Making Your Film Successful: Distribution & Exhibition

So you’ve made your film, and unlike most of the stuff on the internet, it’s not 11 minutes of beautiful HD footage of your cat sleeping on the sofa which film distributors don’t really want. How do you go about finding an audience for your film and raising your profile?

Will Massa, Tom Vaughan, and Philip Ilson give the lowdown at the Virgin Media Shorts Sessions.

Ideally you should know before you go into production if your film is going to go online or if it’s doing the festival route. As discussed our earlier blog post, Putting Your Short Online, let content decide which way your film is going.

If you’re aiming for festivals, there are some things you need to do before you start pushing it. It’s very important to have an online presence during production – good to drum up some hype, interest, or excitement about your project while it’s happening. Remember to take lots of good stills, behind-the-scene shots as well as production stills for promotional material like posters and press packs. Start thinking about which festivals you want to submit your film. There are way too many festivals around nowadays, and since some of them are quite expensive, not all of them will be useful for you. Do your research and see which ones cater to your genre and style and see what kind of films they’ve screened in the past. What is important for your film? Do you want exposure or are you just after an award so you can write ‘award winning…’ on the back of the DVD?

Knowing your festival can be just as important as knowing your audience, says Philip Ilson. The London Short Film Festival gets up to 3000 submissions and selects 30, only 6 or 7 of which are from the U.K. Sending to multiple film festivals without doing your homework will put a huge dent in your budget since most festivals in the U.K and U.S charge for submissions. Festivals in Europe tend to be a bit forgiving, and you will find lots that are free. Be involved in the distribution of your film from the start and figure out who you are targeting. Here’s quite an exhaustive list of festivals if you have lots of time.

If you don’t have time to mine the internet for suitable festivals, deciding which festivals to submit to can be a daunting task. The British Council Short Film Scheme has 40 BAFTA recognized festivals on their list, though all of these probably won’t be suitable for your particular project, but it’s a good place to start. Don’t just go for the big names like Cannes and Berlin Film Festival, some of the smaller festivals also get a lot of film agents and distributors. The general consensus at the session was that it’s rare to see a short film at more than four or five festivals, which makes sense because you typically get around €500 / minute, less in the U.K, if you sell your film, and travel, accommodation, and submission fees can really add up. The British Council has recently re-launched its international support for UK filmmakers; if your short is accepted at any of the world’s key film festivals then you might be eligible for travel and accommodation support.

Don’t despair if your film doesn’t get selected for screening at the festival though, it’s never the end of the road for a short. Other than the popular competitions like Virgin Media Shorts and Reed, there are other options like Shorts TV and Channel 4’s Random Acts. Also try Dazzle, Atom, and Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination Series.

As long as you have an internet connection, you can always find channels for your content – good luck.

By Vasi Hasan

Selling the Idea: The Perfect Pitch

You’ve got the best idea for a film, ever, and you want to make it. Chances are you’ll have to pitch that idea to multiple people before it ever gets made.

What is the perfect pitch?

Here’s the wisdom from Will Massa, Damian Spandley, and David Pope at the Virgin Media Short Sessions.

We’ll give you the bad news first: it’s tough getting it right. You have to be charismatic, bold, and confident – everything your mother wanted you to be, but sadly aren’t.

The good news is that even if you’re not all of the above, you can still practice your pitch.

Don’t think of it as ‘pitching’, suggests David. Think of it as having a conversation with somebody, a conversation that ends up with you in a business relationship with that person. If you hate putting your ideas up for other people to judge, you’re not the only one – however, do keep in mind that everybody will be judging your film at some point, so it’s best to get used to the idea early on.

Pitching is a dark art, talking about yourself, about your work; some have it, others don’t. However, before you go bumbling about trying to convince a distributor to take your film – here’s what you can do.

  1. Understand your audience.
    That means the person you’re pitching to, not just your film’s audience. Do your research; find out what kind of films they buy, which genres they specialize in.
  2. Know all your references, and build a toolkit.
    It’s good to use examples that people are familiar with. If you’re selling a gangster film its ok to say “like Good Fellas” or “Godfather”- however, keep in mind that you better be able to match up to the references you provide, your little cousin Vinny is probably no Al Pacino, even if you are Francis Ford Coppola.
  3. Establish a hook.
    Which emotion are you aiming for? Decide on that, and make it sound good. If you’re pitching a comedy, make sure somebody laughs – confidence is key here.
  4. Divide and rule.
    If you’re pitching as a team, break up the pitch into different parts for the Producer and the Director. Producer answers the all-important “Who is the audience for the film” questions and the Director talks about the story, mood, and treatment. Remember, you will be judged on how you function as a team, how you will deliver. When you’re pitching, they’ll be thinking if the Director is clear enough about what he/she wants to do? If the producer knows his numbers and audience? A good way is to give examples and say we’re targeting the kind of people who’d go watch film X.
  5. Get your cast list together.
    Unless you have Angelina Jolie as the lead, it’s fine to not use names and say “Young, attractive, 35-year-old woman”. Get your cast list together with pictures and letter of intent/release forms.
  6. Film references.
    That includes references for mood, the visuals, and sound.
  7. Film synopsis.
    A short, beautifully written summary of what’s happening. Please spell check it, and get somebody other than a computer to read it before you send it in.
  8. Complete script.
  9. Online presence.
    Last but not least, make sure you have an online presence so people can look you up and check your work if they need to. Your showreel should be ready and transferable to multiple platforms.

Once you have all of the above, practice talking about it. Once you’re done, practice some more and then some more. Keep going until it’s as natural as scratching your nose.  Keep it short, and as long as it has to be – though shorter is better, you’ll know it’s long if they start checking their Facebook feeds, but then it’ll be too late.

Remember that all you are trying to do is tell the man with the money what your film is, where it will end up, who it’s for – and most importantly, how it’s going to make more money for him.

By Vasi Hasan

Putting Your Short Online

Let’s just cut to the chase; you finally did what you’ve been thinking of doing for the last 5 years: sold your car/furniture/soul-to-the-devil and raised enough money to make a short film. Now it’s time to show it to the public and take over the world, right? The only problem is that so far you’ve managed to give out one DVD out… to your mom.

We were at the Virgin Media Shorts Sessions listening to what MJ Delaney, Simon Young, Michael Stevens, Nick Scott, and Thomas Thirlwall had to say about putting your short online.

Film making is an expensive hobby; you have to be either extremely persistent or extremely lucky – being a hard-working, talented story-teller is mandatory. Traditionally films go the festival route, going from festival to festival in the hope of getting picked up by a distributor; there really wasn’t any other way films could be seen before the internet. Although this is changing now, but most festivals still don’t take films that have been put online because they want fresh material, it is after all, a showroom where distributors come to buy tried and tested films – they’d be vary of buying something that millions of people already had access to online. So you put your film in film festivals, and if it does well or wins an award, it’s a sure fire way to getting more work. If however, you’re not going to send it to festivals and you want to put it online, the big, bad, extremely judgemental world wide audience will decide the fate of your film.

Putting your work online means that you present it to the best rating system ever devised; if people like it, they’ll recommend it to others and you’ll get more people to watch it. If they don’t like it, it’ll be thrown out before you can say “click me”, dead and buried under billions of other casualties that the internet chews out every day.

Unfortunately, there’s no science to making it work, no formula for making your short viral. There are some rules that some follow, like keeping it short. MJ Delaney, famous for her Newport State of Mind video seems to think that anything longer than 3 minutes tends to not get shared; watching something longer on the internet is just not something people are used to. Or the Golden 15″ rule: If it’s not funny in the first 15 seconds, you’ve lost your viewer. Funny or Die, say proponents of humour on the internet – people generally seem to agree that internet is made for comedy, (It’s actually made for cat pictures) so content on the internet is skewed towards short, funny stuff, something that Michael Steven’s extremely popular channel Vsauce seems to endorse. Michael has been making at least one video every week for the last 5 years. There are no secrets to success on the internet, he says. More is good. If the first one isn’t popular, the next one might be.

So once you’ve decided to put it up on Vimeo or YouTube, you have to push it. Yes, push it more, Egor. You post it on Facebook, and depending on your content, you post it on sites like Reddit, 9GAG, common interest forums, send it to blogs, writers who have large followings – you get the picture? It’s like The Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park; you have to shout it out.

The Webby Awards is something you should be aiming for, the Oscars of the internet. Or use your internet popularity to raise money for your next venture, check out Kickstarter for that. People have done it before, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be the next success story.

By Vasi Hasan

Hi Everybody!

So, in the infamous words of Dr Nick, ‘Hi everybody!’ For yes, this is a freshly minted blog created with the sole purpose of sharing the things we care about on our Film Futures: Pro course – AKA ‘MA in Film Marketing & Distribution‘ – at Birmingham City University’s NTI Birmingham.

So, what do we care about? Well, much like the masters degree we run, we like to concentrate on the start and end of a film’s life, albeit from the slightly less glamorous, but vastly important, perspective of a film Producer, Marketer or Distributor.

But of course, for those outside the film industry, such job roles can be somewhat more alien and mysterious than that of a Film Director or actor. Yet these are the roles that many film industries, such as the UK’s, are desperate to fill in order to truly build a successful and sustainable sector.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what we intend to use this little Film Futures blog for, demystifying the film industry with blog posts all about the distribution and marketing of film amidst the backdrop of ever-changing patterns of movie consumption by a increasingly cine-literate public.

Wish us a luck.