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Demystifying the Film Festival with LES Fest Co-Directors Roxy Hunt and Tony Castle

Riley Hooper
October 2, 2012 by Riley Hooper Alum

The film festival circuit can be a daunting arena to enter as a novice filmmaker. With thousands of festivals out there, how do you know which to submit to, how to submit — and better yet, why should you submit in the first place!? Luckily we’ve got friends with answers.

Meet LES Film Festival co-directors Roxy Hunt and Tony Castle (pictured above, they're the two sporting blue shirts and gleeful grins, sandwiched between festival directors Damon Cardasis and Shannon Walker). The LES Film Festival, based in NYC’s Lower East Side, is committed to showcasing films from up and coming filmmakers made on a budget. Now in its third year, the 2013 festival will take place in the summer in New York City’s Lower East Side, and they’ve just announced they’re accepting submissions for their 2013 festival.

Whether you submit to LES or find another festival that’s right for you, listen up close as Roxy and Tony demystify the film festival:

VVS: There are so many festivals out there. What are the factors to consider when deciding which festival to submit to?

LES: As filmmakers, we’ve definitely gone the route of spending way too much money and conducting seriously long DVD burning sessions to get our films into as many festivals as possible. We blindly submitted because we simply didn’t care to research the festivals out there. Thinking back, it might have been important to explore festivals a little deeper, find out who their target audience is, what length of films they typically program, what genres do they tend to show, and what themes or missions does the festival aim for.

VVS: What happens to my film once I submit it? Could you describe your screening and decision process?

LES: We really make an effort to watch films as a group, because no film is meant to be seen by one person alone in room. We want to gauge how a film would play in front of an audience. We judge on all the important aspects of filmmaking, but also think about what the audience response will be. Whether it’s funny, heartbreaking, terrifying, etcetera, we want the audience to feel something from your film. But, hands down, we can’t even get through your film without solid acting, writing, and well-shot scenes.

VVS: Is there something a filmmaker can do to take their submission to the next level? How important is the application, and all that logline, synopsis, press kit business?

LES: Keep it simple. More often than not, the films with the most EPKs (electronic press kits), posters, postcards, DVD covers, etcetera tend to be the most tragic. Honestly, just make sure your film is in its best format, label the DVD, and that’s it. It’s all about just having a good film. We’ve never had to decide between two films, and ended up saying, “Oh, well the one with the 24” x 36” poster should definitely get in!”

VVS: Why does it cost money to submit to festivals? Where is my submission fee going?

LES: We can’t speak for all festivals, but for us, your submission fee is literally just helping us pay back our marketing campaign fees that Withoutabox requires of us, and a few initial start-up costs to get the festival on its feet. We know that submitting to festivals can get very pricey, so we keep our fees as low as we can. Also, if you watch out for early bird submission rates for festivals you are interested in, they are usually significantly lower than late deadline prices.

VVS: Withoutabox is a great tool for filmmakers to find festivals. Are there any other sites or resources to consider?

LES: Withoutabox definitely has become a hub for almost all film festivals to be listed, which is great as a tool for a directory, but if you really want to learn about certain festivals, we’d definitely suggest perusing their website in depth, googling them, or whatever it takes to dig deeper so that you can gauge whether or not your film would be a good fit. It seems like WAB’s original goal was to streamline the process of submitting your film, but unfortunately in the process you lose any connection to the festival you are submitting to.

VVS: Of course this varies from person to person and film to film, but what is the end goal? Why submit?

LES: Of course everyone probably wants the notoriety of having their film attached to certain festivals, but in our experience, it seems like what benefits filmmakers the most is being there at the festival. The chance to make connections with all of the people who just saw, and hopefully loved, your film is a great opportunity. Our festival is based in NYC and therefore it is very accessible to people in the industry. You have an entire community of other filmmakers and artists who attend screenings and whom you can meet.

Also, you made this film for people to see it, so definitely submit it. If it gets into a festival, a whole audience can delight in your talent.

VVS: Networking. How do you do it? Got any tips? Moves? Good lines? But seriously, how effective is "networking" at film festivals?

LES: Don’t be the guy with your business card spring-loaded from a holster. Just keep it simple, engage in a conversation, be modest even though you know your film was the best one there, and always have your next project on your mind — you never want to stare blankly when someone asks “so what’s next?”

VVS: If a filmmaker can't attend the festival, what can be done to also make the most of the opportunity and experience?

LES: Get digital! Send us an email, write on our Facebook, tweet at us. We’ve definitely had some great digital relationships with filmmakers — and not in the kinky way that just sounded.

VVS: How can festival attendees who are filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers get the most out of attending the festival as well?

LES: Go to the festival events for sure, ask questions at the Q&A that aren’t really weird or boring, and if you BYOB, bring enough to share!

14 Comments

BananaMana Films PRO

Very useful information. Thanks! I'd like to ask - what is the trend nowadays - do most people put their films online first and then submit to festivals? Are film makers still aiming for festivals or is the online route of marketing and getting noticed becoming more of a draw-card?

Riley Hooper Staff

Hey there!
Thanks, I'm glad you found this useful. As to your question, it's a good one! The jury's still out on this one. The internet is drastically changing the independent filmmaking scene, and we're really still in the midst of figuring out trends and where things are headed.
If you're planning to seriously submit to festivals and give your film a good run in the festival circuit, then it's probably best to wait to put your film online. Some festivals won't accept films that have been public online. (Although some do, so just double check beforehand!) But often times after a film has done the festival circuit, then the filmmaker puts it online to share with the world!
The whole debate of online vs. festivals is an interesting one, and you'll find people on both sides of the spectrum. Film festivals can help you make connections with other filmmakers and film distributors, but if your film goes viral you can reach a much larger audience and you'll most likely make those professional connections going that route as well.
I'd be curious to hear what others think, or to hear your own experiences. Share your thoughts, Vimeans!

BFD Productions PRO

Hey there!
Tony and Roxy here from the article above.

That is a great question!
Some festivals (like, LES Film Festival) are cool with your film being online and available to the public, but most are not!

We recommend that you post your film and keep it private (with a password) so you can share or submit your film that way. We've created an online submission form (Quicksubmit: lesfilmfestival.com/quicksubmit) that allows you to submit with your Vimeo link and password.

Regardless, if you film is online and has been seen by a ton of people, we're less likely to play it. We (and most other fests) want to show our audience something they've never seen before.

Thanks for reading our article!
And thanks Riley for the opportunity!

Tony & Roxy

Mark Denega

Hello! Great article. I found it by googling "film festivals that accept films that are available online," so this comments section is especially pertinent to me. I definitely fall to the online side of the spectrum in this debate. I'm making a doc & my priority is global online release ASAP. The festival system seems antiquated/broken to me; it does not serve filmmakers interests first.

Digital distribution is the future. Once you've engaged your audience online via a website, social media & blogs, as is the norm now with independent film, the goal should be to get your product to market ASAP, shouldn't it? This is a rule of thumb in all business. Get it in front of your audience while they're there. If you make folks wait years for your film to play festivals, you lose a good chunk of them -- and by that point, chances are good that your material (especially if it's a doc) is now irrelevant.

Glad you guys are blazing this trail by accepting online films, bravo!

Mark Denega

I wonder what kind of models festivals can adapt to cater to the rise of digital. Perhaps a film that is online gets 'blacked out' while it's playing festivals? I also wonder if the audience at the festival is likely to have even seen a film that has premiered online? Anyhow, I've definitely got my eye on LES now! Know any other festivals that accept films that are already online?

Thanks again for these thoughts, guys!

Riley Hooper Staff

Hi Mark! Thanks for contributing to the conversation! For other festivals, check out withoutabox.com. Each festival should have its rules outlined on the site so you can see if the fact that the film has premiered online will disqualify you or not! Best of luck!

Oliver Goodrum Plus

Hey Guys, Very interesting debate, got here like Mark, via search for online-accepting festivals. What is the purpose of the Short film festival world and who does it serve best?

We make films for people to see and the chance to make more right? Holding a film back from the mass audiences for 12-18months so a comparatively small festival audience can see it seems wrong.

I'm not sure that the festival audiences even the same as the audience consuming stuff online?

Vimeo Staff Picks and the likes of SOTW are so important for filmmakers today creating industry opportunities for the filmmakers (with evidence stacking up like - shortoftheweek.com/2011/03/23/how-we-launched-our-film-online-the-thomas-beale-cipher/ + other films released online like Human Beings vimeo.com/36890881) that the festivals really need to be complementing these avenues right?

flavio seraphim de almeida.

parabens...o trabalho de vcs e perfeito...abraço.bom fim de semana...abraçuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

flavio seraphim de almeida.

parabens...o trabalho de vcs e perfeito...abraço.bom fim de semana...abraçuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

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