How To Get Ready For That FIlm Festival

You are in, and now you have all sorts of wonderful problems -- the kind most filmmakers wish they could enjoy.  You know, you have to do all the things you have to do for a film festival.  I have tried to collect the various blog posts I have written or have found written by others that will really prepare you.  There's a lot more to be written.  But this is a good start:



Producers' Rep (aka Sales Rep):




Social Media:


Breaking the Rules: To Screen or Not to Screen Before the Festival Premiere

Today's guest post is from attorney Steven Beer. Steven's contributed to HFF/TFF before, and was one of the original Brave Thinkers.  With Sundance around the corner, Steven offers some perspective of a question on many filmmakers' minds.

To screen or not to screen for distributors prior to a festival premiere?  This question often plagues producers in the months prior to festival season.  Hypothetical Scenario: Shortly after you receive an invitation to premiere your film at a prestigious film festival, an established distribution executive calls to request a screener.  She congratulates you and says that she has heard wonderful things about the project.  Sadly, the acquisition executive reports that her company may not be able to attend a festival screening due to schedule conflicts.  If you screen the film for her company before the festival, however, the company may be able to make an offer and announce a deal at the festival.  What does a producer do?

In the past, cynical producers and their representatives viewed such requests as a professional seduction and respectfully declined.  Conventional wisdom discouraged filmmakers from screening their film prior to a high profile festival premiere for a variety of reasons.  Nothing compares to the satisfaction derived from screening a well crafted film in a state of the art theater -- the optimum venue for which the film was created.  After pouring vast sums and sweat into producing a film that was created for the big screen experience, who can blame filmmakers for resisting requests to distribute DVDs before their premiere.  Invariably, producers prefer to showcase their projects to acquisition executives in adrenaline-charged premiere screenings brimming with enthusiastic audiences.  Given this scenario, one can appreciate the cardinal rule against pre-festival screenings.

The traditional way of thinking is beginning to give way, however.  Industry colleagues are observing that more and more films are circulating this year in the weeks prior to Sundance 2011.  Why are producers and their representatives reconsidering their stance against pre-festival screenings?  Distributors are acquiring fewer films in general, and even fewer at major film festivals.  In times of cost cutting, the economies of sending an acquisitions team to a film festival are under scrutiny.  Consequently, distribution companies are sending fewer buyers to festivals and covering fewer films.  Given the declining number of indie film distributors and perceived surplus of films seeking distribution, acquisition executives are less motivated to compete with other distributors for a film.

Distributors claim they are ambivalent about film festivals.  While they appreciate seeing how a film screens and an audience reacts to a film, acquisition executives are reluctant to participate in an auction-like atmosphere where they risk overpayment for a title.  Moreover, distribution executives assume that many films will be available after the festival reviews are published and awards are granted.  In support of their DVD request, distributors claim that most consumers will view the film on a television or computer screen so they should not have to attend a screening.  Distributors feel it is more important to evaluate how a film looks on the small screen, outside of the comfy confines of the art house theater.  Without A-List stars or a headlining director, ensuring that the right people even screen your film, with or without interruption, can be very difficult.

The realities of today’s indie film marketplace compel producers to re-consider the cardinal rule against screening films prior to a premiere.  Some producers believe that pre-festival screenings can raise awareness and generate momentum for a film within the marketplace before the cacophony of a major film festival.  Such screenings can serve as a head start on the festival crowd and may contribute to a sale prior to or during the festival.

Other producers, however, remain skeptical of pre-festival screenings.  They advise others to consider the genre of the film when analyzing the options.  Certain film genres, such as comedy and horror, depend upon a crowd to set the atmosphere.  Screening such films without the benefit of an audience to laugh or scream with can lessen the impact and adversely affect the chance the film is acquired.  Some producers caution that distributors that have screened a film prior to a festival are incentivized to talk the film down to other distributors in order to lower the acquisition price for themselves.  Others state that even if a pre-festival screening is wise, the filmmaker or producer must be prepared to position the film for the distributor.  They will need to know and be able to convince the buyer of the story angles that can be pitched to journalists, who the target audience is and how they can be reached, and must also be able to speak on what they can contribute to marketing and positioning the film.  In short, the filmmaker’s team must be prepared to sell the distribution company on the marketability of her film.

The traditional rule against screening a film prior to festival premiere was based upon the premise of a more competitive market in which distribution companies had the time, money and desire to see as many films as possible.  These assumptions may no longer be valid.  Producers should re-evaluate their options in light of established goals and the challenges of the marketplace.  To screen or not to screen?  The answer to this complicated question requires careful consideration.

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies.

Is NYC "Permitted" To Support Indie Film?

Today's guest post is from attorney Steven Beer.  Steven not only has posted for us before, but also delivered a great call to arms in Indiewire with proclamation of the Era Of Filmmaker Empowerment. Today's touches upon some of the issues that I raised recently regarding how film incentives need to help low budget production. Independent filmmakers and producers from New York are accustomed to change and challenges, and as of this week, they will have yet another hurdle to jump.  As of July 11, 2010, the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, the MOFTB, has begun charging filmmakers a $300 fee for film permits.  Historically, New York City has not charged anything for film permits.  New York City has joined the ranks of other cities, such as Chicago, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, and Seattle, all of which charge fees for film permits.  When the proposed rule was announced in April, it generated mostly negative reactions; concerned filmmakers signed petitions against the rule, believing that the fee would diminish New York City’s claim to being the capital of the independent film world.  Some scoffed at the fee, unable to see how an extra $300 charge could affect a film budget.  While opinions may vary, the fee is certainly changing the climate for independent filmmakers, no matter how large their budgets might be.

Veteran producers assert that the $300 fee is the second step in New York City’s evolution towards becoming a less filmmaker-friendly city.  The first major change occurred in August of 2008 when the MOFTB required filmmakers to obtain permits for shoots that involved anything more than a handheld camera and then in turn required filmmakers to carry liability insurance of at least $1 million in order to obtain those permits.  Basically, ever since August 2008, filmmakers have had to pay the implied charge associated with the cost of obtaining liability insurance if they wanted to film in New York City.  The new $300 fee, however, is the first explicit charge on filming in New York City.

The $300 fee is officially called the “New Project Account Application Fee.”  The MOFTB deems the charge as an “application processing fee,” not a location fee.  The $300 charge will apply to the application process for each project.  The New Project Account application will be valid for the period of continuous photography for a film and for the duration of one season for a television series.  The fee was developed to help offset the City’s unprecedented budget cuts; the MOFTB analyzed the administrative and personnel costs that it incurred each time it processed a new project application and came up with a fee of $300[1].

Not everyone will have to pay the $300 fee; the MOFTB will waive the fee for applicants who can demonstrate “unreasonable hardship.”  The MOFTB does not define what “unreasonable hardship” means in relation to the $300 fee, but its website explains that those who can show that the cost of obtaining general liability insurance imposes an unreasonable hardship will also qualify for a waiver of the $300 fee.  The MOFTB considers the cost of obtaining insurance to be an unreasonable hardship when it exceeds 25% of the filmmaker’s budget.  When looking at the applicant’s circumstances, the MOFTB also considers the filmmaker’s projected budget as well as the projected budget for similar productions.  Still, it is unclear exactly who can qualify for the waiver of the $300 fee.

Over the years, the Bloomberg administration has successfully made New York City a more desirable location for film and television shoots by providing tax credits to complement New York State’s production incentive program.  Now, many question whether the $300 fee will undo the City’s progress and discourage independent filmmakers from choosing New York City as their production location.  However, New York City is not alone in its policy of charging for film permits.  Surprisingly to some, the $300 fee falls square in the middle of the range of fees that other city’s film commissions charge; filmmakers with productions in Los Angeles pay permit fees of $625 for two weeks of shooting, and Chicago’s film commission charges $25 per day per location.  Still, many cities that have emerged as desirable locations for independent filmmakers, such as Toronto, New Orleans and Austin, charge no application or permit fees.  Unlike New York City, however, those cities require productions that call for vehicle or pedestrian traffic control to hire police officers.  Toronto, one of the most filmmaker-friendly cities, charges between $65 and $84 per hour per officer, and Austin and New Orleans charge only slightly less.  In its favor, New York City proudly offers free police assistance, which is one of the MOFTB’s most valuable services for filmmakers.

Will the $300 application fee push independent filmmakers away from New York City?  Mayor Bloomberg was quoted as saying that the fee comprises only a small percentage of production budgets.  Although this rings true for studio productions, projects that operate on low budgets might no longer choose to film in New York City due in part to the new fee.  Student filmmakers might also feel the blow of the $300 charge.  Now, currently enrolled New York City film students can avoid the requirement of carrying liability insurance by showing proof of insurance through their schools, but it is unclear whether schools will assist their students with the $300 fee.

While the change to the MOFTB’s rules for issuing permits raises many practical considerations for filmmakers, it also sparks debate about whether the fee will impact New York City’s standing within the independent film community.  Is the fee counter-productive to sustaining New York City as the capital of the independent film world?  Does the policy of charging an application fee for film permits reflect New York City’s appreciation for the role that independent film and filmmakers play for the City?  Is the MOFTB looking too much to Los Angeles as a model for how to capture capital from the City’s film industry?  New York City will never be able to match Los Angeles in terms of big-budget productions, and Hollywood will likely always remain the capital of studio film productions.  However, New York City has emerged as, and will hopefully continue to be considered, the capital of American independent film.  Along with tax credits and free police assistance, the City provides free parking privileges, free access to most exterior locations, discount cards, and also millions of dollars in free advertising on City bus shelters and New York City-owned media assets to promote productions that shoot at least 75% of their projects in New York City.  Producers love these amenities.

Further, New York City has several independent film theatres, it is the base for many independent film festivals, and is home to numerous independent film producers and enthusiasts.  Low-budget films reflect the values that are important to New Yorkers; those films that revolve around well-written scripts and intellectual topics rather than special effects and star power provide a counterpoint to Hollywood flashiness.  Just as New Yorkers sing their City’s praises when in the company of Los Angelinos, the New York independent film industry prides itself on the fact that the movies they create and support do more than just entertain.  Independent film is important to New Yorkers and to New York City.  We sincerely hope that the MOFTB will administer the $300 fee in such a way that reflects continued support for the art of independent filmmaking.

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies.


Starting Down The Path Towards Filmmaker Empowerment

Today's guest post is from attorney Steven Beer.  We look forward to many more posts from Steven on this very subject: Filmmaker Empowerment. Producing independent films requires a broad skill set, including a keen eye for material, masterful team management skills, a facility with numbers, and an understanding of the marketplace. There is only one thing more difficult than producing and making a great independent film: securing a modest return on one’s investment in an independent film.

Why do so many prospective investors (beyond friends and family) roll their eyes when they are asked to invest in independent films? One business manager swears that, generally speaking, independent filmmakers and producers are not capable business people. He believes that they are so focused on making the film that they tend to overlook many key business elements. In support of this assertion, he cited the cursory nature of most business plans, the modest returns typically offered for a risky investment, and the failure to fully establish reliable marketing and distribution plans.

The business manager raised some very good points. The reality is that many producers need to re-think the standard business models for independent films. Let’s begin with the typical business plan, which often contains rehashed discussions about the marketplace and includes outdated success stories like “Slingblade,” “Blair Witch Project,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” and “My Big fat Greek Wedding.” All of these projects were produced many years ago and distributed in a vastly different marketplace. These were all exceptional projects and not necessarily representative of the independent film marketplace, past or present.

An additional question: why do most business proposals today concentrate on the prospect of an “all rights” deal with a hefty minimum guarantee and substantial P&A commitment? By and large, that ship left port several years ago and should be sold as scrap metal for smaller, more efficient vessels that are customizable and scaleable.

We recently participated in the Tribeca Film Festival All Access program. As part of the program, we reviewed business development materials from more than a dozen projects and discussed them with their producers. We were surprised that very few of the business summaries discussed alternative distribution strategies where the producers retain control of all facets of the marketing, promotion, and distribution of their films. Most of the projects discussed the traditional distribution model, which relies on the prospect of a festival bidding war between distributors. Given the overwhelming number of films in recent years where investors did not recoup their principal and the decreasing number of distributers buying films, it is probably time to address the financial realities of today’s marketplace.

Perhaps the best place to start is with production budgets, which tend to be overly generous and based on factors that speak to another distribution economy. For a variety of reasons, the costs of producing a quality independent film have reduced dramatically. Producers would be advised to scrutinize every line item and justify all below and above the line expenses. For instance, do you really need to pay the talent more than the SAG minimums? Will the presence of a particular actor materially increase the value of a film in the international marketplace? In responding to these questions, seek out reliable and timely market sources to confirm tangible value.

We are encouraged when working with filmmakers and producers who understand that reduced budgets accelerate recoupment for a film’s investors. Happy investors participate in additional projects and attract others to invest.

The lesson learned is that we need to evaluate all aspects of the business in order to stay afloat in a challenging marketplace. There are other considerations to discuss. We will address them in this space on a regular basis and encourage you to join in the conversation.

Steven C. Beer is a shareholder in the international entertainment practice of Greenberg Traurig’s New York office. Steven has served as counsel to numerous award-winning writers, directors and producers, as well as industry-leading film production, film finance and film distribution companies.

The 21 Brave Thinkers Of Truly Free Film 2009

Earlier this year, while looking at Atlantic Magazine's list of Brave Thinkers across various industries, I started to wonder who are of this ilk in our sector of so-called Independent Film.

What is it to be "brave"? To me, bravery requires risk, going against the status quo, being willing to do or say what few others have done. Bravery is not a one time act but a consistent practice. Most importantly, bravery is not about self interest; bravery involves the individual acting for the community. It is both the step forward and the hand that is extended.
Frankly though, I think anyone that commits to creating film, particularly independent film, and specifically artist driven truly free film, is truly brave... or at least, insane. It is a hard road out there and growing more difficult by the day. All filmmakers getting their work made, screened and distributed deserve recognition, support, and something more significant than a good pat on the back from the rest of us. As great their work is both creatively and in terms of the infrastructure, it's easy to lose sight of how fragile all this is. Our ability to create and screen innovative and diverse work is consistently under threat.
It is a truly great thing that this list of BRAVE THINKERS is growing rapidly; I first thought it would be ten, then twenty. I expect we will see some new folks joining this list in the months ahead. I know there are those whom I've forgotten that deserve to be included here. This list, although it includes many artists, is about those who are working and striving to carve a new paradigm, to make the future safe for innovative and diverse work, to build an artist-centric content economy. The TFF Brave Thinkers lead equally with their ideas, actions, and generosity. They set examples for all of us and raise the bar. These are indie films true new leaders, and for those that think they are in power, those that are just starting out, or those that want to find a new angle on industry you work in, you should make sure you meet these folks in the coming year, because they are redefining the way we fund, develop, create, define, discover, promote, participate, curate, and appreciate that thing we still call cinema.
  • Franny Armstong - After making THE AGE OF STUPID via crowdsourcing funds, Franny also looked to the audience to help distribute her film, creating and offering it up to other filmmakers (see The Yes Men below). By relying fulling on her audience from finance to distribution, Franny was able to get the film she wanted not just made, but seen, and show the rest of us to stop thinking the old way, and instead of putting faith in the gatekeepers, put your trust in the fans.
  • Steven Beers - "A Decade Of Filmmaker Empowerment Is Coming" Steven has always been on the tip of digital rights question, aiding many, including myself, on what really should be the artist's perspective. Yet it remains exceedingly rare that individuals, let alone attorneys, take a public stand towards artist rights -- as the money is often on the other side.
  • Biracy & David Geertz - Biracy, helmed by Geertz, has the potential to transform film financing and promotion. Utilizing a referral system to reward a film's champions, they might have found a model that could generate new audiences and new revenue.
  • Peter Broderick- Peter was the first person to articulate the hybrid distribution plan. He coined the term I believe. He has been tireless in his pursuit of the new model and generous with his time and vision. His distribution newsletter is a must have for all truly free filmmakers and his oldway/newway chart a true thing of beauty.
  • Tze Chun & Mynette Louie - Last year, the director and producer of Children Of Inventiondecided that they weren't going to wait around for some distributor to sweep them off their feet. They left Sundance with plans to adopt a hybrid plan and started selling their DVD off their website. They have earned more money embracing this new practice than what they could have hoped from an old way deal. As much as I had hoped that others would recognize the days of golden riches were long gone, Tze & Mynette were the only Sundance filmmakers brave enough to adopt this strategy from the start.
  • Arin Crumley - Having raised the bar together with Susan Buice in terms of extending the reach of creative work into symbiotic marketing with Four Eyed Monsters, along with helping in the design of new tech tools for filmmakers (FEM was encouraging fans to "Demand It" long before Paranormal Activity), co-founding From Here To Awesome, Arin launched OpenIndie together with Kieran Masterton this year to help empower filmmakers in the coming months.
  • IndieGoGo & Slava Rubin - There are many web 2.0 sites that build communities, many that promote indie films, many that crowd source funds, but Slava & IndieGoGo are doing it all, with an infectious and boundless enthusiasm, championing work and individuals, giving their all to find a new paradigm, and they might just do it.
  • Jamie King - The experience of giving away his film "Steal This Film" lead Jamie to help build VODO an online mechanism initially built to help artists retrieve VOluntary DOnations for their work, but has since evolved to a service that helps filmakers distrubute free-to-share films through P2P sites & services, building on this with various experimental business models. Such practices aren't for everyone, but they are definitely for some -- VODO has had over 250,000 viewers for each of its first three releases in 2009 -- and the road is being paved by Jamie's efforts.
  • Scott Kirsner - Scott's book Friends, Fans, & Followers covered the work of 15 artists of different disciplines and how each have utilized their audience to gain greater independence and freedom. Through his website CinemaTech, Scott has been covering and questioning the industry as it evolves from a limited supply impulse buy leisure buy economy to an ubiquitous supply artistcentric choice-based infrastructure like nobody else. His "Conversation" forum brought together the tech, entertainment, & social media fields in an unprecedented way.
  • Pericles Lewnes - As a filmmaker with a prize winning but underscreened film (LOOP), Peri recoginized the struggle of indie filmmaking in this day and age. But instead of just complaining about it like most of us, Peri did something about it. He built bridges and alliances and made a makeshift screening circuit in his hometown of Annapolis, MD, founding The Pretentious Film Society. Taking indie film to the bars with a traveling projector and sound system, Peri has started pulling in the crowds and getting money back to the filmmakers. A new exhibition circuit is getting built brick by brick, the web is expanding into a net, from a hub spokes emmenate until we have wheels within wheels within wheels. Peri's certainly not the only one doing it, but he brings an energy and passion we all need.
  • Cory McAbee - It's not enough to be a talented or innovative filmmaker these days. You must use the tools for entrepreneuarial activity that are available and you have to do it with flair. We can all learn from Corey. His films, his music, his live shows, his web stuff -- it all rocks and deserves our following and adoption.
  • Scott Macauley - some producers (like yours truly) write to spread the gospel, happy just to get the word out, not being the most graceful of pen. Scott however has been doing it with verve, invention, wit, and style for so long now, most people take his way wit words as a given. Not only is it a pleasure to read, the FilmmakerMagazineBlog is the center of true indie thought and appreciation. It's up to the minute, devoid of gossip, deep into ideas, and is generally a total blast. And the magazine is no slouch either. And nor are his films. Can we clone the man?
  • Brian Newman - After leaving Tribeca this year, Brian has showed no signs of slowing down, popping up at various conferences like PttP and the Flyaway Film Fest to issue missives & lectures helping to articulate both the problems facing indies these days along with starting to define how we will find our way out. Look to Brian to be doing something smart & exciting in the media world in 2010; somewhere someone smart should find a way to put this man to work shortly, but here's hoping he does it on his own so we can all benefit from his innovative ideas.
  • Nina Paley - In addition to successively adopting an "audience distribution" model for her film Sita Sings The Blues, Nina has been incredibly vocal about her experiences in the world of "free", helping to forge a path & greater understanding for other filmmakers. And now her film is getting traditional distribution at the IFC Center in NYC (and our whole family, including the 9 year old spawn, dug it!)
  • Jon Reiss - After adopting the DIY approach for his film Bomb It, Jon chose to share the lessons he's learned in ever increasing ways, from his blog (and this one), to articles for Filmmaker Mag, to finally to the must-have artist-centric distribution book THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX OFFICE. Anyone considering creating a truly free film, this book is mandatory reading first. Full disclosure: I penned an intro to Jon's book.
  • Mark Rosenberg - What does it take to create a new institution these days? Evidently quite a bit, because I can only think of one in the film space and that's Rooftop Films. Mark curates and organizes with a great team of folks, who together have brought new audiences new films in new venues. NY is incredibly fortunate to be the recipient of Rooftop's work, but here's hoping that Mark's vision spreads to other cities this coming year.
  • Liz Rosenthal - There is no better place to get the skinny on what the future for film, indie film, truly free film, artist-centric film, and any other form of media creation than London's Power To The Pixel. Liz founded it and has catapulted what might once have been fringe truly into the mainstream. Expanding beyond a simple conference into a year round forum for future forward media thought, PttP brainstorms, curates, and leads the way in transmedia creation, curation, & distribution. Full disclosure: I was PttP keynote speaker this year.
  • Lance Weiler - In addition to being a major force in both Transmedia thought, DIY distribution, and informative curatorial,with his role in Power To The Pixel, From Here To Awesome, DIY Days, & Radar web show but his generous "Open Source" attitude is captured by The Workbook Project, perhaps the most indispensable website for the TFFilmmaker. He (along with Scott Kirsner) provides a great overview of the year in tech & entertainment on TWP podcast here. It's going to be in exciting 2010 when we get to see him apply his knowledge to his next project (winner of Rotterdam Cinemart 2009 prize and now a participant in the 2010 Sundance screenwriters' lab). Full disclosure: This is that has signed on to produce Lance's transmedia feature H.I.M.
  • Thomas Woodrow - As a producer, Thomas has embraced the reality of the marketplace and is not letting it stand in his way. There is perhaps no other producer out there who has so fully accepted the call that indie film producing nowadays also means indie film distribution. He's laying out his plan to distribute BASS ACKWARDS immediately after its Sundance premiere through a series of videos online. Full disclosure: I am mentoring Thomas vis the Sundance Creative Producing Lab.
  • TopSpin Media - As their website explains: "Topspin is a technology platform for direct-to-fan maketing, management and distribution." They are also the tech behind Corey McAbee's activities and hopefully a whole lot of other filmmakers in the years behind. Founded by ProTools' creator, Peter Gotcher, and Shamal Raasinghe, TopSpin is a "white label" set up thathas the potential to usher in the Age Of Empowerment for the artist/creator class. Today it is primarily a tool for musicians, but expect it to migrate into filmdom fully pretty damn soon.
  • The Yes Men - The Emma Goldman ("If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution") TFF 2009 Award winners for keeping both politics and film marketing fun, these pranksters hit all the fests, winning awards, and using it to launch their own distribution of THE YES MEN FIX THE WORLD. Bravery's always been their middle name, but they are among the first of rising tide of filmmakers willing to take for full responsibility for their film.
Who did I forget? I know this list is very US-centric, but I look forward to learning more of what is going on elsewhere in the days to come. Who will be our Brave Thinkers for next year (if I can muster the energy to do this for another year, that is)? What can you learn from these folks? May I humbly suggest that at the very least, you do whatever you can to find, follow, and converse with these folks in 2010. The more we learn from them, the better off this film industry will be, and, hey: it may turn out to be a good new year after all.