Watch This With a Small Group of People.

By October 14, 2015 Blog
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Guest Blog from Ruth Saunders who spent 20+ years as Head of Sales and Distribution at AFTRS and now runs her own short film consultancy.

In this age of Vimeo, YouTube and other online streaming platforms, is there any point in entering shorts into film festivals? After all, festival entry is expensive, time-consuming and stressful with constant deadlines and decisions on the best order of entry. I know this all too well—I was Head of Sales and Distribution at AFTRS for over 20 years.

There’s a lot to be said for having a few simple uploads followed by immediate availability to anyone who cares to look. The potential is enormous and the costs negligible. It certainly works for cat videos and sneezing pandas. And it is possible to make significant amounts of money with no outlay of talent at all—see Charlie Bit My Finger with 820 million views and income of over £100,000 from associated advertising.

Online release works really well for documentary as it can deliver a film and its message directly to the target audience and then use all the resources of social media to increase its reach. Dramas with a strongly defined theme can also benefit from online sharing. Laura Scrivano’s The Language of Love is a powerful short film about a young man coming to terms with his sexuality which has been seen by over one million people online so far and this has not been at the expense of festival screenings and awards around the world.

Entering festivals requires the obvious—money, resources, time; and the less obvious—patience and the ability to accept multiple rejections. But ask any filmmaker “Which would you choose? – a few thousand anonymous viewers on Vimeo, or a few hundred (at most) equally anonymous audience members at Cannes?” I’d guess Cannes would win almost every time. Or Berlin, or Sundance. Why? Is it just for the chance of fame and fortune… or is there some other reason?

Let me tell you a story…

Many years ago an AFTRS film screened at graduation to a packed cinema and the audience laughed and loved it. It was stylish, witty of script and clearly, I thought, a real crowd-pleaser. I started to enter it into festivals, fully expecting it to be immediately accepted into most of them. But then, silence.

So I looked at it again, this time on my own. Yes, I had been quite right—it was a crowd-pleaser and that was the problem—it needed a crowd in order to please. Viewed by a single person, it just didn’t work. So I started to add a note to each entry saying “Please watch this with a small group of people”. Venice, and many other festivals and awards, soon followed. Huge sigh of relief from both me and the director. (It’s on Vimeo – The Beat Manifesto by Daniel Nettheim. Watch it with friends.)

But why? Why did this film not work on the small screen?

Because it needed a shared experience. That’s why filmmakers still want to see their films on a screen in a cinema. So they can hear people laughing, so they can hear them crying, so they can feel their emotion. There’s no feedback through a monitor, only metrics.

So, what’s the value of festivals? As Norma Desmond says at the end of Sunset Boulevard, it’s “just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark.”

Ah, yes, that’s why we do it.

Ruth’s short film consultancy can be found here.

Ruth will also be leading Finding Film Festival Success MASTERCLASS on 22 Oct