Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Avoiding Fly-By-Night Film Festivals

Unsure if an impressive-looking festival is really worth the fee? This month we're talking about how to spot film events that aren't quite what they seem.


Browsing through festival services like Withoutabox and FilmFreeway can be as overwhelming as selecting a wine at a fancy restaurant. How do you be sure that it's a good one?

It's an unpleasant fact that dozens of new festivals pop up every year and some of them exist only to prey upon film-makers. There really isn't a sure-fire method for weeding out these scoundrels, but there are some things you can look for to make a determination if a festival is worth the price of the submission fee.

Although many online contests seem to be created solely for the fleecing of film-makers, don't make the mistake of thinking that you are safe by just sticking to live events. There are quite a few bare-minimum festivals out there that count on the idea that you'll spend a lot of money for the chance to see your work on a big screen... and many of them won't even deliver on that.

You can usually get an idea of what you're in for by looking at the venue. Festivals held in cinema houses or large event halls will probably have everything one imagines a film festival should have.

Smaller festivals that don't have the thousands of dollars needed to rent a big theatre for a day may take place in a more social-friendly setting like a community center or even a bar. (Tavern festivals can actually be a lot of fun!)
And then there are the least expensive alternatives, which are usually rented warehouses, temporary office spaces, or library meeting rooms. The very bottom of the barrel is a festival held in a residential home, or worse, the backyard.

Most festivals will include the address of the event on their listing with film submission services. Thanks to the magic of Google Maps, it is fairly easy to determine what type of location is hosting the event. If they only list a general area or state that the location will be announced at a later time, it may be a warning sign that a live event may not actually be planned.

While it is entirely possible that a festival with a small venue may be worth its weight in gold with the networking opportunities, there are a few things that may indicate that a festival is either out to drain the wallets of its participants or that attendance by the film-makers is actually being discouraged.

Be wary of festivals that charge the selected film-makers for tickets to the event. Unless there was no submission fee and ticket sales are the only way that the event covers its expenses, this is a very unusual practice. Most reputable festivals will offer at least two free tickets to each of the selected films and screenplays.

Some predatory festivals will offer free “basic” admission to selected film-makers but then strongly encourage them to upgrade by purchasing a V.I.P. ticket with a pitch that is designed to prey on one’s fear of missing out on great opportunities.

These expensive upgrades usually involve access to exclusive parties where unnamed but super-important special guests have been invited. The operative word here is invited, which doesn’t mean that the invitation was accepted.

So how do you avoid these vampire festivals that were designed to bleed your wallet dry? It’s not always easy because some of them put out some really impressive bait.

Ask questions first.

If a festival boasts about special VIP parties, ask the fest if entry is complimentary for selected film-makers. Ask who the “special guests” are. A reputable festival that has confirmed the attendance of celebrities will usually advertise them.

If at all possible, reach out to someone who has attended the festival in the past. Google the festival and look for anyone who may have let loose with the criticism on a blog, forum, or social media. When people get burned they do tend to talk about it.

Of course, this may be impossible if the festival is listed as being in its first year. So the best thing you can do if you suspect that a festival might be a fly-by-night scam is simply not to submit to it.

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