guys. It's a couple of performance artists, basically with a team of people around them. They played the sequel at South by Southwest. And this was I want to say six, seven years ago, literally had clipboards with signup sheets and in this 1400 seat, movie palace, they passed around clipboards and pens and got people to you know, sign up. Now that's an activist film where people are, you know, natural. inclined to want to be a part of what they're doing. But that's something you can do at any festival. You know, it's it's extremely difficult as a filmmaker with no existing audience to collect 300 signatures or 300 email addresses in one go on the internet. But at a film festival, well those people are sitting, you know, in the audience, they've just seen your film and are in love with you. It's really easy. So that's the kind of thing that distributors are looking for when you approach them. And you say, I know the names and email addresses of, you know, 2000 people that I've collected over the last year of being on the film festival circuit who are interested in this movie and will tell their friends if you can say that to a distributor your head and shoulders above pretty much anybody else? You know, approaching distributors because they don't think ahead to do that kind of thing.

Alex Ferrari 20:53
Yeah, distributors, I mean, they want as easy of a ride to make their money as possible. And if you can provide them with you know, a three or 4000 person list of people for your film, you're going to get a distribution deal so much faster. That's why a lot of these YouTube stars are creating their own projects and not even going to distributors distributing themselves. Okay, that brings me to a question. Can you talk a little bit about like, screw you know, if your internet if your movies on Vimeo or on YouTube and, you know, gets disqualified from film festivals? I know, that was a big thing when the internet first came out, is that still a thing? And how does that work?

Chris Holland 21:30
It's definitely still a thing. By and large, it's boy Howdy, is it still a thing with Oscar accreditation. So if you have any thoughts at all, you know, as to the future distribution, or no festival play of your film, do not make your film available publicly on YouTube, or Vimeo or any of that stuff until you've done those things. You know, a lot of people will tell you, it doesn't matter. And festivals are taking these things all the time. And it's true. There are a lot of festivals out there that are taking films that are available online. And that's totally cool of those festivals. But there's a lot of festivals that still aren't, and if you you know, unless you want to instantly cut your possible selection of film festivals in half, you know, just hold off on putting it online and and keep control of your assets. Because you don't want your editor or whatever. To mistakenly think that that's an okay thing to do.

Alex Ferrari 22:34
I have a crazy story of of one Sundance filmmaker who got into Sundance had a feature film. And he was in he was in competition. And I think a producer his put it out, it was on Vimeo with password. But he either accidentally or on purpose. pulled off the password for a day or two. And Sundance caught wind of it how I don't know, but they disqualified him and kick them out. And I'm sure that that boys still somewhere in a mental institution. Probably I mean, can you imagine Can you imagine?

Chris Holland 23:10
Oh, I would love to know like the real details behind that. Because you know, for a day or two that seems like something Sundance might forgive. But yeah, without knowing the specifics, you just shake your head and go. That's sucks dude.

Alex Ferrari 23:25
That's so well let me ask you. What are some of the craziest stories? you've you've been to a lot of film festival? What's some of the craziest stories you've ever heard?

Chris Holland 23:33
craziest stories I've ever heard? Well, I mean, some of the craziest stories I've ever seen. You know, filmmakers will do all kinds of things to promote their films sometimes at my urging. Friend of mine had a film called the Stanton family grave robbery. It sounds fantastic guy named Mark Potts, and I'll tell the story, but I want to go back to that title. And just the title is awesome, actually. So as part of the sort of promotion for his film, he and his like three or four cohorts who were at this was at the Austin Film Festival, they bought a coffin and carried it around with them and the coffin had like flyers taped to the side of it. Absolutely. When the screenings were and you know, it was it was it was this it was this Austin Film Fest. Oh, Jesus. And I know they did a couple basically anywhere they could drive to and shove this coffin in the back of the station wagon. They were ridiculous.

Alex Ferrari 24:38
I was gonna ask you where are they? How are they driving this around? Did they rent a hearse?

Chris Holland 24:42
They just had a station wagon Okay, or a hatchback or something it was you know, full size coffin to I'm sure. I've been thinking they might have bought out like a child size but

Alex Ferrari 24:51
Okay, that's just Yeah, I was about to say that's just, that's just wrong. And it

Chris Holland 24:58
didn't work. Yeah. I mean that definitely got attention I still have photos of you know that that surface every once in a while these guys with their stinking coffin and I wanted to go back to the title because titling of a film is something that I think filmmakers overlook as an opportunity to stand out yep it's so many people will name their film you know very generic phrases that sort of seem profound in the moment but actually make your film very difficult to remember much less find on the internet

Alex Ferrari 25:33
like like the tree right? I don't even know if that's a movie or not but the the chair worked and No, that wasn't even the chair what was that movie the fuzzy chair the

Chris Holland 25:43
Oh the Oh yeah, the comfy chair comfy chair. But that was your your puffy

Alex Ferrari 25:48
puffy chairs a better title than just the chair.

Chris Holland 25:50
Right? But yet, these very generic phrases that that's something that Hollywood does, because they are going to carpet bomb the world with advertising and you know the shorter something is the better in that scenario. But in this scenario where you have to be different because you don't have the ability to carpet bomb, whatever it is, then you really want to go with something memorable and I suggest stringing together two or three words that aren't ordinarily paired with one another so you know coffee with milk is not a good example because everybody uses that phrase right?

Alex Ferrari 26:34
Unless Brad Pitt's the star and then you okay,

Chris Holland 26:37
but the Stanton family grave robbery which has you know, a proper name a proper noun right and yeah, what the heck is a family grave robbery I gotta see that or that is attention. Nobody else is using that phrase anywhere on the internet. So yeah, exactly. instantly be able to find that on the internet once once you've got the night yeah, I'm

Alex Ferrari 27:02
actually consulting on a feature film right now. And they came to me they're like, you know, we can't get into festivals and you know what's going on? What can you help us with? And I looked at the movie I was like, well first thing you got to change that title. It was just such a generic title that created no excitement whatsoever. And I'm like, you've got to change that title. And they're like, Oh, well we've done this this this on it already. I'm like, Well, if you want to sell it, you got to change the title. If not, you'll never sell it. So we're working on new titles for it as well. And I worked on a film A Sundance winner called up solidia which was a great title because it's like what is up solidia and the second anyone type that word in there the number one ranking and they actually said that like it was a greatest move we ever did because we control Google for that title. So Exactly. titles are very very very important. Any any crazy like after our stores because I have a few of those after hours on a film festival

Chris Holland 27:59
after it Well, I mean, you want to go to a festival that's got crazy after our stuff going on. Go to some festivals in Texas but like small town, Texas, the Marfa Film Festival was a few years back but Martha's in a town or Marfa is a town in Far West Texas to get there you basically have to fly into Austin and then drive six hours. Do West

Alex Ferrari 28:28
Yeah, Texas is big man.

Chris Holland 28:29
It's really it's a big place. But once you get there the first thing you notice is that there's no traffic noise there's just no city noise of any kind so it's eerily silent. Which of course when you're out in the middle of nowhere with nobody to tell you not to do crazy shit that's you know exactly when crazy, crazy stuff goes on. Right? Right. Especially when you have a bunch of filmmakers and you know festival people from other festivals in Texas who you know have done their events for the year and just kind of want to let go a little bit. You know, that it provides a lot of opportunity for letting your hair down, shall we say and Marfa is a you know, an artist commune. There's a lot of people who have been there for many, many years who have been smoking many, many joints. There's a lot of there's more opportunity when you would think to get into trouble and a town like that. I just love Marfa. Anyway, like their theater is this wonderful little sort of converted, it's a converted bead store. You can't write this stuff. And I have a have a picture maybe I'll send it to you so you can include it in the show notes but it's just this beautiful little wooden see converted feed store but the edge of the feed store is literally 20 feet from the train tracks.

Alex Ferrari 29:57
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Chris Holland 30:08
So you'll be sitting there watching a movie. And then for about five minutes every hour or so you'll hear the train just whizzed by. It's like, not the greatest environment for like, not a, you know, controlled theater environment. But it sort of gives it that character, that bit of authenticity that makes it a very memorable festival to visit.

Alex Ferrari 30:32
So can I tell you can I tell you one of my crazy Sundance stories you obviously want to I have, I have to I am the host of the show, I have to tell you, no, I think you'll get a kick out of it. So back in the back in the day, I don't know if you remember, I'm sure you've been to Sundance a bunch of times, they used to have a lot of big, big house parties up in the hills, like, these big they rent out the mansions and they would just have these crazy house parties. And I don't know if they do it as much now because I think the resident started complaining so I'm not sure if they do as much anymore. But when I was there, me and my buddy, were just like, okay, let's, let's see if we can crash this party, all we would do is crash parties left and right at Sundance, and this one party was up in the middle of the hill, just a monstrous I mean, ridiculous mansion, wooden mansion. You know, like a log cabin there. And you know, there's there's security, there's, you know, there's a line to get into the list to see if you can get in. And I earlier that day had spoken to an agent from CIA. And when I got up to the front, like, Who are you? I'm like, Oh, I'm so and so from CIA. And they're like, we'll go right on insert. right in and all of us and then my buddy who's like, I'm just gonna try to sneak around the back. But I was smart enough to go Wait, let me let me just do this. So he jumped like five fences, broke through a window all the way in to get in and fight and like someone was smoking a joint in the back, or having sex in the back or something. He's like, excuse me, just walked right by. And then we're inside. And there's celebrities everywhere. I mean, all the movie stars of the day where they're and where I'm from. I was in from Florida. It was like my first Sundance, I was so excited. And then five minutes later the cops came because someone pulled the fire alarm. Oh, that's like son of but that was a and then we couldn't and then we couldn't and then we couldn't get a ride back. So we actually jumped into a limo with some celebrities and he was back it's it's a fun festival.

Chris Holland 32:35
That's a rough life you lead there, sir. Well,

Alex Ferrari 32:37
I wish it was like that every day sir. But it's not it's not it's not sir no at the at the indie film, hustle. There's a term we call hustling and we hustled to get into the party and hustled to get down to this town. But that doesn't happen every day. Not every day. Alright, so back to back to back to back to business. What are some of the reasons why films get rejected from film festivals? Because I know a lot of filmmakers are so pained when they're rejected, myself included. So what are some of the main reasons that they reject them?

Chris Holland 33:07
Well, I mean, there's the one reason that nobody wants to hear. And that that is your film just doesn't stack up against other films. There are lots and lots of really good films that don't get into festivals, because it's not enough to be really good anymore. You have to be great. And that's not to say that if you have a really good film, it won't go anywhere. But you definitely need to pick your phone up, pick your battles, you're not going to get into Tribeca, or Sundance or whatever with a really good film. Some really good films do but the numbers are just stacked against you so incredibly. Other reasons I mean, there are more reasons not to get selected that have nothing to do with the quality of your film. Then Then simply the quality of your film, like I put in mind of something that Dan Brawley from the cucalorus Film Festival said, at South by Southwest during a meeting of festival programmers are a couple of filmmakers in the room and they're like, you know, I'm just confused as to why my film didn't get into festivals. And Dan said, you know, for you to get offended that you didn't get into my film festival would be akin to you walking into the grocery store, buying things you need walking out and and saying everything that I didn't buy in the grocery store is garbage. Right? Because that wasn't stuff I selected. It's all garbage. They you know, you just you can't buy everything. You can't eat everything. That's a great analogy, right? So you just have to leave some things behind because there's only so much room in your shopping cart, I guess is the and what that shopping cart looks like is different for every festival. Every festival has an audience to satisfy. And you know, I think this goes back to sort of standard Film Festival economics, film festivals, serve an audience, that audience is not filmmakers, that audience is the people who live in their town or who come to their town to see the movies. Those people, although they buy tickets, or passes or whatever, those people are not really the customer, either. They're the audience, but they're not the customer. The customer is the sponsors, the sponsors, and the people who pay grants. Those are the actual customers because the bulk of the money comes from them. And what do they want, they want a full house, they want to see an event that has, you know, every single seat filled for every single thing. And the better you can do that better you can serve that audience, the more likely you are to get more money from the sponsors. Okay? So knowing this, you have to pick your films. With that in mind, you have to know what the festival reacted well to in the previous years, and what they didn't, so that you don't make the same mistakes over and over again, you can have the best film about, you know, gay cowboys in love. But if your audience hates gay cowboys in love, you are not going to get into that film. You know, sometimes I struggle to come up with examples about

Alex Ferrari 36:17
well, that movie that that movie, that movie won the Oscar. So did

Chris Holland 36:22
I know I'm sure there were film festivals that that film did not get into. So yeah, you know, don't take offense at your film, not getting in a foul festivals don't think it means that you suck. That is sort of the number one trap that filmmakers fall into, is either they get angry and offended. Because you know, and assume the film festivals just don't know what they're doing. Or they didn't watch the film. Right, which is that's utter garbage. Or they think that they're doing something wrong. They might be, but it's not automatically that. Okay, so reasons to get rejected from film festivals. No, to long, bad subjects. I think audio issues are always the big one, right? A lot of people get will sense that something is wrong with a film without knowing what's wrong with it. They don't know why the film's annoying them. And that's very often because the audio is bad, right? It doesn't call itself out. But it's really easy to see with your eyes, oh, this is out of focus, or it's just bad quality or shot poorly. But when audio is bad, you don't necessarily recognize it. And yeah, everything else is politics. Everything else is how does it serve our

Alex Ferrari 37:41
audience? Or our or our sponsors? Well,

Chris Holland 37:45
that those things are connected directly. The sponsors, you know, sometimes want artistic control, but not that often.

Alex Ferrari 37:52
Gotcha. Yeah. Now what would would you submit a work in progress, talking about quality, I know a lot of filmmakers, I deal with a lot of filmmakers that want to like, Oh, I want to submit them like work in progress or without color or with temp sound, or should you just wait?

Chris Holland 38:07
submitting a work in progress is almost always an emotional decision. It is the little voice in the back of your head that says, If I don't hit this deadline, I'm missing out on something. The truth is nine times out of 10, you're not missing out on anything. If you don't make this deadline, there's another deadline coming up or there's another festival coming up or the same festival coming up next year. You know, there's only a period of you know, six to seven months between when you know, a late deadline for a festival closes, and the early deadline for the next one opens up. That's not a lot of time. So you really don't let that little voice in the back of your head control what you do, because it's going to cost you money. And it's going to put you in competition with a lot of other films at a time when decisions have already been made. Right? Like the number of slots in the grocery cart that are available is less because you're coming into the process later, you know later on. So works in progress, you know, that are usually submitted to meet a deadline. And it's kind of a pro move right? festival programmers can see beyond your, you know, your imperfect color or sound and then see the story. They're like they've seen enough works in progress, they know can sort of tell what a film's going to look like. But if you are an unknown quantity, it's your first or second time doing the film festival thing. And you don't really know what you're doing, you know, it puts your film at a disadvantage. Why take that chance, right?

Alex Ferrari 39:49
No. And can we talk a little bit about Sundance because that is the mecca of all film festivals for a lot of independent filmmakers and everyone kills themselves. I mean every year when the deadlines coming I get slammed with we got to make the Sundance, I need to make blu rays. I need to make this I need to get this and it's like everyone kills themselves to try to get that that deadline. Can you talk a little bit about the mystique? The the mythos that is Sundance and how what the realities are of submitting to Sundance. And should they should everyone submit the Sundance is like that lottery ticket, maybe we'll get in? Or should they be more strategic on what works best for their film.

Chris Holland 40:31
I never discourage someone from submitting to Sundance. Because if you don't submit to Sundance, you have that little thing in the back of your head that says, oh, but what if, you know, some people can ignore that some people just go, you know what I know, I don't have a shot at Sundance, and that's okay. If you have that kind of confidence, then God bless, save yourself, the 50 bucks and or $90, or whatever it is the late deadline and move on with your life. But if you know yourself well enough to know, Oh, God, I will just always think, you know, what is? What would have happened if I had submitted to that festival, then by all means, submit? What are your chances realistically of actually getting into the Sundance Film Festival? Every year I used to, and I haven't done this in a few years. But I used to calculate out, you know, given the number of screening slots, and given the number of films that got submitted that year, what roughly was your chance of getting into the film festival? And it was always like, point oh, 3% or something. It was some ridiculous,

Alex Ferrari 41:35
there's 13 there's like was a 13 competition films or something like that? And Sundance?

Chris Holland 41:40
Well, that that matters less than that, you know, because you can't break it down like that. The numbers you'd have to have access to would be crazy. And oh, we could do that. Got it. Yeah. But if you break it down roughly to number of films, or even number of shorts versus number of features, you know, it doesn't take you very long before you get down to less than 1% chance of getting into that festival. Right? Compare that to other festivals where there are 200 slots and 5000 films are being submitted or even like 200 slots and 1000 Films 1000 films, right, your chances get a lot better. So you know, that's one of the reasons that I say avoid those Oscar qualifying festivals because just the sheer math improves, right and I am 10 times more likely to get into festival a than festival B, simply because I know this one fact about how many submissions they get. That's crazy talk, you know, you should absolutely be thinking in those terms. like crazy good talk rather. So yeah. submit this way thinks Sundance is worth it. Yes, please do submit, submit the best copy version, whatever of your film that you possibly can send it into the ether and you know, give it a kiss goodbye, and then move on with your life. Maybe you'll hit the lottery, maybe you won't. There are plenty of deserving and undeserving films that got into Sundance and had their lives changed. Don't Rob yourself of that possibility. If you think there's even a chance you've got no, got that chance. But don't be surprised when you get the dear john letter.

Alex Ferrari 43:15
Well, I mean, a perfect example is that film I was telling you about opsin Lydia, that was a late entry, no star no connection submission with which was color graded. But I think the sound was not done. So it was a work in progress. And they literally dropped it off the last day physically dropped it off in the Sundance office here in LA. And they were one of the 13 competition and won two awards. So it happens but it was but that movie fit of very specific hole in that shopping cart. That was perfect for it was just like that. a year earlier. That movie doesn't get in a year later that movie doesn't get in. But that year, it just happened to make it in. So yeah,

Chris Holland 43:54
that's the kind of lightning in a bottle thing. Yeah, that that does happen and what what makes Sundance so awesome. That speaks to the quality of their programming that they you know, a lot of festivals wouldn't given those kinds of numbers wouldn't have been able to catch that film that late in the year in the submissions process. A couple of screeners would have watched it, they would have given it high marks and you know, somewhere in between the that rush of whatever, you know, the programming team might or might not have been able to look at those scores and give it that chance. Some of the things that you mentioned in that story, though, you know, the fact that there were no stars, the fact that there were no connections, you know, that calls to, you know, to, to the to the attention, the idea that you have to have name actors in your film to get into Sundance or that you have to know someone on the inside. You don't. Sundance has a very vested interest in discovering new talent. They need to be seen as the ones who plucked that filmmaker from obscurity because they made great art. And you know, made something out of them by the very power of the prestige, that is Sundance, they have that reputation to maintain. So they are on the lookout for you, I promise. You know, if you've got what it takes, they will find you.

Alex Ferrari 45:16
I mean, how many how many careers have they launched? I mean, precise. I mean, just it just ever. I mean, the list is insane. Now can

Chris Holland 45:24
you write when I hear filmmakers say, Oh, they didn't even watch my film. And you know, and I realize this makes me seem like an incredible snob and very derisive. But I hear this a lot. And it does, you know, credit to say, I can't get into Sundance, because I don't know anyone there. And I don't have any name actors in my film. That that is that's, you know, selling yourself short, and selling them short. End of rant.

Alex Ferrari 45:50
But with that said, though, having star power, maybe not for Sundance, but for a lot of other festivals does help in the submission process, because at the end of the day, they want acids and seeds. And can you talk a little bit about that? Do you agree with that statement?

Chris Holland 46:04
Of course, I agree with that statement. You know, I mean, if you could have Brad Pitt on your course. Would right?

Alex Ferrari 46:11
Absolutely not Chris, I am loyal to the bone, sir.

Chris Holland 46:17
The simple fact is

Alex Ferrari 46:18
so I mean to cut you off Mr. Pitts, calling me now I gotta go.

Chris Holland 46:22
And the horse you rode in on? Yes, stars, put butts in seats, but they're, you know, some percentage of slots at any given festival that are dedicated to those things. Those are the opening night and closing night and centerpiece films. And they serve a very specific purpose. But you're not competing with those films. Those films generally don't get submitted to festivals, those films, particularly the ones with a list actors, I mean, if you've got like a brsc named celebrities, he's been on TV a few times. Okay, yeah, some of those. But those aren't what I would call serious competition for for your your film if your film has a better story. But yeah, those films are curated from either other festivals or from the distributors who on their rights, they come through a completely different channel than the open calls for entry. And so don't resent those films, Be glad those films are there, because they're paying for you the slot that you're occupying. Because, you know, depending on how things go, a lot of the smaller indie films don't draw as big of an audience and you've got a half empty theater. And you know, that screening cost just as much to put on as the the one that was 100% fall. So in a lot of ways they're paying the rent, for you know, your opportunity.

Alex Ferrari 47:49
That's a great way of looking at it. And can you talk a little bit about first tier and second tier film festivals, and a lot of people have heard those terms? What it Can you explain it a little bit.

Chris Holland 47:58
So you can look at tears one of two ways. Either you can look at tears objectively, like Sundance is a first tier Film Festival, no, no bones about it, right? Or you can look at them from a perspective of at what tier is this festival relative to my film, if you have a science fiction film, right, then a festival like fantastic fast or Fantasia or something like that, that's going to be a first tier fest for you, right? That's going to bring you the audience and the prestige and you know, everything that you want from a festival. So that's like your first tier targets. Those might not be first tier festivals on the objective scale. Nobody's gonna say that fantastic. Fast is as prestigious as Sundance in any other context. But you know, so those are the, when I talk about tiers, that's sort of what I what I mean by those two things. What makes a tier one fast versus a tier two fast? It's a combination of factors from audience size, number of films, they're able to program number, you know how much money they have, whether they're Oscar accredited or not. Who their backers are, right, Robert Redford and Robert De Niro bring a lot of cachet to the festivals that they underwrite. So there's a lot of different factors there. It's it's not like there's any industry standard. There's nobody setting down the canonical. These festivals are tier one or tier two. And this is you know, how she'll be forevermore. But those distinctions do exist.

Alex Ferrari 49:39
Yeah, exactly. Like if you have a horror movie in screamfest is going to be on the top of that list or a horror or you know, one of the top horror film festivals are going to be much higher than let's say Sundance.

Chris Holland 49:50
Yeah, possibly. I mean, so Sundance has its own Midnight's thing. Yeah, yeah, they're they're gonna absorb as many genres as they can, because they they want you know, the Stage of having found those things to again, go ahead and submit your film to Sundance, it's okay, but know that that scream fest or Shrek fest or whoever it is what will also be there for you.

Alex Ferrari 50:10
So these, these last few questions are the ones I ask of all of my all of my guests are so prepare yourself these are the toughest of all the questions.

Chris Holland 50:18
Well, having never listened to your podcast before I am taken totally unaware.

Alex Ferrari 50:23
To say, sir, to say, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life.

Chris Holland 50:31
So the lesson that I keep learning every day, and sort of took the longest to crystallize in my mind was that, you know, while I would not call them festivals in industry, it is a business and there's an economy to everything. What you are doing when you put your film into the into the world into the film festival world is you are hoping to attract a customer you're hoping to make a sale, there's a transaction happening, and you have something of value to offer in that transaction. And that thing is your film, right you by way of your film are delivering, hoping to help the festival attract an audience. And that's what the festival wants from you. The festival has an array of things that are of value to you, primarily a slot in the festival itself. But lots of other stuff that goes along with that. So depending on how high the value of your film is, you can use that leverage to, you know, barter or bargain for other things that the festival has a value that to give you such as a better time slot, or help with your travel or in some extreme cases, even a screening fee. And again, that all depends on how high the value of your film is to what you can negotiate for but never forget that it is an economy and you have the power to negotiate. If you are aware that negotiating is an option.

Alex Ferrari 52:09
Good to know very good to know now what are your top three favorite films of all time?

Chris Holland 52:14
Let's see. In no particular order, because they all hold the same place in my heart. The apartments with jack Lemmon Shirley MacLaine singing in the rain, okay, and Joe versus the volcano

Alex Ferrari 52:30
Oh, I freakin love Joe versus the volcano and that was such an underrated and I was my next question is wasn't one of the most underrated films of all that you've ever seen. I think

Chris Holland 52:38
Joe versus the volcano

Alex Ferrari 52:40
Yeah, no question about it. If everybody out there listening go find Joe versus the volcano starts Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. And it was a brilliant, misunderstood movie when it was released. I remember seeing it in the theater. Nobody got it. Only years later that it start becoming a cult, a cult movie that people just love.

Chris Holland 53:01
Just hit iTunes like a year or two ago. It was not on iTunes for the longest time. So is now part of my iTunes library. If I were going to answer that question with the film, it's not my top three I would say Steve Martin's la story.

Alex Ferrari 53:15
Oh, I love this story. I remember that's another one. That was another one that people just did not get only people in LA got that move.

Chris Holland 53:22
Yeah, I mean, it's brilliant and has a lot of people in it. Who were not much of it like so many emerging stars.

Alex Ferrari 53:29
So Michelle, Sarah Michelle. navasana. Michelle, Sarah Jessica Parker. Yep, it was one of them. I remember off the top of my head. I haven't seen

Chris Holland 53:36
A lot of a lot of character actors. Yeah, definitely worth a look.

Alex Ferrari 53:39
So where can people find you and I heard you had a little something special for the the indie film hustle tribe.

Chris Holland 53:45
I do. If the tribe will direct their web browsers to film festival secrets.com slash hustle. And hopefully everybody who's listening to this knows how to spell hustle. You will find a downloadable list of my top festivals for hustlers you heard me say earlier that you know the Oscar accredited festivals are maybe not your best targets. This is a list of festivals that maybe lesser known but still incredibly excellent. And I've got some shorts. I've got some features and I even have some for some of the genres out there like LGBTQ and sci fi and stuff like that.

Alex Ferrari 54:30
Awesome. Awesome. And so and then where can people find you other than that? Well, there's

Chris Holland 54:35
Film Festival secrets calm obviously. There is a podcast on which a certain Mr. Ferrari might have been a guest recently. So if you search for the film festival secrets podcast on iTunes or your favorite pod catcher, you can find me there. I'm on Twitter at Film Fest secrets. And you can find me at film festivals. You know sometimes I speak In in person live at film festivals you can find me there.

Alex Ferrari 55:05
And if I'm not mistaken you were just named one of the top five filmmaking podcasts by Movie Maker magazine. Am I correct?

Chris Holland 55:12
Yep, I am an essential podcasts as Movie Maker.

Alex Ferrari 55:16
And I'm not I'm not bitter. I'm not bitter for not making the list. I'm just saying I'm not bitter at all.

Chris Holland 55:20
That's okay. I wouldn't be bitter if I were you.

Alex Ferrari 55:24
And you also wrote a book.

Chris Holland 55:27
I did write a book, Second Edition of Film Festival secrets you'll see a theme emerging here as I say Film Festival secrets a handbook for independent filmmakers. If you go to film festival secrets calm slash resources, you can order these preorder the second edition which will be out in mid April, I believe. And you can get the first edition for free when you do the pre order.

Alex Ferrari 55:53
Chris, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to the tribe. I really appreciate all the the knowledge bombs you dropped on us today for Film Festival. So thanks again for taking the time man.

Chris Holland 56:04
My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Alex Ferrari 56:07
And film festivals can be a field of landmines. If you're not careful, there's a lot of things that you need to kind of know before you go into it. And a lot of times you just have to learn that the hard way but by using by going visiting Chris at his website at Film Festival secrets calm or getting our course Film Festival hacks that really helps you out a lot and kind of I mean, a little bit of investment right up front will save you 1000s of dollars later I wish I would have had that course before I started my my film festival runs with all my my projects and believe it like I said before, I lost a ton of cash doing that so and also what me and Chris kind of put together is we've put together a free podcast series, all about film festivals, we're gonna do an eight episode run. And if it really does, well, we might do another another season but for the first season, we're gonna do eight episodes, and it will be called the film festival hacks podcast. And we will put a link in the show notes when it launches, they won't launch probably for about at least another week or two. But when it launches, you can come back here and check it out at indiefilmhustle.com/067 is the show notes and you can find the link there. Now as promised, I am going to be giving you guys a link for 50% off our course the film festival hacks. It's an online course you can take on line you can put it on your iPhone, watch it anytime you like. The link is indie film, hustle comm forward slash festival hacks 50 that's indiefilmhustle.com/festivalhacks50. Now this will be for a limited time only, we may only have it up for a couple of weeks. So I would jump on it as fast as possible because after that, it goes back up to the normal price of 50 bucks. But it will be 25 bucks, which is an insane deal for this kind of course. So check it out. I wanted to let you guys know that we have a indie film hustle community on Facebook. It's a private, private group that I've put together and we have over 4200 now members in it and you can head over to indiefilmhustle.com/Facebook and sign up. We do a lot of talking there. We help each other out. We show each other's work. And we just kind of start you know, communicating and helping each other out there. So that's what the community in the group is all about. So it's at indiefilmhustle.com/Facebook. Thanks again for listening guys. I hope you got a lot out of this episode. And keep the hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I will talk to you soon.


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