When it comes to explaining what Festival Formula does, the crux of it is that what we do is very niche, and very needed. We are a consultancy company that helps filmmakers navigate the epic worldwide festival circuit. When most filmmaker make their first short they usually aim to step onto the festival circuit… And can spend a lot of money and get back a lot of rejection with no real understanding.
I started carving out this niche area of the industry about 14 years ago now, after doing some work experience with the Blaine Brothers. One of the first jobs they had me do was take their short films they had made, hand me the company credit card, and tell me to find and enter festivals. The landscape has changed a lot since back then, in more ways than I can explain briefly, but it made me hyper aware about what festivals needed. Some festivals wanted films under 15mins, some only wanted those who had a premiere still intact, others were only after animation, and some wanted documentaries about cycling… So after a while I accrued a whole lot of knowledge without anywhere to really utilise it since I was a scriptwriter back then and never in a position of having anything in production. After doing this as a word of mouth job on the side for a number of years I decided to drop the writing and focus on this – I had too many filmmakers needing help and that’s what made me focus on it full time.
The main question we get asked a lot is, “what’s the benefit of heading onto the festival circuit, it’s expensive and a closed shop”. First of all the reason why any filmmaker heads onto the circuit will be bespoke to them – some want to get their film seen outside of friends and family, others are building a portfolio to help their career, and some are seeing if a film idea has legs to turn into a feature; there are many reasons. The main benefit of getting your film out there from our perspective is that you can reach an audience that you would never have otherwise been able to reach. We punch the air every time a client gets a selection in a festivals, especially overseas. The reason? That film made with all the passion (and possibly bank balance) has piqued a programmer’s interest for them to screen it half-way across the world. That for us is exciting and a true testament to a filmmaker’s work. Now everyone says it’s expensive, and we’re not going to lie and say that it can be… But it doesn’t have to be if you don’t want to. This is where we crack our knuckles and give our breath of fresh air speech:
“Budget, you gotta have a budget and know what that budget is. Even if it’s tiny or more than you realised you had – KNOW WHAT IT IS.”
And why do we bang on about this all the time? It’s because it can help you make decisions about where to send your film. You want to be focused when submitting, and you want to know where you’re spending money. It could be that you submit to one really expensive festival… Or four festivals for the same amount. By knowing your budget it can be a constant reminder of what you’re playing with and also help you to be realistic about where you submit.
The thing about festivals being a closed shop? Completely false, any festival that only screens their own films or friends films whilst receiving open submissions is not a festival to be dealing with. But as someone who talks to filmmakers regularly and helps them through the amount of rejection they get dealt, I can understand why it sometimes feels that way. Festivals now receive so many submissions compared to ten years ago – those that used to get 200 are now receiving 2000. Film festivals are expensive to run so it means they usually run for a select few days, which in turn means programming becomes a fierce competition for very few slots. When a film gets turned down it doesn’t necessarily mean it was bad, it could be that there was a similar film that was narratively stronger, there wasn’t enough time, it didn’t suit the rest of the thematic programming and so on.
So what exactly do we do? First of all we assess each film that comes our way to see if it’s strong enough to head on to the circuit. We’re honest enough to let a filmmaker know if it isn’t as we don’t want them to get a tonne more of rejection and pay for the privilege. Then we discuss budget (KNOW WHAT IT IS!) and what they want from the circuit. And then my job is to strategise where the film should be submitted to where we feel it best suits. We spend a lot of time seeing filmmakers submit to the standard ‘top tier’ festivals and not always with a strong enough film. We’ll look at what we call stories in front of the camera and behind. Like is it an LGBTQ narrative or have environmental or human rights issues, or maybe it’s a student production or a first-time filmmaker or it’s under 5mins, the producer is female, or the director is black or Asian… These are all elements that are covered by festivals out there, and we always advise filmmakers to exploit them for the benefit of handling their budget better, but also to increase the potential of their film getting selected. Do something other than grabbing the BAFTA or Academy list and think about your film as the individual rather than thinking you’re only a filmmaker if you do it one way.
We are delighted to be partnering up with Barnes Film Festival this year as we feel that every filmmaker should get the support in an area that is not necessarily covered in any industry training. Because we are wanting to nurture new talent and discover exciting new filmmakers we are very happy to pass on a discount for our services. At the moment we have approximately 70 films that we’re handling on our submissions slate, the majority of them are shorts with a few features in there too. And each one came to us with a different budget, a different film, with different stories. If you have a film that you would like us to look at then please do get in touch, it’s FREE and we just ask that it’s 2017 or newer.
Director // Founder
FESTIVAL FORMULA LTD
Office: +44 (0)20 3866 8935