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SHORT CIRCUIT: Film Festivals - Counting the Cost

Director/Producer Dawn Fields lays out what you need to know for your movie to make the scene at film festivals!

Former rocket scientist, shark safety diver and award winning screenwriter, Dan Goforth’s most recent assignments were RIDING ON FAITH, the true-life story of rodeo champion Amberley Snyder and the feature film adaptations of New York Times bestselling author Col. Walter J. Boyne's DAWN OVER KITTY HAWK, as well as the sci-fi graphic novel, THE CHRONIC ARGONAUTS, from New Baby Publishing. Visit Dan's blog, Script Soup and follow him on Twitter @Dango_Forth.

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A movie's success is not only measured by the awards it garners, but also by the film festivals where it screens. Having a strategy is crucial for a director or producer. Dawn Fields is no stranger to the film industry, and she shares her experience on the things YOUneed to know to make the scene.

SHORT CIRCUIT: Film Festivals - Counting the Cost by Dan Goforth | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting
 Some of the Fragile Storm cast & crew: James Popiden, Kelly Raymer, Dawn Fields, Debbie Rankin and Jody Jaress.

Some of the Fragile Storm cast & crew: James Popiden, Kelly Raymer, Dawn Fields, Debbie Rankin and Jody Jaress.

Dawn's introduction to the festival circuit was with a 2 1/2 minute comedy The Interrogation, which she produced. She is currently in the midst of a limited film festival run for her latest short film, the acclaimed and award-winning Fragile Storm, which has already garnered fifteen nominations and ten awards: six Best Short Film, one Best Director award for Dawn, a Best Screenplay for Dawn and screenwriter Carly Street, and two Best Actor for Lance Henriksen (Terminator, Aliens, The Blacklist).

As I said, having a strategy is a priority. Dawn explained her reasoning for a shortened festival run for this film, "We knew that ultimately we wanted the film to be released online, to raise awareness and start a dialogue. We didn't want to wait 1-2 years for that to happen, so we planned out about a 6-month run. There are a few more festivals that will be screening us later this year, even after our online release (which more and more festivals are doing). But the bigger ones usually don't want your film to be online during their festival, and if you have already released online, some will even ask you to take it down while their festival is running. So we cut our festival run off at 6 months. We submitted to about 40 festivals and attended 14."

SHORT CIRCUIT: Film Festivals - Counting the Cost by Dan Goforth | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

I asked Dawn to share some advice for filmmakers looking to take their film to film festivals.

Dawn: "First and foremost, try to gauge whether or not the festival committee will resonate with the tone and subject matter of your film. You won't always know for sure, as their tastes can change from year to year, but visit their web site and see what kinds of films they played the previous year. Also, target niche festivals if you have a film that speaks to a particular audience. Submission fees average about $50 per festival, depending on if you submit early or late, and I estimate out of town travel expenses (within the US) average about $800 per person. The festival will usually give you two free all-access passes to the festival (and sometimes one night of hotel, but not usually) and then the airfare, rental car, food, etc. is on you. This can really add up, especially if you travel to any foreign festivals. It also can depend on how many people from your team you want to take. We had 4 main producers on Fragile Storm who all went to just about every festival.

Another cost that filmmakers need to prepare for is promotional materials. Getting a high quality poster designed can cost anywhere from free (if you do it yourself) to $200 on the lower end and up $5,000 or more on the higher end. But most indie films can get posters designed for a couple hundred bucks, printed and mounted for $50-100 each, and then shipping (if you send them in advance to an out of town festival). You should also invest in high quality business cards (that match the look and tone of your poster and postcards) for each team member that will be in attendance ($25-100 per 1,000 cards) and you absolutely need high quality postcards to hand out and place around the fest ($60-200 for 500).

Note: Regarding the poster for out-of-town festivals, I always call ahead to make sure they have a place to display posters before I go to the trouble, but you could always find a printer in the town the festival is playing in who can print and mount it and just email them the file. But you probably won't be able to bring it back on the plane with you (without incurring additional expense)."

But hitting film festivals is not just about winning golden statues.

Dawn: "For Fragile Storm, we hoped to win awards, of course, but more importantly for us was that the film got seen. Fragile Storm is a powerful message film which was always meant to be shared and seen by a lot of people who have interest in the subject matter (which we can't give away as there's a twist!). But I think the most beneficial thing is always meeting other filmmakers. Some festivals attract distributors and money people, but those will most likely be the top tier festivals like Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca, etc. If it's your first film, then awards are great because you can officially call yourself an award-winning filmmaker. But festivals for me are really about networking, meeting other filmmakers and watching a lot of films, because I always learn from them."

In addition to directing and producing films, Dawn manages the annual Palm Street Films Script Competition, which is known for getting its winners produced and seen. Fragile Storm was the winning script in the contest’s first year and The Interrogation won in year two. Five Days in Calcutta, written by year three winner Fred Perry, is being produced this summer The final deadline for this year’s competition is May 27th.

Follow Dawn on facebook and on the official website of Palm Street Films.

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