Eleanor McSherry was at T.A.L.K , a set of industry sessions that include panel discussions at the Kerry Film Festival.
The second discussion was What is your Film Festival Action Plan?, hosted by Maeve McGrath, in discussion with Katie McCullough from Festival Formula, who guided us through the vast film festival landscape and offered advice and tips on building a festival profile and action plan.
Maeve: I would like to introduce Katie McCullough from Festival Formula. What is it that you do?
Katie: We help filmmakers to navigate the festival circuit. All films, all genres, as long as it’s good. In 2014 we launched our business. We saw a gap in the market. It’s an area that filmmakers don’t really have the knowledge of once they make their film, how to navigate the festival market.
Maeve: You have nine shorts and a feature in Kerry Film Festival. Your films were of a high standard. How do you select the films?
Katie: You send us your link and we watch them. If we like your film, if it is of a high quality and we think we can market it then we take it on. We make sure we get the right festival for you. We do the research so you don’t have to. We make sure that your film is strong enough, quality-wise, for the film festival market. Also, if the story is strong it will do well. In some ways if the story is strong it can trump the quality of the production. We approach each project individually, assess its structure, in some cases look at if before it’s finished, help with it if we can then set our budget (what you can afford). We can give feedback on edits and advise to help make your film more marketable.
My background helps, as we are writers, to help be that brutal voice, edit it or trim it, as some filmmakers can get too precious and their films can be too long for the market. We can also manage expectations, it’s not our business to not be honest with you. Some films that have done the rounds but have failed to screen anywhere might need a helping hand and not see what is really going on. We can help with that.
It can be obvious to us what is wrong with the film. That’s our job. For example it might be a narrative issue, a camera issue and, once fixed, we can help telling you which festival will suit your film.
Maeve: Are getting your film to festival’s expensive?
Katie: Festivals can be very expensive. Include money for it in your initial budget and deliverables, as few do. There are some amazing festivals and we can help you gain access to them. €600 will get you into an amount of festivals, it’s a good budget.
Have good assets, that can be a great selling point, like: a female director, a person in your cast or crew that has a disability or good life story or a film that is for the specialist market like horror or genre circuit. The higher the quality of the film, the better festival we can get you into. There is a lot of admin when going to send your film to a festival and this is where we step in and help you focus.
Maeve: You have built a relationship with the Northern Film School.
Katie: Yes, we have been lucky with this relationship. We get to pick and choose the best films from over 40 films from the school. We are very selective and they also tend to have a small budget. We create a strategy for them and have relationships with many festivals, this all helps to sell the film. It’s not about who you know in film festivals but about the strength of the films you provide and the we can only do that with a good budget. It’s not a closed door industry.
Maeve: What are the pitfalls to submitting?
Katie: Duration is a big one. While there is no magic running order. Short films run from 10 mins to 40 mins. Programming will deal with long films but shorter films are easier to place and have a larger scope.
Every film festival has its own rules and regulations. US festivals prefer to get a film with premiere status. Shorter films are the best for them. Shorter films get programmed quicker and get screened the most. 30-minute films, unless out of this world, are harder to place, harder to programme. There aren’t many festivals to pitch to for them.
Short shorts work very well and the better the short the longer the run. You also don’t have to have credits at the beginning and at the end. That can add minutes to your film or slow long credits, there is no need. Short, concise credits are best. The killer is Kickstarter funding credit lists, they can go on and on, find a way of giving credit without have a very long list.
Maeve: Do you watch every film you get in from beginning to end?
Katie: We watch all the films from beginning to end. We feel we have to.
Maeve: From our point of view at Kerry and what we are looking for from a filmmakers is: to send us in images, your trailer, synopsis and a cover letter. We need to have all that material for the festival. Contact details are vitally important and you’d be surprised how many people leave them out of their letter or on the title page of their script. Passwords need to be simple and not big long complicated ones that no one will remember. Do not annoy the festival director – you want them to screen your film. Also, read the terms and conditions carefully, make sure this is the festival for you.
What do you do to make the filmmaker’s job easier?
Katie: Essentially we offer two packages: 1) look after submitting for you, of your film. currently have 68 films on our slate. All films have their own style and different turn around. Read them and make sure it is done. Do you need BluRay for instance? That takes time and money. Make sure you send a back up. 2) Film festival strategies – what festivals are the best for your money and film. You need to also have all your paper work done for us, it makes it easier and we don’t have to chase you for them. Things like stills, posters, synopsis, crew list and cast bios, etc.
Maeve: what makes a good film? What ticks all the boxes?
Katie: Obviously a good story, narrative, make it exciting to watch and remember. But not necessarily only drama films. Compelling and interesting, and any genre you want can work just as well. Sound is also very important, if it’s bad it won’t get picked no matter how good the rest of the film is. Oh, and also don’t have your credits too long, short credits are best.
Maeve: Thank you Katie for your time, we could have talked all day.
T.A.L.K: What is your Film Festival Action Plan? took place on Saturday 21st from 3pm-3.30pm in the Killarney Plaza Hotel as part of the Kerry Film Festival
Further information on the speakers:
Katie McCullough is the founder of Festival Formula Ltd, a consultancy company focusing on filmmakers covering festival strategy. We create personalised festival strategies taking into account length, production values, genre, stories in front and behind the camera, and budget limitations.
With over 13 years plus experience she’s hosted workshops and seminars for a broad range of audiences including: Encounters Film Festival, Shooting People, East End Film Festival, Independent Cinema Office, Cork Film Festival, Aesthetica Short Film Festival, BFI Flare, Glasgow Short Film Festival, LOCO London Comedy Film Festival, Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival, FilmFest Dresden, and many training events at the BFI Southbank.
The company was recently a co-sponsor of Screen International events at Berlinale and Cannes 2017.
Further information: https://festivalformula.com/