What Every Filmmaker Needs to Know About Film Festivals

Disco lights at a big pop concertMy brother and I have been incredibly fortunate that some great films we’ve scored have gone onto screen at some of the world’s biggest film festivals, and others have enjoyed screen time at handfuls of comparatively smaller and yet completely memorable fests as well. Some we attended, others we had to skip, and to us it’s become quite clear: film festivals can be an equally exhilarating and exhausting part of the larger filmmaking process. We’ve tried to shed some light on the myths and facts of the international film festival experience.

Blair Brothers1) Festivals are the ultimate party — a final celebration for the director and the extended cast and crew to cut loose after years of hard work needed to complete a screenable feature film.

Mostly false. Yes, there are temptations of long, slow moving lines leading to what could be a celebrity-filled nightclub, and there’s certaintly opportunities for a congratulatory toast after a long production wrap. But more often than not, film festivals mark the moment a new phase of non-stop post-production work begins. Directors, at times without their full production team, hit the pavement, (or ice in the case of Sundance), in search of distribution or press for their film, as well as a healthy audience for each of their screenings. Schedules can be grueling as pressure to promote and perhaps sell your film takes precedence over late night party-time.

2) If I can’t get my film into the Big 3, (Cannes, Sundance, Toronto), it just doesn’t seem worth the cost and the hassle.

Entirely false. Like people, every festival has an entirely unique personality and there are literally hundreds of under-the-radar, but reputable festivals known for taking chances on underdog films and helping soon-to-be established directors gain an audience. After a quick Google search, you’ll be amazed at how many healthy festivals continue to grow, each worth researching and perhaps submitting to.

3) As a movie lover, film festivals seem like a dream vacation!

Kinda false. Again, like any destination, some fests are more worth the visit than others. Do your research. Some are dedicated to entertaining the audience and supporting and celebrating the art of filmmaking. Others festivals are simply a marketplace – an open air platform to buy and sell, make deals and schmooze. Industry comp tickets limit the amount of theater seats available to the public, and the air around you can begin to smell more like a top-dollar business transaction than it does buttered popcorn.

4) Blue Ruin, our second feature score, was first denied acceptance from Sundance 2014, who then reconsidered and accepted the film after its Cannes premiere.

True. Stick with it and follow up, people change their minds all the time.

5) Coincidentally, TRUE/FALSE is the name of a Missouri based non-fiction film festival.

Very True! Held in Columbia every year since 2003, T/F has grown to attract documentary filmmakers worldwide. A massive community effort, the T/F Film Festival’s mission is to “promote art, dialogue and deepen our community’s understanding of each other and the world at large.” The good folks at T/F are also amongst the first to embrace a “green festival” approach; implementing waste diversion programs, repurposing promotional materials and even composting.

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Brothers Brooke and Will Blair are accomplished composers for film, television, web and public installations.