Besides launching your film and helping to put it on the map there are a number of other known reasons for being in film festivals: potential for reviews and awards (which are still good ways to create notice for your film - especially if you blog about them on your website!); meeting other filmmakers from around the world, boosting your confidence in your filmmaking abilities, getting to travel to fun locales (hopefully at the festivals expense).
However as there are ways to actually monetize your film festival experience. Here are a few ways that we did it for Bomb It - after we got tired of showing our film for free at festivals. (Remember servicing all those fests can take time and money)
1. Some festivals - especially foreign festivals will pay. You just need to ask. These are not the top 10 or 20 fests. It is the next level of festivals. We have been paid from $300 - $1000 to screen the film in some festivals. (Few fests will fly you and pay you though)
2. If a festival can't pay, perhaps they can provide something else. This is particularly true of foreign festivals again. If you don't have a PAL copy and they require it. Often times they will do the dub. You can insist on having that dub given to you (they don't need it after the festival right!). We obtained our first PAL version of Bomb It from a documentary festival in Lisbon that then went around on the circuit.
3. Think of other things that you might need for your distribution. Again - foreign festivals need to translate your film. Although we had already created a transcription for Bomb It - you can ask a foreign fest to do it - and also provide the translation. We have received Spanish, Portuguese and Russian translations of Bomb It that we will be using on our self produced multi-language, PAL, region free DVD. (more on this in another post in the future)
4. Some festivals are actually connected to theaters in their community - and sometimes the people running the festivals actually program those theaters. One of my first theatrical bookings came from Wilmington, N.C. when I told Dan Brawley of the Cucoloris that I would rather have a theatrical engagement in his theater as an alternative to being in the festival, and he wonderfully obliged.
Further - although it would have been better for me to go to the wonderfull True/False festival in Columbia, MO (I had teaching obligations), I asked Paul Sturz if he would book me into the Rag Tag as part of our theatrical run and he agreed.
For more about my self distribution experience with Bomb It - check out my article in Filmmaker Magazine this month.